17 October 2021 The Irish Film & Television Network
Lisa McGee Talks with IFTN about Writing 'Derry Girls' and Its Success So Far
13 Feb 2018 : Nathan Griffin
IFTN’s Nathan Griffin caught up with Irish writer Lisa McGee (‘Indian Summer’, ‘Raw’) about her new hit show ‘Derry Girls’ on Channel 4, following its season finale that aired last week, and the announcement of series two.

The news was announced by Channel 4 after the show debuted to an audience of 2.5 million viewers, making it the biggest comedy series launch on the station in five years.

‘Derry Girls’ is a Hat Trick Productions commissioned and filmed in Northern Ireland, with Michael Lennox (‘Boogaloo & Graham’) as director and Catherine Gosling producing. The show made its premiere on Channel 4 at 10pm on January 4th.

The six-part Channel 4 series sees Saoirse Monica Jackson in the leading role of sixteen year-old Erin Quinn, living with her uncompromising mother, played by Tara Lynne O’Neill, and long-suffering father, portrayed by Tommy Tiernan. Also seen in the family home is fearsome ‘Granda Joe’ played by Ian McElhinney.

It’s the early 90s, and Erin is used to seeing her country on the nightly news and speaking in acronyms (The IRA, The UDA, The RUC). This is a time of armed police in armoured Land Rovers and British Army check points. But it’s also the time of Murder She Wrote, The Cranberries, MJ and Lisa Marie, Doc Martens, bomber jackets, The X Files, Nirvana and Wayne’s World. And while The Troubles may hang over her home town, Erin has troubles of her own.


IFTN: When you began writing the script for ‘Derry Girls’, did you expect there to be such an appetite for a show set in Derry during ‘The Troubles’, not alone in Ireland but in the UK even more so?

Lisa McGee: “No not at all, it was just something I always really wanted to write. I wanted to write about my teenage years – you know something inspired by me and my friends in school and Derry for a long time. It was really finding somewhere that would give me the opportunity to do it. I just thought, we might grab enough of an audience to justify a second series – I never thought it would all happen the way it did, and I don’t know what combination of things or why but it’s just been amazing that people have responded to it the way they have. I don’t think anybody expected that.”


IFTN: The success of ‘Derry Girls’ across Ireland/UK has been incredible with C4 recording its most successful comedy launch since ‘The Inbetweeners’ - That must have been very exciting for you and the Cast/Crew?

Lisa McGee: “It was - the thing is, often in comedy it takes a while before people start watching it. You know, often the show will be over and people are catching up, so for that to happen over night was hugely surprising for all of us. I’ve said before in other interviews that I didn’t even think people still watched TV like that but it seems to be a show that people are sitting down to watch as it goes out, which is unusual but lovely. It’s brilliant, but it was very unexpected and very overwhelming.”


IFTN: I am sure the setting of the show would have enticed a lot of people to tune in. Viewers in Britain, and to a lesser extent Ireland, wouldn’t know how bizarrely commonplace the armed patrols and checkpoints were for youngsters growing up in Derry.

Particularly when the show has a character like Jamie - whose reactions are relatable to the unfamiliar viewer who can empathise with Jamie as he attempts to adjust to the madness that was everyday life in Derry during the troubles.

Lisa McGee: “Yeah it was only when I started looking back that I realised, because initially when you go and you write a show about being a teenage girl, and allow young women to be funny in the way that often only boys are.”

“It was only then - when I was looking back on it, all those things, the more I thought of them at a distance, and looking back on it now – I didn’t realise at all that it was crazy. Sure it’s your life, your reality, and you don’t know anything else. It was a strange time..” (Laughs)


IFTN: The show has such a great cast, the four girls and Dylan are fantastic and seem to have great chemistry on screen, how happy were you as the writer with the casting of: Orla / Erin / Claire / Michelle / Jamie

Lisa McGee: “It was a long process because we knew that they had to click like that. So it wasn’t just about finding the best actor but the best combination because you could have someone brilliant who didn’t slot in, or wasn’t believable as part of that group of friends. It was a long audition process. I was amazed we found five brilliant comic performers because I just thought it was hard, and they are young. I just feel like we have been very, very lucky with both them and the adult characters.”


IFTN: Which bring us onto the hilarious duo of Tommy Tiernan and Ian McElhinney Who play the dysfunctional Irish In-Law relationship of Erin’s ‘Da’ – GERRY & GRANDA JOE - Probably one of my favourite aspects of the show.

How exactly did they get involved with the show and did you always envisage a comedian playing the part of Gerry?

Lisa McGee: “Well it’s always nice isn’t it if they are a good actor like Tommy. Tommy basically read it and wanted to do it and we were thrilled. I never in a million years thought that he would be interested in something like that. He’s just brilliant, I think he is such a good actor; he’s dead funny but still such a good actor. And then Ian, we always wanted him to do it because both me and the director knew Ian’s work and we just knew he would be funny. He often plays quite serious roles but in real life he is very funny. We just always had Ian in mind for Erin’s Grandfather.”


IFTN: Congratulations on the announcement of Season two, which was confirmed by Channel 4 last month. Can you tell me a little about what may lie in store for Series 2. I’ve heard that Nadine Coyle is eager to get involved?

Lisa McGee: “Yeah I’ve been in contact with Nadine, I’m going to meet up with her in the next few weeks’ she’s a big fan of the show as well. I haven’t even written it yet you know, it’s just one of those things. I am just trying to find stories for the main characters at the minute so I am coming up with those and trying to just find the joy of it again. It was really nice writing that first series so I need to just go back and talk to my friends and find those stories. There is loads there, so it just about finding the right ones for series two and what political thing is going to float into it, I might do the cease fire, I might not, so I am just working through all that at the minute.”


IFTN: Finally, It is so brilliant to see great Irish Comedy being made and doing so well – Between ‘Derry Girls’  and ‘The Young Offenders’ it’s great to see a healthy rivalry forming between two Irish shows – On two of the UK’s biggest channels no less - What do you make of it all?

Lisa McGee: “It’s Fantastic, and it’s another one of those weirdly fluky things that they have both come so close together, isn’t it? I think it’s great, I haven’t seen The Young Offenders yet but I’ve heard it’s amazing, and lots of the girls on the show have seen it, and they love it. So at some point I am going to sit down and watch them all because I like to watch them like that, I’m a binge watcher. I’ve seen clips and they are very funny lads so I look forward to watching that!”


The full first series of ‘Derry Girls’ is available on the Channel 4 Player.

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