Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
Grantchester is a cozy kind of series, with wit and charm bursting out of the seams, even as blood and murder lurk not so quietly in the background.
Geordie You realise – if a nun is the wife of God –
Will She’s not a nun.
Geordie – you’ve slept with your boss’ missus. That’s all I’m saying.
Jace It’s something Grantchester stars like Lauren Carse noted when they spoke with us here on the podcast.
Lauren Carse: I love that line. Daisy writes really well…that’s the kind of sharp humor that she has and she challenges people and she gives as good as she gets.
Jace In a bit of a departure from a typical British television drama, Grantchester employs a writers’ room, and we were lucky enough to speak to a few of this season’s writers in a special bonus conversation about creating the false Eden of the fifth series.
Writers Daisy Coulam, Joshua St. Johnston, and John Jackson join us here on the podcast — and, in a first for us, in a special video excerpt from our respective voluntary quarantines on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, available now on PBS dot org slash MASTERPIECE.
Jace This week, we are going inside the writers’ room on Grantchester and we are joined by Daisy Coulam, John Jackson and Joshua St Johnston. Welcome.
Daisy Coulam Thank you.
John Jackson Thank you, hello.
Joshua St. Johnston Thanks for having us.
Jace Writers’ rooms while ubiquitous in Hollywood are still somewhat rare in British television. What does it mean to a series like Grantchester to have a team of writers working on a season together?
John We were all kind of doing multiple projects at the same time, which is often the case. So yeah, I mean Grantchester is a funny one because, you know, this is like season five. So we touch wood kind of know what we’re doing. So we didn’t it’s not like you need a big, big room for like weeks and weeks and weeks to to break it because, you know, you don’t need to kind of go over the characters and stuff like that. So.
Daisy I’ve never done it. If you have it done, American style written room because it sounds really alien to me.
John You know, I I’ve done a few and it’s really different. Josh, Josh, you’ve done a few, right?
Joshua Yeah. I’m not sure I’d call them American style. And as much as sometimes they start at ten and finish at four. I think I’m like, you know, you’re lucky if they last more than three weeks. I think American style is they last six months and you’re there from eight a.m. to eight p.m., if you’re lucky. But yeah, I, I like the ten till six or ten till five framework.
John I like the way we did this, which is like we didn’t really like we don’t really sit down and literally figure out every, every scene or every not even every episode really we kind of figure it out. You know, we, we, we really had like a couple of days just thinking about what kind of broader themes were. And then we came up with a bunch of stories that we worked on together that reflected that theme. And then me and Daisy just kind in your office.
Daisy In my little tiny office and you’re sitting on my gym ball, so John sits on the gym ball I type. And we bash it out. And then we try to get a drink in the pub in the end…back when we had pubs,.
Jace Back when there were pubs. I mean, so you don’t then sort of assign scripts, writers go off. Right. How does that process work on Grantchester? How much interplay is there between the individual episode writers in terms of making sure that those story beats line up?
Daisy So we’ll be everyone will be assigned their episode and then really eat it. You don’t really have script editors in America, do you?
Daisy So, Danny, our script editor is sort of the person who keeps the thread all together across each episode to make sure everyone’s connects up. And then I’ll read everyone’s scripts. We’ll sort of get back and forth, really. It just seems of much more of laissez faire attitude, actually. And I’m sure it’s much more stringent in America than we are.
John I think I think Grantchester is like one one from the old school, which is quite. Which is what I quite like about it. It’s kind of like it was when I sort of started, I think, in a way. And it’s not like that on a lot of shows now. And I think it’s, you know, hopefully in a good way, like reflected but in terms of eps with this one. I like I guess with Josh the kind of funny story was that we mean days without trying to make Josh come and do one, so we were like, story can we come up with to make Josh come and do one, so we can write the whole kind of thing, lets try it
John Yeah exactly, LSD, let’s do like a drug story.
Daisy Just kind of a cerebral kind of episode that really focused on the moral ambiguities of LSD. Like Josh, if we can’t get Josh to that, I don’t know how we get him back.
Joshua Oh Daisy, that sounds much more credible.
John Sorry, mate.
