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TV Interview

Alan Davies ('Whites')

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Roland in Whites

© BBC

Better known for being the butt of the gags on QI and sleuthing around in a duffel coat on Jonathan Creek, Alan Davies will be taking on a new role this week as chef Roland White. In the ensemble BBC Two comedy Whites, Davies is cast in the lead as the slightly bitter and past-it restaurant owner. We caught up with the curly-haired comic to chat about the show, Jonathan Creek and Arsenal's Premier League chances.

What can you tell us about Whites?
“It's set in a restaurant, mainly in the kitchen, and its about a head chef who could have been somebody when he was younger but now he's passed his prime, missed the boat, missed the chance to get Michelin stars. He's still a good chef in a good restaurant, but he's lost his way a bit in life. He's having a bit of a mid-life crisis, his wife's left him, he drinks a bit too much, he's lazy now, he's lost his motivation to work. So he's looking for amusement, which he finds in trying to get out out of being a chef or tormenting his sous chef. who is played by Darren Boyd. He's a very funny character, and they're kind at the manic heart of the show."

So it's basically a mid-life crisis comedy?
"There's a degree of that. But it's quite a strong ensemble comedy so although he's a strong part of the show there's a whole cast of characters who hopefully people will grow to love. It was quite funny to be there, it's funny ensemble. The guy who co-wrote the script, Matt King - he's most famous for playing Super Hans on Peep Show - used to be a chef, and he's been trying to get this off the ground for twelve years. So we're finally on air now with the series and we're all quite excited about it."

Is Matt as funny at writing as he is in Peep Show?
"Matt King and Oliver Lansley, the pair of them work very well together as writers. Matt's in his early forties and he's funny, he complains a lot, he's got a lot of gripes. And Ollie's completely different, he's very even-tempered, very level-headed, a very talented story teller. I mean he's only twenty-something and he's got his own theatre company, which is impressive. I don't know how but they met and they've come up with some really funny scripts. A lot of it is based on what happened to Matt when he was working in the kitchen so there's an authenticity about it, I hope."

How did you come to get involved in the programme?
"I got parachuted in really, me and Darren Boyd were brought in. Matt and Ollie originally wanted to do the show themselves, but they were both persuaded to take smaller roles in the ensemble. In Matt's case the psychotic butcher. I got asked to do the pilot and was sent the script from the BBC, and that was a good day. It was the funniest script I've seen for a long time, probably the funniest thing I've ever been offered actually."

You must get sent lots of sitcom scripts?
"Not so much now. But when I was younger, when Jonathan Creek was on, I was turning down all sorts. I thought, 'that's not funny enough for me'. Often I turned down things that went on to do very well, so I wasn't always the best judge. But I was lucky to get this part and I really enjoyed the pilot. Everyone gets on really well off the set. There is a danger that we're having more fun off camera, but hopefully we haven't fallen into that trap."

Is Roland based on anyone famous?
"Nobody I know. There are traits that you might identify in any middle-aged man who's messed things up. If you're in your 40s and you don't like going to work and you drink too much and your wife's left you, then you definitely will identify with Roland. But anyone who doesn't like going to work and has lost the motivation and is drifting slightly can relate and that accounts for about 97% of the population. But he is talented and he is a good chef, he's just lost his motivation. He's lost his drive and his hunger and his food's a bit out of date and thing's have passed him by. There are younger, hipper dudes out there. I understand that because in the comedy world, which I haven't been a part of now for several years, if I was to go back there are some very funny young comics out there. I would have to be on it. While I think if I pulled my finger out, I could do that, when you are in your 40s the motivation to do that isn't there."

Are there any more Jonathan Creek specials in the pipeline?
"There's no sign. It doesn't mean there isn't one coming. There never is any sign, but I have no Jonathan Creek news. There will be more QI next year - the new series of that starts next week - but what else I'm doing next year at this stage I don't know. Hopefully we'll be doing more episodes of Whites and more podcasts."

You are a well known fanatical football fan. What do you think to Arsenal's chances this season?
"We needed everyone to stay fit and then three games in, Robin Van Persie's injured. So that sort of made us laugh, because he always gets injured. Usually has the courtesy to wait until November though. We were hoping for a new goalkeeper, but that's not going to happen now. But you know what, we are always optimistic in September. Same old, same old! We've still got lots of these guys who look like they're about to do something amazing, so hopefully that will be this year."

Whites airs Tuesday, September 28 at 9pm on BBC Two.

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