In yet another bizarre twist for 2020, Sunday night will see one of the best TV shows of the year air... and it's a spoof documentary about the Kemp brothers.
Rhys Thomas’ latest film for BBC Two, The Kemps: All True, is an hour-long special featuring Gary and Martin Kemp (the latter has worked with Rhys before in the critically-acclaimed The Life of Rock with Brian Pern) which follows the pair discussing life after Spandau Ballet and their new ventures – their charity album, vegan meat substitute and a new gangster film franchise.
But what initially started out as a silly talking heads feature with a few throwback clips morphed into an hour’s worth of mayhem as both the brothers went full-throttle in sending themselves up.
The film has distinct wafts of the now-infamous 2018 Bros documentary, which detailed the highs and lows of Matt and Luke Goss as they got ready to tour again.
But Rhys, 41, explained that by a strange twist of fate, the Spandau Ballet spoof was actually in the works long before Bros: After the Screaming Stops was on screen.
“It took a long time to get on screen, apart from coronavirus,” he explained. “So the Bros thing happened while we were in production, writing it. So this isn’t like a spoof of the Bros documentary. This is its own thing.
“The Bros documentary wasn’t intentionally funny, you’re laughing at them. While this is different, this is meant to be funny. A lot of the jokes came from Gary and Martin, a lot of the ideas came from them. This is intentionally funny, I hope.”
Rhys added he’s not a huge fan of point-and-laugh style of comedy, and didn’t want All True to feel like it was mocking its subject matter.
“The first version of the script for All True read too much like a roast,” he explained. “It was a bit like Extras, where you go a bit too far down that route, which is fine but it can veer from being warm to being a bit roasty and it didn’t feel comfortable, so we brought it back to the warmth.
“The only thing I was concerned about was what we could talk about with the band, the political side of Spandau Ballet. That was my main worry so I checked that with them. The fact is, Gary and Martin are the ones that look ridiculous. That was what I was concerned about, but we felt it was fun rather than nasty.”
While the rest of 80s new wave group are yet to see the finished project, Rhys, Gary and Martin were all keen to make sure the documentary wasn’t offensive.
“I don’t like comedy where you feel you’re laughing at people in that way,” Rhys said. “I don’t want anyone to watch this and be offended. I don’t want people to watch it and it upsets one person. I always think comedy should be inclusive.”
“I think that’s the whole point because the way we approached it was very meta,” Gary added. “That was me, I was playing Gary Kemp, but it was a much more heightened version of me. Yes I have my fascination in certain areas, and Rhys pumped all that up. It did feel like another world I was sent in to but with my own history attached.
“Hopefully [the band will] enjoy it. They’ll see out of all the band members, Martin and I are taking the p*** out of ourselves most of all, not directly taking the piss out of anyone else in the band.
“My character’s obsession with Tony Hadley is ridiculous but that’s what makes it funny, because pop stars do that, they can become obsessed with a member of the band. Rhys asked before if we minded doing any of this. I think the key to this is that if we don’t say anything derogatory about anyone else as long as the idiots on screen are me and Martin.”
“Anyone who takes it seriously needs their head looking at,” Martin joked. “I couldn’t keep a straight face throughout filming.”
While Rhys wrote a basic script with nods to what he wanted to feature, the director was keen that Gary and Martin to ad-lib and riff on what they already had.
“We wanted it to have a vibe like Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Gary said. “We didn’t want to show to seem too scripted. We thought about maybe there should be an autocue.
“In the end, we just thought let’s just take every scene, get the gist of what it’s about and then go and try and riff on it. What we’d be doing most of the time is that an idea would pop into Rhys’s head and he’ll be like, work on that bit, the voles, the voles, the Dignitas route! He was kind of directing like that when the camera is still rolling.
“We’d have a few lines and make up a few lines about that. All the scenes, to try and make them as natural as possible, had a flexibility in them. Sometimes we’d say something that took us all by surprise and we’d be on the floor giggling.”
While Gary, 60, and Martin, 58, are veteran actors, having appeared in a number films and television roles previously, the spoof doc did see some members of the family keen to get involved.
One of the documentary’s running jokes is Martin being married to both Shirlie Holliman and her former bandmate Helen ‘Pepsi’ DeMacque – which saw scenes get more intense than they may have liked.
“Shirlie bit my arm off to be involved,” Martin said. “She experienced this really weird thing - if you do drama you can feel quite heavy in the evening, if you do comedy you can come home and feel really light-hearted. This was the first time Shirlie really experienced that.
“So when we were acting out this argument I didn’t realise she was taking this stuff on board and she was taking it to heart. All of a sudden we got to the end of the argument and I could see tears in her eyes!
“But this was Shirlie’s first experience that when you act, you sell your soul. You put your whole mind and body into that moment. I’m really proud of her. She loved every minute of it as well.”
Overall, with an all-star cast getting involved in sending themselves (alongside Christopher Eccleston and Anna Maxwell-Martin, some celebrity lookalikes got involved to pass off big name singers), Martin, Gary and Rhys had a blast filming the show – and are eager to do more.
“I’d love to. Give me a date,” Martin said. “I spent a month crying with laughter. It was just so lovely, I would do it any day.”
“I really felt quite sad when filming came to an end,” Rhys added. "Already I’ve got idea for more, and we’ve already set it up for more and there’s a whole film to be made. There’s so many ideas. We could do a special every year.”
The Kemps: All True airs Sunday July, 5 at 10pm on BBC Two