A Chat with Mackenzie Crook

1 October 2014 — 30 Comments

The BBC4 website attracted a lot of attention in February when it was announced that Mackenzie Crook was filming a comedy series in which he plays a ‘wannabee archaeologist’. The comments on online detecting forums ranged from how the show might be very entertaining and worth watching, to how it would be detrimental to detectorists and the hobby.

Pick

Frtom the Sunday Times – Click to enlarge

I was pleased to see that the Sunday Times Culture magazine TV listings for the week preceding the programme was awarded the ‘Critics’ Choice’ and chosen as ‘Pick of the Day’

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Mackenzie – the Metal Detecting Enthusiast

DetectoristImage copy

Our conversation led to an article in a metal detecting magazine. What follows is an edited version of that account.

Some detectorists hoped that the hobby would be shown in a favourable light and it would be a case of ‘laughing with us rather than at us.’ The doom mongers forecast ridicule galore, detectorists wearing silly garb, driving old cars and living on the dole – all typical comments for a comedy show that has yet to be aired. My favourite was, “The show can’t be very good ‘cos it’s been shown on BBC4. The show will flop if it makes detectorists look silly!”

Readers were told that they would see Crook draw on his own experiences as a metal detecting enthusiastas he and his detecting partner Lance embark on a journey of greed, betrayal, rejection and redemption as they hurtle towards Danbury MDC’s greatest ever find. They both dream of finding that priceless hoard that will make them rich and cement their places in detecting history’ … but real life keeps getting in the way!

The exceptionally multi-talented Mr. Crook

Mackenzie is a gifted fellow – illustrator, stage, television and film actor, comedian, musical director, children’s author, radio performer, conservationist, comedy writer … and part-time detectorist! He is totally without ‘edge’ or pretentiousness and utterly charming.

For those readers who may need reminding, Mackenzie first came to prominence playing Gareth, the guy with the ‘character-actor’ face and funny haircut in the television show, The Office. That was twelve years ago. Since then he has never been out of work, appearing on the stage, in film (remember him as Ragetti in Pirates of the Caribbean?) and appearances in several television dramas. His face is his fortune!

“I’m still star-struck when meeting people like Johnny Depp and Al Pacino, and I hope I always will be. I’ve been incredibly lucky. Detecting helps keep me grounded,” he explained. Mackenzie’s humour can be deadpan. Was the pun intended I momentarily wondered?

I’ve absolutely no idea whether anyone will watch the program … I think it’s warm and heartfelt, not in the least cruel or spiteful, a story of ordinary people, their lives and relationships, and this extraordinary hobby that they escape into at the weekends … Mackenzie Crook

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Filming

With Pint copy 3

Enjoying a Drink  © John Winter

Over refreshing glasses of amber coloured ale, I asked about the forthcoming programme. Contrary to the impression the BBC website may have given, it was very early days, because he was still fine-tuning the scripts. There was still a lot to be done and filming wouldn’t start until June. Screening would probably be nearer the end of the year. His ‘pirating days’ were over and now the challenge was to write, star and direct in a show conceived by himself.

Mackenzie said (at least on a couple of occasions) he was keen that the metal detecting community would enjoy the show and stressed it wasn’t his intention to mock detectorists or the hobby. “The series will be a celebration of an all-absorbing pastime and the quirky people it can attract,” he assured me.

He smiled, nodded enthusiastically, and agreed that he probably had a lot in common with some detectorists … because he was often being called upon to play the geeky character! Mackenzie has been detecting for eight years and started with a Viking VK30, upgrading to an X-Terra about 5-6 years ago. He laughed as he related how his wife Lindsay referred to detecting as ‘your imaginary hobby!’ That reference, of course, is to the fact that he has all the know-how and equipment, but seldom has time to go out searching because he is so busy!

It may come as a surprise to learn that Mackenzie isn’t a member of a club, on-line forum or any organisation to do with detecting, but seems to understand so much about what goes on, especially club dynamics. With what appeared to me as his evident lack of practical experience, I asked where he had gleaned his information.

“From reading detecting magazines cover to cover, watching online videos and detecting on my own land”, was his answer. He agreed that he didn’t have much practical experience. The idea of knocking on a farmer’s door asking for permission to search also filled him with dread. Believe it or not, in real life this brave and swashbuckling pirate is a shy guy …

A male dominated hobby?

