Katherine Jakeways has appeared in Miranda, Sherlock and Horrible Histories, but as a writer she has also managed to conquer radio comedy. Cariad Lloyd talks to her about her Odd Job.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be an actress. I realise now that I was always better at making stuff up than saying other people’s lines. I loved writing stories when I was really little, but at secondary school writing isn’t the fun stuff – it’s having to do essays – and acting is mucking about with your mates and getting clapped for it, so that was always going to be more appealing.
How did you become a scriptwriter for Radio 4?
It still feels weird that that’s my job. I went to university and then LAMDA and tried without much success to be a serious actress for a bit, while mainly doing telesales. And then I was in a fringe production of Hamlet (I was Gertrude. I was shit), and during rehearsals we had to do an exercise which involved writing character monologues based on real newspaper articles. The director thought they were funny and encouraged us to do a night in a comedy club, and as a result of that I got taken on by a comedy agent.
Then I spent a couple of years doing characters on the comedy circuit with mixed success, and did three solo shows in Edinburgh and at the Soho Theatre with a bit more success. My first radio show, North By Northamptonshire, was commissioned after Julia McKenzie came to see my Soho show and helped me develop it into something that might work on radio.
In my head it was supposed to be a vehicle for me. I was assuming I’d play all the parts (including the men) because that’s what I’d done on stage. And then we started to get this amazing cast (Sheila Hancock, Penelope Wilton, Felicity Montagu, Kevin Eldon, Mackenzie Crook) and I had to concede, that actually yeah, they’d probably all be quite a lot better than I would.
Since then we’ve done three series of North by Northamptonshire, and this year I’ve also written a Christmas special, two other new comedy series [All Those Women with Sheila Hancock and Lesley Manville, and Guilt Trip with Felicity Montagu] and an afternoon play for Radio 4.
I’ve also had my first two TV commissions. And this summer I met someone at a wedding who asked what I did for a living and for the first time I said I was a writer without feeling like I had to qualify it… Although actually I think I did qualify it by telling her that that was the first time I’d said it without qualifying it. She was fascinated. I’m a brilliant wedding guest.
How would you describe what you actually do?
My first series was commissioned when I was pregnant with my first child so I’ve never really written without having to fight for time to do it during naps, or more recently – and helpfully – school hours. But then what I do is sit on my sofa, check Facebook and Twitter for a bit and then make stuff up and read the lines out loud to myself until I’m sick of them.
I still act, and sometimes it’s strange to say lines that someone else is responsible for and not have to worry about the project as a whole. And sometimes it’s absolutely lovely.
“The best writing advice, was that if you’re ever struggling with a character or a storyline, go back to what you first thought was important about the character or story – whatever it was that you originally thought was the key to them – and get rid of it.”
Has being a woman affected your work?
I don’t think it’s particularly affected how easy or difficult it’s been for me to get shows commissioned on Radio 4, but maybe being a woman has meant I’ve written better female parts than actresses sometimes get offered, which has been a huge help in attracting such good casts.
I think as a young woman, I wasn’t as good at pushing myself forward as I might have been if I was a man. And as I get older, I’m realising that women are more likely to be seen as tricky if they’re anything less than charming and compliant the whole time. But at Radio 4 there are a lot of really successful, bright women, so that’s much less the case than in other areas of the industry.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Doing something different every day, which is pretty much always a variant of what I really love. And quite often being able to do it on my sofa while wearing an elasticated waistband.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
The best writing advice, was that if you’re ever struggling with a character or a storyline, go back to what you first thought was important about the character or story – whatever it was that you originally thought was the key to them – and get rid of it. I love that, because often you’re so desperate to hold on to your original thought that you ignore the fact that the character or story has moved on. Being able to change your mind about stuff and trust that the development process has improved things, can really free you up.
In terms of life, I’ve always thought that I follow the motto of Paul (Peter Egan) from Ever Decreasing Circles (probably the best sitcom ever), which was: “Never stand up when you can sit down. Never sit down when you can lie down.” Actually though, I’m realising recently that I’m more ambitious and driven than I like to admit. So I’ve adapted it to: “Lie down quite a lot, but also, when necessary, do a bit of running.”
Cariad can be seen in Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel and also briefly in the new series of Peep Show.5962 Views
Cariad is a comedian, actor, improviser and writer. Her dream is to one day pay off her student loan and to finally find the perfect concealer. @ladycariad