As they embark on their mission to compile their very own 'brutally honest' guide to the UK, Ivo Graham, Darren Harriott and Fern Brady explain how the programme came about and what learned along the way.
Where did the idea for British As Folk come from?
I'm really interested in class and identity and Britain, and I knew Darren and Ivo through the comedy circuit so I thought the three of us would be quite a good mix to explore that subject, because we're all quite different.
Ivo's an old Etonian. We went to a super-posh seafood restaurant together the other day. I'm always really self-conscious about following all the correct etiquette in those places, whereas Ivo took his wet shorts off and just left them to dry by a boat. I'm really interested in that posh confidence. I told him, "That's why I wanted you to do the programme!"
Darren is more working class than me. Everyone seems to think of Scottish people as uniformly working-class but I had piano lessons from the age of five, I went to Edinburgh Uni, my dad's a company director, and my parents own their house. Darren was like, "If your parents own their house, you're posher than me." Working-class white people have more in common with a lot of Black British people than we do with the middle classes, so I thought it was quite a nice mix.
Talk us through the mix of different locations.
It's a good mix. I was interested in going to Glasgow because, like Liverpool, it's a working-class place where the average man on the street is very politically engaged, and I wanted to find out why that was.
I wanted to go to Cornwall because I can't afford to go normally! I'm friends with someone who grew up in a council house in St Ives with a disabled mum, and she was like, "Cornwall is not a rich person's place if you're from there." So we got to look at that.
Comedians are generally fond of Leicester because we go there every year to try our new shows.
I have a lot of Welsh friends, so I didn't want to misrepresent the Valleys. I met this Welsh language girl band who are like pro-Welsh independence. They were lovely.
Hull and Essex were the two places I had reservations about, because I don't like gigging there, and I was hoping that I could change preconceptions.
What's your beef with Essex?
I've had nightmare gigs here. I felt like they hate women comics and they think Scottish people are like foreigners. Genuinely. I'm wary about saying that out loud and I'm probably being unfair. One of my best friends in comedy is from Essex, Sara Pascoe is an amazing comedian from Essex, Grayson Perry is from Essex. So there's a lot of really cool creative people that come out of there. I hate when people unfairly stereotype Scotland, so I was very conflicted about what I felt about Essex.
How do you feel about it now that you've filmed there for British As Folk?
Oh, the countryside is amazing. We went to Manningtree to look at property prices there, that was really nice. Afterwards, someone messaged me to say they'd seen me in Manningtree! They were like, "Please come and play at our pub."
There you go. So maybe you're making friends with Essex?
Yes! I always feel guilty because I've had people message and say, "When are you going to do a tour show in Essex?" but I just didn't want to risk it. So I was excited about going to towns that I felt conflicted about.
Did you find that the identity in some areas was stronger than others?
There were some areas we went to where we felt a bit more welcome than others, and I think that has to do with identity. Some people don't want a load of tourists or film crews or whatever coming in and treading on their toes.
I thought Cornwall having its own identity was really fascinating. When a language dies out, which it almost has done in Cornwall, a part of the culture dies out. And I know about that from my own roots.
I interviewed this writer called Chris McQueer in Glasgow and we were talking about how I don't have an anglicised accent after a decade in England. We were talking about speaking in Scots vernacular, and how it's kind of delegitimised. So the Scots vernacular is not slang, and it's not an invalid way of speaking, but a lot of Scottish people have hang-ups about speaking in their natural accent because all we ever saw on TV growing up is that same RP.
When we were talking to the Cornish separatists, they completely deferred to Ivo. There's that deference to that RP accent that he has. He didn't even notice that was happening. So yes, I'm quite interested in regional identities, and how the mainstream media tries to delegitimise it. The cool thing is, with stuff like TikTok and Twitter, there's been a massive resurgence.
There are a lot of young people saying, "Actually, I want to know a bit more about my identity."
Yes. The funny thing is, it's seen by some people as regressive, but it's the internet that's actually making it big again. The Welsh language band, they're really into the Welsh independence movement, and that's gained a lot of traction on TikTok. Similarly with Scotland, there's Scottish Twitter where we tweet in a particularly Scottish way. It's all quite bleak humour and stuff.
