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Vicki Pepperdine/Joanna Scanlan

March 2011

GROWING up with both parents working in the health service certainly helped when it came to writing and starring in a hospital-based TV series. But for Vicki Pepperdine, it did nothing for her mental health.
“I’m a hypochondriac,” says Pepperdine, who writes the hit BBC Four comedy drama Getting On with co-stars Jo Brand and Joanna Scanlan.
“My mother was an occupational therapist and my father was a hospital administrator. So I spent quite a lot of time walking around hospital corridors as a child. I have a massive memory of hospitals as being part of my childhood.
“But I have what they call ‘white coat syndrome’. Sometimes when I’m in the butcher’s I can get a bit frightened that they’re going to ask to take my blood pressure.”
She adds: “I think it’s because we’d go to The League of Pity Christmas Party at the hospital which would be full of quite sad and ill kids. So even as a child I thought life was quite unsafe. And it’s got worse as I’ve got older.”
The hypochondria she suffers with is no laughing matter, she says.
“It sounds funny but it is quite bad. I’ll have a few days where it is quite bad then I’ll be absolutely fine.”
Getting On is set on a hospital ward in an NHS Trust hospital. Pepperdine plays Matron Hilary Loftus. It’s a comedy but with a dark undertone.
“We’ve tried the slapstick and it just felt wrong. The last thing we want is to appear to be laughing at people in hospital.”
Comparisons have been made with The Thick Of It, which stars Getting On director Peter Capaldi. Joanna Scanlan appears in both.
“We do have a nod to The Thick of It without a shadow of a doubt,” says Pepperdine.
The three writers live within a mile of each other in Greater London and knew each other through previous work.
“We said ‘let’s think of something we can do together’. We all had this sort of health service background between us so that seemed logical. Obviously Jo Brand brings her ideas from her experiences as a psychiatric nurse.
“And we were all keen on using improvisation. We do have a very carefully structured script but we fly around it. We enjoy making it up on the spot and we tend to work with actors who are comfortable with that.”
Although there isn’t a lot of stumbling over lines and giggling, she says.
“We have all these wonderful supporting artists who play the patients - all the old ladies - and everybody takes it very seriously.
“It was hardest when Peter Capaldi played Peter Healy in episode two because he did just keep laughing. There is a moment on screen where you can tell he’s desperately stifling a laugh. But the tone of it is quite gritty.”
Unlike the tone of Thunderpants, the movie about a flatulent 11-year-old boy, in which she appeared.
“(Laughs) Well, it’s a job. And it had lots of fabulous people in it. The first day of filming I got in a car with Simon Callow and I thought ‘I’ve made it’.
Pepperdine has also appeared in TV comedies I’m Alan Partridge, Nighty Night, Green Wing and Saxondale and everything from The Bill to Doc Martin.
“Never say never to a good cheque.”

THE award-winning political comedy, The Thick Of It, successful transferred to the big screen, so why not Getting On: The Movie?
"Do you think that's a good idea?" wonders Joanna Scanlan, who writes the hospital-based comedy drama with co-stars Jo Brand and Vicki Pepperdine.
"We have talked about it," admits Scanlan, who plays ward sister Den Flixster in the BBC 4 drama, which is directed by Peter Capaldi, star of The Thick Of It.
Scanlan appears alongside him in both The Thick Of It (as Terri Coverley) and its big screen adaptation, In The Loop (as Roz).
We think it would work very well as a feature film," she says of Getting On.
"We've gone as far as working out a fascinating and exciting storyline for it."
She adds: "Getting On is funny and all that but it is quite thoughtful.
"There is something about that sort of realism that is part of the British film tradition.
"We don't want to do an On The Buses and go to Spain, but international travel will have to be included in some capacity."
As happened with In The Loop, which was largely filmed in the US.
Getting On recently picked up another award, this time from the Royal Television Society for its three writers.
Next Wednesday, Scanlan and Pepperdine will be at Broadway Cinema as part of the annual ScreenLit festival
They'll be discussing the writing of the series, described as "dark, sharp-as-a-scalpel comedy about the pressures and absurdities of the modern NHS".
"We're really excited about ScreenLit because it'll be our first, so-called, masterclass for Getting On," says the former performing arts lecturer.
"I was at Leicester Poly but I did spend a lot of time at Trent doing question-and-answer sessions with students."
The Welsh-born Cambridge graduate wanted to be an actress for as long as she can remember and only fell into teaching by accident, but stayed at Leicester for five years.
"I did film a series in Nottingham many years ago called Doctors and Nurses, with Ade Edmondson. We filmed that at the old Carlton studios. In fact it was the very last production to be shot there before it was closed down."
She expects the audience at ScreenLit to ask intelligent questions, because: "I know the people of Nottingham are well cultured and have a lot of experience in complex art forms."
But she also expects questions about a third series (although she doesn't know when it will be) and how the trio write together.
"I can't imagine the event will attract the sort of people who want to know what it's like working with Jo Brand," she laughs.
Scanlan's CV includes a number of films, including Notes On A Scandal, Stardust and The Other Boleyn Girl.
"My favourite of all the films I've done is The Girl With The Pearl Earring. I really enjoyed making that and think it's a really good film.
"Last summer I finished Hot Hot Hot, a film about life in a spa in which I had to take my clothes off an awful lot. That was awkward, embarrassing and painfully cold. With a lot of mosquitoes."
The Bafta Masterclass with Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine is at Broadway on Wednesday March 30, 6.45pm.

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