Give My Head Peace back with new episodes to give Big Mervyn proper send off

Give My Head Peace will return for four fun-filled episodes, but there’s also a poignancy to the BBC NI comedy series as the cast bids farewell to BJ Hogg.

By Graeme Cousins
Friday, 18th December 2020, 1:19 pm
Updated Friday, 18th December 2020, 1:22 pm
The cast of Give My Head Peace remember the late BJ Hogg
The cast of Give My Head Peace remember the late BJ Hogg

BJ, who played Big Mervyn in the show, died in April during lockdown at the age of 65.

Tim McGarry – Da in the programme – said everyone involved in the show wanted to give him the proper send off that they couldn’t at his funeral which took place with strong restrictions in place.

He said: “We certainly weren’t going to replace him and pretend this didn’t happen. Brian has been working with for over 30 years.

Da (Tim McGarry) with Uncle Andy (Marty Reid) on set

“We’d been on tour with Give My Head Peace when the lockdown happened, so we’d been on stage with him in the Ulster Hall and up in Derry.

“We got a couple of nights out in Derry which was good craic. It was nice to remember him that way. Then literally six weeks later he was gone.”

He continued: “We made the conscious decision to mark his passing, all the cast members raised a glass of his favourite tipple – Black Bush – to Big Mervyn.

“In consultation with his wife and family we asked if it was okay to feature him as a plot line, so we had the reading of Mervyn’s will.

The late BJ Hogg as Big Mervyn

“We thought it was important to mark it on the show, to give Big Mervyn a proper farewell.

“The funeral was at the end of the April at the height of the whole Covid restrictions, so we basically stood outside a funeral home in Lisburn and gave him a round of applause. We couldn’t even go up and hug his wife. It was very, very sad.”

Olivia Nash – Tim’s on screen wife in Give My Head Peace – said being able to say goodbye on the programme was a cathartic experience: “We all miss him and love him very much. He was a very loving guy, and a very talented one obviously.

“This was the first time we were all together to do the show since he died. It was lovely to be able to talk openly about him.

Raising a glass at BJ Hogg's funeral in May. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading the scripts about what they were going to do with his character. It was very sad but I really enjoyed it. I don’t like the word closure, but I feel that we’ve been able to do right by Brian. Now we can carry on and always remember.”

The show is normally filmed in BBC Blackstaff House in front of an audience but the four upcoming episodes were filmed in October and November behind closed doors in a specially built set to allow for social distancing.

Tim said: “Give My Head Peace has been all over – Memphis, Paris, Rome, London, Dublin. This year we spent four years in Kilroot.

“We’re delighted to be able to make these brand new episodes. It took a long time to get them off the ground for all sorts of reasons.

“The Beeb were very insistent that they wanted to give the people something to enjoy and laugh at this Christmas.”

He added: “The first episode does cover a bit of the pandemic, but not very much, we all know the situation we’re in, so let’s just put our feet up for half an hour, have a good laugh and forget about it.”

In terms of filming restrictions he said: “Our cameraman literally had a two-metre stick to keep us all apart and make sure every shot we’re two metres apart.”

Olivia joked: “It’s the first series since we started that I didn’t have to dig Da in a certain area.”

Although the number of extras was limited the series does feature a cameo from well-known journalist Ivan Little who plays Da’s doppelganger in an episode where Ma gets a new man.

“We’d great fun with that. Ivan had a ball,” said Tim.

Olivia said: “I think we’ve put together a tremendous series. It was an achievement to do it during lockdown.

“I think people deserve a laugh, they really do and I know they’ll get it with this series.”

The new series starts with a Christmas special on BBC One Northern Ireland on Sunday, December 27 at 10.30pm. It will also be available on BBC iPlayer.