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Tim Downie on playing an argumentative journalist in comedy Hapless

Hapless My5
(Image credit: Channel 5)

Wherever journalist Paul Green goes, chaos and confusion is never far behind and it’s usually of his own making in My5’s new six-part comedy Hapless, which is among a raft of new shows which are exclusive to Channel 5’s free catch-up and streaming service.

Upstart Crow and Outlander actor Tim Downie stars in Hapless as Paul, who works for The Jewish Enquirer, a fictional online newspaper which runs earth-shattering "exclusives" such as "Chief Rabbi shops at M&S", "Adam Sandler lookalike looks like Adam Sandler" and "Our favourite recipe for fried eggs".

However, Paul’s tendency to speak his mind while following up stories in Finchley, north London, and thereabouts, often causes offence in the comedy, available now on My5.

Along the way, Paul manages to get into a row with a vegan entrepreneur over her hemp milk, has a dispute with the instructor at a speed awareness course and gets into a toe-curlingly awkward situation with a dwarf. 

"Paul gets himself into arguments incredibly easily," says Gary Sinyor, who wrote and created the series.

Things aren’t much better for Paul outside of work as he gets into more scrapes with his permanently-riled sister Naomi (Lucy Montgomery), his neurotic and desperately single friend Simon (Josh Howie) and his dad Ronnie (Geoffrey McGivern), who’s more like a big brother than a father to him.

Here, Tim tells us more, revealing what to expect from Hapless, the similarities he shares with the argumentative hack and what it was like to film scenes on the streets of north London…

How would you describe Hapless?

"It’s been described as the British Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I think it leans more towards classic British comedies, like Rising Damp, which was a big influence to both me and the writer, Gary Sinyor. I used to watch it constantly growing up. Also, in one scene I channelled my inner Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em because it involved the physical comedy and clowning around that I love. I was exhausted afterwards though. It felt like I had been for a run."

Tell us a little bit about Paul…

"The way his brain works is that if he sees something he doesn’t understand, he will vocalise it rather than take a moment to figure it out or sit quietly and not say anything at all. He does have some rather bizarre thoughts about things but he always gets his comeuppance."

Are these situations made up or are they based on real-life experiences?

"They are a mixture. A lot of these situations have come from Gary’s own experience or experiences that he has acquired second hand. Some may be embellished, but they have all happened."

Are there any similarities to your own life that you brought to the role?

"It’s the little things that really annoy Paul, so the similarities would be the constant battle with insignificant things that wind me up. For instance, I get incensed when someone opens a drawer in a kitchen or a cupboard door and then just leaves the room. Why would you keep a door or a drawer open? I could bang my knee on it. I also get annoyed by people suddenly stopping on an escalator, standing in the wrong lane on an escalator or getting off an escalator and then just stopping. I’m very similar to Paul when it comes to getting disproportionately annoyed about things."

You’ve starred comedies such as Upstart Crow and Toast of London, and have had dramatic roles in shows including Outlander and Judge John Deed. What do you enjoy most, comedy or drama?

"I like them both. They both do different things. There’s nothing better than going to work on a comedy and trying to work out what’s funny. For me, that’s a great way to spend your time. You have to think, what are they going to enjoy? What are they going to laugh at? What will help them to forget their troubles at the end of the day? There’s something really quite wonderful about comedy that does that. But drama is fantastic, too, because that’s about telling a story, which is one of the best things. It’s primal. It’s what we all do. To do that as a job is a rare treat."

Some of us remember you as Sam Smallwood in Hollyoaks and Alex North in Doctors. Would you consider going back to soap?

"I’d maybe do a little bit, not too much, but yes."

Hapless is filmed on location rather than in a studio. How did you find that?

"You do get people just stopping to watch and chat. What’s brilliant is when you’re in the middle of a scene and someone comes up to you and asks you directions, even though there’s a camera and a small crew around you."

Do you think there be a second series?

"I hope so. Gary has pretty much written it. He has a tonne of stories, so there’s material for a second or even a third series. I’m going to dissuade him from giving Paul anything physical or dangerous though, like showjumping or downhill luge. I think l’ll suggest cake testing. That’s more my speed!"

Hapless is on M5 (see our TV Guide for more shows to enjoy).