It’s been 20 years since the first episode of The Office aired, and I wanted to take a moment to look back at the series and reflect on its legacy. I’m not sure what the future holds for this show, but even over the last 20 years, I’ve enjoyed watching it continue to evolve. I’ve had the opportunity to write a lot about the sitcom, and I’ve never shied away from its more controversial aspects. I’ve also had the opportunity to visit the show’s sets when they have been locations, and I’ve enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look. Trust me, it’s not as horrible as you might think.
The Office is a comedy about the lives of Dunder Mifflin employees. Set in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the show followed the employees of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. The show aired on NBC from October 24, 2005 to May 16, 2013 for over nine seasons.
David Brent, prankster and boss, appeared on our screens 20 years ago (Photo: )
Twenty years ago, a group of young, inexperienced actors set off by train to Teddington to film the new series The Office.
The expectations beforehand were not too high. Most of them hadn’t even seen the script before filming began and had only a vague idea of what the show was about, a comedy based on the exploits of dull middle manager David Brent and set in the regional office of paper merchant Wernham Hogg, written and directed by relative unknowns Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais.
They could never have imagined what was in store for them and how much it would change their lives. However, it soon became clear that the cast and crew were instrumental in making one of the longest-running comedies on British television.
The series made Merchant, Gervais, Martin Freeman and Mackenzie Crook famous, but for fans who have seen enough, the supporting cast helped make the show what it was.
We spoke to three of the actors who have starred in every episode of The Office to find out what it was like to play a part in one of the greatest comedies of all time.
Emma Manton, Alexander Perkins and Philip Packard played small but recognisable roles as office staff at Wernham Hogg and told us about their experiences.
It was a shootout like no other
The team at Vernem Hogg, Slough (Photo: )
It was important for Merchant and Jervais to hire real actors to play the employees of Vernham Hogg.
They wanted to choose people who could improvise brilliantly, even though they were mostly stuck in a photocopier and at a desk in a real office.
Thanks to this format, the actors were always in contact with each other and watched the show unfold before their eyes.
In other TV shows, if you have a small role, you sit in the green room or wait somewhere in the trailer, Alexander says. So we all had a good feeling about how things were going.
I was there the whole time, Emma said. It was pretty much all in the office and occasionally in some meeting rooms, so I could be there when important decisions were made about the project.
They could laugh – but not always
Emma Manton, far left, spoke about her experience (Photo: )
Just as the series captured the mundanity of working 9 to 5 in an uninteresting industry, so too were the days on set.
As we see them on screen, the actors sat at their desks for hours, often staring at desktop computers from the 2000s that were not connected to the Internet.
The first series were boring, Philippe admits, referring to the repetitive recordings.
The second series was very different because we all knew how great it was.
Fortunately, there are Minesweeper and Texas Hold’em, and then.
The series was filmed in a real office in Teddington (Photo: )
How did they spend the time between shoots? Hours and hours playing stupid computer games.
Emma said: We had limited access to the computers, they were definitely not online. So it was always a struggle to get the monitor in the picture. If your monitor was in the frame, they had to plug it in, which meant we could play Minesweeper.
Alexander added: The first year Solitaire was available on all computers. And I think the next year they introduced the game Texas Hold’em. It was unaffiliated and not meant to be played for real money, but it was something we could just sit behind and play.
I think Ewan Mackintosh [who plays Keith on the show] won a million virtual pounds playing poker on the show.
There was little time to prepare – but there was room for improvisation
Comedy is more popular than ever in 2021 (Photo: )
In fact, the secondary actors usually had no idea what was going to be shot on any given day.
I first saw the script when we shot the pilot, which was the first episode, says Emma, who started the project blind.
With me in the cast, we had no scripts, Philip said of the first episode.
Still, there were opportunities to develop minor characters through improvisation.
Ewan’s character, Keith, has become an important part of the show, even though he was meant to be a side character. Emma said Merchant and Gervaise brought her more into the show after a moment of improvisation between her and Ewan.
The whale is the result of a little improvisation that happened when they turned on the camera one day. I think we were both called in to talk about job cuts at the Slough branch, she says.
We improvised and then they realized they could really do something. It was a very creative and collaborative process.
Your favorite moment on set? It can only be a.
Everyone remembers David Brent’s dance – the moment when boss Neil Godwin (Patrick Balady), once again chasing his popularity rating, starts dancing on his feet during an episode of Red Nose Day.
This scene will forever be etched in the memory of fans of British comedies, and the supporting players already knew that something special was going on here.
I remember the day I sat there and watched that dance, Alexander said. It was great. I knew the cameras weren’t pointed at me, and I remember thinking: I’m just going to sit here and watch, because it was great.
I think it was a dance session, Emma said. Martin Freeman begged him to show us what he’s going to do, but this is the first time we’ve seen him on the show.
You did not expect success
The actors of Office – Alexander top right (Photo: )
I knew I thought it was funny, Emma said. I knew my friends would find it funny, but I assumed it would be one of those fun comedies that everyone shares and it becomes a bit of a cult. I never thought it would become as popular and successful as it is now.
It was such a small job in those days, but everyone did it. No one thought it would be anything more than a small night filler.
Gervais and Merchant were mostly silent entertainers – and it was a very entertaining.
Read more: Ricky Gervais
Philip added: Every day something happened and we were laughing our heads off. That’s absolutely right. I think in everything I’ve done since then, there hasn’t been the same atmosphere.
They were very nice, Emma said, about the benefits of working with the first team of directors and writers, Gervais and Merchant.
They’ve found a direction to go in, they make each other laugh, and it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.
She added: The company was run by the nicest people in the world. Martin Freeman, Lucy Davis, Mackenzie Crook… These are the golden people you want to see in every group.
The Office is available to watch on BritBox.
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