Welcome to Writers in Various Stages of Development #001 Luke Beddows.
Luke is the co-creator of the hilarious BAFTA winning CBBC sketch show, Class Dismissed, whilst also living a double life as a secondary school English teacher.
When did you start writing?
I did journalism at Uni so I started writing properly around that time (University of Lincoln to be specific but wasn’t going to mention it after it was used as a punchline in an ep of The Inbetweeners). Then I worked for BBC local radio and one summer went down to London to do a placement at CBBC.
It was working on the links in-between the shows with Iain Stirling and Hacker T Dog where they were just doing random stuff before introducing the shows. The first thing I wrote was a song which actually became one of Hacker’s most viewed clips. After those two weeks I was offered a job as a researcher for when Childrens BBC first started airing from MediaCityUK in Salford and I snapped their hands off!
I’d never really considered a career in childrens television but it was ridiculously fun so I thought what the hell and it all went from there!
You’re a secondary school teacher as well as a writer / creator… HOW do you make it work?
It’s tiring, of course but I make it work because writing is my passion.
Lots of late nights and, actually, early mornings now since we got a puppy (people say it’s as tough as having a child you know? I say people… I say it). I’m also in a good position to use the job that I have to my advantage: I test out comedy on the kids at school, run a Comedy Classroom for young comedians and fall over a lot for cheap laughs when a particular student loses focus on Wordsworth to get them back onside.
Do the students and parents know about your writing? I imagine you get a few pitches at parents evening!
A lot of the students do because of Class Dismissed and because it’s been on a few years it spans the whole spectrum from Year 7-11 actually. I DEFINITELY mention it any chance I get because I get respect from 11 year olds and it makes me feel better about my life. I don’t think parents are aware… they might not want to know ‘cause they might not take me serious enough! Which is a valid point: I’m known as a bit of strict teacher and I take my job seriously and enjoy it, but I really enjoy jarring my lighter, funnier side with my Demon Headmaster style take on teaching (cue Brent “Get out” said at least eight times a day).
At what point did you sign with your agent and how did it happen?
I’ve only just signed during lockdown with Ebdon Management.
Hollie, who runs them, was really interested in me as a person and what I do and my northern-ness so that really intrigued me. They are heavily comedy-driven as well which is perfect for me. If I’m honest I started to feel like channels, companies etc would take me more seriously if I had an agent and I really needed somebody to get me into rooms and secure me some gigs where I don’t have any contacts.
I spent a few days emailing LOADS of agents, big and small, and basically sold myself a little and attached an example of my best work (an adult sitcom I wrote during lockdown actually). A few came back and I had several chats but I felt like Ebdon were the right ones to help me move my career onwards and upwards.
A lot of writers aspire to create their own original series. Can you talk about the creation of Class Dismissed and how it came about?
Me and two friends (Andy Potter and Ste Collins) met working on CBBC presentation together (which are the mini sketches in-between shows on the channel). It was ridiculously fun and silly and we’d often question how we were getting paid for doing this! It gave us a real love for writing comedy, finding a punchline, seeking out where the funny come from in any given scenario.
Andy initially had the idea of this sketch show in a school and with the Educating Yorkshire series being so successful (and actually quite funny in itself) we thought it was ripe for satirising.
We put Horrible Histories up there as the pinnacle but we were frustrated that they could get away with chopping heads off and being crude and crass just because it was history – which is completely valid by the way whereas we were often restricted or their were certain barriers. But we wanted to write with no restrictions, no limits and just write something that was the funniest it could be and see where it could go.
We knew the head of CBBC wanted programmes “funnier and cheaper” so we thought well they have loads of schools they can film in and, citing Little Britain, we could sell it in a way that 3/4 actors could play multiple characters. We spent a good few months working 10-6 at the BBC, then we’d go and write until midnight until we had a shit-hot pilot. No restrictions, no questions, no one to answer to I suppose, just us three writing stuff that made us laugh.
Loads of super successful comedy writers say that nowadays write what YOU want to write and it sometimes annoys me ‘cause it’s like, well you can ‘cause you’re a well known and amazingly successful comedian and Netflix will just fall at your feet but us lot trying to make a career out of it have still got to think about what people are looking for. However, thinking back on it, Class Dismissed is probably something we did just write for us… but we just had the security of another job to fall back on if it all went completely tits up (which we’re still surprised it didn’t).
Anyway, a few years later we beat Horrible Histories to Best Comedy so screw you Henry VIII.
What’s the process like for writing an episode of Class Dismissed?
With the pilot, it was quite nice (and probably quite rare now) as Andy, Ste and I kind of wrote it all together. Then we started working up characters and took characters as our own and wrote for them specifically.
After that CBBC started to get other writers on board and it became a process of a writers room followed by producers coming to you with what they’d like you to write.
