Lymington link to hit BBC comedy show Fleabag
IT SEEMS seems everyone is talking about Fleabag, the hit BBC comedy show which follows the life of a hapless, neurotic, confused young woman going about her life in London.
And a huge part of the success of the show - which finished its latest run last night (Monday) - is down to Lymington-born Sarah Hammond who produced the second series, working alongside creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Sarah (33) grew up in Lymington having moved to the town in 1993 from Norwich where she was born.
She attended Lymington Junior School and Priestlands where, as a 15-year-old pupil, Sarah proudly says: “My first ever job was delivering the Lymington Times!”
At Priestlands Sarah found she absolutely loved drama and pays tribute to her teacher Jill Strath – who is still head of drama at the school – for encouraging her.
She said: “Mrs Strath was just fantastic. I think she recognised the love I had for drama and she was a total inspiration. We had drama club and would put on plays after school finished.
“I also belonged to local theatre clubs including a youth theatre group in Southampton. I was a total drama geek, every spare minute I had was spent at a theatre. I loved everything about it.”
Sarah also credits her love of drama to her father Michael, a film historian and associate professor who lectures at Southampton University.
She said: “We were brought up on film classics, old movies, musicals, just about everything. There were always films on in our house. The whole family loved them and I think it just got into my blood.
“My mum Mary is an English lecturer at Southampton University as well and I inherited my love of writing and scripts from her. It’s all in the family as my brother Alex lectures in creative writing.”
After leaving Priestlands Sarah went to study drama at Royal Holloway College in Surrey. She laughs: “I think my parents would have preferred me to become a lawyer!
“At Royal Holloway we learnt all aspects of theatre, including writing, budgeting, set building, creating projects.
“I loved acting but I got to 16 and thought, I don’t want to go on stage, I want to sit here behind the scenes. I just enjoyed everything that went into producing a show.”
She graduated after three years and was exceptionally lucky to land an internship with legendary theatre producer Sonia Friedman.
Aged just 21, she went to work full-time with Sonia on West End productions including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Book of Mormon and Jerusalem.
Sarah said: “Sonia is literally a hit factory, she works extremely hard and expects you to. But you learn so much from her. She is legendary. I think she has had about three Desert Island Discs programmes done about her.
“Working for her was the hardest I have ever, ever worked. Sonia demands excellence from everyone. I learnt so, so much from her.”
One of the biggest highlights of Sarah’s career was working on The Book of Mormon – a musical comedy written by the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, which is still running in the West End.
Sarah said: “I have absolutely loved everything I have worked on in the theatre. I was privileged enough to work on several Pinter plays. The Book of Mormon was brilliant to work on but getting a Broadway hit over onto the West End took a lot of doing."
After a few years of working in theatre Sarah decided that she wanted to transfer from stage to screen by joining a TV production company.
She said: “This really is a golden age for TV. Writers and directors are flocking to TV because they can get their stuff made. There are so many different networks and streaming companies who are hungry for content and they have big budgets.
“There is a massive high volume of new work coming through which is of really top quality.”
At 26 she joined the Two Brothers Pictures production company based in London where one of her first projects was to work on Liar, an ITV series starring Joanne Froggatt and Ioan Gruffudd which became an overnight sensation.
Sarah said: “It is fantastic when you put your heart and soul into a show and then your gut instinct about a script proves to be true because people just absolutely love it.
"You never really 100% know when you start a project whether people are going to like it as much as you do and when they do it is such a wonderful feeling and so humbling too.”
She was script editor for the show which meant helping create the plots, working with the writers to help the storyline and keeping a note of any changes in the script.
She said: “It’s a very responsible job, you really need to be on top of everything.”
Her role on Fleabag – the second series – is as producer.
“I’m the person who runs it all, I create the schedule, build the production team, work with the casting director, work with the script editor, and liaise with the costume director – literally everything,” she continued.
“It is pretty hectic but of course Fleabag is such a joy to work on. We had really completed the story in series one but there was still far more fun for Fleabag to be had.
“Phoebe Waller-Bridge is so glorious and so talented it was never going to be a concern that she would not come up with something for a second series.
“My job was really to keep the quality up, people loved series one so much I really felt that weight of expectation on my shoulders to make the second one just as good.”
One of the stars of Fleabag is Olivia Colman who plays the evil godmother. This year she won an Oscar for her starring role in The Favourite.
Sarah said: “She is just the loveliest woman, so supportive, so brilliant, and so funny.
“I was in California when the Oscars were on with some friends and when Olivia won the Oscar we all just stood up and started screaming. We were so thrilled, she absolutely deserves it.”
Sarah who was promoted to executive director at Two Brothers Pictures in January is working on a new TV project called Back to Life, a comedy-drama for BBC Three.
Sarah said: “It’s about a woman who has just been released from jail after 18 years. She’s desperately fighting to move on with her life. It’s written by Daisy Haggard.
"It’s a mystery as well as a comedy because as it goes along you begin to learn about how she came to be in prison and other dark things that have happened in her life.”
Sarah says she comes back to Lymington as often as she can, adding: “I love it, it’s such a beautiful place.
“My parents still live in the house where I grew up. I think they are very proud of me, they are brilliantly supportive.”