What did you do in each location?
The stuff we did was so imaginative and beyond any stereotypical activities I would have anticipated. They also took us to visually striking places that you wouldn't expect to see in Britain. The screensaver on my phone is us in Cornwall on this private beach. It looks like the Mediterranean.
Glasgow has undergone huge amounts of gentrification, and a lot more people are moving out there because they're realising how amazing it is culturally. But how much does that benefit people from high rises? It feels like a very interesting time to be doing this because there is a lot of gentrification happening.
In the media a lot of the news, restaurant reviews, everything references London, so it's good to do something that's going around and not looking at stuff from a London perspective.
Do you think British As Folk will make people want to consider a holiday in Britain, particularly given there's not much opportunity to travel abroad at the moment?
Well, yes, I was surprised by a lot of this stuff, and I've been to all of these places. The Scottish Highlands were insane. I really haven't travelled around Scotland much because I'm just from the central belt. Predictably, Cornwall was really beautiful. Even though we were trying to do the opposite with Cornwall, and go, "This isn't just a place for second homes."
Was there a difference between the way the three of you approached the different locations as you are all from different backgrounds?
I think we've got a nice balance of personalities, because I'm incredibly low energy, and I constantly sound depressed when I talk! Darren's really high-energy and enthusiastic. Ivo is somewhere in the middle.
Ivo has a really effortless charm with people, and Darren is great at any tasks that involve going up to random strangers. He used to sell broadband in the street so he's good at it!
One of the worst days for me was when we were in Hull, we had to hand out these chocolate-covered Yorkshire puddings to students, like something out of The Apprentice. When I'm not doing stand-up, I have an absolute horror of talking to strangers, so I just stood there while Darren and Ivo ran off and were really chatty and friendly to people.
I trained as a journalist after uni, and I really loved interviewing people, so getting to do that again was great. I liked the fact that I wasn't having to do it for a newspaper, so I could just say really silly things. And knowing each other before this made the car journeys really fun.
I hadn't really seen Ivo since he had a baby a couple of years ago and obviously, because of the pandemic, no one's seen each other. A lot of being a comedian in the early days is gossiping. That's the only way we know how to bond! So our car chats were really fun.
Which place would you like to go back to visit?
I'd like to take my boyfriend to Cornwall, but I didn't feel like I fitted in with the millionaires from Surrey that were holidaying there. So we're probably going to go up to Glasgow, or back to the Highlands, because they were just stunning.
What was the most interesting fact that you learned about a place?
When the Cornish language guy told me that he didn't like the French. That's actually because the French oppressed the Breton people, and Cornwall feels more of a connection with the Bretons as they are both celtic. So that was interesting.
Which place surprised you the most?
Probably Essex and the stunning countryside. Because I'd always been to the London end of Essex, I hadn't been out to the coast and it was stunning.
And we interviewed this woman about the Essex witch trials. She told us where the Essex woman stereotype comes from. Basically, the word glamour comes from a spell - you were said to have "glamoured" someone by tricking them with your looks - as it used to just be the aristocracy that would wear makeup and look really beautiful. If you think of working-class women, they didn't really have social capital, so their looks were really one of the only currencies that they had, but falsely improving their looks was seen to be a form of trickery. It was basically any woman that didn't fit in, that was a bit too loud, that had sexual agency, was seen to be a threat.
Or if they were too intelligent.
Yes. They tried to delegitimise women who were medical experts or midwives, for example. I've got Asperger's as well, so I reckon there would have been a lot of women with that, or a lot of women with mental illnesses. Also, the church had money to give to the poor, and they only had so much to give out, so getting rid of these women was a way to save money. There were many reasons for calling someone a witch.
Was there anything you didn't enjoy?
We went to meet these birds and I had a hawk called Ethan, and it hated me. I'm a vegetarian, but I had to hold these severed baby chicks' legs to feed Ethan. Then, for Ivo, they brought out the biggest eagle in the place. I thought it was going to peck his eyes out, and everyone was just laughing. Everyone had this false sense of safety because we're making a TV show, but it could have killed him!
Can you explain the concept of British As Folk?
