Boat Story writers Harry and Jack Williams created The Tourist, The Missing AND produced Fleabag – but they’ll never try to crack Hollywood because LA is ‘too hot’


They’re the brains behind some of the biggest dramas in TV history – but chances are, most people have never actually heard of Harry and Jack Williams.

In the past decade, the brothers, from London, have written and produced a series of smash-hit dramas – including The Missing, Baptiste, Liar and The Tourist.

Most recently, the talented siblings have been making waves with their new BBC series Boat Story – which divided fans have labelled ‘incredible’ and ‘twisted’.

The violent thriller, laced with black humour, centres on two strangers who come across a hoard of drugs in a boat that’s washed ashore while out walking their dogs. 

The pair turned to their go-to actors Daisy Haggard – who stars in their hit show Back to Life – and Baptiste’s Tchéky Karyo for their latest project.

Jack Williams (right), 44, and his brother Harry, 42. The brothers are the brains behind some of. TV’s biggest dramas 

The brothers’ new show Boat Story debuted on the BBC on Sunday and is currently available to stream

But while Harry and Jack’s work has dominated the small screen since they set up their production company in 2014, the pair prefer to remain firmly behind-the-scenes. 

Here FEMAIL delves into the lives of the entertainment industry’s most in-demand siblings – and why they have no plans to leave the UK anytime soon.

As the sons of writer and director Nigel Williams and his producer wife Suzan Harrison, it seems as though Jack, 42, and Harry, 44, were always destined for careers in showbiz.

With a special interest in period dramas, Suzan was a producer for the 1998 TV adaptation of Vanity Fair, a 2000 version of Anna Karenina and the 2007 film of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park starring Billie Piper.

Nigel and Suzan worked together on the 2006 series Elizabeth II – which won two Primetime Emmys. 

Speaking to the BBC in 2014, the pair – who grew up in Wimbledon, South London – explained how their father would entertain them by making up stories. 

Although Harry set his sights on becoming an actor, his younger brother Jack – who is married to a lawyer and has two children – knew he wanted to be a writer.

He said: ‘I’ve always wanted to write since I was five and started out doing bad short stories.’ 

Pictured: Harry and Jack Williams pose with their Televisual Bulldog Award in 2015 following the success of The Missing

Pictured: Tchéky Karyo in character as Baptiste. The brothers were inspired by their father’s 2008 documentary on real French detective Jean-Francois Abgrall, who worked tirelessly for three years to track down a serial killer who is feared to have killed 50 people, including children

As teenagers, the brothers tried to write a comedy book together during a family holiday. 

After a brief stint in the same band, Jack got a job in a TV production company as a script editor while Harry tried his hand at acting.

However, Harry was inspired to write a script by a particularly bad break-up and kept turning to his older brother for advice.

He added: ‘As Jack and I worked on sitcoms separately we increasingly found ourselves asking each other’s opinion and advice, and ended up writing Roman’s Empire together.’

The 2007 sitcom – starring Chris O’Dowd and Matthew Horne – became a surprise hit and kickstarted the brothers’ career. The show was piloted with Kelsey Grammar in the lead for American audiences.

Speaking to the Radio Times in 2018, Jack revealed the countless re-writes of the initial script prompted an actress to tell him: ‘You should never ever work with your brother again.’

He added: ‘The irony is delicious now, but for a few years after that sitcom we couldn’t even get arrested.’ 

Delving into their creative process, the brothers explained how they’ll sit down together to figure out the plot before dividing it into scenes for each of them to write.

Pictured: Phoebe Waller-Bridge in her hit show Fleabag. Jack said the script – which had been adapted from the actress’ one-woman show – was met with hesitation at first

Pictured: Jack and Harry Williams attend a television festival in Monte Carlo in June 2017 following the success of The Missing and Fleabag

In 2012, the pair sparked controversy when their Channel 4 show Full English depicted a cartoon Princess Diana scrapping with Jade Goody over who was the UK’s real People’s Princess. 

