Saturday, 29 February 2020

This Country Book Signing and More About the Show

Two copies of the book This Country with the title overlaid Last weekend, Jade and I ventured into Bristol for a very exciting event. We have been fans of This Country since it first began and have really enjoyed following the characters as they've made their way through various adventures and disasters in their small village community. I was unaware that there was a book signing with the stars of the show and was amazed when Jade surprised me with tickets to attend last Sunday. It was a really enjoyable experience and I thought I would write a bit about the show, for the uninitiated, and what it was like meeting Charlie and Daisy May Cooper, who star as Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe.

This Country is a beautifully written heart-warming comedy-mockumentary detailing life in a West Country village, from the perspective of two late-teenage cousins growing up there. As someone who was raised and educated in a West Country village, I find it absolutely hilarious and uncannily accurate, if a little exaggerated for comedic effect. All the trappings of village life are there, from competitive scarecrow building to outrageously unlikely gossip about the local residents. Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe spend their days trying to squeeze nanoseconds of excitement out of small anomalies in the tedium of everyday life and the result is a wonderfully endearing and strikingly candid window into their world. What's really amazing about this show though, is the unusual story behind it. This is definitely not your average sitcom and when you dig a little deeper, it's clear why there is a deep authenticity and compelling realism embedded within the show.

Two sheep grazing on a hill in the background, with a pheasant in the foreground

Growing up in rural areas can be tough, but there are few, if any, meaningful references to this in popular culture. The carrot-cruncher stereotype gets wheeled out occasionally in sketch shows, but there is no depth or validity beneath the overplayed accent and silly stunts. Young people in rural communities are largely unsupported and education opportunities and jobs can be much harder to access. There is also very little to do, with limited public transport and not much in the way of government funds for youth schemes and initiatives. This creates a dangerous combination of apathy and boredom, which can lead to young people not reaching their full potential and getting into trouble along the way. What Daisy May and Charlie Cooper managed to achieve was a sensitive, touching portrayal of two survivors living in rural poverty and making the best of their lives, with little opportunity to improve their situation. The mirroring of their own lives is the catalyst that both created the show and gave it its trademark raw vulnerability. 

Jade standing outside Foyles bookshop holding two books, a queue of people stand behind her, faded out.

The Cooper story begins with the siblings growing up in uncannily similar circumstances to their on-screen counterparts. This is no coincidence since they provided their own inspiration for the show which would ultimately catapult them to stardom. As teenagers, their family hit hard times and they were forced to navigate their formative years with no money, in an environment where there was little to do anyway and money was the only way out of Boredomville. These circumstances continued after they returned home from university and, with little else to do, they spent a lot of time together writing their story. This story forms the basis of This Country and it's hard not to be in awe of the writers' self-belief and confidence in their own ability to create something brilliant that people would love. Perhaps their familial bond and faith in each other played a part, but it is certainly a story of determination and courage in rising up against adversity. Their story is one of hope in what, for many, are challenging times and I take a lot of inspiration from their rags to riches tale.  

Myself and Jade standing behind Daisy May Cooper and Charlie Cooper  who are holding copies of their new book. Daisy May is holding two fingers up to the camera

The book signing took place at Foyles Bookshop, which was a charming little venue, with its own cafe. The experience was really fun and I think it's a great way to meet the authors, especially if you are going to buy the book anyway as it often doesn't cost any extra. We had tickets for the later signing but they let us go in early, as the queue had died down. It was very well organised and relaxed. We queued for just a few minutes, during which time Paul Cooper, who is Charlie and Daisy May's dad and also plays Kerry's ne-er do well father in the show, entertained everyone with interesting facts about the people in the queue. When we reached the front one of the staff took my camera to get a photo of us all together, we had a little chat and then had the opportunity to get a photo with Paul, who was really funny. The pair chose relatives and locals for many of the roles in This Country, a testament to their down to earth attitude, improving the lives of those around them, along with their own. Fame doesn't seem to have changed them much at all and they were all lovely to chat with at the signing. I started reading the book on the way home and really enjoyed it. It's written in the style of the village newsletter and has some really funny moments. This Country is currently on BBC3 on Monday at 10.35pm, you can also catch all the previous episodes on BBC iPlayer. 


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