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“We could easily do another series”: Phil Mealey on bringing back Early Doors


It might not be last orders after all for Manchester’s cult comedy classic Early Doors, as a wave of loyal and new fans are calling on the BBC to commission a third series.

Set in a Stockport pub called The Grapes, the sitcom aired from 2003 to 2004 but repeats of the show only recently reappeared on BBC Four and BBC iPlayer.

Now a petition has managed to rack up nearly 10,000 signatures in support of reviving the show, co-written by Craig Cash and Phil Mealey. Both writers, who appear in the show as ‘Joe and ‘Duffy’, also penned The Royle Family and Sunshine.

“It has just gone crazy. As time goes by, Early Doors just seems to become more and more popular,” Phil Mealey told Prolific North.

In 2018, the series returned as a live stage show at Salford’s The Lowry Theatre but the duo initally only booked a 500 seater theatre, not quite expecting to end up selling out arenas across the UK.

“We could easily do another series. When we did the live shows, myself and Craig started writing it for six months before we told anybody about it, because we were really aware of the standard that we’ve set and the expectation of the really loyal fans. When you see a band after 40 years and you think ‘they’ve not got it anymore’, we really didn’t want that. Every night, everywhere, we had a standing ovation. For them, it was like stepping back into the pub.”

“We played to over 100,000 people on that tour. That’s a sitcom that you couldn’t download anywhere, couldn’t stream and had not been on 15 years prior to us doing the tour. 

“I can’t think of many comedies like that, especially with something like ours, which was sort of hidden.”

Although Prolific North has approached the BBC about the petition for a new series, and Mealey said he hasn’t heard from the broadcaster yet, it’s a “mystery” as to why it took so long for the broadcaster to add the show to iPlayer. 

“I don’t think they ever got what it’s about. It took 18 months to get it commissioned in the first place.

“I don’t really know what the BBC, comedy wise, is looking for. I think they can understand middle class comedy where it’s aspirational. Or something that’s a bit weird and out there or slapstick, like Mrs Brown’s Boys. I think where it’s just a pub where everyone’s quite happy with each other but taking the mickey and you’re seeing different sides of people… I don’t know. It’s something that baffles me, and everybody else!”

But now the show is available to stream and watch online, a new generation of fans are emerging.

“Last week, I was at a college in Pendleton as I do inspirational presentations to sixth formers and colleges to say ‘look, it doesn’t matter what your background is, you can still get to where you want to go if you’ve got the passion and desire to do it’. 

“I walked in and said ‘this was a sitcom from a while ago…’ and this girl said ‘yeah, I know it – Duffy’.” Laughing heartily and slightly taken aback, he asked her how she knew about the show. Her dad, who is a big fan, had introduced her it.

“Then she said: ‘What’s the capital of Chile? Is it con carne?’”

“Everybody else would be up for it”

Following the success of the live shows, the “warmth and affection” from fans has only fuelled demand for the return of the series, especially where there’s a gap for a working class Northern comedy. 

“Working class people are sometimes portrayed in the media as ‘scallyish’. I remember in Shameless, they’d be selling drugs or they’d be having an affair with their mates wife or they’d be nicking something. 

“I’m from a working class background, and to me, it’s more people who are just looking out for each other and having a bit of a laugh, a bit of bantz as they call it these days. But underlining it all, there is a bond between them.

“I think everybody recognises a miserable old so-and-so who sits in the corner moaning, it’s probably me actually in my house now,” he jokingly remarks, “Or a couple that are naive or happy, a guy who complains that his wife is not looking after the kids while he’s in the pub, or a controlling mother or mother-in-law. I think that’s why people have held it in such affection really.”

Although he’s always wanted to do a Christmas special as in the pub it’s a “lovely, magic little time just before Christmas dinner”, the original cast would be up for doing another series too – including familiar faces Maxine Peake and James McAvoy.

Wigan actor Rodney Litchfield who played ‘Old Tommy’ in the show

“Unfortunately, Rodney who played Tommy passed away a couple years ago, but everybody else would be up for it. It has been a while but I remember bumping into James McAvoy and he was asking ‘When are we doing early doors again’. I thought… oh yeah course Jim, you’re going to come and do it aren’t you, Xmen in Hollywood or Early doors in Manchester?! He said ‘Oh no, I’d be up for it’. I’ve heard him say numerous times that Early Doors was his favourite TV job that he’s ever done.”

During the live shows, the only changes were for “modernisation” – ‘Duffy’ was now online dating and a vestibule was built outside the pub as a smoking area. But if the series was to come back, would anything else change?

“Other than using Nokia phones and smoking in the pub, I think the characters stay the same. 

“I always say Early Doors is like Cheers crossed with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The characters are relatable. The pub is a great setting, but you could meet Eddie and Joan in a doctor’s waiting room or on the bus. You could see Duffy and Joe in a cafe, maybe maybe having breakfast somewhere. The fact that they’re all in the pub together, of course, is great.”

As fans eagerly wait for The Grape’s doors to swing open once more, Mealey has a number of other projects in the works. Alongside Craig Cash, the duo are working on bringing a new play to life.

“We’ve written a play called Can’t do right for doing wrong, set in a guesthouse in Blackpool. We’re hoping to put that on at the end of the year, and then hopefully tour it so that would be great!”

He’s also working on a dark musical comedy based on the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer. It went down “a storm” when he showed it at Edinburgh Festival last year and is in talks with producers about touring it. 

“It’s very respectful of the truth and the fact that somebody actually was killed, but it also lampoons and parodies the American justice system as well.”

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