Red Rose: 'We're excited for the world to see Bolton's beauty - and its dirt'

Harvey Day
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The writers of BBC Three horror series Red Rose - Michael and Paul Clarkson - tell all about their new show, their love of their Northern hometown and the importance of opportunities for young, working-class people. And they take us to some of the most important spots in Bolton that inspired them…

When The Clarkson Twins - Paul and Michael - were growing up, they often thought their hometown of Bolton had something cinematic about it.

"When we were playing as kids, Paul and I always felt like we were in a film," Michael says. "Bolton was our set. And to now see our hometown looking beautiful and dark and powerful on camera, it's quite surreal."

"I think we're both very excited for the world to see Bolton in all its facets," Paul adds. "Its beauty and its dirt."

The brothers set their new BBC Three horror series - called Red Rose - in their hometown and it was filmed there, too.

The show, which will air on Netflix internationally, is set during the summer after GCSE exams, when one friendship group is infiltrated by a mysterious app, called Red Rose. The app infects their smartphones and threatens them with dangerous consequences if they don't meet its demands.

The young cast includes Amelia Clarkson, Isis Hainsworth, Ali Khan, Ellis Howard and Ashna Rabheru - along with some television newcomers, such as Natalie Blair and Harry Redding.

BBC/Eleven Film
The show is set during the summer after GCSE exams, when one friendship group is infiltrated by a mysterious app, called Red Rose

The brothers are excited for the UK - and the world - to get to know more about Boltonian sensibilities.

Michael says: "Boltonian bluntness is something we want to take out in the world."

Michael and Paul grew up and went to school in Bolton - and they're passionate about the town, even with the challenges it faces.

"It's a magic, wonderful place," Paul says. "[But] most former industrial places, like Bolton, are in hard times right now, so this story should resonate with many parts of the country."

BOLTON MUSEUM: When they were young, a family friend and caretaker called Grandma Dorothy would take Michael (left), Paul (right) and their childhood friends to Bolton Museum (pictured). "We never knew what the real story was behind each object but Grandma Dorothy would encourage us to make it up. So from a young age we were encouraged to just story tell"

The brothers got the chance to meet actor Sir Ian McKellen, who started his career at a theatre in Bolton, and discovered he shares their enthusiasm for the town and the people who live there. "There's something in the water in Bolton," the award-winning actor told them during their meeting. "Danny Boyle has used it, I have used it, and now you two are using it!"

"There is something so real about the way that Boltonians are, with an equal blend of the drama of life, but with the comedy of everyone around you," Michael says. "It makes it a really beautiful, fascinating place."

Bolton has other famous locals - like actors and comedians Peter Kay, Diane Morgan and Maxine Peake, the brothers point out. "Bolton punches above its weight," Paul adds.

BOLTON MUSEUM: Michael remembers being transfixed by a painted plaster copy of an Ancient Egyptian Nefertiti bust (right) as a young child at Bolton Museum's Egyptology gallery. "I just think it's a very powerful image, so beautiful and regal. I remember being a little gay boy staring at Nefertiti thinking, 'I want to have that face one day'"

'We love having a working-class view on the world'

The brothers, the joint youngest of six siblings, were always creative as children. "We didn't fit societal norms growing up," Paul says. "We were just the camp theatre kids."

They grew up entertaining their family and friends. "But, first and foremost, we were trying to entertain each other. Because twins have this special relationship," Michael says. "It is basically a really weird world of in-jokes and taking the piss. We just grew up laughing our heads off and also trying to kill each other."

The Clarkson Twins are among a group of other sibling writer teams, including This Country's Charlie and Daisy May Cooper, the Duffer Brothers, who created Stranger Things, and The Wachowskis, who are behind The Matrix.

And they say being twins comes in handy while writing together. "We get to try out stuff on each other and if it makes us laugh or react emotionally, in it goes," Paul says.

SMITHILLS HALLS AND WOODLAND: Grandma Dorothy would also take them to Smithills Hall manor house and the surrounding forests (pictured), where they'd play games like imagining they could see ghosts. Paul now takes his son there. "Look at it!" Michael says. "Who wouldn't want to be playing in this? It feels like Jurassic Park!"

And Michael and Paul come from a working-class Anglo-Irish family - they remember working at the age of 11 selling pies at Bury football stadium.

"Growing up working class, we viewed it as a positive and we love having a working-class view on the world," Michael says.

But their background made pursuing a career in TV difficult. "It's not been seamless," Paul says. "It's been really hard. You've got no safety net, so you feel a desperation at times."

Despite two successful crowd-funded runs at Edinburgh Festival, they struggled to get an agent.

So Paul pursued his career in science - even going on to begin a PhD in nanotechnology at Cambridge - while Michael worked a series of "dead-end jobs". In the meantime, they continued writing together on weekends and in their free time over bottles of wine and buckets of KFC.

Michael finally got a break when he won a place at film school at the University of Southern California. He secured a Bafta scholarship to cover some of the costs but still needed to raise £20,000 so he could attend.

He set up an online crowdfunding page - and the people of Bolton backed him with all the money he needed. "A lot of people from Bolton donated small amounts to help get me there," Michael says. "And entrepreneurs from Bolton businesses also contributed."

BOLTON TOWN HALL STEPS: "This is where we used to come and just sit and people-watch and talk like teenagers do," Michael says, adding that their real-life friendship group that hung out there helped inspire the gang in Red Rose. "We used to meet outside McDonald's and wander the town"

"Not often you see someone have the chance to chase their dream – especially someone who has worked so hard for it," one comment on the fundraising page reads.

"Don't give up whatever the case man, you'll get there," another says.

Sir Ian McKellen donated, too. "When we met, he was very encouraging," Michael says.

After many years of effort, the pair began to find some success in their television careers, going on to write for Apple TV series See, starring Jason Momoa, and Netflix's The Haunting Of Bly Manor.

The brothers are now passionate about making sure there are creative opportunities for young working-class people who don't have the money or resources to make it into the industry.

"There are so many capable, wonderful people here [in Bolton] who just do not have the opportunities that other places do," Paul says.

Michael adds: "We would love to do something that incorporated the full Bolton creative spectrum, looking for those next artists and creatives from amongst this crop of working-class people.

"With Red Rose, we're hoping people who are watching it that are working class will feel proud of where they're from."

BOLTON LIBRARY: One of their first introductions to stories was watching the classic films Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts, so the twins would come to Bolton Library to take out books on Greek, Egyptian and Norse mythology. "I used to apply all the time to get a job as a librarian and I was always turned down," Paul says

'Urban legends are cultural warnings'

The idea for the TV show Red Rose first came about while Michael and Paul were pitching storylines to the soap Hollyoaks. They described it as "Scream and The Ring, but with Boltonian teenagers and set in the present day," Michael says.

They stuck with that pitch and, after six years of hard work, the horror series is airing on BBC Three.

Some key inspirations for the pair include the horror writer Stephen King, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, HAL 9000 from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey and the comedy and localised vernacular of the TV show Derry Girls.

BBC/Eleven Film
Rochelle (played by Isis Hainsworth) in Red Rose. "If we look at urban legends, they are really cultural warnings," Michael says

The pair had also been reading about the dark web and internet urban legends, such as the Blue Whale challenge and Slenderman.

"If we look at urban legends, they are really cultural warnings," Michael says.

Fans can even look out for a cameo of the twins during Red Rose. "Look for a karaoke scene," Michael says.

Paul adds: "The song we're singing is a Bolton anthem."