Lunch Monkeys

10.30pm Thursday 3 February on BBC THREE

Disorder, time-wasting and mayhem rule at personal injury law firm Fox Cranford as the Lunch Monkeys return to BBC Three

The Monkeys continue to cause big trouble in little Cranford, in the admin department of personal injury law firm Fox Cranford, as the second series of the BBC Three comedy Lunch Monkeys starts filming six brand new episodes of mayhem.

Kenny and Tania get it together and two becomes one – Kenia; Asif is pretending to be a lawyer; Darrel and Shelley become flatmates; while the glamour and power of the law courts Mike (Nigel Havers) has a wife who’s divorcing him and Gloria (Sian Reeves) thinks at last she’s in with a chance… and hot-shot solicitor Charlie (Steve John Shepherd) continues to use the Monkeys for his own ends.

Dodging disciplinary action and irate clients, the post room gang continue on their careers – going nowhere fast. And so their eight-hour working days go by in a flash of nonsensical time wasting, scams and bust ups.

This season Kenny (Christian Foster – Powder) not only gets the girl of his dreams, but his art is taking off – hilarious pictures sketched by Christian himself – as he gets involved in the Manchester music scene.

Tania (Jessica Hall – Sheila in Hollyoaks) is now Post Room Supervisor and when her ambitions clash with her boyfriend’s creative urges it turns into a major Kenia-gate.

Gloria is overjoyed to be made Mike’s PA until his tearaway daughter joins the Monkeys for work experience, so Darrel (Chris Hannon – Coronation Street) immediately falls in love.

Monkey town is never boring while Shelley (Rachel Rae – Scallywagga) continues burning the candle at both ends and evergreen Asif (Abdullah Afzal) rolls with the punches.

Also this series stand-up Steve Edge (Phoenix Nights) joins as Darrel’s dad, with Kulvinder Ghir (Goodness Gracious Me) as the proud father of his ‘high flying solicitor’ son Asif… who is really just a lowly Monkey.

Lunch Monkeys is made by Channel K (Best Independent Production Company 2009 in the North West in the How-Do Awards) and written by David Isaac, who was inspired by his own experience of being a supervising solicitor in a Manchester law firm.

The producer is Matt Tiller and director young talent Matt Holt (Comedy Cuts, Headcases). The Executive Producers are Jim Reid and Alan Marke for Channel K and Jon Rolph for the BBC.

Lunch Monkeys is filming on location in Salford Quays, Manchester and is due to be transmitted on BBC Three later this year.

In episode one, new girl Shelley joins the team. Unfortunately office manager Gloria is too tempted by cakes on the fifth floor to be bothered to give her an induction and leaves the job to Darrel. Darrel is the longest serving member of the admin team, but also the least competent, and only keeps his job because he’s loyal, loves Fox Cranford and, bless him, at least he tries.

Unsurprisingly Shelley fails to make a good impression on her first meeting with Mike and things get worse when she misunderstands the concept of lunch-hour.

Meanwhile, indie kid Kenny is in love with blonde colleague Tania and resolves to ask her out with the help of some cracking chat-up lines suggested by slimy love-rat solicitor, Charlie.

But things get complicated when Tania tells Asif that she’s actually seeing Charlie (and that she might be pregnant), but he is sworn to secrecy.

Should Asif tell his closest mate in the post room, Kenny, that his beloved is taken or tell him that Tania’s got AIDS and is a lesbian?

Liverpudlian Rachel Rae graduated from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts two years ago and plays the baby of the Lunch Monkey’s bunch, Shelley.

Rachel says: “Shelley is kind of like a classic Scouser but she is quite vulnerable. She has just come out of school and she is very sweet with an innocence and naivety to her.

“She has a boyfriend called Swanny who is horrible, I wouldn’t go out with him. I imagine she has always lived in Liverpool and so, when they move to Manchester, she has to start again, as she has no close friends, or support.

