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Truckers (BBC1)

October 2013

A 44 tonne artic lorry thunders down Queen Street behind a Vauxhall Corsa, narrowly misses the Brian Clough statue and jackknifes across the Old Market Square before skidding to a halt behind the cherry pink saloon car, which has ploughed into the Left Lion.
Stephen Tompkinson climbs onto the cab roof, shouts obscenities and strips down to a turquoise thong.
It’s one of the scenes from Truckers, a new BBC comedy drama, set and filmed in Nottingham, which begins next week.
And it’ll show more of the city and surrounding areas than anything else we’ve seen on the small (or big) screen befoere.
“Nottingham is in the DNA of the series,” says writer Billy Ivory, who is also the executive producer on Truckers, which runs for five one-hour episodes from Thursday.
“I’m really proud of the Nottingham setting,” says the Southwell-raised writer, who was nominated for a Bafta for his screenplay for the film Made In Dagenham.
“Common As Muck was set in Nottingham but they shifted it to Manchester. And I had no power in those days to stop them.
“A Thing Called For Love was the first time I got them to come to the city, which was good but I kept saying I wanted Nottingham to be one of the characters.
“We got that with Truckers. Right from the opening shot you are looking right across the city. And the final shot of that first episode is Stephen and Ashleigh Walters walking down to the Old Market Square from the Theatre Royal. It’s a long, long shot and it’s almost like they’re being absorbed by the city.”
Truckers tells the story of a small family trucking firm and stars Stephen Tompkinson (Ballykissangel, Brassed Off), Ashley Walters (Top Boy) and John Dagleish (Lark Rise to Candleford).
“I’m ever so proud of it,” says Billy.
“And I think it’s very funny. It makes me laugh a lot. I think it’s got a very Nottingham sense of humour; that kind of gallows humour.”
It was filmed entirely in and around the city over a six week period during early summer. Locations included Hockley, Carlton, St Ann’s, Cossall, Wollaton Park and Eastwood, where the trucking firm is based.
To ensure the character of Nottingham came through, Billy insisted that each actor used a Nottingham accent.
“I was watching Saturday Night and Sunday Morning for about the 90th time recently, which I do every now and again when I need inspiration, and half of them can’t do it. They’re doing a stock northern accent.
“All of the cast on Truckers did a great job,” he says.

“Steve asked me to record some of his lines and send them to him but I told him that I’ve got a really weird accent. Where I grew up was kind of North Notts. Some of the lads I worked with on the bins would say ‘foo’  - ‘I’ll have a foo more o’ them.’ And it’s softened up since then because I’ve poshed up. But I did him a bit anyway and sent it off. When I saw the first day’s rushes I thought he was bang on the money.”
He and Tompkinson had wanted to work together for decades, since meeting while working on Minder in 1991.
“He did a regular stint on that and I wrote a bit for him then,” he says.
“We’d been tying to get something together workwise for a long old time but it just never happened until Truckers.”
He rates Tompkinson’s ability to be able to balance comedy and drama.
“My stuff should be funny one minute and then the next it makes you step back. I’ve been in situations before when you’re on set or at an audition and you say to an actor ‘it’s comedy but it’s very real’ and they play it like it’s a Ken Loach. I tell them ‘Yes, it’s real but it’s funny as well’ and then they start doing pantomime.
“But Steve can do it. George Cole was the same; his comic timing in Minder was just amazing. And Tim Healy can do that,” he says of the star of his Nineties comedy series Common As Muck, which had drawn on his own experiences working as a bin man in Notts.
Billy insisted that Tompkinson piled on the pounds for his role as Malachi, a driver going through a messy divorce.
“The bloke he’s playing has gone to seed a bit. He was a good looking lad who was into the New Romantics. In fact, he was in a band called Newly Romantic who were big in Newark - but nowhere else.
“So I told him to go off and eat plenty of pasta and not to worry about anything. Pile it on youth! But then he went and did Spamalot in the West End. He was on stage for two or three hours every night doing all these big dance numbers and, of course, he dropped all the weight.
“The wardrobe and make-up  have done a fantastic job of making him look like he’s carrying a lot more than he is.”

Despite the filming taking place on his doorstep, Billy was too busy to go on set. As well as working on his BBC4 feature length biopic Burton and Taylor, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West, he was tinkering with the final episode of Truckers.
“I ended up writing right up to the wire,” he says.
“The closest I got to a set visit was when I drove out to King’s Mill Hospital and I got as far as the pub car park next door. I was collared by the guy who runs Company Pictures (which produced Truckers for the BBC), we sat on a double decker bus, chatted for three hours, then I came home.
“It was a blow because being on set is the fun side of it. You get to see it coming together, because for years it’s been just words on a page.”
Neither did he get to socialise with Tompkinson, who has been a friend since before either had any success.
“He phoned up and said he had an afternoon off so he was going down to Trent Bridge for the Ashes,” says Billy.
“But I couldn’t go because I was too busy doing the re-write for the final episode. He said: ‘But you only live round the corner!’”
Reports from the cast and crew about their stay in Nottingham were positive.
“They loved it!,” beams Billy.
“The producer rang  me up one day and I thought ‘Oh God, is it more rewrites?’ but she said ‘I’m just ringing to say I’m just walking across the Market Square and I suddenly realise why you love this place.’”
As executive producer he watched all of the footage as it was shot at the end of each day and the finished series with his wife and two teenage daughters.
“It’s a brilliant stunt,” he says of the lorry/car scene in the Old Market Square.
“Most of the time with these big stunts on TV it’s about to happen but then they cut away, you hear a big crash and they cut to a load of smoke and a wheel spinning.
“But with this they had did this truck careering down Queen Street and nearly taking out Cloughie... I’m a County fan, what can I say?.... there are all these stuntmen diving out of the way and rubbish bins going everywhere, it wellies across the Market Square, jackknifes and then stops inches from the Council House.
He laughs: “The producer said it was a little bit closer than she would have liked.”

Truckers begins on BBC One on Thursday at 9pm.

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