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Mackenzie Crook on pub quizzes, Twitter and why a Gareth Keenan spin-off wouldn't work

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Armed with 50 pub quiz questions and a Gareth Keenan spin-off pitch, we speak to Mackenzie Crook – writer, director and star of Detectorists

The first two minutes of episode one, series two of Detectorists are a real change of pace. Was there a lot riding on that?
I’m really pleased with the opening scene. The word most commonly used to describe the first series was ‘gentle’. Which I guess is fair enough, but I wish there were a better word. ‘Gentle’ sounds a bit too much like ‘unfunny’ to me, and I wanted the first few minutes of episode one to be anything but gentle. It’s dark, violent, and hopefully funny.

Did you wrestle over whether to call it Detectorists or The Detectorists, as bands probably do all the time? 
No, it was always just Detectorists, but it’s amazing how many TV listings get it wrong. But I’m not precious about it. I don’t get angry and correct people. 

What can we expect from the second series?
It’s a year later, and Andy and Lance are still out there in a field, detecting. Andy is now married, and he and Becky have a baby son and it’s a continuation of their lives, but they’re no longer on Bishop’s Farm. They have a different quest.

Did you fear difficult second series syndrome?
Absolutely. When I wrote the first series I wasn’t planning a second series, so it was quite self-contained. But when it went down well and the BBC wanted another one, I had to think fast about whether it was something I wanted to do. Very quickly I realised I did. It was actually easier to write than the first series in the end. 

Is it fair to say that no broadcaster other than the Beeb would commission this show?
I can’t think of anyone that would have let it be what it is. I could imagine taking it to another station and them saying “We like it, but…”  And then there would be a raft of changes. But when I took it to the BBC they didn’t meddle with it at all. They immediately understood what it is and they let us get on with it. I don’t think that would have happened anywhere else.

Is it true you scan online metal detecting forums to see what the hobbyists make of the show?
Yeah, I did when the first series went out, because I wanted to know what they thought of it. It was created affectionately and I know there was a nervousness 
in the detecting community before it went out. Thankfully the reaction was very good.

Andy belongs to a temping agency - and that’s exactly what I did for a while after I left school. I had no skills.

No death threats, then?
As yet I have not been beaten to death with a metal detector.

You once said you were scared of Twitter. Could we pay you to open a Twitter account?
No, it’s not a case of money. I’m just not sure I want to expose myself to people’s comments.

Have you made boring hobbies cool?
I think I’m trying to celebrate people’s hobbies. I worry that if your hobby is non-sport related you’re classed as a nerd. Millions of people have these hobbies and it’s a private thing, and a good thing. I don’t think I’ve made any hobbies cool, but if I’ve contributed to a reduction in people being laughed at, that would be great.

Would you be pals with Andy?
Well, he’s very similar to me, because I’ve exaggerated my faults to create him. He’s a little bit pathetic, and he says the wrong things, and I think in real life he would irritate me immensely. I don’t think anyone would want to hang around with a more pathetic version of themselves. 

Have you ever struggled to find work like he does?
Since The Office I’ve been lucky to be in constant work, but before that, yes absolutely. Andy belongs to a temping agency that gets him cleaning and catering work, and that’s exactly what I did for a while after I left school. I had no skills.

Do you tire off people asking you about The Office?
No, I’m very proud of it. I’d sooner go mad than tire of people talking to me about The Office. It’s what people know me for, and it comes up every day. 

You’ve said in the past that you’d love to work with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant again, but you have no idea what the project would be.
That’s right. 

We’ve cracked it: Gareth Keenan spin-off.
Oh.

No good?
I don’t think Gareth has ever done anything of any worth that would warrant a spin-off. I imagine that he’s still there, at Wernham Hogg. 

Would you consider it if Ricky and Stephen pitched it?
No, I’d think they’d lost their minds.

Quizzes are a regular theme of Detectorists. Are you a quiz fan?
Absolutely.

That’s good, because we have here the 50 most common pub quiz questions. Pick a number between one and 50.
If it’s sport I won’t get it. No27.

Which star is the nearest to Earth?
Oh man. Betelgeuse?

The answer is the Sun.
Nooo! Oh for God’s sake! Oh no, that’s dreadful. I’m so embarrassed. Give me another. No14. 

Who was the first actor to refuse an Oscar?
Oh man. I don’t know.

George C Scott.
Andy would have known that. This is a disaster. A total disaster.

Detectorists is on BBC 4 on Thursdays, 10pm

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