Thecustard chats to Sharon Horgan of BBC3’s new comedy Dead Boss

by | Jun 13, 2012 | All, Interviews

Thursday sees the return of Sharon Horgan to BBC3. Fans of laugh out loud comedies will remember Horgan’s last BBC3 comedy, Pulling with great fondness and now Horgan is back with a brand new six-part comedy co-written with stand-up Holly Walsh, entitled ‘Dead Boss.’ Horgan takes the lead as Helen Stephens, who has been falsely imprisoned for the murder of her boss at a tiling company. The sitcom focuses on Helen’s life in prison but also features an interesting murder mystery plot as we find out who really killed Helen’s boss.

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Sharon about what we can expect from the new series, what it was like working with Jennifer Saunders and whether we’ll ever see a return for Pulling.

Where did the idea for Dead Boss come from?

It was something I’d had in the back drawer for ages. The idea of someone completely ordinary stuck in prison and everyone on the outside’s lives are better because she’s inside. Her sister has taken over her life and her flat, the creepy guy at work gets to visit her every week and her cellmate decides they’re going to have a great friendship so it’s best for her if she stays in so everyone’s lives are sort of improved because Helen’s in prison.

There’s a murder mystery element to the series too how did that come about?

We (Sharon co-writes the series with comedienne Holly Walsh) started writing it as a prison sitcom and decided that we liked the idea of seeing what was going on the outside world while she was inside. It ended up being quite a good idea because you see the mystery unravel and it’s nice to move outside of the prison into a more colourful and ridiculous world.

How does Helen cope with prison life? In the second episode she seems to have relaxed a little bit but how does she cope within the confines of her new surroundings?

I read an interview with the guys who wrote Porridge and it’s this idea of little victories being the most important thing while you’re inside. It’s about getting about in the long run but it’s also about the smaller victories along the way. She’s an optimist and she’s naively think that it’ll all work out in the end. As soon as her alibi turns up and as soon as the ridiculous mistake is figured out then everything will be fine so she has that on her side.  

Did you watch any episodes of Porridge or even Bad Girls to get a feel of the atmosphere?

Yes. I’d watched porridge a lot growing up. Bad Girls I’d seen but I’m more a Prisoner Cell Block H kind of girl. 

How would you describe the style of humour in the series?

I don’t really know what you’d call it actually. We don’t really know. It’s pretty daft but I like to think it is smart as well. It was a real challenge to write because it’s got a lot of jokes and visual stuff going on which is hard to do. It was so brilliant having Holly because she’s such a joke monster. We wanted to make something that wasn’t a gentle comedy. We wanted to make people laugh and write kind of absurd characters that were big, but at the same time, believable.  

Jennifer as Prison Governor Margaret

Fans of Absolutely Fabulous will be delighted to see Jennifer Saunders as Governor Margaret. Did you have her in mind for that role from the start and what was she like to work with?

Once we did the pilot we thought that she would be perfect so we sort of pretty arrogantly wrote it with her in mind and luckily she agreed to do it. We sent her the scripts and luckily she agreed to do it. Our Executive Producer has worked with her before and they knew each other so we kind of had a link. She couldn’t have been better. She just played it to a T and she got every little thing we wanted right and played it better. 

How was it writing with Holly? (Co-writer Holly Walsh) Was she not keen to appear on screen?

She makes a cameo appearance in episode 6. She’s very excited about getting to write her first sitcom. She’s established in stand-up and she does quite a lot of TV work but she was just really really interested in writing and creating the show and that obsessed her enough to not want to do anything else.

There are only a handful of comedies on at the moment. Is it more difficult now to get a comedy made?

I think it’s difficult to get any show made at the moment. I think everyone is a lot more careful with their budgets. This sort of comedy costs a lot of money because it’s narrative comedy compared to entertainment or panel shows so it is hard to make a case for it. You have to really prove to people that you’ve got a good idea but I think there’s still a huge appetite for new comedy. It is the thing that people watch again, again and again. People don’t re-watch entertainment shows or dramas to the extent that they watch they’re comedy DVDs so if you nail it it’s quite a good one to nail. 

Do you enjoy the writing process or do you prefer to be acting on set?

I like them both. Sitting at a computer with a pal and laughing all day is a brilliant job and sometimes to be acting is a bit more stressful and certainly when you’re acting in your own thing. I like to do both. I like to take time away from writing and do other people’s things so they’re both good in different ways. When you’re writing you can stay at home and be with the family a bit more whereas when you’re filming you can be doing these insane long hours so that’s a bit of a minus but they’re both great ridiculously luxury jobs.  

Not to jump the gun too much but do you hope for a second series of Dead Boss and is that something you give consideration to when you are writing?

You don’t really think about it when you’re writing it. When you start putting it all together and building it in the edit you do start thinking about a second series because your brain starts coming up with ideas again. The second series is like a stamp of approval. It’s people saying they liked the show and that we did well so you have to look at it from that point of view.

You were clever actually because you’ve put her in there for twelve years so you could get twelve series out of it!

(Laughs) There’s no way I’m doing that for twelve years but I get your point!

Pulling came to an end in 2009

People would shoot me if I didn’t ask you this question. Any chance of Pulling ever coming back in any shape or form?

Dennis (Co-writer Dennis Kelly) and I still absolutely love those characters. I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be nice at some point to do some sort of ten years on thing but it’s not as simple as that. Anything that sounds like a nice idea is not necessarily going to be an easy thing to do and there’s so many people making decisions. I think it’s best not to even think about it because then if anything happens down the line it would just be a nice bonus.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve done a Playhouse Presents for Sky Arts called Psychobitches which will be on  June 21st.  I’m doing two new documentaries for Channel 4 and I’m in Ireland at the moment shooting a film with Maxine Peake (Silk)  called Run & Jump but I’m not sure when that’s coming out yet.

You can catch Sharon in a double bill of Dead Boss on Thursday 14th  June at 10.30pm on BBC3.

Follow Sharon on Twitter

Follow Holly Walsh on Twitter



Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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