“She fell into a crowd with him so she is impressed because he is a loud mouth but he is definitely not very nice to her.

“I think as the series goes on though, as she meets all these other people in the post room, she sees in life how you should treat each other. She gets treated nicely by other boys so she wonders why, when Darrell is so nice to her, why her boyfriend is horrible.

“So by the end of the series she clicks, and grows up.”

Surprisingly throughout the series, Shelley, the most junior of office juniors, forges an unlikely bond with Mike, the boss of firm:

“There is quite a nice relationship from the start between her and Mike, the boss. You wouldn’t expect it because they are so different, he is the head of the company and she is a little girl from school, who says what she thinks and doesn’t care, but weirdly enough they get on and he’s got her back.”

And Rachel has really enjoyed the experience of working so closely with experienced actor Nigel Havers, who plays Mike:

“It’s been amazing, obviously coming out of drama school you’re still learning and you pretend, ‘I’ve got this covered, and I’m alright’, but you are still definitely learning. You make mistakes, but working with Nigel I felt like I acted better, he is so natural, he is brilliant!”

Steve John Shepherd made his name in the BBC’s seminal Nineties law series This Life, in which he played legal clerk Jo. Now, having been to law school, he has risen to the dizzy heights of personal injury specialist Charlie Brierson in this new comedy series, Lunch Monkeys.

Stephen says: “I really like Charlie, he is incredibly fun to play. I think he sees himself as slightly misunderstood.

“He is a man who likes to seize the moment, he is a now man and he is also very… concupiscent. That means he has heighted sexual desires towards women, he literally wants to have it with every attractive woman he finds.

“He has no intimate and social skills, they are just not that well developed and when people do show feelings he is slightly confused by that and worried.

“In a way Charlie is not much different to the post room lot as he is in a job that is probably below him. He hasn’t achieved as much as he probably should even though he is in the upper echelons of the firm.

“That’s part of his troubled side as well. He has a very troubled relationship with his father who is a High Court judge. It transpires that his father is very disappointed that Charlie hasn’t achieved something higher than a lowly ‘No Win, No Fee’ solicitor.”

In the series Charlie has what he thinks will be a quick fling with Tania. But she has different ideas, so what does Stephen think Charlie’s real feelings for Tania are?

“That’s a very difficult question. I think that he certainly harbours what could be called affection for her. He’s certainly very fond of her and if he had the requisite personal skills, which he doesn’t, I think he would make an alright partner. But she is very sweet and he likes her, that’s why he kind of tries to do the right thing even though it’s so not the right thing to do.”

So has Stephen ever had a mundane office job that he wanted to escape from?

“I had many jobs before I went to university and the place where you work becomes so familiar, doesn’t it? A little world that you live in, you know it so well that your mind just wanders.

“I remember, in particular, having a Saturday job on Oxford Street, when I was 16, and there were lots of people getting together. I wasn’t one of them because I was so young but I just observed it. It was interesting to watch, a ready-made soap opera!”

In his first TV acting role, Abdullah Afzal from Cheetham Hill in Manchester plays kung fu-loving, joker Asif.

Describing his character, Abdullah says: “He is always messing about a lot and has a lack of knowledge in some areas and too much knowledge in others.

“He is quite silly and very physically active – he is always jumping around, hiding behind something, always wanting to play. He is like a really immature kid, just like myself.”

Asif works in the post room but his family have a totally inflated idea of what his role in Fox Cranford actually is:

“His dad is a bit demanding and thinks Asif is a solicitor, so Asif is always trying to act like he is one not to disappoint him. Whenever his dad is around he is always in some kind of trouble just to keep up the disguise.”

Abdullah has some sympathy for Asif’s situation as he, too, has ended up in a different career than his family imagined for him:

“I had never done any acting until I was in college, my family didn’t support it, they wanted me to be a lawyer just like Asif’s dad does. But I’m the kind of guy who wouldn’t do any written work and in the drama practicals I always got full marks, everyone wanted me in the group for confidence.

