The success of the BBC TV comedy series Outnumbered came as no surprise to those of us who had been watching it since the first episode aired in August 2007. From the outset it was clear that this was something rather different. Although the show’s evening slot meant that it aired to a mainly adult audience, the stars of the sitcom were, undeniably, the three children played by Tyger Drew-Honey, Daniel Roche and Ramona Marquez.
While most of the attention focused on the two younger children, partly due to the eccentric characters they played, the rest of the cast were uniformly strong in their relatively straight roles. One of the most difficult parts, in many ways, was that of the eldest child, Jake, played by Tyger Drew-Honey. Jake occupied a kind of no man’s land, alienated both from the tedious, mundane concerns of his parents, and from the chaotic irrelevancies that occupied the butterfly minds of his younger siblings. Although able to understand both adults and children, he displayed no inclination to act as an interpreter for two generations between whom he appeared to feel trapped. In fact, his frequent annoyance and frustration with the rest of the family was almost palpable. Tyger Drew-Honey depicted Jake with good balance: the teenage sullenness was tempered with a restraint that reassured the viewer that his sulking was just the normal disaffectation of youth - that Jake was, at heart, a good kid.
However, the nuances of Tyger’s performances, and those of co-star Claire Skinner who played his scatty mother, Sue, and Hugh Dennis who played stressed father, Pete, were lost on some viewers. The two, rather bonkers, younger children captured the bulk of the attention.
It was rumoured from the outset that the young cast members’ performances were improvised and this possibility was widely discussed in the media. Oddly, the extent to which improvisation was involved seemed to vary depending upon whom one asked, and during which season of the show. It remained the subject of much speculation and argument.
Although the question had been broached many times before, it was one that we could not resist revisiting when we visited Tyger at the Surrey home where he lives with his mother.
“Yes, there is some sort of ambiguity to the level of improvisation in Outnumbered because some people think it’s totally improvised. Perhaps eighty per cent of it is actually scripted - although quite loosely scripted, because you can change the words a bit and stuff. For the other twenty per cent of it they’ll just leave the camera rolling for maybe 40 minutes and say, ‘Right, improvise,’ and the directors will dip in and out with suggestions and stuff like that. Basically, yeah, there are a lot of improvised scenes.”
Tyger’s acting career came about by accident, as the result of his participation in school drama.
“It was actually something that I’d never really thought about. I fell into it very luckily, really. I had a lead part in a school play and there just happened to be an agent in the audience. She asked if she could speak to me afterwards and asked me if I wanted to do some professional work. It just kind of went from there.
“My first professional role, I think, was an ensemble character - playing sort of numerous characters in a sketch show called The Armstrong and Miller Show. They did a series in the ‘90s or something and this was their comeback series. I did a couple of sketches for them, but after that Outnumbered was my big job. I got cast and filmed the pilot when I was 10 and then filmed the series when I was 11.”
The fifth series of Outnumbered has now aired in the UK and there are no plans for another. In fact, it has been said that there will be no more seasons, although occasional specials are a distinct possibility. As one might expect, Tyger has given thought to the direction he would like his career to take in the future.
“I do enjoy writing songs and in the next few years I would like to come up with some sort of album, but I don’t think I’m that good at music. It’s not, like, my passion or my real forte, just something I enjoy. Mainly I’d like to stick with acting and presenting - that sort of thing. I’d hope to get some nice big film roles. Actually, I’d love to be like a massive, massive film star, travelling all over the world and stuff… But then, on the other hand, I’d also like to just be a Saturday night TV presenter because I really enjoy the presenting. I do a show called Friday Download which is on CBBC, and I’ve also done some other bits of presenting. I did The Magicians with Dan from Outnumbered and that was good.”
Tyger has already had movie experience in Horrid Henry: The Movie. The British production was not terribly well received by critics, but the exercise will have been useful. He has also done some voice-over work for animated television shows. He has also been a member of the main cast of the BBC Three sitcom Cuckoo, which started in 2012.
Still only 18 years old, Tyger has only recently developed an interest in cars and driving and, at the time of writing, has held his full licence for less than a year. However, like most young men he has an idea of what his ideal car might be - and he already owns a personalised registration.
“Well, I hadn’t really thought about getting one, even though my parents have both got personalised number plates, but I got my number plates for my 16th birthday when I hadn’t even got a car. I think my dad just saw them and then he was like, ‘Oh, I’ll get them because he’ll be driving soon’. But they were in my room for a whole year just staring at me. It was really frustrating because I just wanted to drive! It was a bit weird finally being able to get them on and drive around. I thought they were really cool and I’m very grateful for them. I think they look good on my car.
“Maybe down the line, once I improve in driving and I get my no claims bonus and my premiums go down, I might get a sporty, fast car. At that point I might get some really flash plates. As for the car, I reckon I’d like some sort of high-class Mercedes. I just think there’s something about a Mercedes. My mum’s always had one. They look really nice and they’ve always felt like really smooth, powerful cars. I think that by the time I’m about 30 I’d like to have a Mercedes.”
Story: Rick Cadger
Interview: Angela Banh Photography: Stan Thompson