Kathy Burke says 70s nostalgia inspired her sitcom

Kathy Burke says 70s nostalgia inspired her sitcom
Kathy Burke says 70s nostalgia inspired her sitcom (Image credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima)

Kathy Burke tells us about her new Sky Atlantic comedy series, Walking and Talking, based on her experiences growing up in north London in the late 1970s... The characters Kath and Mary first appeared in Sky’s Little Crackers series. Were you pleased they asked you to develop it into a four-part series? “It was really nice because I loved working with Ami Metcalf (Kath) and Aimee-Ffion Edwards (Mary). My only worry with Ami was that she’s so bonny looking. She’s so scrumptious, she’s like a 1950s barmaid, so we had to rough her up a bit!” Was it hard remembering life in 1979 or did you have to research it? “I could remember it all to be honest. Once I knew I was going to keep it simple and conversational between the two girls it made it a bit easier. It was hard in one way because I knew nothing really dramatic was going to happen so I had to make it interesting with just these two girls walking to and from school.” You appear as a teacher, Angry Nun, who’s mean to her colleague, Pretty Nun, played by Sean Gallagher. Who is Angry Nun based on? “Angry Nun is sort of based on my dad and Pretty Nun is a combination of my lovely Irish aunties. I’d told Sky originally that I wasn’t going to be in it, but I wanted people like comedian Gerry Sadowitz, who plays Jimmy The Jew, and Sean Gallagher in the cast so I agreed. A bit of emotional blackmail, really!” Are you still in touch with your friend Mary? “Well Mary is actually a mixture of lots of girls who were my friends at that time. Throughout my life I’ve always had pretty friends! But she’s mainly based on my mate Diane who I’ve known since I was four. When Diane saw the first two episodes she was watching the two nuns and suddenly went, ‘Oh! It’s you!’ So I said, ‘Yeah, what were you thinking?’ She said, ‘I was thinking, there’s something really wrong with that bloke.’ I had to tell her that the other one was the bloke!” Although you’ve written for the theatre before, this is your first experience of writing for TV. How did you find it? “I was so lucky because Sky just left me alone - I didn’t have to follow any rules so it felt like writing a play. I wanted to write something that reminded me of shows I used to watch in the 70s like Our Day Out and Blue Remembered Hills. They were great fun, but character and dialogue led. They weren’t about a young prostitute ending up a cadaver or something! “I don’t know whether it’s me being older, but I just get really worried for young actresses and the things they’re expected to portray now. They’re just expected to take their clothes off and do sex scenes. Why? In this show, the girls don’t even swear.” Did writing it make you feel nostalgic? “Yeah, we all look back and think, ‘If only I could talk to my younger self.’ I did feel a bit sad sometimes, but I also look back and feel quite proud of who I was. Of course, I’ve only shown the nice side of Kath. I haven’t shown the horrible side of her being rude to teachers and being a misery at home! Proper Kevin and Perry!” Do you think the 1970s was a good era to grow up in? “Compared to now, yeah. But back then it felt horrible. Nobody had any money, there was rubbish everywhere, but television was brilliant. You had Play for Today, I Claudius and great sitcoms. I loved television so much, but life was still grim. As Kath says in the show, ‘Life will be boring till we can get into pubs!’” Walking and Talking premieres on Sky Atlantic on Monday, June 25

Patrick McLennan

Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix. 

An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.