At Home with the Linehans

An Interview with Graham Linehan

Graham LinehanIt was a week before ‘The IT Crowd' airs for the first time on Channel 4, and we are already grateful for the Big Brother contestants' absence, so that space is made for this exciting new show. No one is more eager for the launch than the show's writer, Mr. Graham Linehan. Our very own geeks decided what better way to pass the time than to leave the computers to fend for themselves, and go and chat to the man himself.

With true Irish hospitality, Graham welcomes us into his home like old friends, and greets us with tea and chocolate biscuits. He is first to mention the confusion over the launch of the web site and where we stand with Channel 4; nervously emphasising that he really is pleased we are true fans and not about to hold the domain name for ransom.

Graham is modest about his work, but admits that he has a good feeling about ‘ The IT Crowd ', and as real fans, we are happy to agree. We ask him which project he has been most happy with and he is quick to mention ‘Father Ted'.

I think just in terms of the writing, the level of invention of father Ted, I wonder if I'll ever beat it. Working with Arthur, I think the two of us together became this super comedy brain that its very hard for me to tap into effortlessly now. I don't mind, because it was a very unique thing and I'm just happy that we did it.

The IT Crowd was a different beast altogether. But very satisfying because it was all my own work, then when we got to the studio I had a very enjoyable time working with the actors and trying with them to get each show right. The scripts were about 60% done by the time we got to the studio for rehearsal week, then each week we just brought it that extra 40%. Just in terms of that work, the work of rehearsal, this has been the most pleasant experience I've had so far. Usually there's a moment where I start to get a bit unhappy, but this has been all gravy.

As big Father Ted fans, we ask if he has any plans of working with Arthur Mathews again.

It's difficult. We tried to write a film together but it didn't quite work out. It's just hard. So much water has passed under the bridge, it's difficult for us to go back to being the people we were and just start writing again. When we were writing [Father] Ted we'd been living together for four years and we were at the stage where we were finishing each others sentences. We'd watch something on television, not intended to be funny, and we'd both laugh at the same thing, at the same time. It was kind of like a psychic link that we had. Since we've stopped working together and living together, the link is broken completely and we're very different people. I don't know if it'd be possible to write, but we're certainly still good friends. I showed him ‘The It Crowd' the other day and he was great about it. Really generous and happy for me.

Noticing the slight melancholic look whilst talking about ‘Ted', we move away from the subject. Graham relaxes when chatting about home, and growing up in a middle class family in suburban Dublin , the TV shows he watched remind us of the viewing habits of our own childhood.

We were always watching The Young Ones, Fawlty Towers , Fry and Laurie. All these things gave us a very, I wouldn't say English sensibility, but certainly I would say Father Ted and The IT Crowd are in the tradition of the British sitcom, ‘cause there's no Irish tradition of sitcoms. Before ‘Ted', there were one or two attempts and they were disasters. Even though Ted was an Irish show, it's continuing on from The Young Ones and a British tradition. That's the way I see it anyway.

ZX-SpectrumAnd the similarities between our writer and us humble viewers, don't stop there. Graham's first computer was, you guessed it, a Spectrum!

It's like someone saying what was your first tool, and you say it was a bone. It's really, really early. But I've grown up with Space Invaders and it really hit me full on. I've never lost my taste for computer games and I've grown up with all these geeky things that I can't talk to hardly anyone about. Another reason to do this was to kinda say well I like indie comics and computer games and esoteric bands. I just wanted to do a show that didn't talk too much about it because I didn't want people who weren't interested in these things to switch off, but I wanted to make sure that Roy 's wearing ‘Guided By Voices' t-shirts, and I wanted to make sure there were posters for ‘Boards of Canada ' and comics by Chris Ware and Pete Bagge. There's a lot of Buddy Bradley in Roy . It was great being able to populate the set with all these things. But you have to be careful. It's really hard to get audiences involved in a new show so the last thing you want to do is do too many references or talk about computers in a way they wouldn't understand. But I'm an idiot when it comes to computers as well so I was in a good position to write about someone who doesn't know anything about computers.

How did Graham first came up with the idea for the show?

I literally was sitting in front of my computer and thought ‘maybe I should write something about computers'. But that wasn't the spark. The spark was I wanted to write something for Richard, or at least something that had Richard in it. Then, a couple of embarrassing incidents happened to me with I.T. guys, so I started to think maybe I should do something with this, and someone at some point said that Richard looked a bit like an I.T. guy. It suddenly started coming together, and then I was telling the idea to my wife and she said ‘you could call it the IT Crowd'. Then everything just went click. When you have a really good title everything else is fine. It just demanded to be written.

Something we quickly found out was that you don't even have to be in touch with your inner technician to get along with this show. For the non-computer geeks out there, Mr Linehan has consciously made sure that the gags don't require an instruction manual.

When I have an I.T. guy come round and help me with my computer, we never really talk about the nuts and bolts, he just sits there and we talk about the weather as he does lots of mysterious kind of things. That's the way I wanted it to be for the viewer. I wanted it to be not about the nuts and bolts of it, and the joke of ‘have you tried switching it off and on again' became very useful because I guess that would be the first port of call for most I.T. guys and usually the thing that solves all these problems. It's going to be hard for I.T. people to say that now without feeling a bit self conscious if the show's a success. The person that Roy was originally based on was this bloke who my wife worked with. Whenever he was speaking to her, he couldn't look her in the eyes. He just didn't like being told what to do by women, so he'd make sure he never looked at her. A bit of that kind of spikiness went into Roy.

But finally, as I'm sure you're all dying to know, is there going to be another series?

Yup. Hopefully.

A very definite ‘yup' at that.

So set the video, cancel your plans, put your feet up and enjoy. Whatever you do, don't miss The IT Crowd. Beginning Friday 3rd February on Channel 4 @ 9:30pm

For a breakdown of the series, see the Episode Guide

written by Soph Gill
interview by “Aunt Irma”