Comedy script writer Dean Wilkinson tells Lucy Richardson about his passion for children’s entertainment and why he’s creating the new Wombles on Teesside.
"STUPID man dies” is the headline Dean Wilkinson wants to appear in his local paper when he, in his own words, “snuffs it”. You may not know his name or recognise his face, but Dean is the real funny man behind some of the biggest names in TV comedy.
He was Ant and Dec’s writer for seven years, penning the multiaward- winning SMTV Live and Chums, which scooped ten Baftas.
He also wrote for Stephen Fry on the console game LittleBigPlanet and one of his proudest achievements is the hit CBBC sketch show Stupid, which he wrote and created.
His close friends include comedian Harry Hill and Timmy Mallett – he has a portrait painted by the children’s presenter and his vest from I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! to prove it. But Dean’s life is a world away from glitzy award ceremonies and showbiz darlings in London.
His comedy gold is mined in a messy office in a house on a Stockton estate, where he works alone.
The father-of-five has fond memories of his time writing scripts for family favourites Ant and Dec. They may not be in regular contact now but the Geordie duo have written forewords in several of Dean’s children’s books.
“The bigger the star, the nicer they are,” he says. “Stephen Fry is lovely – he walks into a room and wants to know everybody’s name. Bob Monkhouse was brilliant – he sent me a handwritten letter. I would have loved to have worked for him.
“Chris Evans was a lovely bloke. I wrote a script for him on SMTV Live and he called up to thank me. Ant and Dec were great too. You didn’t need to give them stage directions.
You could have written it down on a betting slip and they would have got it right first time.”
Dean’s success didn’t come overnight and he uses his own story to inspire children to pursue their own dreams. As a failed singer-songwriter (“I was rubbish”) with a flair for creativity, he soon found his calling when he started selling script and comedy ideas.
The turning point came when, in his early 20s, he was diagnosed with diabetes. “It was a life-changing moment,”
he recalls. “I just thought, ‘you only live once’, so I jacked in my job at Middlesbrough Council and moved to Derby to work on a comic.”
During quiet periods, the 43-yearold falls back on his second career as a teaching assistant, which he loves. He says his easy-going manner in the classroom makes him a favourite with children who have autism and behavioural problems.
Dean is passionate about giving youngsters quality TV programmes which, he thinks, have been sidelined in favour of poor US imports.
He is sad that the halcyon days of Catweazle, Worzel Gummidge, Do Not Adjust Your Set and Thunderbirds have been replaced by famedriven reality shows. “I am passionate about quality entertainment,” he says. “I would ban the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent.
“I was brought up in a council house in Thornaby, I never went to university. The first job I had was stacking shelves in an Asda warehouse.
It is all about determination.
If I can do it, you can too. It’s just giving them a bit of hope.”
To empower children and unleash their creative potential, he holds scriptwriting and cartoon drawing workshops in schools. Last year, he launched his own publishing company, Wilkinson Press, to print his modern slants on traditional tales to raise self-esteem. Titles include Little Red Riding Hoody (about peer pressure), Humpty Numpty (facing consequences) and Little Miss Surfit (internet safety).
“The secret to writing kids’ comedy is that it’s not just for kids, there are things for adults in there too. You can have double-edged humour –- while the kids are watching the slapstick, there are lots of little knowing gags in there for the mums and dads.”
With seven projects up for funding, one of his newest creations is Carlo and The Fed about a London beat bobby and his dog, who watches too many US cop shows. Dean, who is working on the concept with a policeman in the capital, is pitching the cartoon to TV executives as “Family Guy meets The Simpsons meets The Bill”.
“The buzzword in the industry at the moment is ‘multi-platform’. The idea must be suitable for a TV show, console games, website, books and apps, which is great for me as I love that,” he says. He is also using humour to tackle a serious subject right on his doorstep – takeaway litter.
In collaboration with illustrator Nik Holmes, he has devised cartoon characters Parmo Sam and the Takeaway Gang, in a campaign he is urging local councils to back.
“I loved the Wombles. I never dropped litter because I always thought ‘what would Uncle Bulgaria say?’ he laughs. We want to make it second nature to our kids to put rubbish in the bin. I hate Saturday and Sunday mornings, there are pizza boxes everywhere and ‘parmodendrums’ round the bushes here. I want them to be the new Wombles and start on Teesside.”
Email and the internet have made the world a smaller place and, post- Ant and Dec, his talent is still very much in demand. “I do find it easy being funny,” says Dean. “I have a lot of nonsense in my head and people pay me for it.”
He may not take centre stage but he definitely has the last laugh.
■ For more information, visit deanwilkinson.net