It's basically three comedians travelling all over Britain, investigating different cities and counties and digging behind the myths or the perception of those places. What's nice is that we all have our unique experiences of Britain. Ivo is from Swindon originally, you've got me from the Midlands, and Fern is from Scotland, so it's a really nice mixture of people.
I'm obsessed with Ivo's life, because it's so crazy to me: born in Tokyo, living in Australia for a bit, then went to Eton. Fern's an interesting one, because she became more middle-class later in life. She went to a really good uni, but her upbringing wasn't that rich. I've been working-class all my life. It's been an absolute laugh, we've had so much fun.
Do you think being a comedian means you have a different point of view on some of the places you visit?
I think so. We go all over the place gigging and meet people from all over. I knew Brexit was going to happen, because I travelled the country. I knew it was going to happen, compared to London people, in their bubble of wonder. I'm from the Black Country so I've always had my eye on the north-south divide. None of it surprised me.
We all have different individual experiences, though. If you said to a non-comedian, "What do you know about this city?" they might say, "It's famous for this food or that cathedral", but a comedian is likely to remember a place by its people rather than by its buildings or anything else. With Essex, for example, there's a bit of a lad culture. They're very, very nice people, but they don't take any crap from anyone. We know that because we've had horrendous heckles from people there!
How did you enjoy travelling together?
We had a hoot. Ivo actually crashed the car because me and Fern were nattering on so much and we weren't helping with directions. That was Day One! I knew it was going to be a good trip after that.
But it's not just funny. There are some real heartfelt moments, and we've met lots of amazing people. We do so much each day: sometimes we'll split up and do stuff individually or in pairs, other times it's all three of us.
Did you enjoy meeting and interviewing people?
It was so fun. We all have different styles of interviewing too. My way is immediately over-enthusiastic, really happy to be there. I'm naturally a really enthusiastic person and I like to learn.
I've met people who do things I never thought I would really care about, like a guy who owned an egg factory in Leicester. I've never been more interested in anything in my life. He's got a massive team of people in the factory: there's the people who peel the eggs, there's the people who make sure the eggs are perfectly boiled, the people who crack the eggs... After about a day, I think I'd be pretty annoyed with eggs. But in that moment, I was all in there.
So you got quite hands-on.
It was very rare that we would just turn up and go, "Hi, what do you do?" Normally it's like, "Hi. I guess I'm getting involved?"
Another time I went to a Welsh vineyard, and I was helping them tie up the vines. I ended up spending £300 on wine. I'd never done a wine tasting before, so we got slightly pissed, we were drinking and not spitting! The last drink was a port, and I got so excited that I smashed my glass on the table and broke it. I felt like an absolute idiot.
Which area surprised you the most?
We went to a food bank in Cornwall. When people think of Cornwall, they think it's full of rich people who have second houses there. And there is a lot of that, but the wealth is so disproportionate.
But we managed to make that funny too, because we were preparing food, and it became a bit of a competition about who could make the best food. The good thing is, we all have hearts, and we all understand that there is a place to be funny - but ultimately, if we can get a nice moment with somebody rather than be funny, then we're always going to do that.
Is it true that you never went on holiday as a kid?
Yes. We were too poor. It wasn't even suggested to ever go to Wales, Cornwall or Scotland. The first time I went away was to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe when I was 19 for a stand-up competition. The furthest I went before that was probably Wolverhampton. I didn't travel at all so everything we saw while filming really surprised me.
Out of all the places we went to for British As Folk, Cornwall was one place that felt like I was in a different country. We saw different types of plants and animals, and they said, "Yes, the climate is just different here." When you think about it, you can get to France quicker from London than you can Cornwall. So that was probably the most eye-opening one for me. I'd never been to a proper beach in my life. We spent time on this one beach, and it didn't look like the UK at all! We couldn't believe it.
What were the locals like in the places you visited?
They were good in Hull and Leicester. In Cornwall, because the van we drove looked like a camper van, we looked like we were there on holiday which I don't think the locals were too happy about, especially as it was April and off-season.
When you speak to them, they can't stand people who buy second homes. They hate it. But it was quite hard for us to find locals. Everybody we spoke to was pretty much well-to-do English people like, "Oh, we love it here!"
