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"Benidorm is my love letter to the resort": writer of hit TV comedy, heading for Alhambra stage

WHEN Derren Litten was commissioned by legendary comedy producer Geoffrey Perkins to write a script, the brief was to “write anything you want, as long as it’s funny”.

“I had an idea about two middle-aged swingers on holiday in Spain, and thought, ‘Where do I go from here?’” says Derren. “I kept picturing characters around the pool…”

The result was ITV’s hit comedy Benidorm. First broadcast in 2007, it has won two National Television awards and been nominated for Baftas and British Comedy Awards. Season 10 is on early 2018.

Now the much-loved show is coming to the stage. The seeds were sown when Derren wrote a Benidorm sketch for the Royal Variety Show. “It wasn’t in the programme, so when the theme tune was played there was a gasp from the audience. It was a great litmus test,” says Derren. “I started thinking about a live show but so much has to be right – the actors have to be available, you have to book theatres a year ahead. The planets hadn’t aligned until now.”

Derren is in the process of writing Benidorm Live, which goes on tour next year. A new set of Alicante escapades brings the Solana Hotel gang – Mateo (Jake Canuso), Jacqueline (Janine Duvitski), Liam (Adam Gillen), Joyce Temple-Savage (Sherrie Hewson), Sam (Shelley Longworth) and Kenneth (Tony Maudsley) – to the stage.

“I don’t get excited about much, but I’m excited about this,” smiles Derren. “There’ll be a completely different dynamic on stage. The relationship between actors and audience is a two-way process, they’re not just passively sitting in front of the TV.

“We don’t have a laughter track on the TV show and it’s always been a bit frustrating for me not to hear the audience laughing. Unless I stand in people’s gardens, listening at their windows at 9 o’clock on winter evenings, I won’t hear it!

“I have some ideas about introducing an element of audience interaction in the second half. No two nights are the same in theatre – you get the ‘what happened the night we saw it’ thing.

It’ll be something the whole family can watch together, like panto.

“I didn’t want to do the arenas because I don’t want it performed in an aircraft hanger with the audience on plastic seats. I want it to be in the kind of theatres I went to as a kid. The intimacy of the theatre is all part of the show.

“I’m from Hull and grew up going to the Alhambra, it’s a beautiful theatre.”

After leaving school in Hull in the late 1980s, Derren worked as a magician between drama school auditions. At the Central School of Speech and Drama he met fellow student Catherine Tate and later wrote for her TV sketch show, also appearing in some sketches.

He has performed in many comedy and drama shows, including French and Saunders, Spaced and Green Wing. His work as a writer includes the re-make episode of Are You Being Served?, one of the sitcoms he grew up watching.

“It was a golden era of comedy, we’ll never get that back. People don’t watch TV like that anymore,” says Derren. “I hope Benidorm is on after Corrie next year. That’s how people often watched sitcoms.”

Like all great comedies, the premise of Benidorm is simple. An assortment of Brits on holiday spend their days lounging round the hotel pool and nights knocking back sangria and belting out karaoke tunes. The success of the show, which has had the likes of Joan Collins in the cast, lies in its warmth as well as its razor-sharp comic writing. There’s a big heart at the Solana.

“I’ll be honest, when Benidorm started I didn’t know if it would come off,” says Derren. “It wouldn’t work if people didn’t care about the characters. I grew up watching Carry Ons, it’s that balance of cartoon-like characters and warmth.”

There was talk of an American version. Would that work? “A script was written, but the premise is very British. Working-class people in America don’t go abroad on holiday, a lot of people don’t have passports. It’s such a vast country,” says Derren. “For me, Benidorm is the ‘Northern Disneyland’. People work hard and enjoy two weeks in the sun.

“I’d never been to Benidorm when I first wrote the show. Now I love it. This show is my love letter to the resort.”

* Benidorm Live is at the Alhambra, October 29 to November 3, 2018. Call (01274) 432000.

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