Joshua One of the amazing things I think you guys always do. And I’ve only been on two series and I guess we don’t have a day or a half day on season two but I missed it all in season five. But you just come with this really complete vision of what this series is about. And I guess the difference with a lot of shows is it’s you know, it’s a really good story of the week because it’s a detective show and it’s incredibly generous, you can’t come up with the story of the week for people like me who are just visiting. But then also not just, it’s so clear what’s what points on that story you want to sort of resonate with the big overarching story of the season. I think it makes it incredibly easy for guest writers this to turn up and do a good job. You know, the theme this yea, it was about Eden and ideas of Eden and how real they are and how sustainable they are. And what’s where real happiness lies. It’s amazing that after four seasons already, you can come up with a really good theme like that, which works for a detective show but also works for a character who’s a vicar and it feels like you haven’t done it in any of the previous four seasons. That’s really exciting.
Jace So I want to ask about that sort of idea of Eden and happiness. We have this sort of overarching theme for this season.
Will Being cast from Eden left us hopeless, despairing. Craving a return to a place that was lost. And even though Jesus died to cleanse us of our sins. We still find ways to sin against each other.
Jace What sort of ideas does that spark when Daisy says that’s sort of what we want to explore this year? Are you sort of throwing out ideas individually? Are you sort of in this case, you know, how do you tie in an episode about LSD use and murder to this sort of overarching theme? How do those pieces come together?
Daisy So you you coined it, John. Remember? you coined the phrase that it was about Eden because we were sort of working around this idea. If everyone is in a lovely place and, you know, everybody’s happy. How do you make this complicated? How do you reference it publicly, And you were like, “Well, it’s the Fall of Eden” kind of thing, do you remember?
John I think it kind of came from three places, which was exactly that. It was like where we finished like season four, that everyone was kind of on this high, which is like not the greatest place to start a drama season of anything. Like everyone’s happy, so what we do? And then I think one of the things that Danny had put on the wall of the of the bunker when we were storylining in that first couple days was that Macmillan quote, the prime minister at the time, he’d said you never had it so good. So we just kind of started to run with this idea of actually we’re in the good times here. And what does that mean? And in a way like Grantchester as a show and as a as a place, if you have been there, in the 50s, is that kind of idyllic of England, that you imagine. And I think I think it’s ever been. If you’ve been on you kind of know it’s never that simple. Like you can kind of look back on it. We got misty eyed ising in the show. You know, every episode kind of starts like that. But then there’s a murder in it and it’s much darker than you think as our all kind of idealistic things, I think. So it was it was that and then it was where the characters were and particularly like well as a sort of idealistic young man. This was like where Will’s chance and Tom chance to take the series and make it his? And it’s like, well, what would Will’s kind of Eden be? And then the story just kind of came naturally from that. It was like, let’s let’s find a bunch of different Adan’s and kind of like explode them. I mean, I guess we do. But like I have a look at the reality underneath them. So, like, they kind of came quite quickly didn’t? anyway. I mean, we had I think we had seven and then we had just six.
Jace I mean, what’s intriguing to me is how you managed to track the characters journeys hitting those story beats while still advancing this sort of case of the week mentality. Clues have to be gathered. Suspects are interrogated. Which takes precedence ‚ is it ever tricky to sort of balance the needs of the character arcs with the sort of case of the week?
Daisy Yeah, I think if we’re all being honest, though, we more enjoy our characters…like, doing that world? And there’s a lot of time. We just go, I just want to stay with Leonard. And Mrs. C, Oh I love them so much…Oh, God there’s a crime! It’s trying to be satisfied with the crime. And no, say do what you want do as a writer, which is enjoy those characters. Is that how you feel?
John Yeah. But I guess I quite enjoyed the sort of technical challenge of trying to do it differently because, you know, there’s been a lot of episodes now and it’s I’ve got this I don’t know how Daisy has done as many she’s done this. It’s just so tough. But there is something, you know, it’s not long. It’s like less than an hour. And you’ve got to kind of get balls in the air and kind of land them, you know, not make it obvious. I mean, I kind of enjoy it like the world building of that is kind of fun, like, you know, Josh’s going into that LSD, or the order girls’ college. You know, there is something fun about dropping your characters into those worlds because, you know, Geordie is always Geordie, like wherever you drop him, he’s still the same guy.
