It is June 8th 2021. There is a knot in my stomach, and I don’t know why. As David Brent of The Office might say, “I feel a bit sick… not nerves… excited… not sexual”. Officially, the line I have been trotting out to my fellow podcasters is that I am blasé, this is nothing, I am not nervous. But the knot in my stomach is telling me a different story. For today is the day when I get to meet Ricky Gervais, creator and star of The Office and Extras, and play a part in interviewing him over Zoom.
How did we get here? It began in the halcyon days of summer 2018, when afternoon I was riding my bike and received a WhatsApp message from my friend James Emblow, proposing that we start a podcast based on the UK Office, with our fellow Office obsessive friends, Jack Kendall and Seth Bolton. To my amazement such a thing did not exist at this point, despite the show’s iconic status. Initially I was reluctant; none of us had any experience podcasting, and personally I did not even listen to podcasts.
However, the idea was not entirely without legs. This was a show that, ever since we met each other in various circumstances many years ago, we had quoted, discussed and laughed about in insane granular detail. One of our number (Jack) had a background in film studies and had some experience in making documentaries; most importantly of all, he had a boom mic and an Apple Mac. Furthermore, and perhaps most critically for the show’s immediate prospects, we had a ready-made potential audience of several thousand Office aficionados in our Facebook group The Office (UK)- Greatest Quotes, to whom we could easily market it at no cost.
So – having myself coined the puntastic name “Wernham Blogg” – we began, somewhat tentatively, on a scorching afternoon in August 2018, in the spare room at James’ house., with the boom mic tentatively resting in a pint glass and a dog barking in a neighbour’s garden. Initially I wasn’t sure we were going to make it. There was so much energy in the room, but it seemed in need of some focus and discipline. “Speak into the mic!” and “we need to stop talking over one another” were common refrains.
But very quickly we learned to harness this raw energy, and, to my amazement, rather than the mixture of awkward silences and unmitigated chaos that I had feared, we ended up having cohesive sessions which seemed to fly by but in fact, often went on for several hours, in analysis of what were 30–45-minute episodes of the show. Having been very much the sceptic to begin with, I found I often didn’t want them to end. Jack was lumbered with the task of chopping it down to an incisive
and sparky 60-75 minutes or so – we were all adamant from the start that we wanted to deliver something was entertaining and reasonably concise, the sort of thing we would ourselves download and listen to had someone else made it.
The format was tight, but not a straitjacket. James set a rough agenda; I did a weekly quiz based on each episode (which usually descended into Brentish farce) and an introduction to each episode based on quotes in the show; we even had issues we came back to week after week such as the “Stitch up corner” theory, that David Brent was in fact a brilliant manager stitched up by the documentary makers.
It all just seemed to fall into place. I found myself listening to the recordings back, laughing and knowing exactly what I was going to say next as it was what was in my head then. Once I was laughing so much, I missed my motorway turn off on what was a regular commute. As the weeks went by through autumn 2018, we got through the episodes at a frightening speed, and as we put them out, the number of followers grew and grew. There would be utterly bizarre, arbitrary spikes in listenership which defied explanation; I once looked down at my phone only to see a breathless WhatsApp message from James declaring we were top of the podcast charts in South Africa.
One of our number, Seth, was living in Spain at this time, but this didn’t deter us; he just phoned in on Skype. This only served to underline how vital the presence of all four of us was to the success of the show. We could all analyse The Office, but each of us also brought our own strengths to the (literal) podcasting table. James was de facto chairman, holding the discussions together and trying to provide some structure to cling to; I was quizmaster and the comic relief, breaking up even the most intense of discussions with quotes and jokes; Seth was the psychoanalyst in chief, digging deep into the souls of the characters; while Jack provided background on the technical aspects of filming, as well as a handy “walking IMDB” knowledge of the actors involved.
Although we did not quite meet our very ambitious target of getting the Christmas specials out by Christmas 2018, we came very close, and simply couldn’t face awaiting another Christmas to complete it, so we recorded those episodes in January 2019; and so, just 5 months after starting, we had – against all odds – recorded podcast episodes covering all 14 episodes of The Office. Moreover, we were beginning to make a splash on social media, thanks in no small part to the addiction… sorry, valiant efforts… of one James Emblow. The amount of froth created on Twitter in particular, including endless meme-based Office humour, eventually began to attract the attention of celebrities and James’ attempts to get stars from The Office onto our show, suddenly seemed more viable.
Within months of completing what we thought was our final Office episode, we were reconvening to interview one of its stars, Ewan Macintosh (Keith). In the end the lure of returning to podcasting proved irresistible, and in summer 2019 we moved onto Gervais’ later sitcom Extras. With our audience and social media presence now established, access to stars became easier; we managed to successfully interview such key players as Steve Spiers, and Barry from EastEnders, AKA Shaun Williamson. So perhaps it should not have come as such a shock in April 2021 when Ricky Gervais heeded the Twitter call and said he would meet us, after After Life series 3 finished filming.
It has in many ways been a remarkable run since 2018. There are some out there who are natural podcasters who will pick something (perhaps anything) to podcast about; and there are others who have a strong passion and happen to pick the medium of podcasting to convey it. We are very much in the latter category; but we have run and run with it, and 3 years on, here we are having scored an interview which once seemed a pipe dream, the sort of thing only elite journalists could do. It is our hard work and passion, for what has ultimately been a labour of love, that has got us here.
But still: Ricky Gervais… I’ll believe it when I see it. He’s due on Zoom in 10 minutes… will the interview be a success? I’ll let you be the judge of that when you hopefully listen!
Danny Arnold is one of the hosts of The Wernham Blogg, the podcast with 4 seedy little men discussing the UK edition of the TV show The Office and Extras. In a special episode on 9th July, exactly 20yrs to the date The Office first aired, you can listen to the interview with Ricky Gervais on ACAST, SPOTIFY, or your favourite podcast app!