Bursting with razor-sharp wit and classic British humour, Drop The Dead Donkey exposes the underside of the broadcasting industry in all its riotous glory. Watched by millions at its peak, the original Channel 4 sitcom, as well as the brand-new stage production, written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin (Outnumbered), stars original cast members Susannah Doyle, Robert Duncan, Ingrid Lacey, Neil Pearson, Jeff Rawle, Stephen Tompkinson and Victoria Wicks

Ahead of Drop the Dead Donkey’s visit to Newcastle Theatre Royal (Tue 21 – Sat 25 May) we spoke to its co-creators who revealed some little-known facts about the BAFTA winning television show…

1) Dead Belgians Don’t Count was the original title that was chosen for the show. But Channel 4 pointed out – not unreasonably – that such a title might adversely affect sales to Belgium.

2) Henry Davenport would be out of work in the modern era. Henry (played by the magnificent David Swift in a performance that conveyed both the character’s chaos and dignity) was, let’s be honest, a reprobate. No modern broadcaster would fail to suspend someone whose photo was constantly splashed over the tabloids, leaving a nightclub, drunk and with an age-inappropriate woman on his arm.

3) The show featured many animals, including alligators, cockroaches, Harris Hawks, a panther (that Damien tried to pass off as the Beast of Bodmin), wallabies, a Pekinese dog (Sally’s doomed pet), Siamese fighting fish, a rabbit, some lobsters, and a cat that casually wandered into shot. During the filming of a stunt. Involving a falling piano. Don’t worry, the cat lived.

4) We were confused with reality on social media (where else?). A sequence where Damien was reporting on the burning of seized cannabis and got high as a kite found its way onto the Internet and was mistaken for a real reporter really getting stoned. The accompanying caption read ‘Look at this idiot!’ which is ironic, given that the caption was put there by an idiot.

5) Late re-writes were an occupational hazard for the cast. Often they were given new topical dialogue to learn just a few hours before the recording. We were always vulnerable to late-breaking stories. Robert Maxwell nearly ruined a whole episode by very selfishly falling off his yacht.

6) Some actors suffered for their art. Although we would argue that we were never to blame. For instance, we did not know that when we buried Stephen Tompkinson up to his neck in the ground his forehead was hot because he had malaria. Similarly, when we lashed Robert Duncan (Gus), naked, to a lamppost we had no idea that a crowded night-bus was about to drive past.

7) Politicians rarely complained about us, which always made us worry if we were doing our job properly. In 1990, we did receive an angry fax from an obscure Tory MP informing us that his would be one of ‘thousands of complaints’ that we would receive concerning a ‘vile joke’ made about the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher in last night’s episode. We checked Channel 4’s overnight log; the programme had triggered 3 telephone calls, one to commend the joke about Mrs Thatcher and the other two enquiring where you could buy the dress that Sally Smedley had worn in Part Two.

8) The show won many awards, but one episode from the third series – ‘Paintball’ – won both a BAFTA and an International Emmy, despite the fact that it very nearly didn’t get made. Jeff Rawle (George Dent) had spent the week in hospital, stricken by a kidney stone. He only managed to rejoin us on the last day of rehearsal, after he’d had surgery. Unfortunately, for Jeff, the episode ended with George fainting – which required one of TV’s most painful ever pratfalls.

9) “She’s a bit mad, but I think you’ll get on!” was the recommendation from our friend Denise O’Donoghue that led us to our wonderful director, Liddy Oldroyd. Liddy had not directed a sitcom before, but we had interviewed several established sitcom directors who all seemed a little ho-hum. Liddy, on the other hand, was someone who was fizzing with ideas and energy. In so many ways, she gave the show a highly original feel and, without her boldness, the show would not have been such a success.

10) Many giants of TV appeared as themselves in the show. There were guest cameos from news veterans like Jon Snow, Kirsty Wark, and Michael Buerk, politicians like Teddy Taylor MP, Ken Livingstone, and Neil Kinnock. If you watch the final moments of the last ever episode you will see Gus having his desk carried off by two very tall removal men. One is the show’s co-creator, Guy Jenkin. The other is a very youthful-looking Richard Osman.

Read the preview release here

Drop The Dead Donkey plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Tue 21 – Sat 25 May 2024. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.

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