Sally Phillips Interview

Sally Phillips is fast coming into her own as a leading comedy actress. Following roles in I’m Alan Partridge and Bridget Jones, along with Channel 4's hit sketch show Smack The Pony and BBC One comedy Jam And Jerusalem, Sally Phillips now stars as Clare in the acclaimed BBC Radio 4 comedy Clare in the Community...

Can you tell us a bit about Clare In The Community for anyone who’s not heard the show?

It’s a Radio 4 sitcom based on a social worker who hates people. She’s in a completely stagnant relationship and is just so tied up in being politically correct, she just desperately wants to be a black working-class lesbian really.

When you started did you base your interpretation of Clare on anyone you know?

I’m not sure if I should answer that really! I had actually recently met a health visitor who could literally talk for hours and hours without saying anything at all. I’m not really into doing comedy of hate, where you make a list of all the things you don’t like and go “don’t you hate it when…”, but yes, this person had recently infuriated me so maybe there is a part of her in Clare! The character had already existed in a comic strip though, so it was really just a matter of adapting that and deciding how she should speak, that sort of thing. I decided it would be funnier to make her posh and a bit nasal sounding.

How long does it take to record a series of the show?

The whole series took three days, we did two episodes at a time. It’s great working with a live audience actually, I don’t really ever get the chance to do much live. When we did the second series, the audience were all really familiar with the show and loved the character too, so that was really fun. I’m fond of Clare and I like that it’s just on the radio, it’s quite hidden away. I like the idea of it being a really long-running show, you don’t normally get the chance to do that in comedy.

Do you think Clare In The Community will follow other Radio 4 comedies like Little Britain and The League Of Gentlemen and transfer over to TV at some point?

No, I think it definitely won’t ever become a TV show. I can’t imagine care workers really being glitzy enough for a BBC One comedy! Maybe on Channel 4 that would work, but then I think the jokes are too broad for that.

Do you know if there will be a third series of BBC One's comedy Jam & Jerusalem?

I don’t know actually. Oh, before I forget, I have to tell you… “Clare In The Community: Series Three is released by BBC Audiobooks on 7th January 2008. Clare In The Community: Series One and Series Two are available on CD from all good high street and online retailers.” I have a piece of paper here that I’ve been ordered to read out! “It is also available to download from digital retailers, including BBC Audiobooks’ new digital superstore.” What was I talking about? Sorry, I’m really boring, I’ve got two kids and I haven’t really slept for a few years now! Ah yes, Jam & Jerusalem. I’m really not sure, because it’s funded by America. The head of HBO changed recently and the new person isn’t sure if they want to continue with it. It’s demented actually that a show like that is actually made by the US, I only found out not long ago! It’s not a cheap show to make though, there’s a lot of filming on location and the cast aren’t cheap, although we’re not getting paid loads.

I guess it’s worth it though to work with such an amazing cast?

It really is, yeah. Dawn French is just so funny, every take she’s just brilliant. And Jennifer (Saunders) in particular too, she writes brilliantly. She writes so well, but there’s always still space to a scene in about ten different ways and she’s fine with that. I’m a complete Nazi when I write, everything has to be exactly how I’ve written it! But she’s much more chilled, you can really make it your own.

Do you enjoy working with a mainly female cast?

I do – actually I’ve worked on another show with a mainly female cast before, not Smack The Pony, and it was horrible, it was all just really catty and everyone was seeing who could eat the least at lunch. But this is the complete opposite, everyone is so nice, it’s just lovely, it would be such a shame if we don’t get to make any more. It’d odd, it’s not exactly a cool or a hip show, but there’s something really genuine about it I think, it’s like getting into a warm bath.

Were you sad that Rescue Me (BBC One’s 2002 drama) only lasted for one series?

Yeah, definitely. We all really thought it would continue. David Nicholls, the writer, had even written up to episode four of the second series, out of six episodes, and writing an hour-long TV script takes a long time! It all turned out alright though. David was so pissed off with working on in television that he quit and wrote a book, ‘Starter For Ten’. Tom Hanks’ production company bought the film rights and he got a million pounds for them to write the screenplay! So I’m sure David’s happy now! It was a good show though and got lots of unknown actors on primetime BBC One. But the BBC at the time were trying to make everything more regional, and Rescue Me was a London-based show focussing on the media unfortunately. It ended up being the BBC’s best-performing worldwide though!

What do you like to think happened after the cliffhanger ending in the last episode, where Eddie (Stewart Wright) revealed his true feelings for your character, Katie?

I know from the scripts that had been written that Matthew ended up getting married, but not to Katie - so Katie did eventually get together with Eddie.

Do you miss Smack The Pony?

I really do miss it so much, yeah!

Will Smack The Pony ever return for another series or a special next year to mark the show’s tenth anniversary?

We’d love to do another special. I don’t think Channel 4 really have any plans for a Smack The Pony nostalgia year though unfortunately! I think it’s aged pretty well though - there’s not really any catchphrases or celebrity references. Although at the time it was the fashion for sketch shows to play it all quite small and straight, whereas now with show’s like Little Britain the characters are really big. And of course we’re all ten years older too! I can imagine the press tearing us to pieces – “Smack The Pony? Flogging The Dead Horse more like.” But I’d absolutely love to do more Smack The Pony, I’m always still constantly thinking of new ideas for sketches.

Do you have a favourite Smack The Pony sketch?

I think it’s one we did from the pilot, with a student stacking shelves in the supermarket and filling all the shelves with Toilet Duck. And the factory fun day with everyone dressed as King Kong.

29th February 2008.

Clare In The Community: Series Three, the third in the Radio 4 comedy series based on the long running cartoon strip in the Guardian's Society section, is released by BBC Audiobooks on 7th January 2008. Clare in the Community is available from all good bookshops, online at or by BBC Audiobooks direct mail on 0800 136 919.

Written by Will Martin.