IF YOUTH is wasted on the young in real life, on the small screen, it is positively reaped for all its worth. Awkward kisses, jittery first dates, fumbling attempts at romance, raging hormones and an overwhelming ambition to rebel against parents make teenagers a rich source of dramatic and funny material.
The next sitcom to celebrate — and commiserate — the passage of youth is new Sky 1 sitcom After Hours, which stars John Thomson, Jaime Winstone and Ardal O’Hanlon.
Directed by Craig Cash, the six-part series follows 18-year-old music fan Willow Hannigan, played by upcoming actor James Tarpey, who stays put in his declining home town, Shankly, after his friends head off to univesity.
With his dad Peter (O’Hanlon) out of work, and his love life in tatters after his girlfriend dumps him, Willow’s only solace is local independent radio show After Hours, which is transmitted from a barge by Lauren (Winstone) and Ollie, played by The Syndicate’s Rob Kendrick.
“I think people will relate to that feeling of being a bit lost in your teenage years,” says 30-year-old Winstone, who was recently seen in 2014 romcom Love, Rosie..
“And that feeling of not really knowing what to do with yourself, until you turn on a tune and suddenly you feel connected to people, all because you like the same kind of music.”
What else should you know before the series, which was written by newcomers Molly Naylor and John Osborne, starts? Here, O’Hanlon shares his thoughts on the show, the state of UK comedy and his time in Father Ted.
Shankly is a fictional town but, as O’Hanlon explains, it’s a familiar world: “After Hours is set in a typical northern England town, which is in decline, but there’s a tremendous community spirit there still and people make the most of what they have.”
That community spirit is tested when Peter loses his milk round, and mum Anna (Susan Cookson) treacherously eyes up a job at the new supermarket, which has seen off the town’s local industry.
Added to the drama, Peter’s mate Geoff (Thomson) is kipping on the Hannigans’ sofa following a fall-out with his wife Sheila, who is played by guest star — and Cash’s old writing buddy — Caroline Aherne.
Widely known for his role as hilariously hapless Father Dougal McGuire in Irish comedy Father Ted, O’Hanlon is aware that means he is often associated with suchlike characters.
“Sometimes you’re at the mercy of other people’s perceptions,” says the Monaghan-born actor, who in one memorable episode of Father Ted, was trapped on a bomb-carrying milk float.
“I go with the flow to some extent,” adds the 50-year-old.
“I have other careers in terms of stand-up, stage acting and writing, so I don’t feel too hidebound by that, but I do quite like playing those warm roles.
“There’s enough cynicism in my life and in the world at large, so it’s escapism for me to play those gentler roles.”
After two decades in the industry, O’Hanlon, who has also starred in My Hero, Skins and Nelly & Nora, knows just how tough it is for comedies to get commissioned these days.
“On the one hand, there is an awful lot of outlets now,” explains the father-of-three. “There are lots of channels and lots of companies looking for content, as they say, but it’s quite difficult to get things off the ground.
“I think Sky are innovators, in that they’ll take a punt on things without pilots. I don’t think something like After Hours would make it through the very many layers of BBC bureaucracy.”
While Willow seeks solace in music, O’Hanlon, who grew up as the son of Fianna Fáil politician Rory O’Hanlon turned to comedy in his youth.
“I was quite young when my dad went into politics but, as it went on, I became self-conscious about it,” explains the actor, who is “proud” of his dad, who also worked for many years as a GP. “I certainly wouldn’t have drawn attention to it in any way, and particularly then, as I was doing stand-up, it became incompatible having a father in politics.
“That’s when I went to London. It was the centre of gravity for stand-up comedy at the time and, certainly, one of the reasons I went, was that in a small country like Ireland, people would very quickly make the link between this stand-up comedian and this senior politician. It would have been very uncomfortable.”
While the third and final series of Father Ted finished in 1998, the popularity of the hit comedy has endured both with fans and the cast.
“All my memories of Father Ted are very pleasant,” says O’Hanlon. “It was an unexpected career twist for me. I was very much stand-up at the time, so to be plucked out of that and thrown into TV comedy — TV comedy heaven, it must be said — was just exhilarating. I loved every minute of it.”
But he did find himself in an awkward position with his children’s friends.
“I do remember when they were quite young, dropping them off at school and their friends would approach me with reverence and bow and kneel,” O’Hanlon recalls, laughing, “which is only right and proper.”