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Mackenzie Crook: 'I have this awful idea I was horrid on set, but no one said'

Worzel Gummidge is getting a reboot, with Mackenzie Crook now playing the turnip-headed scarecrow. Georgia Humphreys reports

Mackenzie Crook as living scarecrow Worzel Gummidge
Mackenzie Crook as living scarecrow Worzel Gummidge

By Georgia Humphreys

Mackenzie Crook's transformation into Worzel Gummidge took three hours each day. But the Kent-born actor - known for The Office, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Detectorists - found the time spent in make-up "as good as a warm up. It's meditation time".

The 48-year-old has written and directed the two one-hour films about the walking, talking scarecrow - who originally appeared in a series of books by Barbara Euphan Todd - for BBC One, as well as taking on the titular character. Getting Worzel's look right was a long process, as he knew it was "crucial" to the piece.

"I was worried; get it slightly wrong and he looks creepy. But at the same time, he's a scarecrow - he's meant to be scary. To crows.

"He's got to be likeable. We went through various different tests and the first time I tried it all on, I found his voice straight away."

Many viewers will remember kind-hearted Worzel Gummidge being on our screens before; it ran for four series on ITV from 1979, with Jon Pertwee in the lead role.

And the new adaptation is ideal family entertainment this festive season, with jokes for adults and children alike.

"Such a relief to hear people laughing," says a reserved Crook. He has created scenes which really tug on the heartstrings, too.

In the first episode, two young strangers, Susan and John, arrive in the village of Scatterbrook.

It's not long before the siblings encounter Worzel Gummidge, the Scarecrow of Ten Acre Field - and they realise he comes to life. The second film is perhaps even more exciting, with Michael Palin starring as The Green Man, the creator of scarecrows and keeper of scarecrow lore. Interestingly, there is an important conservation message weaved throughout both stories.

Crook is hopeful things can change when it comes to awareness around protecting the environment.

"Kids are so on board with this message. I brought my daughter (Scout, aged 12) into the edit and we walked past Starbucks on the way in and I said, 'Do you want to get a drink?' And she said, 'We can't, I haven't got my (reusable) cup'. It wouldn't even cross her mind to use a takeaway cup."

There's a notable reference to the ban on fox hunting with dogs, too; Worzel brings it up as an example of how life in the countryside can change, when talking to The Green Man.

"Traditions are all very well but as soon as they become harmful, you have to say, 'All right, let's get rid of that tradition'," suggests Crook. "So, I wasn't trying to make any sort of political point with that. But ways can change, I suppose."

His love of nature definitely helped inspire the show. A few years back, the father-of-two (he and wife Lindsay also have son Jude, 16, together) purchased his own plot of woodland in Essex.

"I go metal detecting, which is countryside meditation really. I'm outdoors all the time, in my garden. I don't watch much TV."

He does plan for the family to tune into Worzel Gummidge, though.

"I think we'll save that for Boxing Day. I want people to watch it with other people and without earphones in. That's the idea."

On the topic of life outside work, down-to-earth Crook says this was an easy role to switch off from after filming.

"It's funny, I can sort of snap into him; my whole writing process is being up on my feet and speaking the words and improvising and then writing them down.

"He's a big cartoon character, so it's not like I'm taking my work home with me."

But he confides the process - directing while in the prosthetics - was "gruelling".

"I've got this memory of me just not wanting to talk to anyone; it was hard work. And I've got this horrible feeling that I was grumpy on set. But nobody else has said this.

"Throughout the shoot, I had four/five days where I didn't have to get into the makeup, I could just direct, and that was quite a relief to do that."

He's hopeful the channel commissions him to make more Worzel Gummidge in the future, as he has plenty of ideas for standalone stories up his sleeve.

"There are lots of other characters in the books that I'd like to bring out," he reveals.

"Saucy Nancy was played by Barbara Windsor in the last adaptation and she's a ship's figurehead, so I've got a whole story about taking her back to the sea.

"There's lots of madcap, fun adventures to be had. Ideally, I'd like to be doing this for the next two or three years."

Worzel Gummidge, BBC One, Boxing Day (6.20pm) and Friday, December 27 (7pm)

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