Hatty Ashdown interview

Give Out Girls. Image shows from L to R: Debbie (Tracy-Ann Oberman), Andy (Ben Bailey Smith), Steve (Alex Carter), Gemma (Diana Vickers), Marilyn (Kerry Howard), Poppy (Cariad Lloyd), Zoe (Miranda Hennessy). Copyright: Big Talk Productions
Give Out Girls production. Hatty Ashdown

Hatty Ashdown, the co-writer of Give Out Girls, talks about creating the comedy...

Hi Hatty. Could we ask you to introduce what your show is about please?

Give Out Girls is character led sitcom about a gang of four girls, a boss, and a couple of guys, who work in the world of promotions. It's a world we've never really entered before, but one that is instantly recognisable to anyone who's ever done a crap job to pay the rent or ignored a promotions person in the street!

How did the TV project come about?

Through working in the world of promotions on-and-off for about six years, I started to make notes of any silly things that happened or characters I met. I was discussing the concept with Robert Popper, who I met through a close friend, and thankfully he saw legs for it as a show and took it to Big Talk Productions.

Robert introduced me to Tony Mac Murray to help with my first draft. I'd written a rough first episode already and Robert had said he liked my comedy 'voice' but at that time I had little experience of writing, whereas Tony had already written a sitcom before with Adam Buxton, called Last Chancers.

Tony and I got on really well from the start (we even did an Edinburgh show together years ago), which I put down partly to our Kent roots - little did we know, but we grew up not that far from each other - but most important was the fact that we could make each other laugh, which - when stuck in small room for hours on end writing - is key!

This is your first TV writing credit. How did you find the process?

The discipline of writing sitcoms was a hard format to get my head around at first and, especially as a dyslexic, it was a huge shift from just writing jokes and anecdotes for stand-up. Thankfully Tony did have experience, so his skill, speed and patience got us through it.

However, we both discovered what the style of the show was as we went along. It started off a lot slower, but as we worked together the pace got quicker and the gags faster.

Although it goes against the traditional sitcom format, I was always adamant that the girls had to be in a different location every episode, as that's the essence of promo life... trudging around to weird and often un-glamorous parts of the country. Luckily Big Talk supported us in this.

Give Out Girls. Image shows from L to R: Debbie (Tracy-Ann Oberman), Andy (Ben Bailey Smith), Steve (Alex Carter), Gemma (Diana Vickers), Marilyn (Kerry Howard), Poppy (Cariad Lloyd), Zoe (Miranda Hennessy). Copyright: Big Talk Productions / Popper Pictures

How much of the show is based on your personal real life experiences then?

I'd say a lot of the show is based on my real life experiences - it's almost autobiographical. Obviously we change things to fit the sitcom format or the storyline, but - to be honest - what really happened was often a lot worse and far too dark for comedy!

What was the worst campaign you worked on during your time in promotions?

There were so many terrible campaigns; whether it be an awful product you don't care about, or an embarrassing one, like anti-wrinkle cream... how the hell do you go up to people with that? 'You look like you need this, madam'.

Sometimes it would be a horrible boss who'd make you stand in the cold and rain. I stood in the thick snow once outside Kings Cross Station (before it was done up) with all the other 'street workers' trying to get rid of a shed load of gym memberships.

One job that actually, at the time, I didn't mind so much, but looking back makes me shiver and shudder was for a, let's say, 'very famous travel agent company' who focus on being able to 'book your holiday late'. We were dressed up as holiday reps in bright pink skirt suits with no coats in January. At one point my friend went so cold her lips turned purple. I asked if she could have a break and reluctantly the bitter, frustrated actress who was our team leader reluctantly said yes. I took my friend to the toilets to thaw her out under the hand dryer - a regular comfort in promo.

Give Out Girls. Image shows from L to R: Marilyn (Kerry Howard), Gemma (Diana Vickers), Poppy (Cariad Lloyd), Zoe (Miranda Hennessy). Copyright: Big Talk Productions / Popper Pictures

However, the worst part was that, for this promo, we were told to go onto buses and trains (without permission!), stand at the front of the top deck during the busy commuter period at about 8am and start talking as if we were holiday reps leading a tour bus. This may sound like fun but, believe me, early morning commuters are not in the mood for some wannabe shouting about holiday deals, making up lame jokes, and falling into their laps while they try to read their book!