According to the BBC the series,taps into the world of the male hobby, which is very funny and touching.’ These words, coming from the BBC commissioner for the programme, have already upset several of the female detecting fraternity.

Although he would have preferred to leave out the offending word, Mackenzie explained that his show was an exploratory (and hopefully funny) look at a predominately male dominated pastime. “Men are completely obsessed by their hobbies whether it is model railways, stamp collecting or whatever! They can get so immersed and obsessed whereby a lady is able to keep everything in proportion … if you see what I mean.”

I was interested to know if there was a stereotypical archaeologist in the script, somebody with a beard, flyaway hair and a knitted jumper. In a deadpan manner accompanied by just a hint of a twinkle in his eyes, he said, “Yes, there is an archaeologist … she’s a woman!”

The conscientious detectorist

Mac copy

© John Winter

He told me a little more about the programme, but prefaced his remarks with the reminder, “I don’t want to give too much away you understand! The story that I’m doing is about two guys, their relationships and this hobby, which enables them to escape from the ‘madding crowd’ and find a refuge from the stresses of ordinary life. The majority of the time our two heroes don’t find anything. It’s not a rip-roaring roller-coaster side splitting hilarious comedy. In fact not much happens at all … just two middle-aged guys talking rubbish most of the time!”

He confided that the character he played was the more conscientious detectorist. His partner Lance (the talented actor Toby Jones) plays the ‘treasure hunter’ with a liking for wearing full camouflage gear.

I was surprised to learn that in ‘real life’ Mackenzie would have loved to be an archaeologist. History was one of his passions. His favourite television programme was Time Team, which he found ‘brilliant’.

Like most detectorists he has a wish list, but his is ‘modest’ … a good condition hammered coin, but with some evidence of circulation wear; something Anglo Saxon and perhaps a piece of our social history that can be researched, an element of the hobby that he enjoys very much. Over the years he has collected and found many things like whole clay pipes and assorted flints.

Conservation

On his uncle’s farm in Rhodesia where he spent many a holiday as a child, Mackenzie went off exploring and found a cave adorned with primitive art on the walls. He proudly showed me the pictures taken at the time. And it was there, on the floor of the cave, that he found something special … the head of a spear. He dipped into the cavernous man-bag and proudly extracted the implement to show me.

With Spear

Mackenzie with his spear – © JW

Mackenzie is a conservationist with his own eight acres of woodland in Essex, a site that he manages and detects. “Whenever I go up to my woods I always take the detector. I’ve never been on farmland.”

At one time Mackenzie contemplated buying a Ferrari, but his passion for conservation won through. I’m sure that his eyes took on an extra sparkle as he talked about managing the ancient woodland. “Now that I live in London” (in Peter Seller’s old house) “I wanted my children to appreciate the countryside as I have done. Sometimes we even camp there,” he told me …

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The club’s fundraiser – Detectorists: Episode 6 Preview – BBC Four

In an email later, Mackenzie said that it was refreshing to do an interview where he got to talk about things that really interested him, instead of the usual banal showbiz questions. Next day I received a beautiful, original and signed piece of artwork (shown above) showing a dejected detectorist holding a tin can … he looked very familiar!

Anyway, I sincerely hope that you are looking forward to this series as much as me! I can hardly wait! In these gloomy and uncertain times the ability to have a good laugh at yourself makes life just that little bit easier.

In the meantime, perhaps I can enthrall you with the breeding habits of Mr. Crook’s elderly tortoises, Joshua and Josephine … if only I could find a metal detecting peg on which to hang the story!

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A version of this article originally appeared in the May 2014 edition of The Searcher magazine

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April 26th 2015

Mackenzie receives a BAFTA award for best comedy writer

Well Deserved!

May 10th 2015

Mackenzie receives his second BAFTA for best scripted comedy!

MACK_________________________________________________

Detectorists series 2 includes a Christmas special and will stay on BBC Four

Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones will be searching for festive items in a Christmas special of Detectorists later this year. The critically-acclaimed BBC Four comedy will return for a six-part second series in late 2015, followed by a festive episode in December.

