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Scarborough - TV Comedy (BBC, 2019) written by Derren Litten

Scarborough (BBC, 2019). Still image from title sequence showing buildings on North Marine Road.

I used to think that a comedy series being filmed in Scarborough was very unlikely. I didn't think anyone would even suggest it. That's why, in 2012, I wrote my own sitcom script. It had the title Hawaiianesque and was set in a surf shop in Scarborough - I was picturing Cool Classics Surf Shop on Museum Terrace as I wrote it. In 2017, I wrote another script; Coasters was also set in Scarborough. The main characters worked in a gift shop and there were lots of outdoor scenes and some crime-based drama. Other than a few nice comments on the second script from an independent production company, nothing happened with those scripts. 

It would take a writer with a lot of experience to get a prime time Scarborough sitcom on our screens. Derren Litten had huge success with the ITV comedy, Benidorm. It ran for ten series and attracted millions of viewers - according to the Wikipedia entry, series 4 and 5 attracted an average of over 7 million across all episodes. It made sense for Litten's Scarborough-based comedy to be called Scarborough because of his previous success with Benidorm. It was also great for Scarborough to be afforded the limelight and not be cloaked in a fictional name. I wonder though, how many people made the connection between Benidorm and Scarborough? How much of Benidorm's audience made the crossing from ITV to BBC? The inclusion of Catherine Tyldesley as one of the main stars would have enticed the Coronation Street fans, wouldn't it? The viewing figures for Scarborough appear to have been similar to the last two series of Benidorm (again, I'm basing this off what I read on Wikipedia. Both claim to be based on BARB data), but this wasn't enough for the BBC. A second series wasn't commissioned and so six episodes is all we have. 

Whilst I'm happy to be able to watch the six episodes again (at the time of writing Scarborough remains on the BBC iPlayer), it is disappointing to know that there won't be any more. It was a fun show. There were lots of jokes in it, lots of outdoor scenes filmed in various parts of the town (although Geraldine's hair salon was in Stockport, presumably for practical and/or financial reasons), and there were good actors playing recognisable characters. 

My favourite episodes are one, two and six. Jason Manford (Mike) and Steve Edge (Bigsy) are great in this show, but it is Stephanie Cole (Marion) and Maggie Ollerenshaw (Geraldine) that give the strongest performances. I could easily imagine their characters walking into an Alan Ayckbourn play. If I was giving out awards for the show, I'd give a best newcomer trophy to Rebekah Hinds who plays Yolanda. I haven't seen her in anything else, but her scenes, from the booth in an amusement arcade, with Jason Manford, are always a treat. 

The two main things I remember reading about the show, before it aired, were that the characters attend a karaoke night at a pub and that Scarborough could possibly be the first comedy soap. The first point about the karaoke night misrepresents the show somewhat. Several episodes end with the karaoke night, but it's certainly not a key feature. There is definitely a soap element, but I'm not sure this is the strongest aspect of the series. There is a storyline involving two police officers, and whilst these are an entertaining duo, the story ends with Marion berating one of the officers. Not only did this seem slightly out of character for Marion, but it felt rather cruel and was an unsatisfying end to that storyline. I suppose it is possible that Litten was playing the long game here (the finale goes on to provide multiple cliff-hangers), planning a return of the police officers in a second series - I'm sure there would be plenty for them to investigate. 

The couple played by Claire Sweeney and Jake Canuso are the main signifiers of the 'comedy soap' description. The brief exchanges between Haley Cox (Sweeney) and Karen (Catherine Tyldesley) could come directly from Eastenders or Coronation Street, and I wonder if a comedian had played Karen, whether they would have managed to get some humour out of those scenes. Tyldesley puts in a good performance, but in those scenes with Sweeney, she responds fiercely, without wit, and fails to elevate herself above Haley Cox's malice. Perhaps a comedian would have suggested alternative lines or brought some physical comedy to the role. There are some great comedy actors who can generate laughs with the slightest facial movement or vocal inflection. I can imagine either Diane Morgan, Lucy Beaumont, Sophie Willan or Isy Suttie playing Karen and making the character a little more entertaining.

