Gossip Girl star Ed Westwick has swapped Hollywood for the Essex towns of Corringham and Stanford Le Hope in the 1980s in his first comedy role. He plays Vince Swan, who is living the dream as a hard-living double glazing salesman at Cachet Windows.
“He’s animal,” Westwick says of Vince. “He’s found what he’s good at and is running with it, and it’s a statement for that era in terms of going out and getting what you want.”
The actor adds that making a tax-dodging, drug-fuelled philanderer sympathetic was a challenge. “You find the naughtiness funny, and he can step over the line, but you want to be still able to like him and that was something that was interesting to navigate while we were doing it,” he says.
The Inbetweeners co-creator Damon Beesley wrote the series, which marks his first turn as a solo director. Asked about his inspiration he points to his childhood – as the son of a double glazing salesman in 1980s Essex – and also to his previous hit The Inbetweeners, which he created with writing partner Iain Morris.
“That show has been a long held thing,” he says. “We’d always wanted to write a comedy about a group of boys who were 16-years-old because we really liked the way they spoke to each other – the audacity and the rhythm of their language and their cursing.
“After that I was thinking of where I could capture that again and, of course, it’s [through] the salesman.”
The show is made by Beesley and Morris’ Fudge Park indie. The six-parter also stars two of the four main Inbetweeners character, Joe Thomas and James Buckley. Lauren O’Rourke (This Is England 90) also stars, and breaks up the male-led cast.
So how does Essex feel having been on Hollywood series and movies? “I wouldn’t say it’s a massively different way of working,” Westwick says.
“It just felt like great story, and a great character. I hadn’t done a comedy before in the strictest sense, and I knew these guys had a lot of success with The Inbetweeners and thought they would be a good team. There was other stuff around at the time, but this is the one I wanted to put myself up for.”
Unlike The Inbetweeners, there is more drama in White Gold, which Beesley says was possible as the world of comedy has evolved. “It has a dramatic arc, it’s almost a year in Vince Swan’s life,” he says. “Some episodes are more self encapsulated and a funny series of events, but as we progress his terrible behaviour starts to catch up with him.
“The chickens come home to roost, the stakes get quite high and it gets very dramatic, and it has been enjoyable to do that.”
Westwick adds: “You see Vince hit rock bottom. You get the laughs but it has a complexity to it as well.”
BBC Worldwide is distributing, and drama boss Liam Keelan says the market for UK shows has picked up, in part because the streaming players have driven demand.
“Comedy is not as big as drama as a genre, but there is a shift and shows like Transparent on Amazon have had an effect,” Keelan says. “And there are platforms like Seeso from NBC – there’s definitely an international market for [UK] comedy.”
The show: White Gold
The producer: Fudge Park Productions, BBC Comedy
The distributor: BBC Worldwide
The broadcaster: BBC
The concept: Comedy about a group of double glazing salesmen in 1980s, Essex, starring Ed Westwick and from The Inbetweeners team