One passenger on the tube shouted at my friend with the blue lips 'You disgust me!' as she was cheerily trying to say her key messages. All that for £70 a day. It may sound good to some, but then we'd be so ill we wouldn't be able to work for weeks after!

The cast in your sitcom is great, and the actors really gel together. Was the filming fun?

Yes, filming was fun. It was cold and wet sometimes, like real promo, but we had Alex Carter (who plays Steve), who is a very funny cheeky boy, and Cariad Lloyd (who plays Poppy)... both lots of fun on set.

As we were in such public places (like shopping malls or town centers), and because the stands looked so real thanks to our great design team, the public often tried to take a sample and got quite miffed when it was explained 'it's not real'. In that way, the girls got a taste of what it's like to do real promo.

We are so pleased with how the show turned out, walking onto that set the first day was very surreal, like someone had jumped into my mind and made it come to life. I did have a little lump in my throat, although that could have just been a bit of biscuit lodged there as I ate a lot on set (I ended up putting on half a stone, mostly in biscuits!).

Give Out Girls. Image shows from L to R: Hatty Ashdown, Debbie (Tracy-Ann Oberman). Copyright: Big Talk Productions / Popper Pictures

You've acted in some other things, but don't appear in this Hatty. You could have cast yourself a role?

You have to do what's best for the show, and I wanted to be able to give my full attention to the writing and creative side of the process. Plus Tony and I were excited to be Associate Producers.

The character Marilyn is on the receiving end of some aged-based putdowns. Was it tough explaining to Kerry Howard that she'd have to be on the receiving end of these?

Not at all. Kerry is a pro and, as we know from her character Laura in Him & Her, she's had to act a lot worse when it comes to embarrassing scenes.

Promo, like the entertainment world, can be very ageist. It's kind of frowned upon if you're still doing it when knocking on 30 (promo that is, not acting!).

The show was made for Sky Living, but will be going out on Comedy Central now. Can you explain what occurred there?

With Sky Living's new branding it was felt that our show didn't fit as well with the rest of their new programming. Sky and Comedy Central have a very close relationship and Big Talk have been amazing at helping to move the show to Comedy Central, and we're very happy to have it there.

Due to the swapping of channels there's been a fair wait between it being filmed and appearing on television. You must have found this delay frustrating?

I guess there has been a bit of gap since filming, but we've all been busy with other stuff so it's flown by really, and we never lost faith it'd all be ok.

Do you think there's scope for a second series?

Of course, there's lots more terrible products and predicaments the girls could get themselves into - we've barely scratched the surface. I'd love to do an episode with some promo boys, and we definitely think we need to set one promo job in a hot country... please?!?

Hatty Ashdown

Ha ha. Whilst you wait to hear if more episodes are wanted, you're presumably keeping yourself busy with other projects?

I played Josie Long's sister in the BBC Radio 4 pilot of Romance And Adventure. Josie is developing the idea into a feature film now, in which I look forward to playing her straight-talking older sister.

I'm still performing live gigs and I'm enjoying working on new challenges. I'm very excited to be working on a TV pilot (Give Up The Day Job) for a show where I'll be presenter and interviewer. I love interviewing people (which is basically how I got through the long boring days of promo) and finding out weird and wonderful things from the public - once a customer told me how raw liver is good for getting rid of cat wee on the carpet... apparently.

I'm also writing a short film, which I can't say too much about at the moment. Let's just say it's six women and one weekend they will never forget.... if anyone wants to pick it up?

Other than that I'm always on your radio airwaves or podcast...waves, so see my website! However, if all else fails you might find me on a bus pretending we're all on a tour of Rome during your morning commute.

Give Out Girls is on Comedy Central on Tuesdays at 9:30pm, repeated Sundays at 11pm.

To find out more about Hatty visit her website. It including a list of her live dates and her pilot. hattyashdown.com

Published: Monday 13th October 2014

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