Television watchdog Ofcom confirmed it had received a number of complaints from viewers left incensed by the show. 

Over the next two years, the brothers struggled to get scripts picked up – which led them to question if they should quit the industry.

In 2014, Harry and Jack created their own production company – Two Brothers Pictures.

The company’s first hit came that year when The Missing – starring James Nesbitt and Tcheky Karyo – aired on BBC One. 

The hugely popular series – which followed a couple searching for their missing toddler on holiday in France – was met with rave reviews from critics and put the brothers’ production company on the map. 

Pictured: a still from season one of The Missing. Jack told Radio Times: ‘Just before The Missing we wondered if we should stop – we couldn’t really afford to keep going’

Screenwriters Harry Williams (L) and Jack Williams visit Build to talk about the six-part series Liar in 2017

Jack told Radio Times: ‘It changed everything. Just before The Missing we wondered if we should stop – we couldn’t really afford to keep going.

Harry added: ‘I thought it would go down horribly, because that response was all I knew. As soon as it aired, I just wanted to hide under the sofa. We loved what we’d done but we were scared.’ 

Speaking to The Guardian at the time, Jack explained how they wrote the show in 2011 – around the time his daughter was born. As a result, he said he could understand how easy it is for parents to lose sight of their children.

He said: ‘It happens, you’re out shopping and you go “holy s***, where’ve you gone?”. 

‘Thirty seconds later and she’s hiding in a rack of clothes in Marks & Spencer. To us it’s always been about how little decisions can have echoes and consequences far beyond what they seem to have at the time.’

The pair said the character of Baptiste was inspired by the real French detective Jean-Francois Abgrall, who worked tirelessly for three years to track down a serial killer who is feared to have killed 50 people, including children.

Harry and Jack’s father Nigel had made the documentary Dance with a Serial Killer on Jean-Francois in 2008, which acted as the inspiration for their series. 

Following the success of the first season, the brothers went on to write a second season and a spin-off show centring around fan favourite Baptiste. 

In 2016, the brothers (pictured) told Radio Times that their success is in part due to them not ‘underestimating’ audiences.

Shortly after The Missing debuted, the brothers struck gold again when they produced Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag for the BBC. 

Speaking to Deadline, Jack said the script – which had been adapted from the actress’ one-woman show – was met with hesitation at first.

He explained: ‘When we were developing Fleabag, commissioners were saying “It’s a bit different and weird” but after some persuasion we were suddenly hearing “Can we have something else like that?”

‘I think audiences are completely used to that style of humour and I don’t think anyone is bored by it. In many ways it has opened new avenues for types of shows and talent and that has coincided with the growth of streaming.’ 

In 2016, the brothers told Radio Times that their success is in part due to them not ‘underestimating’ audiences. 

Jack said: ‘Most shows that are bad. It comes from people underestimating an audience, thinking people won’t understand, that they’re stupid. You’re screwed if you do that. You have to assume the audience is brighter than you are.’

However, the pair said that American shows such as Breaking Bad – which Harry thinks about ‘most days’ – are slowly changing this.

Jack added: ‘I wouldn’t want to live in LA, though. We’d be way too hot.’ Harry agreed: ‘That’d be awful. We’d be on a plane the whole time.’

The  brothers’ new show Boat Story tells the story of how Samuel (Peep Show’s Paterson Joseph) convinces Janet (Breeders’ Daisy Haggard) they should steal the drugs, sell them and split the proceeds.

It would ease gambling addict Samuel’s financial problems and present Janet with something that feels like good fortune after a run of terrible luck.

Yet their split-second decision upends their lives and soon their bucolic neighbourhood is being stalked by a sadistic drug lord, his machine gun-wielding gangsters and other murderous villains who are desperate to find out where the stash has gone.

And they’ll all gleefully dispatch anyone they think might be involved.

The idea for this wild tale sprang from real-life incidents such as the drugs recently found on Isle of Wight beaches and the running aground of the SS Politician that inspired the 1949 comedy classic Whisky Galore!.


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