As the award winning sitcom Black Books returns for a second series, its star and writer, Dylan Moran, reveals the inspiration behind the show’s notorious misanthrope.
'There is a guy in a Dublin bookshop who provided the image of Bernard Black. He looks like he’s swallowed a cup of sour milk and peed himself at the same time. He has this green bilious expression, years of displeasure have shaped his face. In fact he looks like every other second hand bookshop owner I’ve seen. It seems to go with the job - being miserable.
'He’s still there now seething in his ash-smudged cockpit, daring somebody to buy a book', Dylan continues. 'I doubt he’s ever watched Black Books. I know nothing about the man himself, it’s only the image of him that appealed to me.'
Set in a bookshop of the same name, Black Books follows the antics of the foul-tempered and eccentric owner, Bernard Black (Dylan Moran), his well-meaning and long-suffering assistant Manny (Bill Bailey) and their friend Fran (Tamsin Grieg).
Dylan is quick to point out that the comedy is very much a three-hander between himself and his co-stars. 'I didn’t know Tamsin before, but it was clear from the first that she was in charge of the part. I knew Bill from the comedy circuit, but had never actually worked with him. Like every other comedy performer in the country, I knew how good he was.'
In addition, the second series of Black Books, features a number of cameos from high profile comedy performers including Rob Brydon (Marion and Geoff, Human Remains), Jessica Stevenson (Spaced, The Royle Family), Johnny Vegas (Happiness, Shooting Stars) and Ricky Grover (‘Orrible, TV To Go). 'All of whom, being whizzes, came in and whizzed', says Dylan.
The first series of the sitcom, originally broadcast in the autumn of 2000, won much critical acclaim, including the Bronze Rose for Best Sitcom at the Montreux Television Festival and the Bafta for Best Sitcom. Some may have been surprised that Black Books won the Bafta, since it goes against the current sitcom trend by being recorded in front of a studio audience. Dylan comments: 'The trend now is to get away from stage bound sitcoms. Black Books adheres to a more old fashioned, traditional sitcom format, which I think works, because in its own way, it’s quite theatrical. I also think it helps that Black Books has a fusty and careworn feel— it could be the 1950s, it could be the 1930s.'
So which are Dylan’s own favourite sitcoms? 'I like Frasier, it’s very light. I thought The Office was good, though I didn’t think of it as a sitcom, just as a very good programme.'
Prior to Black Books, Dylan had already established himself as a successful stand-up comedian, winning the Perrier Award in 1996. He plans to go on the road again sometime sooner or later. He is now adding a further string to his bow, as he is about to start filming as the lead in a feature film comedy alongside Michael Caine. 'It’s called The Actors and is set in Dublin. The script is very funny. It’s written and directed by Connor McPherson.'
But in addition to his film work, Dylan will still be finding time to write the third series of Black Books. But where next for Bernard, Manny and Fran?
'Well, with Black Books anything can happen!' says Dylan. 'Anything' he repeats, 'except getting your own packet of Hula Hoops'.