Were there any parts you didn't enjoy?
We went to this Buddhist temple in Wales and did a meditation thing. I only lasted five minutes. I got up and left; I was very respectful but I just couldn't focus.
Where would you most like to go back to?
I would probably say Cornwall. My favourite place was Leicester, which was really fun. It was nice to talk about diversity in a positive light. But I really enjoyed Cornwall and I'd like to explore it more.
What's the most surprising or interesting fact that you learned?
Probably that there were witch trials in Essex. I had no idea. We learned about this guy who called himself the Witchfinder General, who was behind 400 murders of women. We learned about the rituals and what these women went through. As you walk around you would see his portrait. I'm like, "Why are you proud of this guy?" That blew my mind.
And we learned how the witch trials history is linked to the modern Essex Girl stereotype. Because when you read the description of what they considered a witch, it was a loose woman who would use glamour to entice and trick men. And I was like, "Here's me thinking it was just vajazzles and reem."
Oh - I had no idea there was a language in Cornwall. Only 50 people speak this language. This guy who was in charge was pretty right-wing. He didn't like the French, he said Cornwall is a country, they have their own flag which is black and pretty intimidating. I didn't know any of that.
Do you hope that people will watch British As Folk and realise it's not so bad to holiday in Britain?
I think they will. One of the hidden gems of the show - other than myself, Fern and Ivo! - is the drone shots. We've got amazing shots of everywhere we've been to. Wait till you see Glasgow, Glencoe, Wales, Cornwall. We went to a sand dune in Wales, the second largest sand dune in Europe, apparently. It does look like we're in Lawrence of Arabia. I think it should do a little bit for tourism, because people have been stuck indoors a lot over the past 18 months.
Ivo, tell us about the format of British As Folk.
It's about challenging stereotypes in different parts of the country. That was quite fun for us to do because we're all from different places. Fern's got her very authentic Scottish identity, and Darren is quite rooted in the Midlands. Our experience of most places is through whether or not we had a nice gig there, and maybe sometimes judging them just for that, even though it's probably our fault if it didn't go well.
I'm quite wary of stereotyping places because I don't really feel like I've got a particularly strong sense of place identity. I travelled around a lot growing up, but essentially I'm a bit of a home counties posho and I don't have that sense of loyalty to any one city.
I don't like, particularly in the current political climate, some posh person saying, "Well, this is what I've always thought about Wales." I'm very happy to go there for a couple of days and see if it's true, but I don't want to Eton-splain. So we're striking a balance between doing stuff that will be funny and doing stuff that is genuinely a bit investigative into the stereotypes. I've come away from these places with a new enthusiasm for them. I'll be going back out on tour once things have eased up properly in the autumn, and I'm thinking, "Well, I have to spend two days in Leicester because I've simply gotta go to that curry house again, and I promised I'd go for a drink with the university professor that I interviewed about Richard III." It's like we've left these little souvenir friendships in every town.
Did the three of you know each other before the show?
Fern and I had done Roast Battle together about two or three years ago, which is really good for any comedy friendship. Darren, Fern and I went to Melbourne, Australia for the comedy festival about three years ago, and Fern and I went on to Sydney after that. So we've spent a lot of time together over the years.
Do you get to see much of the cities you gig in, usually?
No. You only know about the train connections or the parking, or what the food is like near the venue. I really like travelling and I quite like telling my friends from school or uni, "I'm off to Nottingham for the weekend." Even if you are getting quite a limited version of it, it still feels quite intrepid. But this has been so much more so than any of that.
What surprised you about the places you visited?
I don't think that I've had my mind completely blown, just because I've always tried to avoid letting myself fall into stereotypes of places too much, but I definitely had some of my views a bit challenged.
In Cornwall, we did a couple of things which were particularly focused on challenging that sunny second-home image. I interviewed a man who was standing for the local Cornish council seat, who spoke very passionately about the importance of certain areas in Cornwall that need more help. We went to a community food bank to help out and they told us about their importance in the area.
Cornwall is a big part of the posh circuit. I didn't do much of that sort of thing when I was a teenager, but lots of friends had second homes in Cornwall. There are lots of deprived areas too and I hadn't thought about that aspect too much before now.
