TV Times magazine talks to Paul O’Grady and Sheila Hancock about working together and being firm friends…

Hi Paul and Sheila! Can you tell us how your new sitcom, Nellie and Melba, came about?
Paul: “Sandi [Toksvig] suggested I write something for television. I said, ‘No, I couldn’t do that,’ but she told me I write good dialogue, and Sheila and I should do it together. What Sheila had done to Sandi to inflict me on her, I don’t know!”

Was it very much something you both worked on together?
Sheila: “It was a united thing – we work really well together and we invent things. There was quite a lot of ad lib or we’d say something at the end of a scene, which would then go in the script. We usually agreed on big decisions but my first task was to edit him!”
Paul: “That’s because I just get carried away! Brevity is not in my vocabulary.”

Can you tell us a bit about your characters?
Paul: “Neville works in the social security and hates it bitterly. He’s withdrawn but he has posters of film stars and musicals all over the place, he’s obsessed with it!”
Sheila: “We decided they were like Albert and Harold in Steptoe and Son. They have that same aggressive relationship – they are absolutely dependent on each other but they really irritate each other too. She says horrible things about his love life!”

It’s obvious you both get on really well!
Sheila: “We have the same sense of humour and he makes me laugh a lot. I have to shut him up though because he’s just non-stop and I could hear him through the wall of my trailer!”

Paul, was it daunting to be working alongside Sheila?
“It was only in my wildest dreams I thought I’d act with her. We had to film in the Vauxhall Tavern and I remember thinking, ‘This poor lady has worked with Bette Davis and I’ve dragged her down to South London’s most notorious gay bar. Like she needs this!’ But it was a hoot. I watched Sheila like a hawk on set to see what she was doing.”

And what was it like working with Paul, Sheila?
“I loved it! It’s very difficult for somebody like Paul who’s known as a personality but he became better and better at acting, it was really touching. I always believe that anybody who does comedy can do straight acting but I don’t think the reverse is true.”

Nellie & Melba is on Thursday April 19 at 9pm on Sky Arts 1.