Pulling writer and actress Sharon Horgan returns to BBC3 with the cracking new comedy whodunit Dead Boss

Comedy actress and writer Sharon Horgan has the dubious honour of being co-creator and award-winning star of one of the best sitcoms to have been cancelled by the Beeb – BBC3’s dark, funny and smart Pulling, about the messy lives and loves of three female friends.

For her latest offering, Dead Boss, also airing on BBC3, she has teamed up with a new co-writer, comedian Holly Walsh, to create a cracking comedy-thriller about a woman who is falsely imprisoned after being convicted of murder.

Horgan heads the cast as Helen Stephens, a tile company employee serving a jail sentence after being falsely imprisoned for her boss’s murder, and the series also stars Jennifer Saunders as the prison’s twisted governor Margaret and features guest appearances by Caroline Quentin, Miranda Richardson, John Sessions and Carl Barat from Pete Doherty’s band the Libertines.

We caught up with Horgan to find out more…

How does your character, Helen, cope with being sent to jail?
“Quite well, because she’s an optimist and it’s such an obvious miscarriage of justice, so she’s assuming she’s going to get out of there. She gets slowly involved in life at the prison, which is like a really horrible girls’ boarding school. The governor Margaret, played by Jennifer Saunders, is the headmistress, and she’s more psychotic than the biggest psycho in there.”

It seems events and people are conspiring to keep Helen behind bars…
“We thought it would be nice if every character wanted her to stay in prison for various reasons. Her cellmate Christine wants her to stay in because their friendship could really go somewhere. Her sister wants her to stay in because she’s moved into her flat and taken over her life. Her ex-colleague Henry wants her to stay in because he’s got access to her on a weekly basis, which he would never have had before. Her lawyer Tony doesn’t want her to stay in, but he’s never going to be able to get her out.”

How does this compare to your previous BBC3 show Pulling?
“It’s not as dark. The idea was to write something that could be shown pre-watershed and didn’t have a lot of swearing in it or go to dark places in the mind – a proper, hopefully funny sitcom that has lots of silly moments. Basically I wanted to write something that people would watch, and wouldn’t be on at a weird time.”

What was it like working with Jennifer Saunders?
“We were begging her to be in it, as we wrote the part for her and knew she would just be perfect. She couldn’t have been nicer or more ‘on it’ and in the character. She loved it and was properly part of the team. My co-writer Holly Walsh and I are obsessed with her. We are going to be her friends, one day.”

With the whodunit element, Dead Boss is more than just a sitcom, isn’t it?
“Yes, and I was glad we had the whole murder mystery thing, because I loved getting involved in life outside the prison as well. Otherwise, it would have felt a lot more sitcomy.”

Have you been influenced by other prison-set TV shows?
“Porridge would have been a huge show growing up in my house, and Prisoner Cell Block H. Much as I love both of them, we wanted this to look like a real prison and not a set. We also watched a lot of documentaries about prison life that nearly put us off writing it altogether!”

You’ve got some special guest stars coming up, haven’t you?
“In our Glee episode, there’s a sing-off between our choir and one from a male prison, featuring Caroline Quentin and Carl Barat from the Libertines. Tony Blackburn appears as an X Factor-style judge. Miranda Richardson and John Sessions feature in an episode where Helen gets moved to a different wing of the prison.”

Dead Boss begins on BBC3 on Thursday June 14 at 10.30pm