After a day's trip to Wolverhampton to formally launch the first series of their autobiographical sitcom, Raised By Wolves, we talked to sisters Caitlin Moran and Caroline 'Caz' Moran - pictured outside their real-life childhood home - about making the show...
Just how autobiographical is Raised By Wolves? It's famously based on your childhoods, but how much of each of you are there directly?
Caitlin: Shall we say a percent at the same time and see if we agree?
Caz: Well it depends what we're saying - the events that occur, or the characters?
Caitlin: Let's start with characters. After three: one, two, three -
Caitlin & Caz in unison: 80%.
Caz: Aaah! That's very good. Shall we do the events?
Caitlin: Okay ... one, two, three - 35%.
Caitlin: Oh my God - hey, it's almost like we're related! Look at the bond here. Fucking awesome, man!
Caz: Well I'm really chuffed because Alexa is amazing.
Caitlin: And also really like a star of the future. I'm glad we nailed her contract down fast, 'cause her careers just going like 'voom'! She's so funny. So, so funny. And the face acting - I believe that's what it's called - her face acting: 'facting'...
Caz: Yeah. I'm just very very pleased. She's wonderful.
Caitlin: The only time it ever felt weird was when we did the casting auditions. We turned up one day and we hadn't realised everyone was going to be looking like us, so we turned up at this old church in London somewhere and everyone was either an angry-looking, introvert ginger girl, or a really fat extrovert brunette. And that was kind of ... well, there were literally like 50 of you and 50 of me, but all slightly different parallel universe versions of us. You know when you see Mickey Mouse from the early days and he doesn't look quite like Mickey Mouse now? There was that kind of millions of us in slightly different iterations inside the room. I wigged out quite badly that day!
But ever since then it's just seemed increasingly - well, as we've gone along the process it just seems to make more and more sense. It's a weirdly dual thing; now I think it's totally normal because of course we'd write a show about our childhood...
Caz: But then there's the counter thing that we're getting all these people to make a recreation of our childhood. Is that weird?! It's like, is this justified? Why is that happening? It really wasn't that exciting.
Caitlin: Do you know how much it costs to make a sitcom? About £50 million. And they spent £50 million on us, to make this.
Caz: That's why we're not in charge of the budget!
Caitlin: Ha. And it's just really fucking odd. It's really cool though isn't it? I feel quite horny now - quite powerful.
Caz: I feel quite scared because I'm sharing a chair with you...
Caitlin: But £50 million. The CGI was firing off the shitpipes. The actors never actually appeared, they just had those green bodysuits on. They're actually all Andy Serkis - apart from Alexa, who's over there and you can go and look at.
Caz: But she's still Andy Serkis.
Ha ha. Andy Serkis aside, how directly are Germaine and Aretha taken from Caitlin and Caroline? Have you mixed up any of your attributes at all or are they pretty much straight copies?
Caitlin: Well you've spent the day with us, what do you think?
I would guess that they're fairly direct screen versions of each of you separately...
Caitlin: Ha ha ha. Well I think the only thing that's different is that there's an intelligence, a nobility, the sense of an honourable quest, an idea of being an inspiring figure for a generation - feeling that if she walked into a room she'd inspire everyone to be a better person: that's what I was more like at Germaine's age. We took those out because we didn't think it'd play realistically in the show: we just made her a bit more stupid, female, and obsessed with her vagina. Which is not what I was like at that age!
Caz: I think we made her less self-aware. And obviously we don't just write for Aretha and Germaine, and we don't just write for our own characters, so there are bits of us in all of the characters. There are bits of me in Germaine: I write bits of Germaine's dialogue and Caitlin writes parts of Aretha's - and it's quite interesting to see someone else's take, like how my version of Germaine is slightly different from her version of Germaine.
Caitlin: And I have to make very clear that when I talk about being inspiring and noble at the age of 16, I was not! I was a fucking idiot sitting on the end of her bed going "I just want to talk about the fact I've had a sexual fantasy involving Chevy Chase" and she was literally kicking me out of the room.
Caz was growing a lot of plants at the time and she had one of those water sprays for them. She'd just spray me in the face repeatedly until I left the room. That was ... well, I was just like a beast on heat. I was just a massive talking vagina.
Caz: The problem was that was such irritating behaviour, that for us to have conveyed that in the sitcom would have alienated quite a lot of viewers.
Caitlin: No one would have wanted to know us. It was hateful. Hateful.
Caz: So we were aware that we wanted to give Germaine enough flaws that we'd make her believable. Caroline's character at that time was literally unbelievable.
Caitlin: Although we do live in a world where the series Alf happened, and Mork & Mindy...
But yeah, the 25% of stuff that we've had to take out, is just stuff that you really wouldn't believe. For instance, the first episode, largely about periods, we were originally going to make it that they go in and shoplift tampons, because that's what we had to do. We just didn't have any money, that's how poor we were. But at that point we thought it was becoming a bit unbelievable and loading too much into it. Just let them have just enough money to be able to go and get sanitary towels.
So the extreme ends of the poverty, the weirdness and insularity, the fear of the outside world, we had to cut out - otherwise the Garrys' world would have just been too much of a weird one to take on board.
How important was it to you to avoid making Wolverhampton the butt of the jokes? Was that something you set out to do from the start, or just found you had the opportunity to avoid doing so once you were writing?
