TV preview: Outnumbered

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Never work with children or animals - that’s what they say. But Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner would probably disagree.

The stars of family comedy Outnumbered, in which they play Pete and Sue, parents of three fascinating but often challenging children, have been working with kids since the show started in 2007, and they love it.

There is one strange thing about working with youngsters though - each time they return for a new series, they’re physically, and sometimes communicatively, very different.

Tyger Drew-Honey, 17, plays eldest son Jake; Daniel Roche, 14, is troublesome middle son Ben and 12-year-old Ramona Marquez is deep-thinking Karen.

“It’s quite odd,” admits Skinner. “On this series I heard this big voice and I thought, ‘Who’s that?’ And it was Dan.”

On set, conversation between the trio’s changed too.

“This year, there was a lot of chat about music,” Skinner adds. “Ramona loves thrash music.”

This transformation from kids to teens plays out in the new series - number five - which begins at the end of the month.

“There’s a different raft of issues,” Skinner continues.

First up - driving lessons for Jake.

“Sue and Pete both think they’ll be able to do it and not have to employ an instructor, but then they decide that’s not true,” says Dennis.

Jake also gets a tattoo which the parents initially balk at, before realising there is little they can do about it.

“You can’t do much now that David Dimbleby’s had one,” Dennis notes.

On top of that, Karen’s now in secondary school (Rebecca Front plays her headmistress), Ben’s in a musical about Spartacus, Pete and Sue both have new jobs and troublesome Auntie Angela (Samantha Bond) is clashing with her sister as much as ever.

“I love those scenes,” Skinner admits.

“You really do look like sisters, which is unusual for this show,” Dennis points out.

Skinner also likes the scenes in which Pete and Sue have what she calls “whispered conferences”, something she recognises from her own home life.

“I certainly have those, where a situation arises that you’ve never encountered before and I have to say to my husband, ‘Can I have a word?’”

Both have children of their own - Skinner has two boys aged 14 and 12, while Dennis has a 16-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter.

The actors say their own parenting skills are very different to their on-screen personas.

“I’m much stricter than Pete,” confesses Dennis. “I’ve always thought, with parenting, what you’re really doing is training them to leave home - in a very loving way - but that is essentially what you’re doing. So you just make sure they’re sensible.”

Skinner, meanwhile, thinks Sue’s more laid-back than she is.

“She’s a mixture of laid-back and very intense, whereas I don’t really have any laid-back in me,” she says, confessing that she worries about technology a lot.

“Even last night, my youngest son was at the dinner table with these massive earphones on, so I told him to take them off,” says the Hertfordshire-born mum, who’s in her late forties.

“Things like that are just creeping in - trying to keep phones downstairs at night and rooms clear of the internet. The hyper-vigilance around the way they behave on these devices and on Facebook is exhausting, but maybe that’s just me,” she adds.

The show’s always used a system whereby the adults learn scripts, and the children are given last minute instructions by the writers and encouraged to improvise.

“They still don’t get to see the script until just before,” Dennis says. “The key is to make them sound like kids and not speak like 50-year-olds, so they put their own words in.”

As for the future of Outnumbered, Dennis doesn’t think the end is nigh.

“I don’t think there’s any feeling that this is the last we’ll see of Outnumbered,” he says.

“Anyway, kids don’t leave home until they’re 35 now.”

Outnumbered, BBC1. Wednesday 9pm

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