The Persuasionists. Image shows from L to R: Billy Hitchens (Iain Lee), Emma (Daisy Haggard), Clive Johnson (Jarred Christmas), Greg Bannister (Adam Buxton), Keaton (Simon Farnaby). Image credit: Bwark Productions.

The Persuasionists

Sitcom about the flaky, shaky, fakey 'creatives' who work in the advertising industry, trying to persuade you to buy things you don't want

The Scum Also Rises (Pilot & Working Title)
2007 - 2010  (BBC Two / BBC Three)
7 (pilot + 1 series)
Adam Buxton, Simon Farnaby, Iain Lee, Jarred Christmas, Daisy Haggard
Jonathan Thake
Bwark Productions

A sitcom about 'creatives' who work in the advertising industry. Underworked and overpaid, they're the people who spend all day trying to persuade you to buy things you don't want with money you don't have. They're scum.

There's Billy, who's smart and funny and still works in advertising; uncontrollable urge-bag Keaton; neurotic, spoiled Emma; Australian boss Clive; and hopeless, witless, feckless Greg - who wants to be as ambitious and amoral as his friends, but can't seem to manage even that.

Over the six episodes, the five advertising degenerates face selling a brown smelly 'cockney cheese' for disillusioned, aggressive and frightening cockney client Jim. Issues of beauty are tackled with ruthless honesty as Emma becomes the 'Head of Handsomeness' and creates the 'corridor of beauty' and a home for the ugly. Keaton, the Head of Global, becomes impotent as he learns that women are somehow human too. Keaton and Billy engage on a war of being impractical and battle it out to prove they are not mature and sensible. Emma embraces the new 'diet stuff' drink and starts a protest against fat people with her hand-made ryvita cross. Billy experiences the frustration of writer's block and Keaton steals the employee's happiness. Boss man Clive installs a new initiative to make the office more Australian and Greg falls in love with a client with no returned affection.

Our Review: The Persuasionists began in 2007 as a sitcom pilot for BBC Three called The Scum Also Rises, which starred Chris Barrie and Kevin Bishop. A second unbroadcast pilot was produced in 2008 and in early 2010, four years after the first pilot, a full 6-episode series finally arrived.

The show had been through so many changes during the development phase that the full series that came out the other end of the development process was only vaguely reflective of the first pilot. For example, it became a live studio audience comedy, moved channel, and had been almost completely re-cast.

Many of these changes were clearly a mistake - The Persuasionists ended up being one of the biggest sitcom disasters British comedy has seen in the last few years.

The show was bashed by critics, but it was the rapidly falling audience ratings that killed it off. Half way through the run it suffered the ultimate (and very rare) humiliation of being yanked from its scheduled slot and moved to a 'graveyard' slot instead (story).

We actually think the show had a lot of potential - somewhere between Reggie Perrin and The IT Crowd, with a pinch of Perfect World, The Persuasionists was light, bouncy and didn't take itself too seriously.

Adam Buxton as Greg is very likeable, and Keaton, played with zeal by Simon Farnaby, had the possibility of becoming a great sitcom character. Admittedly, we perhaps didn't warm to the others so much, but as sitcoms with OTT characters almost always take a few weeks to bed in, we think people just judged this too quickly and didn't give it a chance. Ultimately, the disgraceful treatment given to it by a clearly ratings-chasing BBC Two was its downfall.

(For less positive reviews see the press cuttings section and our forum)