Caitlin: It couldn't be anything else really. On day one if you're sitting there going "let's rip the piss out of Wolvo", then you're buying straight into a cliché anyway. There's just no jokes there. Any jokes have been done, and they're shit - not based on any real knowledge. They're just sneery. And Wolvo's served us very well, you know?
Caz: I always think the Wolvo thing is down to the syllables in the word. Wolverhampton. It's just got a useful comic rhythm to it. There are other places: Basingstoke, Rickmansworth, Woking. They're similar and also often stand for a kind of boring-ness. We were actually having a conversation about the words we found most funny, do you remember this?
Caitlin: Oh, face. "What, in your face?"
Caz: Because there are so many different ways you can deliver it.
Caitlin: Faaaace. Face. Face is the funniest word. And do you remember what we decided the funniest name was - although that might've changed now?
Caz: No, what was that?
Caitlin: Simon. But I think that might've changed. This was about 10 years ago and we got quite obsessed with the name. But yeah, I think 'Wolverhampton' being funny is really the vocabulary of about two generations ago. It's proper old light entertainment.
Caz: It's also in plays and things. In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell goes through the Midlands and writes it off as this horrible industrial wasteland. And it did have a much more industrial past and it probably was a grimmer place, and that was in the memory of the comedians who made Wolverhampton that punchline - but times have changed, and today Wolvo is a happening place! People need to wake up to Wolvo!
Caitlin: Also, to give you a bit of history, when we were growing up there it was a Labour government, and we lived in a Tory constituency. The social provision was really strong. We had brilliant local arts stuff - there was a youth theatre thing, that's only just recently closed down - and lots of other regional theatre; arts incentives; the council would run these courses (you'd get a free bus pass if you signed up to them!); the council houses; the libraries were incredibly well-stocked. The audio-visual sections, that's how I became a music journalist. I'd go in aged 16, you could order any album you wanted and they'd get in for 20p within two weeks. When I started writing it was all from albums I'd got from the library. That level of social provision was fantastic.
Then in the early 1990s, the Wolvo club scene was massive. Post-rave when house music kicked off, there was a massive late night economy. Loads of places. People would come in from miles around to club there and it suddenly became quite a wealthy town off the back of this late-night club and house scene.
But it was a very good, hard-left, socially-providing council with a brilliant nightclub scene. Plus some great local bands! The two things the working classes really need: culture and social provision. We had all that, it was brilliant.
Caz: I remember one of the characters in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, he was from the Midlands, I'm not sure exactly where, but I remember hearing him and thinking that it was the only accent on TV that sounds like what I heard out and about. And then I was a bit embarrassed because he wasn't the fastest character.
Caitlin: And like Benny from Crossroads as well, that trope of people from the Midlands just being a bit thick and slow. But the Midlands' sense of humour is something ... well, there's a speech in the show that "We're not Northern twats, we're not Southern twats, we're Midlands twats".
I've got a bit of a thing actually, going back to bands. Loads of great bands came out of the Midlands but no-one ever identifies as being from the Midlands. Look at ELO, who dress up like they're from space, or Duran Duran who look like yuppies, or Slade - whatever the fuck that was! Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Dexy's Midnight Runners. No-one ever says "we're from the Midlands", they all adopt something else because there's just been this constant either shame, or just desire to be different. So if you look at what's come out of the Midlands it's huge, but no-one's ever gone "oh look that's what the Midlands is, that's the culture, that's what they've done".
Caitlin, is your film adaptation of How To Be A Woman still going ahead?
Caitlin: Yes! Doing that with Film4, co-writing with John Niven, who wrote Kill Your Friends and other dirty, explodey man things. It's really interesting, the difference between working with Caz and working with John, because me and Caz are pretty much opposite and so what works is she does a whole half of stuff and I do a whole other half of stuff and what she does I'm just completely in awe of; whereas John and I are completely the same so it's just bananas. We're both incredible extroverts so it's just kind of RAAAAAH. We started writing it in Antigua. He lives like Bond, like Ian Fleming, driving a Jaguar, smoking cigars. He's incredible. Whereas Caz comes from a totally different area.
But yeah - we're on the third draft of that and should be in production this Autumn. It's a bit different though: it was originally going to be an adaptation of How To Be A Woman but there's no plot there so we've had to wait till I could write How To Build A Girl to actually have a plot for a film. And it has an enormously long masturbatory fantasy sequence that features Paul McCartney, George Orwell and Jane Austen, which I'm very proud of. And Ant & Dec. They're all in there.
It sounds like Caz is very much the driving force in the writing partnership then...?
Caitlin: Oh I'm POOP POOP!, I'm lunch, I'm kind of ... well the thing is, Caz had actually written plays before we started doing this, five or six, she knew how to use the script writing software... And they are the funniest plays I've ever seen, they are genuinely, genuinely fucking genius. I cried laughing. I know lots of famous people who've got catchphrases or hit songs or whatever, and I've never fangirled and gone "Oh do that thing that I love" or whatever. The only time I've done that is with Caz, who played one of the roles in one of the plays, and whenever it's my birthday or Christmas I ask as a special treat for me, can you say that line from that play, because it's still the single most funny thing I've ever seen a human being do. Over five years I've asked her that and she still hasn't done it.
Caz: To be fair though, did you not ask Keith Harris and Orville to recreate a moment for you?
Caitlin: Oh, Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog. I asked them to do something, but that was in a kind of semi-sexual scenario in a hotel...
Raised By Wolves begins on Channel 4 on Monday 16th March at 10pm.
Here is a clip from the first episode: