Unfair: The new comedy inspired by living a life with Scotland’s showpeople
She has been harbouring dreams of becoming a TV drama writer for years.
But Emma Lennox has got her big breakthrough with a new Scottish comedy inspired by a dramatic change in her own life.
Channel 4 has hailed Lennox as one of Britain’s most exciting new comedy talents after commissioning a pilot of her series Unfair.
Focuses on a new arrival into a family of travelling showpeople, the show is not ony set in Lennox’s native Glasgow – a city with the highest concentration of showpeople in Europe – but is based on her experiences of an east end yard, where she lives with her husband Mitch and daughter Lena.
The comedy was made for Channel 4 by Skye-based company Young Films, run by The Inbetweeners producers Chris Young, after Lennox pitched the show at his annual talent school, impressing leading industry executives.
The Inbetweeners star Joe Thomas, Outlander actor Grant O’Rourke and Sharon Small, star of TV dramas The Bay, Trust Me and Mistresses appear in Unfair, which will be launched online by Channel 4 on 6 May.
Rising stars Kat Ronney and Dylan Wood play “clueless student” Sorcha and Bentley, the boyfriend she moves in with, despite knowing nothing of fairground culture.
Unfair features two actors from showpeople community – Gavin Jon Wright and newcomer Yana Harris – has been developed in close collaboration with Fair Scotland, a charity promoting the culture and heritage of Scottish showpeople.
Lennox started developing the idea for a comedy after working on a 2014 documentary on the families running Scotland’s fairgrounds, made by the Glasgow production company Hopscotch, where she worked for years.
Lennox returned to the subject years later at the suggestion of producer Carolynne Sinclair Kidd.
Lennox said: “I actually start off in comedy. I got a couple of sketches on Radio Scotland about 15 years ago, but they led absolutely nowhere. All it did was put me off comedy.
“I really wanted to learn long-form drama writing. I was writing spec scripts for years, while working in a day job at Hopscotch on factual stuff, but the last thing I ever thought about was writing about myself. I was focused more on trying to write cool thrillers.
“Unfair really started when Carolynne took me aside one day and pitched the idea to me of a sitcom based on my life. She just thought it was hilarious that someone like me had moved into a showman’s yard.”
Unfair stars off with Sorcha ceciding to move in with Bentley, leaving her mum behind in their upmarket home with her new boyfriend.
Recalling meeting Mitch while the pair were at Glasgow University, Lennox said: "He was a kind of mysterious guy who wore a lot of different hats, he was a writer, he did a bit of filmmaking, he was an artist and his family were showpeople, who I knew absolutely nothing about at the time.
“We were friends for a few years before we got together. After we got married we lived in a flat in Dennistoun, but we couldn’t really afford to stay there.
“I can remember Mitch going to the pub with his cousin one night about seven years ago. He came home really excited with this plan to move into the yard.
“I thought: ‘Okay, really?’ It just seemed like such a surreal thing to do, but then I just thought why not. Seven years later we’re still there.
“My first time on the yard was quite nerve-wracking, as I was meeting his family for the first time, and I was also curious to see what the yard looked like.
“I was expecting just to meet his parents but when we went to their chalet there was this mass of people in his family waiting for me to turn up.
“Mitch has told me so many stories about his mum Maureen that I was quite intimated. But she came over to me, looked at Mitch and said: ‘She’s lovely.’ I felt so relieved in that moment and they were all very lovely.”
Lennox admitted she was intially wary of the suggestion of creating a comedy depicting showpeople, saying she had to overcome her fears about “misrepresenting anyone or perpetuating any stereotypes.”
She said: “I wasn’t jumping to do it initially, because I felt it could be a big mistake and could get me in trouble with the place I live and the people that surround me. I really wanted to be careful.
“I decided that if I go onto the residency in Skye it would give me thinking time away from everybody. But I was then surrounded by TV people who told me that it was a great idea and I should definitely do it.
“I nearly didn’t go to Skye, as I was in the early stages of pregnancy, but was very much encouraged when I there. Thank god I did.
“Joe Thomas was there during the residency and he was so enthusiastic about the idea. I wrote him into the script as a bit of a laugh for myself, but I then thought that he would probably do it."
Lennox gave birth to daugher Lena in December 2019, just weeks before she was told that Channel 4 had comissioned a script for an initial instalment of Unfair.
Although the project was long delayed by Covid, filming finally got underway in January on Unfair, which was made at a real-life showman’s yard at Carntyne, in Glasgow.
Lennox added: “I really didn’t want to write a comedy about showpeople or make any big statements.
"I just wanted to focus on stuff based on my own experiences. It’s really about this woman who is a bit useless, a bit spoiled and is looking for family – but gets a whole lot of family all at once. The yard just happens to be be where these characters live.”