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Dawn French and Julie Hesmondhalgh on joy of making Maggie Cole!

Dawn French and Julie Hesmondhalgh
(Image credit: Joss Barrett)

Dawn French and Julie Hesmondhalgh reveal how they became close while filming ITV’s The Trouble With Maggie Cole…

A signed up member of television comedy royalty, Dawn French has delighted us for decades. So we of course expected a jolly time when we travelled to Devon to meet her on the set of her new ITV drama The Trouble with Maggie Cole.

Dawn stars as Maggie Cole, a local busybody from the small fictional coastal town of Thurlbury. Maggie works in the gift shop at the local castle and in the opening episode, a radio journalist asks her to give an insight on local life as the town hits its 500-year celebrations.

Unfortunately, Maggie gets a little too tipsy and reveals all the local rumours, real and imagined, not knowing this bit is being recorded. Her scurrilous gossip is then revealed during the live broadcast with everyone listening in during a big barbecue in Maggie’s garden. It’s all very excruciating for all there, not least Maggie!

Maggie’s loose-lipped interview has terrible consequences of many in Thurlbury, including a crime mystery that plays out during the six-parter, and some horrendous fallouts, including with her best friend Jill, played by former Corrie star Julie Hesmondhalgh.

So we were delighted to meet Julie on the set too, who joined Dawn French in excitedly revealing more on The Truth About Maggie Cole…

So what can you tell us about Maggie and Jill?

Dawn French: “Well, Maggie is someone who’s quite needy, and makes a big mistake. During her interview with a radio journalist, she gets drunk and gossips far too much. Her world then falls apart because Thurlbury is such a small town, so it affects everyone…”

Julie Hesmondhalgh: “Jill is Maggie’s best friend and deputy at the school where Maggie’s husband Peter is head. We’ve all got a friend like Maggie who’s full of themselves and bigs themselves up all the time, but Jill loves Maggie and accepts her. So she ends up feeling badly betrayed by the radio show.”

Maggie Cole (Dawn French) holds an excruciating barbecue

Maggie Cole (Dawn French) holds an excruciating barbecue

How does it affect their friendship?

DF: “Maggie’s husband is about to retire so Jill is the natural heir to the headship. But Maggie implies live on air that Jill’s ‘not the sharpest tool!’ It’s just so unforgivable. I don’t think she even means it. If I’d betrayed my best friend like that it would be absolutely devastating."

JH: “It just hits a nerve for Jill as she’s actually pretty smart, she just doesn’t wear it on her sleeve. So it really cuts deep for her that a friend would say that publicly. It causes her lots of pain.”

Have you ever got into trouble gossiping?

JH: “Oh yeah. In my universe, it’s the mis-sent text – you’re sending a text about someone but you accidentally send it to them instead! It’s happened to me once and the person I was talking about rang me, so obviously I knew straight away what had happened. I wasn’t saying anything really bad so it was okay, but I felt pretty awful!”

DF: “I’ve been around gossip and thought: ‘That doesn’t feel right, as that person isn’t here!’ But it’s also human nature to think ‘Gosh they’re having a terrible time, at least my life isn’t as bad as that!'”

Jill becomes estranged with her pal Maggie after the radio interview is broadcast

Jill becomes estranged with her pal Maggie after the radio interview is broadcast

Tell us about filming in the west country…

JH: “It was really fantastic. I had my family down and we explored both Cornwall and Devon and had a really lovely time for a proper holiday weekend!”

DF: “I live in Cornwall, so filming here in Devon is lovely. But it’s actually a two-hour drive to most locations every day, so the irony is I was furthest from the set because all the other cast stayed nearby, so it didn’t feel particularly convenient! It’s been a pleasure though and we’ve had so much fun filming! I loved recommending places to visit and things to do in Devon and Cornwall, plus where to find the best Cornish pasties and cream teas!”

Where will their friendship go? Can it ever be repaired?

Where will their friendship go? Can it ever be repaired?

What was it like working together? We hear you’ve become good friends…

DF: “I knew I’d love Julie from the first moment I met her on the set! I’ve admired her for ages and I was so happy when she agreed to do this. She came to my house one weekend with her family, too, and we had a lovely time.”

JH: “We’d planned to go to Fowey in Cornwall where Dawn lives and I didn’t want to look like a stalker, but she gave me her number, so I texted her on the day and was like, ‘look if it’s not convenient just say!’ And she said, ‘no I’m in, do come!’ So my family and I spent a weekend with Dawn. It was absolutely amazing because I’d grown up watching French & Saunders. She’s so incredibly welcoming and incredibly warm. It’s been a proper joy to work together!”

* The Trouble With Maggie Cole starts on ITV, Wednesday March 4, at 9pm