John I know what you’re saying, John, about the technical aspects, like some solving crossword or something. You’re incredibly good at it, I have noticed. Which is probably why, I mean, maybe you enjoy it so much. I think I enjoy it, too. But for me, it’s definitely the hardest thing because, you know, it has to be right and it has to work. And then, you know, you’ll get a note saying they didn’t have that way of solving crimes in 1957. Back to the drawing board or we used that piece of evidence in the previous episode. So you are going to have to do something other than a bloody candlestick or whatever.
Jace I did want to ask, I mean, not having things like DNA evidence or cell phones or being able to trace someone’s GPS, does that open up story possibilities in a way that telling a mystery in the present day eliminates?
Daisy Don’t you think that as soon as you take out a mobile phone and then you create drama, almost as soon as you take the mobile phone out of it because there’s jeopardy and you can’t just go find somebody up and then just things like that. They have to be a bit more cerebral about it, maybe.
John Clearly, I don’t think it gives you the chance to have those kind of like walk and talks. You can’t be when people are like sitting up like I hate scenes where people are like sitting at computers and they’re just finding the thing. And, you know, I think I think some of the best, like, Will and Geordie these scenes are the ones when they’re kind of on the way to go and find a clue. And I think what we’re trying to use is I think we will try to like make those moments not just exposition or quieter moments, that they should kind of function on two levels. So you get a kind of relationship being there as well.
Geordie ‘Retracing your steps’. American mumbo jumbo. Lot to answer for, those Americans.
Will Can you finish this conversation in your head?
Geordie Suppose you got used to losing stuff, living in a stately home…
John And yeah. God, if you could if you could do it easily with defense, then then you’d lose what those moments you don’t think of often the best ones.
Jace Do you ever write murderer roles with a specific actor in mind. Ollie Dimsdale’s wife, Zoe Tapper, for example, plays homicidal cigarette girl Betsey in episode three. Do you do write those roles with an actor in mind? Do you say this would be perfect for X or Y?
Daisy That was Emma, wasn’t it? Emma, the producer has a massive girl crush on Zoey Tapper, so she’s been trying to get her in the show forever. She said it was like it’s her’s, get her in. So I think, you know, some people have favorite actors like Julian Glover, and in the Christmas episode, you’re like, oh, my God, we got Julian Glover. You know, you could have had these moments where you kind of have wish-lists and then sometimes it happens, if you’re lucky. You got some good ones, though, did you? You got Stella Gonet, Josh.
Joshua Yeah, I couldn’t agree with anyone in mind this time. I mean, one of the things which is such a joy coming to write for Grantchester is that states he just created all these characters with incredibly strong, clear voices. So and then they were it attracted a great cast. And obviously, Will is newer. But he’s great. And then lots of regs who actually take up a lot of the story time and screen time. And so you’ve got all these great actors that you know, you’re writing for already. And you can just hear it, I find it so easy to write. Apart from the types of detective plotting, because you just know how they’re going to make a line work, you know, what would come out of their mouth. And so actually, it’s quite nice not having other actors in mind for the other parts.
John Yeah, I agree. I think like some of the especially the comedy, I think plays like Tessa is so good, Mrs. C is so good. All of them really can do it. So you don’t have to kind of overegg the jokes. I don’t think sometimes like you just know it’s going to be funny, you know she’ll role an R or something. You just have to kind of find the right word. And she’ll be there be. Yeah.
Joshua Well, you don’t overwrite. So I did. I got a note from Emma to give a Mrs. C more looks and less lines. You know, she was coming back with lines when she would quietly just given the look. And when this gives a certain look, it’s priceless.
Daisy Is priceless. We are really lucky. I think the show does have a really good like people want to do the show because they hear other people have a nice time on it. I think because the main cast, I can imagine if you’re a sort of actor who’s coming in and out of shows, the main cast is really important. And our main cast of really nice people, you know, make them feel welcome. So I think that’s part of it as well. That’s why we get such good people.
