‘A lot of people said Becky’s poo set the show back’: how we made Him & Her

Stefan Golaszewski, writer and creator
I’d touted the script around for years. Nobody wanted it. They all said it would never get made: it was too disgusting, it was too boring, it wasn’t funny. Then I showed it to Kenton Allen at Big Talk. He sent it to the BBC and they commissioned a pilot. It was originally called Young, Unemployed and Lazy, and it was just Becky and Steve and they didn’t leave the bedroom. But the BBC said it needed more characters, then told me to change the title. It was nearly called Squeezed. Actually, it was almost called all manner of dreadful things.

When I saw Russell Tovey’s audition tape, I knew within seconds he was right. It was very hard to find someone to take the part of Becky, though – partly because, in the script that went out, she spent quite a lot of time naked. I knew Joe Wilkinson from the Edinburgh festival. I thought he was unique – funny, kind and warm. I wrote the role of Dan, the upstairs neighbour, for him.

Related: Sarah Solemani: what I learned from Him & Her

In the first episode, I wanted to say to the audience: these people are you. You shit and piss and stink and forget to flush the toilet and enjoy sex and eat too much and drink too much – we all do. The poo Becky does in the pilot was the subject of much discussion. There were lots of people who said, perhaps rightly, that its presence set the show back, because instead of being interpreted as an intimate, truthful examination of a couple, it became a show where a woman does a poo – and isn’t that shocking? Which was kind of the whole point.

Some students told me they had a party where they only ate things mentioned in the show – stuff like hamburger pasta

I called it anti-comedy at the time, and I still feel like that. Comedy is a set of tropes and expectations – and funny is an emotional response. With Him & Her, I wanted to strip everything back to study people on a minute level. I was trying to find something more real. It’s a lot of work to make it sound like no work has gone into something. That means rewriting it 100 times until it feels right, and at three in the morning, when you get up for a wee, going: “Oh, actually, that line would be better if it was like this.”

More people have spoken to me about it in the past two years than ever before. It’s really strange. When series one was going out, people would ask what my job was. There would be a shrug when I said, then they’d move on. I recently did a talk at Oxford University and some students came up afterwards saying they had a party where they only ate things mentioned in the show – stuff like hamburger pasta, which was a dish I actually used to make.

I ended the show for a couple of reasons. I don’t like repeating myself. Also, for me, Him & Her was always about the bit in your life that is pre-responsibility. Becky and Steve don’t do anything, they don’t care about anything, they just live in this eden of drink, food, sex, going out, hangovers. It’s a wonderful period of your life – but it does have to end, and the baby arriving is the end of that eden.

Russell Tovey, actor
When I first got the script I was desperate to do it. I automatically knew who Steve was: a lovable dickhead, sensitive, a bit of a geek and hiding it. That’s the definition of me. I had auditions with many different Beckys. That poo she has in the pilot – a lot of actors were really disturbed by that. No woman had really been seen doing that on screen. When Sarah [Solemani] turned up, she was dressed in a tracksuit and talking like I talk. I was like: “Who is this?” I found out afterwards that she went into the room in character. She’d actually been to Cambridge and was very academic and articulate.

The dialogue felt Pinteresque in the sense that the umms, the ahhs, the ellipses and the cadence of the text were very specific. I remember doing the table reads – we’d all be laughing at each other and Stefan would be sat there wide-eyed straight-faced, just following word for word, because in his head it was all about the rhythm and earning the payoff. It was almost scientific. That’s what’s so brilliant about him: you recognise when a show is a Stefan Golaszewski.

I didn’t want it to end. Series four won a Bafta so I was like: “We’re going to do it again, surely?” I guess it becomes a different show when Becky and Steve become parents, but a part of me wants to revisit them. I hung out with Sarah in LA recently and we hashed out ideas. I texted Stefan and said: “Come on, now’s the time to bring it back.”

A lot of young couples have just discovered it and that makes me so happy. It mattered – Becky and Steve mattered. They might have just been seen as a couple of lazy fuckers but what they stood for is so important, which is kindness, nurturing and respect for each other. That’s a beautiful message for today.

All episodes are available on BBC iPlayer