“My dad’s really supportive of me now, he knows I won’t do anything else so I may as well try and become a big actor or something different. I don’t think there has ever been an actor in our family.”

Playing Asif has been a complete learning experience for Abdullah both on and off the camera:

“I don’t have any scenes with Nigel but we always want to listen to his stories. On the day of the read-through, after every line I looked at him to see what he thought of it. It is kind of a natural reaction.

“Sian as well, I have loads of scenes with her and she is a brilliant actress, I learnt a lot.”

Abdullah was also keen to get an insight into other areas of the production process: “I sat down with the sound guy, put the headphones on, did the voice, worked on the camera and lights, everything. It’s unbelievable. I just like to do everything to see how it works.

“I love editing, I have a master kit at home. I started off really rubbish with Windows Movie Maker but I’m getting better and I’ve got a fan base on Facebook.”

Abdullah comes from a big family and he wants to use this experience in the future:

“I come from a huge family, I mean, if I walk around I always see one of my relatives somewhere. I’ve got three brothers and two sisters and they all have about three kids. I’m the baby of the family, but I have half-brothers younger than me.

“I’ve always wanted to write and I do have an idea of something I would like to make. There are so many things that happen in my household that would never happen anywhere else. I would love to be able to put that down on paper.”

But for now Abdullah is determined to make it big in the acting world:

“I’ve always looked at the big picture and I want to go right to the top straight away, so I’m a big dreamer now. Bond, I could see myself as the next Bond.

“Bond does Bollywood – that would be great.”

Jessica Hall, originally from Leigh, near Wigan, trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and has previously appeared in BBC Three’s sketch show Scallywagga in which she played, amongst others, the unforgettable Donna Disco.

Describing her character in Lunch Monkeys – Tania – Jessica says: “She is quite feisty, and is probably a little bit more evil than the others in that group.

“She has ambitions and is always chasing that promotion. People assume she is not that bright, because of the job she is in, so she wants to show she can do better than that.”

In the series Tania gets involved with the office bed-hopper, Charlie, a relationship not destined for a happy ending.

Jessica says: “Tania is very much into Charlie, the posh solicitor, and she thinks that he is into her just as much but he really just has a one-track mind.

“When she finds out she is pregnant with Charlie’s baby I think she is quite happy and excited about it all, and believes they will live happily ever after because Charlie proposes to her, when, in reality, it’s only because Nigel’s character Mike implies Charlie can only be considered in a partnership if he makes an honest woman out of her.”

In sharp contrast to Charlie’s feelings, Tania is adored by her practically non-syllabic co-worker Kenny: “Yes, Kenny is in love with Tania but he ends up being a bumbling idiot because he finds it hard to express himself.

“They do have quite a close friendship. They both care about each other; when Tania gets herself in these mad situations Kenny is there to pick her back up and is very supportive. He has rescued her a few times when she is down in the dumps.

“So it becomes obvious that Tania should be with Kenny and not Charlie. Charlie just does not know any better, he is not evil, just selfish – he just wants a promotion and sex whereas Kenny is actually really sweet and really cares for her.”

Sian Reeves has appeared in a number of high-profile TV series including Hope Springs, Cutting It and Northern Lights. In Lunch Monkeys, Sian plays Gloria, the so-called office manager.

Speaking about the character, Sian says: “Gloria is very, very important to herself and nobody else. She thinks she runs the whole ship but she doesn’t.

“She has these underlings, which she loves, because they do nothing and she does nothing. She has never shown them anything or what to do, so really they are not in the wrong because she never lets them do anything.

“She thinks she is sexy, she thinks that she is gorgeous and she has loads of power trips that she does on the youngsters which is terrible and sets them spinning a little bit, I think, but then they get on with it because they are a bit stupid and so is she.”