Jace Before this next question, let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsors…
Jace This season is the most explosive thus far, resulting in a fifth episode reveal that was horrifically shocking, not just to Will Davenport but to the viewers as well? We talked about this a little bit, Daisy. But where did this idea for the Vic Morgan revelation come from?
Daisy Didn’t we have a newspaper article, John? I feel sure, or maybe I brought one in and it was about how there were these boy’s sort of rehabilitation. They were real, these kind of places where, and we thought Will would be into that that kind of idea of, you know, rehabilitating criminals and setting them on the right path, you know, in his kind of boat rocker sort of persona. So we started from there and then we just…I don’t know how did we do it, John?
John I think it is at. But I think it was like we were kind of thinking like, what is that back to that thing? What is Will’s kind of ultimate Eden? And the idea of this this place, which was kind of supposed to be inspiring and based on kind of work and, you know, obviously he loves boxing, but just this place, which was like this father figure in Vic.
Vic Thanks to the Cambridgeshire Police – for their begrudging support. And Will. Will. Come up here. This man has been a literal Godsend.
Will This is all you, Vic. Don’t let it go to your head but you’re an inspiration.
Vic Thank you, son.
John We were being mean to Will, I think. I mean, it is going like what what is his greatest personal place and how do we…
Daisy How do we bring him down, yeah.
John How do we kind of have the fall of this place? Because I think that’s what the series is really about.
Daisy We saying that it was about him growing up, do you remember? We were talking about, this is the series where Will grows up, realizes the world isn’t perfect.
John Yes, I mean, it’s it’s sad, really sad. But I think I mean, it’s that ep is, I think the best ep of the whole series, Daisy’s ep five.
Daisy Shut up.
John Yeah. I just I mean, it’s so well it’s just so well done. Like all of it. Yes. It’s but it’s hard It’s hard.
Jace I’m curious about how as writers, the team wove those little hints and clues about Vic throughout the season. How much did you collectively want to hint at what he was without hanging a lantern on it?
Joshua I would say, Emma gave me a really clear note, which is, hint not at all. And do anything that I could to just make the audience love him and trust him and root for him. And my next episode was the episode just before. And, you know, it’s a really good note because we want to be with Will in terms of like when that shock comes, we want to be completely shocked.
Daisy Yeah, and that was I suppose that was there were hints of it, weren’t there, in the. When Matthew tries to rob the cinema and it is obviously comes from a place of he’s desperate to get out and he just can’t say the words. It is only if you look back that you realize that’s what’s going on. So we knew we wanted to piece, but that was the main thing, wasn’t it? Make him and also Ross Noble, the actor is. You just want to give him a cuddle because he’s a really nice person, isn’t he? And he’s just good at playing that avuncular guy. So, yeah.
John And then it’s just like Josh says, like we wants to be with Will but also with Geordie. Like those both. I mean it’s as you know, I think naive is too strong a word for it. But we had this idea that, you know, Will was kind of innocent. It is looking up to him. But he’s sharp enough that I think if there was any sense that there was something off with this guy, he wouldn’t have stood for sending Matthew there and the other boys. And I think, you know, we use the fact that, you know, Will and Vic are kind of bonding and Geordie was kind of, you know, kind of jealous about it in a way as the misdirect that that does. So Geordie, you know you know, anything was off about it was good. Oh, it’s just me being silly and maybe I’m being jealous about that. I mean, it’s almost like he’s blindsided by what it really is and like Will in a way, because, you know, he’s kind of got his two father figures to choose from. That the idea of him being pulled both ways kind of made him blind to it.
Daisy So this is what he did say that.
John Maybe it’s really both. Right.
Daisy No, I think, he doesn’t like him. But yes, you’re right. Well, exactly what you said is he’s twisted by the idea that he’s losing Will to this other father figure sort of, in a subtle way.
John But that’s the thing that I think it was a case of not putting anything overt in this so that they could they could blame that any kind of, you know, hairs on the back of the neck feeling about this guy could ascribe it to other things and not to that. I think that was important, because I think was that if there was any sense that or Will thought it was something like that, then it would never work
Daisy The shock couldn’t have happened. You’d have been guessing. Did you not see it? Jace, did you not see it coming?
