We’ve had the pleasure of speaking to Sean Garnett, writer of Andy Capp! In our world exclusive interview, he talks about how it was taking over from it’s creator Reg Smythe. We also talk about a change in social attitudes towards comedy since the 1970s. And how which Mancunian legend could play a live-action version of the legendary comic strip…
A FAN OF ANDY CAPP
J: Were you always a fan?
SEAN GARNETT: Well while the Daily Mirror was always in our house when I was a child I never really looked past the sports pages so didn’t see much of the Andy strip back then. As I got older, I started reading it almost every day.
J: How did you end up writing one of Britain’s most iconic characters?
SEAN GARNETT: It was a question of being in the right place at the right time. The right place being my job as a sub-editor on the Daily Mirror. The previous writer, Roger Kettle, decided to give up Andy in 2011 as he had an awful lot on his plate at the time with other strips. He asked my co-writer Lawrence Goldsmith, who is a Mirror graphic artists and cartoonist, if he knew of anyone who could take over. Lawrence and myself had worked on other cartoon projects together and he asked if I fancied taking over writing Andy with him. I thought about if for about a fraction of a second before saying yes yes yes…
It’s not often you get the chance to take over the script writing of such an iconic strip and follow in the footsteps of the legendary Reg Smythe and vastly talented Roger Kettle. I was, naturally apprehensive, as it was a huge responsibility to take on an already well-established cartoon and try to maintain that high level of quality writing, while also keeping Andy relevant by adapting to today’s ever-changing world without losing that essential character Reg invented.
Sean continues: We were both aware we could be the people who sank Andy Capp if we weren’t up to the job, so that was a big undertaking. I’m hoping we’re doing OK ha. We are both very lucky in that we work with veteran artist Roger Mahoney, who took over after Reg died, and he is so talented with a pencil he can rescue any script that may fall below par with some deft artwork. When you consider he only has a mouth and a nose to work with on Andy’s face, he still manages a whole range of expressions.
ANDY CAPP KNOWS HOW TO RELAX
J: How do you switch off from writing?
SEAN GARNETT: Lawrence and I both have very different ways of writing. While he is more methodical, writing maybe one strip a day before we meet every three or four weeks, I tend to do everything in a bit of a blind panic just a couple of days before we get together with around 20-25 scripts each. So I have a manic burst of creative energy that lasts for a day or so then I collapse in a mentally exhausted heap after raiding the fridge of Stella. That helps me relax.
J: Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
SEAN GARNETT: Not block as such, but I have often really really struggled to get that first idea out, which isn’t great when you’ve only given yourself a day or two to knock up 20 scripts. However, once it does come it seems to open the creative floodgates and more follow quite quickly. I honestly have no idea where some of them come from. Maybe Reg’s spirit is filling the deep recesses of my mind with gags.
J: There’s a danger of repetition in this format but you appear prolific and fresh, what’s your secret?
SEAN GARNETT: It’s very, very hard to be 100% original in any creative field this day and age, be it animation, music or film. Everything has pretty much been done before so there is a lot of variations of themes going on. We made a conscious decision to create a couple of new characters, without crowding out the old favourites. We decided to bring in more slapstick comedy, such as the fight bubbles and daft accidents Andy gets involved in. And we tried to get younger fans on board with the introduction of a bit of modern technology… Not that Andy uses it! But we felt the strip had to adapt and include everyday things that most people now take for granted.
J: I think it’s fair to say comedians have to tread more carefully these days than 60 years ago, how have you handled it considering wife-beating, alcoholism and gambling are themes from the original strip?
SEAN GARNETT: Well it was Reg himself who dropped the wife-beating as he was getting uncomfortable with it in the changing moods of the 70s and 80s, so that hasn’t been an issue for many a year. Boozing and gambling are still part of many people’s lives and a lot of humour comes out of pubs and bookies. We’re not trying deliberately to buck the PC trend, but readers do tell us one of the things they love about Andy is the way he goes about his daily business caring little for authority and rules etc.
J: Legends Tom Courtenay and James Bolam have played the part of Andy Capp on stage and TV respectively, are there any more plans to revive a live-action version?
SEAN GARNETT: There was a brilliant, sell-out rerun of Trevor Peacock’s Andy Capp musical at the Finborough theatre in West London in 2015, starring Roger Alborough as the loveable rogue himself and Lynn Robertson Hay as Flo. I was told there were plans to either take it on the road or try to get it in the West End, but I haven’t heard anything since. I hope it does reappear in a bigger venue, with Roger and Lynn as well as the rest of the cast as their performances deserve a wider audience.
J: Is there anyone else you could see playing the part?
SEAN GARNETT: I’d like to see Roger keep the part as he was so good. Or Liam Gallagher, he’d be perfect.
J: It’s huge in America, he has his own frozen foods right?
SEAN GARNETT: I think there are Andy’s Hot Fries.
J: But it was amazing when he was mentioned in The Simpsons!
SEAN GARNETT: Any exposure on the Simpsons is good and the way Homer spoke in glowing terms of Andy’s bone idleness was a true mark of respect. To have the strip, or the character, recognised in such a famous show is testament to how far-reaching Andy has become. He also featured in an episode of Family Guy – with a cockney accent.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
J: Do you plan on working on any other comic strips?
SEAN GARNETT: No. One mad panic every three weeks is enough for me.
J: Which other comic strips could you recommend to our readers?
SEAN GARNETT: To be honest, I don’t read many comic strips. I’m not usually one to recommend anything as it’s so subjective. I have recommended things in the past to people who later told me it was rubbish, so I gave up. But I do like Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis.
J: What else inspires you from modern-day pop culture?
SEAN GARNETT: I have a wide range of likes when it comes to modern-day music. But I wouldn’t say any of it influences me as such. I just enjoy listening to it. I’ve never really played video games. The last thing I played was Space Invaders! Back when they used to have them in pubs set in those tables so you could rest your beer on them!
J: Cheers to that!