We did an episode in Glasgow: Fern is from Bathgate so she was interesting and authoritative about Scottishness and about Glasgow. Then the next day we went into the Highlands and she said, "I've actually barely been here," whereas I was going, "My dad loves our family holidays to the Highlands, the walking is just unrivalled." That's what my people do, we just cherry-pick these really remote, beautiful parts of the country.
Tell us about the dynamic between the three of you. Do you have different approaches when it comes to going to these places?
Part of it obviously comes down to different knowledge that we're bringing with us like Fern in Scotland, or when we went to Leicester, as Darren is from the Midlands.
But generally our approaches are different. I'm quite keen and also quite disorganised, so I'm both a prepper and a crammer. I was reading lots of Wikipedia articles in the car, whereas Fern and Darren were just more relaxed. That being said, I think that's partly just because their knowledge already was so good. Fern will have watched a documentary five years ago and remembered something very specific from it. A lot of the time I was very happy to sit and listen to them as they knew more than me.
And you offered to be the designated driver, is that right?
Yes, I did. It's so pathetic, but I'm really proud that I can drive, which is so stupid to say at thirty. We had this tour van full of GoPros so there's footage of us chatting en route to a place. I think that's going to be some of the most interesting bits of the show: our anticipation of activities or our reaction to them afterwards.
I did crash the car on the first morning there. I was actually quite flustered, because I'd got into Hull the night before at about 7pm. I'd been doing this live stream called Off Menu: The Redemption Dinner Party, where people who have been on the Off Menu podcast come back to apologise to the hosts Ed Gamble and James Acaster for their bad choices. It went, in the best possible way, very badly wrong. I accidentally mentioned the hotel that I was staying in, not thinking about the fact it was a live stream, and people started calling the hotel and asking to be put through to my room. Someone even sent me a banana yoghurt by Deliveroo. It was incredibly stressful. The phone in my room just kept ringing with this - understandably - increasingly irate receptionist.
So the next day I felt a bit under-prepared. Fern and Darren were so excited to hang with other comics, so there wasn't much consideration - and nor should there have been - for the fact that I was driving and trying to remember directions. So I was trying to remember where the turning was, missed the road and drove into a field. There was a bump. I ended up with a very low-hanging bumper, probably £300 worth of repairs.
Can you tell us a good fact that you've learned along the way?
Leicester has the biggest Diwali celebrations outside of India in the world. The Leicester episode was quite focused on the multicultural nature of the city. Comics have quite a specific relationship with Leicester because it has its own comedy festival every February.
Whereas we were doing activities like going to the Golden Mile where they have all these Indian jewellery shops and restaurants. We were shown around by this guy, Dharmesh, who had this lovely restaurant, Bobby's, which we went and ate at, and it's just got such a specific identity.
Which place would you most like to revisit?
I've come away with some really nice memories, and even a couple of new friends and people I'd like to see again in all of the places. The nice thing is, I can be quite confident I will go at least on tour to most of them.
I think probably Scotland is the place I'm most keen to revisit. The Scottish Highlands are amazing; I have this very deep relationship with Edinburgh from doing the Festival ten years in a row; and I've popped across to do maybe three gigs in Glasgow, which is such a cool city.
I also love Wales. The Welsh Valleys are obviously stunning, but that's not completely new to me as I've spent a bit of time there.
The other surprise was Spurn Point, which is about 45 minutes out of Hull. It's like the Land's End of the East Yorkshire coast. It was just beautiful. Just looking out into the North Sea, it was very other-worldly.
Do you hope that people will watch this and go, "Oh, there are interesting places to go into Britain"?
Yes, I hope so. I'm aware that even "staycation" has become such a politically loaded word, with people resenting not being able to go abroad, while other people are saying, "Well, even a staycation is a great privilege." But it was a really reinvigorating experience of just so many beautiful and different places around the UK that you can go.
Whether or not this will be specifically an advert for them, or whether it will just be three prats in a van, I don't know. But for me, it certainly made me think. I've got a young daughter, so there were so many times when I thought, "I'd love to bring her here one day."