I admire Derren Litten for getting this show made. Not only did he write and direct it, he also played the part of Jack, the landlord at The Good Ship. He filmed in various locations across the town and I'm sure this will have enticed more visitors. Litten and some of the cast attended the premiere of the first two episodes at the Stephen Joseph Theatre (see this Yorkshire Post article), and Litten organised for the final episode to be shown on a big screen on the sea-front. This article from The Scarborough News discusses the preparations, but at the end states that a big screen on the sea-front might not be feasible. However, there is time-lapse footage on YouTube showing a screen (or at least the projector facing the screen) and a stage being set-up outside the Anchor fish and chip shop. It appears as though Litten, as well as some of the other stars, and entrants to the talent contest in the final episode, including Danny Wilde, appeared on the stage before and after the broadcast. I really wish the show had been released on DVD with an audio commentary from the cast and crew. It would have been great to hear their recollections of filming in Scarborough. Perhaps it will still happen, I can only hope.

Places and buildings shown in the series include The Newcastle Packet (changed to The Good Ship), Peasholm Park, Scarborough Castle, Sandside Penny Arcade, Luna Park, North Marine Road (the brightly painted houses in the title sequence), Pacittos Ice Cream (changed to Peroni's Ice Cream), and Ivy By the Sea Tea Room. Also, the fish and chip shop, Winking Willy's is namechecked by Bigsy. 

I discovered the location of Karen's flat by accident on a recent visit, when I was trying to find a shortcut that would avoid the crowds on the sea-front. I first noticed the white doors and the external staircase, then I saw the faded love heart on the wall. I would have taken a photo, but there was an elderly lady at another property, standing in her doorway and looking at me with great suspicion. I then noticed that a door to the right of Karen's had "locks changed" written on it several times in black marker pen (This was in March 2022). Here is a screenshot from episode two (not the most glamorous location to be featured):

Still image from Scarborough, episode two (BBC, 2019). Mike waits for Karen, outside her flat.
Mike waiting for Karen, outside her flat. Scarborough (BBC, 2019) S1E2 0min 53sec

The scene continues with them turning left and walking down the hill. In reality, this road comes out right by The Newcastle Packet, but the cameras don't reveal how close it is to the pub. One of the street names is changed and a road sign added, presumably for the benefit of the residents. Don't all be flocking there now. There may well be a tough old lady, standing on guard and who knows what she is capable of!

Here are some other stills showing some of the locations I have mentioned:

Pizza Express and The Good Ship as seen in Scarborough, episode one (BBC, 2019)
Pizza Express and The Newcastle Packet (appearing as The Good Ship). Scarborough (BBC, 2019) S1E1 15min 17sec

Sandside Penny Arcade as seen in Scarborough, episode one (BBC, 2019)
Sandside Penny Arcade, where Mike and Yolanda work. Scarborough (BBC, 2019) S1E1 4min 20sec


Ivy by the sea tea room as seen in Scarborough, episode one (BBC, 2019)
Ivy by the Sea Tea Room, where Mike and Bigsy meet for coffee. Scarborough (BBC, 2019) S1E1 10min 17sec


Peroni's Ice Cream as seen in Scarborough, episode two (BBC, 2019)
Pacittos Ice Cream, appearing as Peroni's Ice Cream. Scarborough (BBC, 2019) S1E2 17min 23sec

The grounds of Scarborough Castle. From Scarborough, episode two (BBC, 2019)
Scarborough Castle. Mike and Bigsy looking out over the North Bay. Scarborough (BBC, 2019) S1E2 6min 32sec

On my recent visit to Scarborough, I was pleased to see that The Newcastle Packet has retained the stained glass windows featuring the name, The Good Ship. There was something else I noticed, not directly from the show, but related to it, in a shop window on Eastborough road. Past Time Studios appears to be a photography studio where you can dress up as if you're from the 1800s. The centrepiece in the window was a framed picture of Jason Manford and Steve Edge. I won't say exactly how they are dressed, but it's a must see if you haven't already.


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