Chris Fewtrell (left) and Simon Crowther (right) are two names with which Coronation Street fans will no doubt be well familiar, both having written for the soap for fourteen and twelve years respectively. In that time, they have brought a myriad of storylines to life through their carefully crafted scripts.
In looking back at episodes they’ve written which have resonated with me, some in particular stand out. With Simon, I count the one in which Jack Duckworth passed away as one of the best I’ve seen in my time watching the show. In it, we were witnessing the death of a legendary Corrie character in more ways than one, as we saw a man experiencing an encroaching distance between himself and the world around him before he became reunited with wife Vera in death, and it was intensely moving. He also wrote a key episode as part of the ‘Who Killed Tina?’ storyline, where Rob Donovan pushed her from the builders yard balcony.
When it comes to Chris, regular readers of the blog will be accustomed to me writing about his work over the years. We recently asked viewers to choose their single favourite episode of Corrie. A tall order! But, mine was one by Chris which directly followed Deirdre’s funeral in 2015. Slow paced, dialogue-heavy and covering just two locations, as friends reminisced in the Rovers, and the Barlows thrashed it out next door, it was sublime. Other key episodes for me which were written by him include the deaths of Michael Rodwell and Kylie Platt, and a beautiful episode from December 2013 in which terminally ill Hayley’s Christmas wish is simply to see the daffodils in spring.
Given the calibre of both writers, I was very excited to learn that they had created and written a new sitcom together which is currently airing on BBC One. Home from Home is a six-part series telling the story of the Hackett family who have fulfilled their dream of buying a lodge in the Lake District where dad, Neil (Johnny Vegas), is determined to have the perfect time for his family of four.
Reining in Neil’s enthusiasm for a flawless adventure for his clan mightn’t be such a challenge were he not neighboured by the infuriatingly accomplished Robert, played to perfection by Adam James. On encountering this perceived challenge to his manhood, Neil’s resolve becomes less about making decisions that please himself and the family than being better than Robert, often at the impossible. Buoyed by the enthusiasm of youngest son Little Neil (Harvey Chaisty), his resolve persists despite doubtful, yet benevolent, looks from wife Fiona (Niky Wardley) who is reluctantly supportive of his efforts, and the pained stoicism of older son Garth (Oscar Kennedy) who is every bit the awkward, yet endearing teenager.
What’s wonderful is that Neil’s battle against this male embodiment of everything he perceives he isn’t is one-sided. Rival Robert has no interest in one-upmanship which makes it impossible not to like him. In fact, every character is endearing and relatable, which is quite a feat when they engage in conflict at various points as things develop, and the main protagonist experiences jealousy, envy, disappointment and anger throughout. I think the key to this is that Neil’s suffering is at the hands of himself rather than the person he’s pitting himself against, and this makes him sympathetic while absolving the other characters of blame for his self-inflicted victimhood. Johnny Vegas succeeds in silently conveying what’s really at the heart of Neil’s actions in those quiet moments between his disastrous attempts at achievement. The rest of the cast have no choice but to be on the journey with him, and in turn evoke empathy and sympathy by their very situation. Their ability to make the most of it is another contributory factor to ensuring their likeability.
Robert’s wife Penny (Emilia Fox) is also a disdainful joy to behold, whether smoking on a climb or musing loftily over how she thought her life would end, and their adopted daughter Petra (Olive Gray) is an intelligent, good humoured teenager who reacts with respect and kindness, not cruelty, when Garth’s crush is exposed by his little brother. Indeed, Harvey Chaisty’s authentic performance in the role of Little Neil is a consistent source of humour.
Elaine Paige is a very welcome surprise in episode two, and marvellous as Neil’s confident, flirty, mother, Mercy. Even though she clearly riles Fiona (would anyone want to see their mother-in-law arrive at the Acropolis on their honeymoon to Greece?) she is an absolute delight. Nor do we like Fiona any less for her frustration. Again, all characters prove relatable at some point. The pairing of Mercy with Paul Barber in the part of Fieldhouse is a joy, and I hope we haven’t seen the last of either of them. In fact, while Paul has already had a couple of stints on Coronation Street, I could imagine this pair treading the cobbles, and would happily see Mercy dragging her leopard print cases out of a taxi and up to The Rovers’ door.
The programme is a lovely watch which aptly captures the joys and fond frustrations of the family holiday. The comedy is as airy and warm as the beautiful Lake District cutaways that have me vowing to visit for the umpteenth time, but there is also enough spice in there to ensure it’s in no way saccharine.
From a writing perspective, you can hear both their voices in the script, which is interesting to observe if you’re a fan of seeing how collaborations are borne out. Aside from the show being a very enjoyable watch, knowing the work of both Chris and Simon on Corrie, it’s intriguing from the point of view of seeing how writers we know well in one arena bring their ideas and work together to create something new in another. If this does interest you, I’d recommend taking a look at their brilliant interview for BBC Writers Room in which they talk about their paths to writing for Corrie, how they approached writing this programme, and who inspires them.
Home from Home airs Fridays on BBC One at 9.30pm, and I highly recommend tuning in. If you’ve missed the first two episodes, you can watch them on the BBC iPlayer. This week’s third episode, with added Susan Calman in the role of Lorraine Sykes, sees Neil throw a party in an attempt to rectify his lack of popularity, but we’re told his plan backfires when Robert proves to be the life and soul of the party.
I’m looking forward to it already!