Mackenzie Crook’s new version of Worzel Gummidge has been part of the BBC’s Christmas TV offering for the last two years, but the walking talking scarecrow is back a little earlier this year with a Bonfire Night special.
The episode called Guy Forks airs on Saturday Nov. 6 on BBC1 at 5.45pm and is the first of three new adventures written by The Office and Pirates of the Caribbean star, with the other two scheduled to air as part of a Worzel Gummidge Christmas special 2021 later this year.
In the build-up to the annual November 5 festivities, Worzel’s cousin, Guy Forks (Paul Kaye), has taken his usual place on top of the bonfire stack on Scatterbook’s village green. He has the magical ability to burn as the guy and then come back year after year with a different head and a new set of clothes!
Worzel Gummidge star Mackenzie says: “Guy’s a bit of a show-off, but he’s charming, He’s got a papier-mâché face and great big garden forks for hands, which is where the name comes in. I hope people don’t think I’ve misspelled it. It’s a pun!”
When the cousins get into a row about their jobs, they decide to swap places but it soon becomes clear Worzel has bitten off more than he can chew. Knowing Worzel doesn’t have the ability to rise from the ashes, his young pals John (Thierry Wickens) and Susan (India Brown) must find a way to rescue him before it’s too late.
The episode, which airs on BBC1 on Saturday, Nov 6. at 5.45pm, also sees the return of Vicki Pepperdine as Aunt Sally and Steve Pemberton and Rosie Cavaliero as Mr and Mrs Braithwaite, and Mackenzie – who brought Barbara Euphan Todd’s iconic character back to our screens in 2019 – with his Detectorists co-star Toby Jones, who plays six different characters including the local butcher, baker and mayor!
Here, Mackenzie Crook tells us about the new episode, reuniting with Toby Jones and having to eat raw onions…
What appealed to you about doing a Bonfire Night-inspired episode of Worzel Gummidge?
“I had this germ of an idea about Worzel finding himself on top of a bonfire stack and the jeopardy therein. There’s this thing in the world of Worzel Gummidge where all effigies can come alive and Guy Fawkes is a famous old effigy, so I thought, ‘What if Worzel and Guy had a fight and swapped places, which would lead Worzel to realise how foolish he’d been?’ Also, I can’t remember seeing a Bonfire Night special of anything before, and I thought it would be really nice to have one of those films you could go back to on that very specific date.”
Are you a fan of Bonfire Night?
“I think I am. It was quite a big part of my childhood. I grew up in suburbia, a village outside Dartford in Kent, and I do remember it being quite an event and going to bonfires; it was exciting. We didn’t celebrate Halloween like we do now and I don’t remember ever celebrating it. Bonfire Night was the thing for me!”
This story also features your acting pal Toby Jones, was it lovely working together again?
“It was a joy! There’s a Bonfire Night Committee and the idea was that there were these middle-aged blokes in charge of everything and they all looked very similar. It seems a very Ealing comedy idea, like how Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness used to play multiple characters in those films. And I think partly because of that, Toby jumped at the idea.”
Was it difficult to film Toby playing six different characters?
“It was tricky. There were a couple of times where all of those characters were in the same scene, which meant they took a long time to film. Toby kept making suggestions of putting a couple of his characters into other scenes as well, but I don’t think he realised, every time his characters were on screen it would mean spending more money and half a day of filming! I just had to be firm with him!”
As well as this episode, you also filmed two more adventures, ‘Twitchers’ and ‘Calliope Jane’, which are set to air at Christmas. How did you find filming them?
“It was a nine-week shoot and it was hard work, but I love working in the countryside. It’s such a magical production to be involved in and quite a wholesome thing to be working on in these troubled times! We were battling the weather a bit this year, though. It rained an awful lot but we got through it and we had a happy summer making these films; I hope some of that comes across on screen. I’m really pleased with the finished episodes.”
How do you find wearing the prosthetics needed to transform you into Worzel?
“It feels like someone has wrapped your entire head in Sellotape! It’s literally glued to my entire face and it’s really uncomfortable. It takes about two hours to put on, which is not too bad at all. I quite enjoy watching the transformation in the mirror and slowly getting into character. I love playing Worzel, but there were 12 days of this shoot where I didn’t have to wear make-up because I was just directing, which was enjoyable in a different way.”
Worzel likes eating raw onions – did you have to do that for real?
“I did! The art department tried to disguise a Granny Smith’s apple in an onion skin, but I thought, ‘I can do this!’ I had to do it twice. The first one was quite mild, but the other one nearly blew my head off! Biting into an onion also takes quite a bit of effort!”