Gloria has a grand but completely unrequited passion for Mike, the boss of the firm played by Nigel Havers.

Sian says: “She is madly in love and in lust with Mike and she thinks anything he says is wonderful, she actually believes one day that she could have a future, marry and have a home with him. There is no way of that happening, she is so common and crude, and she is really a girl from nothing who thinks she has made herself into something with make-up and hair and awfully tight-fitting clothing. I can sort of imagine she has been an employee for 20 or so years and they just can’t get rid of her.

“You would get sacked if you were a man doing the sexual advances that Gloria does. She is in the men’s faces with her chest all the time, and is always full of innuendos. If it was a bloke he would be pulled up for it. It’s very interesting – it’s been lovely to play.”

In her role Sian worked very closely with the younger cast members and was very impressed by their comedic performances: “Oh they are lovely, I am constantly amused and bemused by them all day on and off screen. They are very good, very talented and they have such a modern way of being and performing. Each one of the boys and the girls is a certain type of comedian and I think they are very brilliant.”

Sian is also full of praise for co-star Nigel Havers: “Nigel is naughty. He just tells me all these stories all the time of things he has done and got away with. I thought he would be a bit more aloof, but he’s not, he is right in there. He is an absolute joy and such fun to work with.”

Sian has recently been seen in BBC One’s drama series Hope Springs and working on Lunch Monkeys meant a completely different style of working.

“This is very much a contrast to Hope Springs; I’ve never really done a proper comedy series, so it’s very much a change of rhythm to work with. Usually you learn lines, then you get on set and have a little practice and then it develops from there in but with this you have to have a pitch and style.

“With Gloria, she is so mad that lots of her dialogue doesn’t make sense, it’s very hard to learn… she’s sort of battling on about herself. I’ve got to learn verbal diarrhoea and it needs to be very quick so it’s a whole different experience for me.”

Lunch Monkeys is about a group of people finding themselves in a job they don’t particularly want and Sian has had experience of being in the wrong job at the wrong time:

“I got asked very nicely to leave once. It was in this bank in Piccadilly and I just simply wasn’t good enough. They said I was nice, which was great, but each day I had to look after the phones and touch type all day and I just couldn’t. I was awful.

“But I kept smiling and getting tea for everybody and just generally trying to be helpful but just doing nothing. And the next thing it was, ‘Look, we really like you but you are going to have to go, we do really like you but you’re not quite good enough’.

“But then, my friend got me some part-time work, and all the sex stuff in that office was really there. So I’m aware of all the naughtiness that goes on in cupboards, and suggestions and cheeky lunches with married men. We got away with all sorts by pretending we had a lot of filing to do.”

Nigel Havers is one of the country’s best known actors thanks to his roles in Chariots Of Fire, Passage To India, Man Child and, most recently, in Little Britain and Brothers And Sisters.

In Lunch Monkeys Nigel plays Mike, a senior solicitor in the firm, who has the unenviable task of trying to marshal the backroom staff to actually do some work.

Speaking about his character, Nigel says: “Mike is the long-suffering boss of a group of people who work behind the scenes in the post room of obviously quite a big and important solicitors firm. He has to deal with these youngsters who are quite mad.

“He is actually quite a nice character but I think he always looks as if he is slightly burdened and tired. There is nothing these guys could do that could surprise him, he has a hang dog look at life – he has seen it all before.”

For Nigel, the legal setting of Lunch Monkeys was a familiar one, having come from a high-profile legal family. His father Lord Havers famously defended Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on drug charges in 1967 and become the Lord Chancellor during Mrs Thatcher’s government.

But, despite this pedigree, Nigel was never tempted to enter the profession himself: “No, my brother did, so I suppose he did it for me, but I do know enough about it.

“I mean, this is not about the law, except it is quite interesting that it is set in a solicitors firm. It’s the seriousness in a way, the contrast of a comedy being based in a serious place.

