Light-hearted detective show Shakespeare & Hathaway - Private Investigators was an instant hit when it launched last year. Starring Mark Benton and Jo Joyner as a pair of mismatched private detectives, each episode provides viewers with the chance to escape to the picturesque Stratford-upon-Avon where the crimes are never too bleak.
With the comedy drama about to return to BBC One for a second series, the stars spoke recently at a Q&A hosted by Michelle Ackerely. Here's what they had to say about the programme...
You're back for a second series...
Jo: It is always nice to come back to something, because you've spent the first series all getting a gauge on what everybody's making. The writers have written this great thing and then everybody else puts a penny worth in... It's not until you get a second stab at it that you're all singing off the same hymn sheet, and we have a laugh.
What's clear is that you two have become good friends filming the series. Do you think that's a key thing having that on screen and off screen friendship so that you can really get creative with the script, come up with new ideas?
Mark: Absolutely, we both sort of throw ideas in. We are not really bothered who gets the gag, we just want to make the whole thing work and Patrick [Patrick Walshe McBride, who plays Sebastian Brudenell] is the exact same. We just have fun on set and if there is something silly we'll just use it.
What would you say is the secret to the success of the series? As a viewer it feels like it has something for everyone. You've got the mystery but you've also got the humour and the beautiful setting as well. What you both say is the secret for you?
Jo: I think it is the balance of the buddy friendship that these two have, rather than it all just being a serious murder and doom and gloom, because there is a lot of doom and gloom on telly at the moment - so that lightness really helps I think.
I love the music coming into it and the opening sequence - it's a feel good thing as well isn't it?
Jo: And it's very British. I think that's why it has done so well abroad you couldn't really cram more in there could you? You've got Tudor buildings, minis, Earl Grey tea, whenever we get a chance.
How were the animals to work with in Episode 1?
Jo: They were great, weren't they? The funny thing about that main character dog there is that, because they're working dogs, he was so well behaved that towards the end when we wanted him to look really happy and like a normal dog, just wagging his tail, which he found quite hard to do.
Mark: Well I'd say he was grumpy. Because I was supposed to stroke him and he was like... [sits up straight]
Jo: Yes it was like he was so well trained he couldn't loosen up could he? It was a bit sad really. Almost like the story. He needed a normal life.
Mark: And his handler was quite scary, she was scarier than the dog!
Does your characters relationship move on at all?
Jo: We put one [scene] in last series and it got cut. There was a really nice bit when we were going to chase somebody and I had to get a hat off the back seat and it just happened naturally when filming, that I went like that [moves towards him] and Mark went 'what are you doing?' 'Getting my hat!' But they cut it unfortunately, because I do think it would be quite fun.
Mark: It is a funny one that, because you want to keep the possibility there but I think if you go too far that way it might ruin the sort of dynamic between them, you know? There is an episode later on where you do find out a lot of the backstory.
Jo: Yeah, you find out about the huge fondness. We find out that Frank is a bit of a hero and it really roots him.
Mark: We find out why Frank was kicked off the police force.
Jo: And more about him and Marlow [DI Marlowe, played by Amber Aga] and their relationship. You do get a definite sense by the end of that that there is a really unbreakable bond between the two of them. There's a real loyalty there.
It is interesting the bond between the two main characters because you do seem like a dynamic duo and you both have quite a different, unique kind of approach to getting the answers that you want.
Mark: I think that's what works about it. I think it is the sort of weather-beaten Colombo type cop, who has been there and done it, and then you've got the ex-hairdresser who is fresh to the business but is actually really intelligent and really good at solving crimes as well. That's what's nice in Series 2. It is much more we both solve them. Whereas Series 1 was kind of Luella learning a lot, Series 2 is a bit more of them both solving things in different ways.
Jo: I do a bit of training don't I. Lu does a bit of night school on becoming a private investigator - it's quite good fun. And there is a nice episode set at a tennis court, that's quite nice because you get a real sense of how they approach things differently. Lu goes off and sort of gossips essentially and chats to a few people and finds out a few clues, whilst you're doing all the proper cop stuff.
I find that interesting in the first series actually, seeing how your character develops because it is clear she's an ex-hairdresser but she's got a real natural talent for investigating.
Jo: Yeah, I kind of take my gauge off what Mark's choices are in a scene. If Frank is going to be serious I won't and vice versa. If you're going to approach something in that way I'll go round it in another way.
