Uh-oh. Now we know why the UK has so many dark “comedies”:
by Simon Hattenstone
Paul Abbott is in danger of having created a new character every bit as monstrous as Shameless’s Frank Gallagher, and he is so excited that the words can’t tumble out fast enough. Detective inspector Vivienne Deering (played by Joanna Scanlan from The Thick of It) is not shy of squirting vaginal deodorant in public meetings, occasionally confuses it with her mouth spray, takes the longest (singing) pisses in TV history, will do anything to protect herself, is pretty good at looking after others too, and is not to be messed with. No Offenceis the first original UK TV series Abbott has written in more than a decade.
He has been working in television for 30 years, and in the 80s and 90s made his name writing for Coronation Street and Cracker, and co-creating the medical series Ward Four with Kay Mellor. But it was in the noughties that he established himself as one of the TV greats, with an astonishing run that included Linda Green, Clocking Off and most memorably State of Play and Shameless, two series that couldn’t have been more different.
Shameless focused on feckless Frank Gallagher and his army of kids. Gallagher was the workshy alcoholic, forever running from police and responsibilities, happily stealing child benefit and headbutting his son Ian to express his disappointment. Somehow, Abbott managed to make Frank likable, and turn Shameless into a triumphant tale of survival rather than a parody of the Manchester underclass. Meanwhile, State of Play was a tightly written political drama about a newspaper investigation that showed off Abbott’s phenomenal grasp of detail and process. State of Play became a successful Hollywood movie, starring Russell Crowe, and Ben Affleck, while Shameless was adapted for the USand became just as successful stateside.
Now Abbott is back with No Offence, where you can see the influence of both dramas: there is the sense of police procedural from State of Play, the pantomime grotesquery of Shameless, and as always that brilliant ear for the individual voice.
Eight years ago, Abbott started the Writers’ Studio in Manchester, which encourages more of a US-style team approach to writing. No Offence is a product of this, with episodes written by five different writers, all of whom had helping hands in every episode.
We meet at his apartment in central London – one of four homes he now has (the others being in Manchester, France and Los Angeles). Abbott is pacing up and down, smoking away, fizzing with energy. He recently brought himself a device that measures how far he walks in a day: “Even if I haven’t left my house, I do 16km in circles round the house. It’s not like I’m doing it to get healthy, it’s just what I do.” He is skinny and tiny, a Matchbox man, with shocking blue eyes. He talks fast, invariably juggling a handful of stories at once. He says his 23-year-old son, now a police officer, had to warn a friend who had not previously met Abbott that it is hard to keep pace with him, that his stories all land – but not when and where you might expect them to.