As ‘The Inbetweeners’, they’re the four most recognisable school mates in the country – but what are actors Simon Bird, Joe Thomas, James Buckley and Blake Harrison like in real life? Are they equally unlucky in love? Have they ever let a testicle hang loose at a school fashion show? Have they ever tried to stick LEGO up their bum?
The answers might surprise you…(except the LEGO thing, the answer is definitely no to that one).
Simon Bird - 30
With ‘Friday Night Dinner’ getting commissioned for a fourth series and a smattering of other TV projects on his CV, you could argue that Bird – a former stand-up comedian – is the most successful of ‘The Inbetweeners’ (even though all four cast members are paid exactly the same). He’s also arguably the actor who is most like his character, speccy nerd Will McKenzie. “Hopefully I’m not quite as officious as Will,” says Bird, “but yeah, I’ve definitely got some geeky tendencies.”
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The son of two economics professors, Bird was educated at the University of Cambridge, where he studied English. Crucially though, he became president of the university’s sketch comedy group, Footlights, which counts Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as ex-members. A bit of a brain-box in his youth, Bird had a passion for word game Boggle, which is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to find inside Will’s infamous briefcase.
Footlights set Bird on the road to stand-up comedy, and he honed his skills in several competitions, including the Chortle Awards, which he was disqualified from for basing his whole routine about the ridiculous demands imposed upon performers by sponsors Revels. ‘The Inbetweeners’ propelled him to stardom: he won the British Comedy Award for Best Male Newcomer in 2008 and the Best Actor award a year later. Later, Bird would host his own BBC Three panel show, ‘The King Is Dead’, and co-wrote Sky’s war deserter comedy series ‘Chickens’ along with fellow Inbetweener Joe Thomas.
Unlike Will, the Islington-based funnyman isn’t hopeless when it comes to girls, as he married partner Lisa Owens, a book publisher who he met at a Footlights show, in 2012. We also cannot verify the attractiveness of his mum.
Joe Thomas - 31
No-hoper Inbetweener Simon has mined just about every embarrassment known to man, including but not limited to extreme vomiting, crap pillow talk and crimes against hair gel. Joe Thomas, on the other hand, is quite a mature fellow and not at all the sulky-voiced try-hard he’s portrayed as on TV.
Born in Chelmsford, Essex in 1983, Thomas went to a grammar school as a teen – quite far removed from the likes of Rudge Park Comprehensive – then went on to story History at Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge. There he met Simon Bird and joined the Footlights, where he was inspired to a life of comedy, meaning his 2:1 degree in History went unused, at least, until he co-wrote ‘Chickens’ with Bird and comedy partner Jonny Sweet. He and Sweet have performed routines at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Thomas has found work outside of ‘The Inbetweeners’; university sitcom ‘Fresh Meat’ felt like a natural progression and naïve idealist Kingsley – complete with hipster pork pie hat and occasional soul patch – could have been a distant cousin of Simon. He also played a maths teacher in an episode of sitcom ‘Threesome’, so he must have a thing for comedy set in the world of education.
Unlike Simon – who time and time again blew his chances with the ladies – Joe Thomas has no problems attracting members of the fairer sex. He’s been dating his ‘Inbetweeners’ series 3 co-star Hannah Tointon (sister of Kara) since they met on set in 2010 and the pair share a flat in central London. She played Simon’s girlfriend Tara and had to endure the horrendous sight of Thomas getting furious with himself trying to achieve an erection after having a “tactical w***” – if their relationship can survive that, it can survive anything.
James Buckley - 27
As BS artist extraordinaire Jay Cartwright – whose questionable claims include statements as outlandish as “I shagged a girl in the Tower of London” and “Me and my mate took a Pedalo and went to Africa” – James Buckley crafted the most impish Inbetweener, forever bragging about conquests (that never happened) and on a constant hunt for “clunge”. It may surprise you, then, to learn that Buckley himself is nothing at all like his character, but is a happily married father of two.
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Born in Croydon and educated in Dagenham, Crystal Palace fan Buckley first contracted the acting bug in school plays, which led to him attending stage school at the weekends. Even before he was a teenager, he was appearing in West End stage shows like ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ and even the multi-award-winning ‘Les Misérables’, which is the kind of humblebrag you’d half expect from Jay. (He also appeared in an advert for Hellmann’s mayonnaise, which is the kind of acting experience you’d expect Jay to actually have).
Buckley’s biggest role outside of the confines of Rudge Park was as the young Derek Trotter in ‘Only Fools And Horses’ prequel, ‘Rock ‘N’ Chips’, but he’s also popped up in ‘Teachers’, ‘The Bill’, ‘Holby City’ and ‘Skins’. A keen musician, Buckley provided guitar and backing vocals for an album from Steve Craddock of Ocean Colour Scene. He also made his directorial debut, shooting a music video for Essex band The Milk.
James and Jay truly differ in the romance stakes, with Buckley delivering on what Jay can only dream of – marrying a model. The actor wed his long-time girlfriend, former model Clair Meek, in a ceremony in Scotland in 2012, wearing a kilt for the occasion (Danny Dyer’s girlfriend caught the bouquet). In August 2013, the couple welcomed their second son Jude to the world, giving Harrison (born 2011) a little brother. “I’d like not to be confused with Jay as much as possible please,” says Buckley. Understandable.
Blake Harrison - 29
Perhaps the most typecast member of the cast, Blake Harrison – who plays gawky, clueless idiot Neil Sutherland – has the most work to do to escape the shadow of ‘The Inbetweeners’. He’s going the right way about it though, with a string of TV appearances and sitcoms. And there’s always his dance background to fall back on.
Yes, dance. Purveyor of the best robot seen on screen since ‘The Terminator’, Harrison trained as a dancer. With echoes of ‘Billy Elliot’, Harrison says: “I remember my Dad being like, ‘Dance? You big sissy!’ Peckham’s not an easy place to grow up in, especially as a kid that wants to sing and dance.” He got to combine his twin passions of acting and body rocking as gormless teen Neil in ‘The Inbetweeners’, for whom no dance floor was empty enough.
Other work on his resume includes Comedy Central sitcom ‘Big Bad World’, Channel 4 comedy ‘The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret’ with David Cross and Will Arnett, and BBC Three shows ‘Way To Go’ and ‘Him & Her’. He’s also been in ‘The Bill’, but then so have most people who studied at the BRIT School Of Acting. He played the lead in ‘Oliver!’ at the London Palladium at the tender age of 10.
With myriad roles on stage and screen, Harrison is always keen to break new ground and try new things. “If I was offered dumb roles for the next 20 or 30 years, I wouldn’t be satisfied at all,” he says. “I’ve already turned several down, because it’s the last thing I need to do. Is there any way that it’s going to be better than ‘The Inbetweeners’?”
However, he is soon to be seen starring in the upcoming 'Dad's Army' film as Private Pike.
Image credit: Wenn/Press Association/Channel 4/More 4