“I think the audience will watch it and think, hang on, but then get the whole point of it really quickly.”

In Lunch Monkeys Nigel worked closely with a young cast, which is one of the reasons he was attracted to the role: “That was one of the big attractions for me, and they are all very talented. They have either grown into their characters or their characters have grown into them, and they seem to all know exactly what they are doing.

“Also, it is very funny, it made me laugh out loud reading it. You have to remember and have faith in the fact you laughed when you first read it because the business of making it is different altogether, comedy is a very serious business.”

Mike is the object of office manager Gloria’s (played by Sian Reeves) affections but Nigel is adamant that Gloria’s love will remain unrequited:

“No, there is absolutely no way, not if I have anything to do with it. He was obviously drunk at the office party once and something happened but I don’t think he can remember that. You never know, she may get her act together but I doubt it!”

Nigel recently featured in BBC Four’s I Haven’t Seen Star Wars during which he got a real tattoo, ate a Big Mac for the first time and had to provide a critique of The Smiths.

He is also well known to many comedy fans as The Leader of the Opposition in Little Britain (also directed by Matt Lipsy). So, was taking a role in a new BBC Three comedy a conscious decision to continue to appeal to a younger audiences?

“It was in a way and I wanted to do something between doing episodes of Brothers And Sisters in America which is a different environment altogether and I didn’t want to do theatre in that gap because it takes me away, so this environment is perfect.”

Lunch Monkeys was filmed on location in a mill in Stockport, a far cry from the glamour of Hollywood where Brothers And Sisters is set, but Nigel didn’t mind the contrast:

“To be honest with you, at the end of the day, you are in front of a camera doing the same thing so it’s nothing to do with glamorisation – Hollywood does sound very glamorous but it’s not – I try and get back home as soon I can.”

Kenny loves Tania, Tania loves solicitor Charlie, Charlie “loves” anyone, Darrel loves Shelley, Shelley has a boyfriend, Swanny. Asif fancies Lee Ann, Lee Ann fancies Charlie – and then there’s Mike and Gloria…..

Welcome to the world of Lunch Monkeys, a new six-part comedy series for BBC Three starring Nigel Havers (Brothers And Sisters) and Sian Reeves (Hope Springs, Cutting It and Northern Lights) with Steve John Shepherd (This Life) alongside a cast of new young talent.

The administration department of personal injury law firm of Fox Cranford is a gathering place for school-leavers, no-hopers and general misfits – and if they monkey around till lunch, its guerrilla warfare in the office till dinner.

Straight out of school, and into a job they don’t want, Darrel, Kenny, Asif, Shelley and Tania are going nowhere fast. Looked down on by the solicitors they work for, they face constant criticism by their power hungry supervisor Gloria Stevens.

Bored senseless for eight hours a day, the post room gang fill their time fighting, flirting, winding each other up and generally causing mayhem whilst dodging disciplinary action and the occasional irate client.

Not to mention the office sleepover, mistaken identity, ghosts, tramps and a serious case of fatal attraction!

In his first role for BBC Three, Nigel Havers plays solicitor Mike Cranford who, to Gloria (Sian Reeves), is the glamour and power of the law courts personified.

As Gloria strives to be recognised and rewarded for her role in the company she is continually let down by her team of teenage wasters… and through her own lack of professionalism.

Hotshot solicitor Charlie (Steve John Shepherd) is Tania’s misguided romantic interest and lovelorn Kenny’s nemesis.

The series was written by David Isaac, who was inspired by his own experience of being a supervising solicitor in a Manchester law firm. His other writing credits includes BBC Three’s Scallywagga and he has recently written on BBC One’s, Not Going Out.

Lunch Monkeys is being made for BBC Three by Channel K and the director is Matt Lipsey (Little Britain, Saxondale, Psychoville). The producer is Matt Tiller and the executive producers are Jim Reid and, for the BBC, Rebecca Papworth.

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