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The BBC want a third series of Detectorists … but Mackenzie is not so sure:

BBC_want_a_third_series_of_Detectorists_but_Mackenzie_Crook_is_not_so_sure

Courtesy Radio Times

>>> CLICK HERE <<<

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Johnny Flynn performs “Detectorists” for The Line of Best Fit

DetectJohnny Flynn’s Original Soundtrack from the TV Series is available for download on Amazon … also via iTunes. Click HERE

John

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30 responses to A Chat with Mackenzie Crook

  1. Let us know when the shows airs in England and we will try and find it. Maybe iView will have it for the internet.
    I will try and post a link to this post on the Bendigo Prospecting Club Facebook page.

  2. The show airs on Thursday 2 October at 10pm on BBC4 …im looking forward to watching something different

  3. Great job bagging that interview John, it was good to read. Mackenzie sounds a good, honest down to earth bloke.

    Regards

  4. I am sure it will be entertaining and I look forward to viewing it tonight.
    The guys can’t be much different to some of the characters we bump into in the fields.

  5. As a detectorist for over 30 years I am really looking forward to this series,
    im a member of the Northernrelichunters forum and looking at the clips of this series
    reminds me of some of the weekend digs we go on.Its not always serious we have a great day out and a great laugh.

  6. Yes a senior moment earlier this morning I thought it was Thursday today, I realised after I had pressed the “Post Comment” button and as there is no “Edit” button I just hoped no one would twig it.

  7. Great interview!
    Thanks for posting it John.

    Looking forwards to it tomorrow night! >>>>!
    Raven

  8. We’ve had the preamble to the programme and now I await the serving up of the meal itself! I am sure many of us will see some elements of the characters in our own personalities. If it is as good as prescribed I will have to have my paper tissues ready to wipe away the tears of laughter. The “proof of the pudding will be in the eating” and my knife, fork and spoon are ready!

  9. The show sounds like fun , Sadly, we will never see it in Canada. Unless its uploaded to Utorrents. Thanks for this John, its nice to know that someone, somewhere, is making programs that are fit to watch.

  10. Great interview, and loved the programming.

  11. I found the series by trawling through the program listings. I am a radio amateur – so similar to being a detectorist with the jokes and situations. A good show. Thanks, Mackenzie Crook.

  12. I watched the complete first series in one sitting. I liked the show and look forward to the next series. A good interview John.

  13. Hi John,
    you will know me from the mdf forum as the mole, thought i would post this for your readers. i emailed mackenzie after watching the series and enjoying it and this is the reply i got.

    Mole.

    Thanks for your email and your kind words about the tv series.

    I have to admit that, in a rather cowardly fashion, I have been keeping an eye on the forum but I’ve never actually posted.

    I wanted to avoid getting personally involved in a discussion but I couldn’t resist having a look at what those in the metal detecting community were saying. Sorry if that’s a bit creepy.

    I’ve been blown away by the response Detectorists has got on the forum and I’d really like to thank people who’ve posted positive feedback.

    I know when the show was first announced a few people were understandably nervous that it would be an ill-researched parody of the hobby. Where people are passionate about something they have a right to be protective of it too.

    But, as I said early on, I only ever intended it to be an affectionate and realistic (almost) look at a fascinating pastime.

    I’m thrilled that metal detectorists themselves gave the show a chance, enjoyed it and could relate to the situations and characters.

    Even though the show had to appeal to a wide audience, it’s been the views of the detectorists that have been most interesting to me.

    I wanted to make the detecting bits of the film as accurate as possible but without getting bogged down in details that would bore non-hobbyists.

    I too, wince every time I see Lance throw down his CTX at the end of episode 1. But it was the only take we had from that angle. I hadn’t noticed Toby mistreating his machine until I got into the editing suite otherwise I would have had strong words.

    We heard this week that the BBC would like a second series next year which is fantastic news.

    I’ll get writing and I hope you enjoy the second series as much as you’ve seemed to enjoy the first.

    I’ll continue, if you don’t mind, not to post on the forum. (You might want to set up a separate, hidden forum where you don’t feel you’re being watched).

    But please feel free to post any or all of this letter on the site.

    Thanks again for your support.

    Mackenzie Crook.

    • Thank you, Mr Mole!

    • Thanks for posting, saw the series and enjoyed it very much. My favorite scene, and there were many,was when MacKenzie bought the pints of beer with his dirty clad, dirt and all, had a great laugh with that one. Really looking forward to season two!

  14. I wish we could get it here across the pond in the U.S. Of the short previews I saw I loved it, and Mackenzie’s great acting. John did a great interview with Mr. Crook and I enjoyed the read.

  15. The best detecting show on air. I only wish we could get it in the states.

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