William and able | 

Director says Channel 4 comedy about Belfast bonfire builders 'could be new Derry Girls'

"It would be following in big footsteps, but there is an appetite for that Northern Ireland harsh but meant with love humour"

From left, William Thompson, Louis McCartney and Parnell Scott

Roisin Gorman

A comedy about Belfast bonfire builders could be the new Derry Girls if it gets enough laughs, says its director.

William of Orangedale is based on the life of comedian William Thompson, who grew up in east Belfast with cerebral palsy.

It's just been released on All4 in Channel 4's new series of comedy blaps and director Eoin Cleland says it puts disability in a whole new light.

William, who wrote the script with pal Dave Elliott, didn't know he had the condition until the age of 12, but his mum assured him he'd always have the best parking spaces.

He plays the lead in the 15-minute comedy, a showcase for new talent which launched Bafta winner Stath Lets Flats, Dead Pixels and We Are Lady Parts.

And Eoin says the timing could be right for the local brand of black humour.

Eoin Cleland

"Hopefully Channel 4 are looking for some more Northern Ireland humour now that Derry Girls is ending," he says.

"It would be following in big footsteps, but there is an appetite for that Northern Ireland harsh but meant with love humour."

Eoin's dealt with disability on screen in movie Ups and Downs, which he wrote and directed. It follows a music-mad rock fan with Downs Syndrome, played by James Martin as he goes on a road trip to a concert. The film won awards for James and Best TV movie at the New York TV Festival.

In the new comedy William is trying to capitalise on his disability without success.

"He's trying to use his disability as an excuse, but his dad isn't having any of it," says the director.

"His brother gets stuck in because he knows he's sensitive about it, because siblings will always go for the things that wind you up.

"When William talks about growing up in east Belfast people weren't as gentle as you might think, they didn't tiptoe around it. He got abuse and frankness and directness.

"Disability is always treated with kid gloves on TV, but nothing is off limits in this. Nothing is so bad that you can't take the piss."

The comedy also focuses on bonfires and areas of loyalist culture which are never seen on television.

The director says writers Dave and William, a finalist in last year's BBC New Comedy Awards, reflected what they knew from growing up in Tullycarnet.

"It's a bit like The Inbetweeners set in working-class loyalist bonfire world. That's something that hasn't been on TV before.

"That's the background of the guys getting on with their lives. Their concerns are how am I going to get a drink, how do I make sure my dad doesn't find out I'm breaking the rules, the embarrassment of saying the wrong thing in front of a girl you like.

"The guys have also written a couple of great characters which gave us the chance to use good local actors, like Eddie Sausage the bonfire supervisor."

Eoin auditioned for actors to play William and then settled on the real William.

"He hadn't really acted before but he's a great stand-up. He knows how to learn lines and delivers lines and he's really good."

Channel 4 has used the comedy blaps to try new talent and will respond if the public likes a show.

The new batch of shorts include the story of a student who runs away to the fair, a woman living with Tourette's and comedian Rosie Jones as a disabled woman who's made redundant and sets up a drugs empire.

"If people enjoy it then spread the word it's tracked by Channel 4 and if there is an appetite for it, we could get a series," says Eoin.


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