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'Refugees have now dropped off the news cycle'

As Home returns for a second series, writer and star Rufus Jones says the hit sitcom is one of a slew of shows playing around with a similar political tone. Gemma Dunn finds out more

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From left, Oaklee Pendergast, Youssef Kerkour, Rufus Jones and Rebekah Staton

From left, Oaklee Pendergast, Youssef Kerkour, Rufus Jones and Rebekah Staton

From left, Oaklee Pendergast, Youssef Kerkour, Rufus Jones and Rebekah Staton

The plight of refugees has been recorded many times by documentary-makers, but never quite like Channel 4 sitcom Home. Back for a second six-part series, the timely hit, which came to fruition after a successful Comedy Blaps of the same name, tells the story of Sami (Youssef Kerkour), a Syrian immigrant who enters Britain illegally (via a car boot) to claim asylum.

Winding up living with the family with whom he hitched a "lift" - Peter (Rufus Jones), Katy (Rebekah Staton), and her son John - Home follows Sami's acclimatisation to British life, from visiting Stonehenge and learning cryptic crosswords, to the more poignant topic of whether the Home Office will allow him to stay permanently.

And things get a lot harder for everyone this season, notes creator and star Jones.

"We've pushed characters, not just Sami, but everyone into different corners, and they're having to fight their way out," says the Londoner, 44.

"When I was doing the research, you realise that it's not a yes or no with most refugees, they have to wait, and it becomes a test, really," he empathises.

"Sami is trying to stay the right side of the law, trying to remain compos mentis because waiting takes its toll."

He follows: "A lot has changed in the first episode, so we see him living in government accommodation, which is not quite the five-star Hilton experience.

"But by the end of episode one, he's back within the bosom of the family. So there's a lot of curveballs."

One such curveball arrives in the form of Katy's ex, Elliot, played by the brilliant Dougie Henshall. "We wanted a charismatic, uncomfortable, and frankly Scottish presence, and Dougie is the top of the list," Jones quips of the Shetland actor.

"But unfortunately Peter has his own problems: he's failing on a grand scale to be there for everyone else and he loses his job in quite spectacular circumstances and is in this bubble of self-loathing," he explains, his character having been made redundant due to Brexit.

"When I was writing I was aware that since series one, the refugee question dropped off the news cycle. Where have these people gone?" he asks.

"And the reality is it's because of things like Brexit that our own domestic concerns have overtaken the more outwardly benevolent question of refugees.

"I wanted to show how all the British people are self-obsessed in this episode - we have this refugee with his own issues, much bigger than our first world problems, but we struggle to be there for him.

"Just in a way that on a national scale we struggle to be there for these people," Jones compares.

While the last series took Jones three years to pen - "I got writing on it in late 2015 when the refugee crisis felt like it was at its apex" - the second hit took a matter of months.

"I felt knackered after the first one," he says.

"I was filming The Barking Murders in Manchester (when Home was going out) and I'd watch it literally sitting at the end of my bed.

"It felt very far away suddenly because you move on to another job, but Adam (Tandy - producer) and I had been doing a lot of talking about what series two might be and it came together at breakneck speed; I didn't have time to worry because I set myself extremely tight deadlines.

"I wrote this in three months, but in all honesty, that's TV!" he says.

"There's something to be said for working under pressure in that way - especially with this show, it's contemporary, it's now, so it's important to get it out.

"If you think too much about it, you dwell on it too much and the situation changes anyway," he reasons.

"So you just have to take a running jump at it, and just be certain. I'll probably feel the pressure when it's going!"

As for treading the line between often bewildering themes and comedy, it's always tricky, Jones admits.

"We've found the show part of a whole slew of shows this year, which had a not dissimilar tone, which is just monkeying around with genre," he muses. "It's something in the water!

"The funniest show on TV at the moment is the Parliament channel, and people find it so difficult to satirise what's going on, because it seems to have parody and ridiculousness built into the situation!

"If you're a comic writer, knowing quite what to do with that and how to treat it, you have to do something else," he insists. "Because people are already making their own jokes about it at home - they don't need to be told why it's ridiculous, they live it every day.

"So comedians are finding the serious in the situation in a lot of ways," he finishes.

"There's a kind of odd gallows humour going around British comedy right now."

  • Home, Channel 4, Wednesday, 10pm

Belfast Telegraph