Jace No, not at all. It’s only I’ve seen it now three times. So it’s only going back that I keep seizing on to these small moments. And I’m like, that’s a hint. That’s a clue. But going through the first time, I had no idea. So it completely took me by surprise and was just a horrific episode to watch. Because you did feel like, Will, that you’d had the rug pulled out from beneath you. And your whole world view is sort of shaken by the fact that this guy who seems innately good, like a do gooder, is actually the face of evil. It was very traumatic. I think especially because Will’s reaction to it is so devastating, we are devastated as well.
Joshua It’s really important that you guys told the story in that way, because that is that seems to represent the reality doesn’t it? I mean that was the whole Jimmy Saville thing? And creating that persona, that is like a character from Eden, you know, someone who is helping boys and, you know, a force for good in the world. That’s what allows them to get away with doing what they do.
Daisy Yeah, that’s what Geordie says, isn’t it? You know, we were all fooled by him, kind of, you know. Everyone’s fooled by him. So that’s how they work, those men.
John Emma gave me this great note, which is where we’re grooming the viewers in the same way that, you know, he’s grooming Will. And, you know, that is that’s such a great sort of metaphor for it, because it makes, it is the thing that makes it work.
Daisy Yeah. Yeah, I think it was in the air and the atmosphere was it was the whole #MeToo Movement was happening. It was all kind of swirling around. And I think you just pick up on those feelings.
Jace Will chafes against Amelia’s new relationship and his guilt over his father’s death. Leonard stands up to his father. Cathy deals with her mother’s bipolar disorder and her childhood trauma. Was it intentional to link the theme of parental child relationships this season? I mean, it seems as though every one of the characters or nearly every character is suffering through some form of parental trauma, in a way.
Daisy Yeah, I think that was it. I think we started with. Where do we start? But I know that if thematically it fits into that thing of growing up, people shedding the sort of the things that are holding them back, like your eps, Josh with Cathy and her mom, in a sense, she has to. Let go of that past that’s been holding her back.
Joshua Yeah, and also, I mean, it felt to me like a really important thing. I mean you say that, Will, is in a good place at the start of season five. And here he thinks he is. But the truth is, it’s not that long since his father blew his brains out. Having been responsible for another person’s death in a fight, so Will still has all that to work through. And he’s working ahead really badly. I’m not at all. So, I mean, I think that that’s just that was just there in the backstory.
Jace The final image of the season finally brings Will back to what is important. This friends and family around him is this Will finally realizing that he has found Eden on Earth after all? That it is sort of within these people that he knows.
Daisy This is what we were talking about, Josh, John, that whole idea, you find the truth, if we find that perfection, you have to sort of strip away all perfection and just go. Well, I have. It’s good enough what I have is perfect in its own sort of way, I suppose, and that’s what yeah, it’s about family. For him, he has found his family. And that’s why I’m really excited about the next season is. Just really exploring Will properly within that makes. John, John and I have just been working away on that, haven’t we?
Jace I asked Tom Brittney about this, but I’d love to pose the questions to the right question to the writers. Well, the season ends on Will’s birthday after he’s given up his vow of celibacy by sleeping with Sister Grace. Is the fact that it’s his birthday intentional? Is this intended to sort of be seen as a rebirth of sorts for Wil Davenport?
Daisy I think, you know what, it’s really terrible, but I just did it because I just really like the idea that he’s lying in bed with a nun and he just goes, “It’s my birthday today.”
Will It’s my birthday today.
Sister Grace Happy birthday. How old are you? Actually, I’m not sure I want to know.
Daisy That’s all it was. But you’re right. It is a sense of, he’s grown up.
John Yeah, he’s another year older.
Daisy And he’s stopped believing that in this impossible kind of way of living. So he’s free to…so he’s free to go off and have fun in series six, I think.
John Yeah, I think I think it was the celibacy was a big part of the Eden thing it was this idea that there was this lightness of perfection, that there’s a purity, that we must keep this. And, you know, why is this of the fallible idea, you’re just gonna put in too much stock in something which probably, you know, if you’re not addressing the death of your father, then don’t worry about your celibacy. So it felt like naturally, that that’s where it had to go.
Daisy Like, yeah, maybe not with a nun, that we might have been going a bit crazy at that point.