Mark: What's lovely about Jo's character is that she is very intelligent. She is funny she is a great character because she's not the typical kind of 'oh she's a hairdresser so she's ditsy.' She is really bright and she solves a lot of the crimes so that's what I love about it. It's not kind of stereotypical.
You've mentioned Frank is not too dissimilar to Colombo, that kind of style of investigating. Did you both take inspiration for your characters from the past? If you look at the likes of Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, she is a pillar of the community and just gets in there and is always asking questions. Is there an element of that in your characters looking at past crime fighters?
Mark: Not really no I don't think. The thing is, when we did Series 1, we had no idea of what it is going to be, you have no idea of the feel of the show. We didn't realise that it was going to be as funny as well - hopefully it is, touch wood - so it developed over the first series. We sort of developed together and it just sort of happened. We're both just throwing things at each other, not actual thing, ideas and we developed it together and hopefully that's what people like about it.
Jo: I didn't base it on anyone. You take things from the script. The words are what you use.
Are there any good stunts in it? Do we get any good chases or anything like that?
Jo: There's always car chases isn't there.
Mark: Yeah, there are car chases, there are fights in it. There is a bit where some of us get stuck in a freezer and that one is quite dramatic - because you know we were going to freeze to death. It was in a container so it was pretty bad. It was freezing cold actually.
Do you ever read the scripts and think 'wow this is a really amazing storyline' or 'how are we going to make this work?'...
Jo: I often think 'this will be fun'. It is a real privilege to go around some of the places our locations find, because of that quintessentially British thing, there is a lot of stately homes. Because I'm from the area I've driven past those great long driveways and thought what is down there all my life... And suddenly I'm filming there and I'm on the family WhatsApp.
Could you give us a flavour of the kinds of crimes you're going to be cracking?
Mark: I think the nice thing with this one is there not all murders. I think it is one of the things we found in the first one is that it is not Midsomer Murders - it is not the scariest place to live. So there are lots of different ones.
Jo: Some of the love stories are lovely, like that was a love story.
Mark: When we heard the idea of a dognapping we were like 'what?' And actually what is lovely is that - it is a love story.
Jo: There is a good one with doppelgangers, so there is a couple who are pretending to be us, so we have to investigate essentially ourselves. It is quite funny because when we were filming it - we were filming in Stratford - and we had this couple who were dressed like us, looked very similar and these fans from Tasmania stopped Patrick and said they were such big fans of the show and couldn't believe when they came over here and got to see it being filmed. They pointed over to our dopplegangers just sitting having a tea in the middle of Stratford and said to Patrick 'we just can't believe how different they look in real life'.
Mark: There is a good episode about larping. So larping is live action role playing, so people dress up as Game of Thrones of Lord of the Rings. They go to the forest and get into character and live this life of Lord of the Rings and we have to go and investigate this guy whose wife thinks he's having an affair. And that was great fun because I was dressed as a huge ogre.
It's fantastic though because there is a real variety. Do you think because they are PIs instead of within the police it gives them more scope to tackle a whole range of different things?
Jo: It does, it gives more scope for silly things, like the dognapping and going to some extremes like the larping.
Mark: What is interesting in the episode were you find why Frank left the police force it makes sense why Frank gets so much leeway with the police. It is always nice to have another layer sometimes because it is a light, fun show and people enjoy it because of that. But for us it is nice sometimes to add more story there in amongst the comedy have a bit of drama, have a bit of something.
Are you any good at working out who the villains are whilst you are reading the scripts?
Jo: I am rubbish, I get really confused and there is always a point when we are filming the series were we are overlapping the episodes with different murder mysteries and we get really confused somewhere in the middle of the shoot.
Mark: I was going to say 'never mind having trouble working out the killer when we are reading it, I have trouble working out who is the killer when we are doing it!' I forget who the killer is and I have to go 'are you the murderer? Were you the baddie?' It is good because the last thing you want to do when you are doing a murder mystery or a whodunit is play that you know who it is.
Jo: So we like to keep that confusion going don't we? Obviously we can work it all out.
Who is funnier in real life?
Mark: Oh Jo for sure.
Jo: Me. No, we genuinely have such a laugh on and off.
Mark: Yeah we are both ridiculous really most of time.
What is it like for a day in the life on set? Obviously, like you say, you get on but is it intense? Is it long hours?
Jo: Well I had to leave him one day to do an entire close up on his own. I was crying with laughter so much and I didn't want to run over time but it was your fault technically [looks at Mark] because you'd made me laugh. And we just kept on trying to do it over and over again but I didn't want us to run overtime so I just went 'I'm going to have to go and leave you to do this'.