I would ABSOLUTELY LOVE to just be in a room with 1 or 2 of your co-writers and just write. Like, that’s a luxury and, in my opinion, where you’d get the funniest stuff. Because you’re all bouncing ideas off each other. You’re all saying ’no that’s good!’ Or ‘no that’s a load of balls!’ And you need that. Gervais/Merchant with The Office. Coogan now with the Gibbons brothers with Alan Partridge – that’s when something special can be made.
Was there a moment in your career that made you think, “I’ve got this, I deserve to be here!”?
I don’t know if I ever do. It’s classic imposter syndrome with writers, isn’t it?
My partner always tells me I should be proud of what I’ve done/am doing and securing an agent for me is a big milestone.
I was recently approached to write a pilot after an old colleague who’s pretty high up now bigged me up so that was nice. Maybe it was when Chris Douch approached me to answer questions about being a writer? It’s weird, I think I might even go back to the point where we got the pilot for Class Dismissed. That was like ‘woah, that’s pretty good that is’.
What’s your number one tip for writing dialogue?
I’d just say write naturally (for that character of course). Read it back to yourself. Read it with people.
A friend of mine comedian Lou Conran wants to read one of my scripts with a load of other comedians and I think that’s a great idea. If you stutter over it when reading it back or it just doesn’t sound right then put it into words that make sense and feel comfortable to say.
My mate Ste (aforementioned co-creator) sent me a Stranger Things script to show me how effective the dialogue is and how it’s so differently and brilliantly written for the adults and the kids in it – it’s really interesting.
Can you recommend any books or scripts that every writer should read?
Although not comedy – but it kind of is in a lot of ways – I read the pilot of Breaking Bad and it’s (understandably) brilliant. The action is written so vividly and Walter White is initially written as just ‘Man’ adding to the mystery of this science teacher come-meth dealer.
I’ve read some of the Inside No.9 scripts too and they’re great for naturalism. It’s interesting with Pemberton and Shearsmith because when you read their scripts you’re like ‘actually, I could write this’ as it’s so simple and the dialogue flows so seamlessly. But you can’t… you just can’t so stop thinking you can.
If you could reboot any TV series or movie from history, what would it be and how would you bring it up-to-date?
There was a kind of mock trailer for a darker version of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air recently and I thought it was really clever (I think Will Smith’s company might actually be making it?) And then there was Sabrina too which was similarly juxtaposing with the Nickelodeon comedy. I’m a huge NON-believer in remaking a classic but doing it this way is fresh, exciting and it brings it into the modern era.
How about The Goonies? I’m still shocked when people say they haven’t seen it as it just a must-see for any kid aged around 10 who loves an adventure. But how about that was made into a kind of horror/comedy series. I love the concept of mixing horror with comedy as I know kids love to be scared and to laugh. Are You Afraid of the Dark? And Goosebumps were two of my favourites growing up and watching them back now, they are genuinely frightening!
The industry is a little too frightened itself I think to do anything too scary for kids but trust me, we shouldn’t underestimate what kids are watching these days in terms of those genres.
What are your current writing goals?
I want to get another childrens series of my own away. I want to write a bit of animation. But I would also love to write a successful sitcom for adults.
I’ve grown up on comedy watching Brasseye and Smack The Pony from a young age to Stath Lets Flats and Home more recently and I watch so much that I would just love to emulate my idols and write something that stands the test of time.
I’m currently listening to the Book of Mormon soundtrack as I write this and as a fan of writing songs myself I would love to write a comedy musical. That’s mental. I’ve just come up with that but wouldn’t it be amazing?
If you could travel back in time what advice would you give yourself at the start of your career?
This is such a cliche but it’s a cliche I didn’t really listen to so I’m going to reiterate it: make your contacts. It’s all about who you know. I think that goes for so many things in life too but in writing, you never know who somebody is going to become or what they’re going to end up working on and, in my experience, it’s quite a loyal industry.
When I was working at CBBC, when it came to hiring camera operatives they would immediately go with the person who they’ve worked with for years. The person who is always reliable. “Yeah but his rates have gone up to a million pound an hour!” “Doesn’t matter – I want him.” It’s similar when it comes to writing: I know some names that are right at the top of the BBC’s list for coming onto a show despite not having anything to do with the development of the show because they know they’ll do a good job so who can blame them?
Oh god is this advice the same as that other cliche ‘be nice to people on the way up’. Maybe my advice is: don’t use cliches.
What’s the worst part of being a writer?
I think the worst part of being a writer is getting used to being a writer. And by that I mean taking feedback for the first time, taking the knock backs, taking the months and months of unanswered emails; these can be really tough times when it’s something you’re coming up against for the first time.
But after that, aside from the worry of not getting enough work which is the same for people in all jobs really, I think it’s quite a privileged position to be in being able to say you are a ‘writer’.
What makes you laugh more than anything else?
My partner and I laugh at the silliest shit. I think that’s it: random, stupid stuff. Awful puns, making weird names for people you meet in real life… I suppose you can’t take life too seriously. Oh Jesus, I sound so worthy. Can somebody take that and put it on a massive print out and on their living room wall along with a sign saying ‘Live. Love. Life.’
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