Click on a thumbnail to see a full size image. Knife & Wife airs as part of Channel 4's Comedy Lab series on December 6th, at 11.30pm.

Check out the Comedy Lab website at www.channel4.com/comedylab/

Part Three

Get a load of this, you silly fresh boys and girls: Channel 4’s Knife & Wife animated Comedy Lab is complete, and provisionally scheduled for broadcast on Thursday December 6th. Frankly, welsh animation studio Siriol has performed a startlingly brilliant job given the intense budgetary and time limitations. It’s safe to say they’ve done us proud in bringing Popular Culture’s #1 Chicken Character to the small screen.

But hey – that’s for the future. For now, we concern ourselves with the past. To wit: how we got to this stage. Crivvens – it’s Part Three of our Knife & Wife Telly-Ganza feature series thing!


So, it was decided, that in spite of being scheduled in a late night slot, Knife & Wife should be made for a broader audience. This was good for two reasons: 1) It forced me to be a bit cleverer in the writing, and not resort to needless sweary-dos when I ran out of jokes, and 2) You can be so much more subversive when you’re pandering to a wider audience.

After the disastrous, directionless, and mostly very unpleasant first draft, it was fairly clear that the script needed a focus. I tinkered with the possibility of Knife worrying that he was getting too old, but threw that out – I didn’t want one of the main protagonists spending the episode wracked with angst, like some big ponce.

And then I hit upon Knife realising he has no friends, and attempting to prove otherwise to Janine, his wife. After a couple of mini drafts, both myself and Channel 4 commissioning editor Robert Popper (confusingly, keep your eyes open for Look Around You, his excellent BBC2 comedy series, sometime next year) felt that the story was still all messed-up.


The character of Jeffrey – Knife and Janine’s son – was another sticking point. Of all the characters, it was Jeffrey who became the hardest to nail down. He started as a sort of proto-Leftie, and then an effeminate softie, before he became a deliberately cipher-like teenager, worn down by years of emotional abuse by his talking chicken father.

It was draft number five when it all started coming together (I should explain how I write… Unlike most other writers, who’ll rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, and sit back and re-read, and rewrite, and reread, and then show scripts to their friends and family to get an opinion, and officially only have done two and a half drafts by the time whatever it is that they’re writing gets broadcast, I prefer to keep an ongoing open dialogue with Mr Telly, bombarding him with relentless drafts. It can be fairly unyielding for poor Mr Telly – in this instance Robert Popper – but it helps me to shape the story in my head and on PC-paper… mmm?).

By mini-draft number five, I’d pretty much stripped the story back to basics; there would be no deep inner analysis of the characters, or any major events, just a basic day-in-their-life sort of thing, where Janine wanted a loft conversion, and Knife didn’t. And that was that. That’s all it took. The basic structure, scenes, characters (Jeffrey excepted) and broad strokes were in place – ready to be trimmed, and extended, and re-written and revamped over the subsequent dozen or so drafts. Except… it didn’t quite work like that.


Sometime around draft number 13, I lost the plot quite dramatically. Suddenly wracked with terror that everything written thus far was utterly appalling, I began cutting out vast sections of the script, and delivered a draft which wasn’t so much two steps forward, as a million leaps backwards. So devoid of funnies was this script, that it would become to be known to Robert Popper and myself as “The Forgotten Draft”.

But that was OK. I got over the crisis of confidence, and the remaining drafts dribbled out surprisingly smoothly – in spite of deliberations over a line about Buzz Aldrin doing “the first poo on the moon”.

Mr R. Popper suggested the line be removed, on account of it being juvenile. I, however, felt very strongly that it was a funny line, and fought my corner to keep it in. Then, when it came to deliver the final draft, I decided the line wasn’t funny after all, and took it out myself. Hey-ho. Such is the fickle nature of we “creatives”.


As the writing juddered to its conclusion, the time had come to consider the other issues required when making things for television. You know: stuff like who’s going to make it, and who’s going to be in it, and that. The list for possible cast members was long, and featured pretty much every up and coming comic talent in the country.

However, it was an associate of Robert’s who suggested getting an older, more established actor – someone like The Goodies’ Graeme Garden, or the late Terry Scott – to voice Knife. And then Robert suggested Monty Python’s Terry Jones, and after that we couldn’t bring ourselves consider anyone else ever doing the voice. Which was pretty stupid, because – we figured – the chances of Terry Jones doing it was about as likely as Jesus agreeing to host a week-long thrash metal festival. Yet word did come back: “Tell them I’d love to play the chicken”. And that was that.

Over the following weeks, we met with several animation companies, and elected to go with the 20-odd years experience offered by Superted producers Siriol – under the production aegis of veteran animation gurus Robin Lyons and Les Orton – rather than a newer, hipper company. Nicely, unlike some of the others, Siriol was more than happy to keep my designs of the characters intact – and for that I shall always love them.


The Knife & Wife recording session was undoubtedly the most surreal day ever. It was mad enough that here was a cartoon being made of the stupid, poxy little comic strips I used to draw for friends at school, but having a comedic icon – not to mention stars of Big Train, Spaced and bloody George out of George And Mildred – bringing those characters to life, and telling me they thought the script was funny, blew the top of my head off. Literally. It made an awful, awful mess.

Highlights included Terry making a number of inspired directional suggestions, and reprising his Python “pepperpot” voice, Paul Putner’s Charlton, with accompanying distressing vomiting actions, Jessica Stevenson’s authentic “old woman” stance, Kevin Eldon’s Dad’s Army impressions, and… Brian Murphy being himself.

And heck, Terry was kind enough not to point out all the Python references in the script.


And so, with that, it was up to Siriol to knuckle down and “do” the animation. Three months later, and the 24-and-a-bit-minutes Knife & Wife is finished. Fully scored courtesy of the excellent Brollyman, and looking as great as it sounds, it feels a bit funny that it’s all over. ‘Course, if enough people contact Channel 4 after December 6th to tell them how much they enjoyed it, who knows what could happen… Do you see?

Hey now – click this link here for an exclusive extract from an early draft of Knife & Wife. You won’t be seeing this ever. Why? Because it’s eerily reminiscent of a scene from South Park, you big cheesy puff, that’s why.


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