Mark: Shooting the show is kind of like watching it really. What I love about the show is that it is a laugh, you get a bit of everything. And I do think, like Jo said, sometimes there is so much dark drama which is great, but I think sometimes people just want to sit down and enjoy something.
Jo: What is great is that we all work in a similar way; as well as Patrick and the crew.... [we] have been doing this for a couple of years now, so there is a real shorthand on set by the time you have established like that. You don't waste time because you kind of know the camera shorthand, they know what we are doing.
Mark: And the reaction from people is so nice. I've never known so many nice messages about the show. They're really excited about the second one coming back because you know when you make a show you have no idea how it is going to go down, or how good it is. And it is such a nice reaction.
Jo: We had a lady come out to us who had drawn pictures of us. She gets commissioned to draw buildings and she said 'I hate drawing buildings it really bores me so when I get commission to draw a building I add a third day on the bill and I try and get the building in two days and on the third day I try and draw one of you guys'.
What else is really unique about this series is the amount of Shakespearian references you get throughout each episode. As a viewer I found myself trying to spot them as you go through, which I haven't seen in any other series - and it's a lovely strand.
Jo: Mark had a lovely idea last year that you could put a column in the back of something like Take A Break saying spot the Shakespearianisms for this week's episode. What is so funny is that there is so many of them from Shakespeare that we use in everyday life, and there are the ones that are a little bit weird. So sometimes we'll have like an extreme insult for somebody and we'll be sitting there like 'who says that?'... I wouldn't say 'you figurative monstrous beast'. And then you go 'oh yes that must be a Shakespeare'.
Mark: The outlet is always Patrick's character because it works with him.
Are there any far flung places you've been and they've recognised Shakespeare and Hathaway?
Mark: I've done interviews for Russia.
Jo: South Africa.
Mark: Poland I think we did one for, Holland.
Jo: I think they really are appreciating that landscape amongst everything else. I think we've done some for Japan.
Mark: And I think America. Because obviously it goes out at different time abroad so it will be prime time in certain places. I did mention this to Will - our amazing exec on this - I think because we are big in Australia and Tasmania we should do the live tour.
Jo: I would really like to do a Christmas special because by the time we finish filming every year the Christmas lights are up in Stratford and it begging a little Christmas episode.
Mark: I have to say one of the brilliant things about it is the guests that we get. People like Michael Maloney, and we are like 'he was in Truly Madly Deeply!'... and the guests they come on and get the best experience out of it.
Jo: What is nice is that now we are on the second series we'll have some really great guests come in and we'll say 'we are really lucky to have you' and they'll say 'oh no they said it was good', and somebody else that has done it recommended it [to them] - so we are getting a little reputation about being a nice little gig for them, which is nice.
Mark: There is nothing worse than seeing a show and sometimes if you don't make your guests feel welcome they won't do their best work. And we always say, a lot of the time in these episodes, they do the acting. We are there to go: 'what did you do or why did you do that?', they will do the emotional bits... so it is really important that we get good people and make them feel welcome.
Mark: And I think, TV wise, for young actors starting out - there seems to be less and less things on television now where you have a lot of guest artists, because in a lot of the soaps it is just all regulars. It is lovely because we have people like Michael Maloney - a really experienced, tremendous actor - and we have young people who this is their first job.
Jo: Every year we have a handful of actors who this is their first ever job.
Are you keen to return for a third season and do you think it has potential to become like one of the BBC's long-running continual crime dramas like Silent Witness or Death In Paradise?
Mark: We love it - we'd love to keep going.
Jo: There are a lot of shoots you finish that you are so fed up and exhausted you can't wait to leave but must admit by the time this finished we were all getting on so well with the rest of the crew that, although we were tried and cold, we did go 'I could probably do another block?' How often do you finish something and think that?
Mark: It really is a joy to make, and I'm not just saying that, because generally when you are talking about shows you've made they are all a joy to make... but this actually is a joy to make from start to finish. Top down there is nobody really that we don't get on with.
Jo: We have a really good crew and I don't know whether it is about filming in the Midlands rather than in a city but there seems to be a good spirit about it.
Mark: When you turn up every day and they say 'this is where we are filming' and it is a glorious house, it is lovely. Actually, until the shoot wears on - because basically we start the shoot in September it is sunny and nice, but by December it is hard... You know the episode is filmed in December because I have a big coat on!