Rosie Swarbrick speaks with PNE fan Ben Cottam, whose writing credits include a Radio 4 comedy and the madcap hit animation Gumball.
A life-long PNE fan is one to watch in the world of comedy writing.
Ben Cottam’s latest pilot Plum House is being broadcast on Radio Four and the talented writer, who has written for the Cartoon Network, is hoping to bag his own TV series.
The former Lancaster Boys Grammar School pupil is a fourth generation North End fan and despite living in London the writers heart still lies in the North.
And one of the talented Cambridge graduate’s big dreams is to write for an unlikely comedic source and the North West’s biggest soap, the famous cobbles of Coronation Street.
He said: “I’ve always really enjoyed Steve Coogan and the League of Gentleman’s style of comedy.
“It is character-led jokes, I like Victoria Wood’s comedy and even some of the writing in Coronation Street inspires me – they are well drawn characters and they produce some great comedic scenes.
“David Neilson who plays Roy Cropper is a brilliant comedic actor.
“When he came in to the show the character was quite creepy but the script writers realised his potential and now he is quite a humorous character.”
Ben’s passion is comedy writing but he has also written several episodes of a hit children’s television show.
He originally started his television career in production but hopes one day to swap life behind the scenes for a career in front of the lens.
He said: “I’ve written some episodes for a cartoon that is on Cartoon Network called The Amazing World of Gumball, they are due to be played soon.
“It’s about a family and a bit like a crazy version of the Simpsons for kids.
“I started at the BBC as a production trainee so I worked on a range of programmes from Louis Theroux to Holby City.
“My background is in production but when I was at university I started writing and performing in a sketch group – we once made an appearance on Dick and Dom.
“At the moment it is mostly writing work; I’ve got to a nice point where we have a few things in development.
“I’m just hoping I can get my own comedy series and write more for the TV – I’d like to be in front of the camera.”
Ben has recently written sketches for ITV’s pensioners-behaving-badly sketch show Off Their Rockers.
He co-wrote his most recent pilot with Paul McKenna, a man he dubs “The third most famous Paul McKenna – the former PNE player takes top spot and the hypnotist is the second.” The duo are currently working on a host of projects together and Ben says the inspiration for the BBC pilot was rooted in the North and his love for quirky museums.
He said: “People often ask if I’m working with the hypnotist and then if it’s the footballer but it is just Paul.
“Plum House is a character based comedy set in a country house museum in the Lake District.
“An idea came about many years ago when I was working in the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere – that was very well run – whereas Plum House is very badly run.
“I like going to small museums – in Southport there is a lawnmower museum and that is were it came from really.
“My inspiration comes from all sorts. I like writing about the North and North West it makes sense to write about what you know.
“It isn’t always smooth sailing, sometimes scripts get picked up and dropped but at the moment things are going well.
“I’d love to write some episodes of Coronation Street, that is one of my aims.”
Ben works with some top celebrities but the fanatical football fan is not phased by actors – he’d be more shocked to bump into Joe Garner and co.
“The only person I’ve ever been massively starstruck by was Eric Cantona; he is really barrel chested, but as a rule I don’t get starstruck. You get quite relaxed, these people are quite similar to you and me.
“I’d be more nervous if I had to meet the North End players.”
Ben hopes to pen a When Saturday Comes-style ode to the Lilywhites and the young writer is part of the North End invasion of London.
He said: “I didn’t get chance to go to the play-off second leg clash against Rotherham but I watched it in a pub in Waterloo with a lot of other PNE fans; it was like being in Preston.
“For some reason there are a lot of North End fans in the capital.
“Whenever they play at Leyton Orient or Brentford there is always a big following and it is always the same faces.
“I can’t get back to Preston to watch many matches but I went to the Gillingham match.
“I would love to do something about Preston, it would be great to write about supporting the club and how the fans see the game and the build up.
“My great grandfather supported PNE and it has been passed down through the generations.
“You have to have a thick skin and learn to develop a sense of humour as a Preston fan I can remember getting beaten by non-league Kidderminster Harriers but I have a really good feeling about next season.”