How would you describe Fungus?
Even though he is a snot-ridden, farting monster, he is actually quiet, very polite and very decent. He is a sort of Edwardian character. Like a lot of Raymond Briggs’ characters, he has a sense of decency and of doing the right thing. He finds all his son’s revolutionary ideas disquieting because he believes in the idea that there is a place for everything and everything in its place.
Tell us about the story…
It’s about the life of a Bogeyman who is having a mild existential crisis and is starting to doubt what he does a little. He lives down there, and then he comes up here and scares people. That’s his job. He does it with great politeness, not wickedness and has done it out of duty for hundreds of years. It’s a mutual relationship with the people on the surface, who the Bogeymen call Drycleaners and they’re all happy with it.
So what changes?
We’ve introduced an element in which Fungus’s son Mould has been affected by the proliferation of information out there – he’s a victim of the information age. He’s become ‘Drycurious’ and absconds to the world above. He’s looked after by Eve, a woman who appears to be a friendly Drycleaner. Even though they know they’re breaking the law, Fungus and his beloved Bogeywife Mildew want Mould back, and so they go up to find him. But, unfortunately, they find themselves trapped Up Top …
Where do Fungus and Mildew end up?
They have to live in suburban Daventry, of all places. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water situation. They live next to Wendy and Daryl, a well-meaning couple who are going through an existential crisis of their own. They are typical suburban upwardly mobile people. They have had a series of bad neighbours and are somewhat suspicious of their new ones. But even though they have problems of their own, they’re very kind and understanding people.
What is Wendy and Daryl’s attitude to Fungus and Mildew like?
The situation creates a lot of tension. Wendy and Daryl are used to dealing with a plethora of strange neighbours. They’re not sure whether Fungus and Mildew are under a witness protection scheme or are illegal immigrants. But in the end, Wendy and Daryl are decent, open minded people trying to be tolerant.
What happens next?
It gets worse when Wendy catches Fungus and Mildew as they are strewing their house with rubbish. Fungus is in his pants painting the walls with slime, and Mildew is engraving the floor with dog poo from a bag. But they’re only trying to do the decent thing and assimilate into this new world. They’re very peculiar but very sweet. They’re desperately trying to fit in, but they get it very badly wrong.
Even though the series has added new elements, does it still remain faithful to the spirit of Raymond Briggs’ book?
Absolutely. We’ve taken a leap of faith and invented some new theatrical conceits but I think we’ve managed to maintain the flavour of the book and that subversive quality that Raymond Briggs does so beautifully.
Do you think children’s tastes have got more sophisticated?
Their scope has definitely broadened. In my day, there were only Twizzle, Torchy the Battery Boy and Bill and Ben. You had to queue outside the Granada cinema in Clapham Junction to see Bambi. Now all kids have to do is press a button to see their favourite shows. So because there is now a lot more material available to them, children seem more sophisticated and literate in what they imbibe. And yet they still watch things from the point of view of feeling. They may appear more sophisticated but, in fact, kids are still kids. They’ll still respond to something made with honesty and gusto. They still love fart gags… let’s hope so, anyway!
Why do you think Fungus the Bogeyman will appeal at Christmas?
A four-year-old can sit next to an 80-year-old and they’ll both get a lot out of it. Obviously, one of the hardest things to crack is family entertainment. I think we’ve contemporised a classic children’s book, but at the same time we have captured the very strong flavour of a highly original book that has a uniquely British feel. I hope people will love it.
Timothy Spall stars in Sky’s new original drama ‘Fungus the Bogeyman’ which starts on Sky 1, Sunday 27 December 6pm