John Forbidden fruit.
Daisy Yeah, absolutely.
Jace So with season five wrapped in a sixth season on deck. (Yay!) What are some of the ideas or themes that you are looking to explore in this upcoming season of Grantchester?
Daisy Again, we storylined it quite quickly, didn’t we, do? It was like two days and then you sat on my gym ball, you came and sat on my gym ball. So it’s about justice vs. injustice. And the fact the idea that within justice, there can be so you can fulfill justice in the law. You can get a result. Somebody can go to prison. But is it always just to do that? Is that always the right thing? And it’s sort of with that giving too much away about challenging Geordie’s belief in his job as a power for good, which, blimey, let’s face it, somehow we’ve managed to get ahead of the curve on that one because of the whole Black Lives Matter and everything you feel like. When does police work, when does it slip over into something slightly bad.
John It was it was it was the moral versus the legal. I think that was it.
Daisy Yeah. Well done. You put it better.
John No, no, no. It’s interesting because I think that’s Will and Geordie. Right. You know, Geordie is the legal and Will is the moral. And both of them, that’s them as kind of archetypes, but they have got room for maneuvering in that because that’s not necessarily to say the church is necessarily right and it’s not necessarily to say, you know, the law necessarily right. And both of them kind of know that. But they find themselves in difficult places.
Daisy We basically put them both in impossible situations this series which test them and their belief in their work. So it’s good, I think? I’m quite excited.
John I’m really excited. It’s exactly that, it’s moral-legal. And I think, you know, the idea of like a bigger story as well as episode stories.
Daisy A story that takes us right sort of right through.
John Yeah, but but, you know, as ever, hopefully, you know, really engaging standalones.
Jace Obviously, Grantchester tends to be six episodes each season. Season six has eight. How does having those extra installments change the way that you structure story? Is it more real estate to explore character dynamics or to tell a more complicated sort of season long plot?
Daisy Do you know what? It was so much easy with eight, because I think sometimes because it’s only six, we find it because all we want to tell this story, like we want to do more with Cathy and her mom, but we have to sort of park that to do Will and Vic or if we’d had eight episodes there we could’ve done so much more with Cathy and her mom, I think. Can you just give us a bit more breathing space, don’t you think John?
John Yeah, definitely. Wasn’t there one season where we were going to do it and we storylined and it was hard, but we figured out we had to do something a bit different, like because with six, you can almost in a series story you can tell one story. But I think that with eight you need to kind of work a little bit harder and that story needs to do more. You know, an extra couple of twists, obviously, but it just needs to be bigger. Or you need to find an almost too big a stories that you can play next each other.
Daisy We’ve got two stories that sort of intersect, really. And one takes over the second half slightly more. It’s good because we got so many good core cast. It’s just nice to use them because they’re all brilliant. And you’re just like, damn we need more Leonards or more everyone, really.
Jace So this is the season that Mrs. C becomes a as a serial poisoner and she’s sort of poisoning everyone.
John Spoilers! Spoilers, what are you doing?
Jace I would love to see Tessa as a murderer, though. They’d be great.
John Write it down, Daisy.
Daisy Daisy to kill every single murder is attributed to across series one onward. But she’s got away with it so long.
Jace Guys, thank you so very much. Thank you, Daisy. John and Joshua, this has been fantastic. Thanks so much for joining us.
John Thank you.
Joshua Thank you.
Daisy Thank you, this has been fun.
Jace The summer of mystery continues with a thrilling new season of Endeavour — and later this fall, three bold new series come to MASTERPIECE — Van der Valk, Flesh and Blood, and Roadkill.
Van der Valk You’re late. You were told about the briefing I take it.
Job Yeah I was. But erm, I went to the briefing room. Because that’s where I thought the briefing was taking place.
Van der Valk Well that’s a bit literal. Nothing is as it seems, Cloovers. What are you –
Job I also, got a phone call. There’s another dead body.
Jace We’ll have interviews with the stars from these new titles and more, right here on the podcast this autumn.
MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob, and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Rebecca Eaton is the executive producer at large for MASTERPIECE. The executive producer for MASTERPIECE is Susanne Simpson.