Caitlin Moran is hungover. She’s slumped on a sofa in the bowels of a chilly studio in Salford, knocking back Nurofen and piecing together last night’s exploits.
“I don’t regret any of it! Although I did invent the drink wine and tonic last night. And later I invented the concept of bed wine.”
She swings her Doc Martins onto her sister’s lap. Caroline Moran is two years younger and full of regret. “I started with vodka martini,” says Caroline softly. “It was all downhill from there.”
The Morans are not supposed to be groaning and burying their faces in their scarves. Today is the last day of filming for their Channel 4 comedy Raised by Wolves and the official wrap party is later.
Caitlin and Caroline with the young stars of Raised By Wolves
Caitlin: “I like to think last night was a rehearsal. We blocked through today’s party.”
Caroline: “Perfected our performance.”
Caitlin’s name has star billing thanks to her best-selling books, but the sisters wrote the sitcom together.
Caitlin: “Caz has done the stuff that requires skill, knowledge, structure, discipline, dedication…”
Caroline: “All the good stuff, all the funny stuff, that’s me.”
Caitlin: “I’m more conceptual. I say things like: I think there should be wanking. And Caz will go: well, that’s not really three hours of well-structured television with characters and plots.
“And then at the next session I say: I think there should be a period in it. And Caz will go: thanks but that’s not going to fill three hours of well-structured television. Etc. etc. etc.”
From under her big sister’s DMs, Caroline smiles mock-wearily. Caitlin in person is exactly like she is on the page: a whirlwind of words, frank and very funny. Caroline barely gets a sentence in edgeways but is clearly used to it.
Germaine is played by Helen Monks
They first had the idea for Raised By Wolves 13 years ago and approached the BBC with a script. The response shocked them.
Caitlin: “We went to the BBC, and they said: oh, we’ve already got a sitcom with women in this year so we can’t do this.
“We were like: aha-ha-ha-ha? Because you forget – everything has changed so quickly – we’re in the world now of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham and Melissa McCarthy and the Broad City girls and Kristen Wiig. We know now that women can be funny and there can be lots of them.
“But it was only recently that you were still getting Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens going women can’t be funny. So they were like: we’ve got our one female sitcom this year.
“I think it was only a pilot – it wasn’t even a series – because I remember angrily watching it on Boxing Day going ‘f*** you. So then we just put it on hiatus. I went away and wrote How to Be a Woman, mainly fuelled with feminist fury that I’d been told that you can only have one set of funny women a year.”
The heroines of Raised by Wolves, Germaine and Aretha, are based on their teenage selves. Noisy, horny Germaine is Caitlin, while Aretha is pubescent Caroline – cynical, sardonic, nose permanently buried in Noam Chomsky.
Caitlin: “When I was growing up there was never anyone like me on telly. Teenage girls seem to be a very specific race and breed: it was all lip-gloss and going to the mall. Where are the ones that are reading books and born to be noble and love George Orwell? I never see a horny teenage girl.”
Aretha is played by Alexa Davies
Germaine and Aretha are the best of enemies who delight in rubbing each other up the wrong way. So what was it like working together all these years later?
Caitlin: “We fought like cat and dog on several issues. There was one very pivotal argument about whether [Aretha and Germaine’s mother] Della would wear pants or not. I don’t wear pants so I thought Della wouldn’t.
“Caz said no, she’s a practical woman and she wouldn’t want the potential staining on her jeans. She’d wear pants like a normal human being.
“And I was like: are you saying I’m not a normal human being because I don’t wear pants?”
Caroline: “And I said: yes. And then I stormed out. And then I came back and then Cate stormed out. Double storm.”
In the end they asked the actress who plays Della to decide and never tell them. (Caitlin: “If only we could have devolved all the arguments we had in our childhood to an actress who could make that final call for us. Instead it was just one long process of attrition.”)
Their unusual upbringing will be familiar to readers of Caitlin’s feminist polemic How to Be a Woman or her weekly columns in The Times. The eight Moran kids were home-educated in the loosest sense, cooped up in a three-bedroomed council house in Wolverhampton with their hippy parents.
Caroline: “We’ve hopefully made Raised by Wolves a little bit more interesting than our actual lives. Because if we’d made a sitcom about what our actual lives were like it would just be like Gogglebox – a lot of people sitting on the sofa watching television and making sarcastic comments about it.”
Della is played by Rebekah Staton
There are some scenes straight out of the family history book though. Look out for a trip to the Dorchester, the nightclub and Wolverhampton institution where the Moran sisters would dance to the six records the DJs used to play on repeat – if they could convince the bouncers they were 16.
Caitlin: “I think we all celebrated our 16th birthdays in the Dorchester at least three times.”
Germaine’s run-in with a bus driver is based on a less fond memory.
Caitlin: “The bus drivers would never believe we were 15 and eligible for a half-fare because we were quite hefty girls and we’d always be carrying a toddler – one of our siblings – so we looked like teenage mums.
“I had a feud jotter where I would write the name of all the people I was feuding with at the time – and the bus driver was number one in my feud jotter at that time.”
Aretha and Germaine with family
More excruciating is a country excursion where the girls happen upon a horse’s erection, another “verbatim reenactment”. Caroline winces just remembering and reaches for another Nurofen. Caitlin claps her hands in glee.
Caroline: “You were very aroused. The horse wasn’t.”
Caitlin: “It was really exciting! I’d never seen one that big!”
Caroline: “I’m right back there in that field.”
Caitlin was the oldest child and by her own account a pain in the bum. But what was she really like?
Caroline: “A massive pain in the arse.”
Caitlin: “I was.”
Caroline: “She thinks it’s hilarious how we’ve made her into this really annoying character – that’s exactly what she was like!”
This time her big sister demurs.
Caitlin: “Germaine’s much more reasonable than I was. I was basically Toad of Toad Hall. Very overbearing. I had no friends and we were in that house 24/7 and I had big dreams and big ideas.”
Caroline: “That I didn’t want to hear about.”
Other characters – like single mum Della – have been penned with artistic license. The original intention was to set the sitcom in the 90s. When they decided to make it contemporary instead, they realised Della would be their age. So she shares Caitlin and Caroline’s love of Russell Crowe, Gene Hackman movies and Chris Packham.
Caitlin: “It got to the point where our script editor said: you’ve got to stop going on about Chris Packham. It’s looking really weird now.”
Caroline: “We based her on Ripley in Alien. She’s as much a sergeant major as she is a parent.”
Caitlin: “Most sitcom mums are forever sighing: oh daddy, when will you stop being so wacky. Or being put upon and subsumed by the kids. Sitcom mums never get to be whole women. Della’s not like that at all. She’s a single mum with five kids but she gets on with her life.”
The Morans managed to find two photographs of the house they grew up in and showed them to the set designers. So Germaine and Aretha’s home is exactly as they remember it: the kitchen crammed with giant catering tins of baked beans and slabs of no-frills cheese; the bedrooms crammed with several bunks apiece and lovingly wallpapered with posters. Well, almost exactly.
Caroline: “There’s not as much mess. Because people actually have to work in there you can’t have the floor covered in anything and everything for health and safety reasons.”
Caitlin: “Also, our parents were breeding Alsatians so the house was full of puppies, and we’d regularly have to hose down the floor with Dettol. So this is a more hygienic version of our house.”
But while they may be “Midlands twats” – as Della says with characteristic bluntness – Raised by Wolves is not Wolverhampton’s answer to Shameless. Germaine and Aretha are working-class intellectuals: fiercely intelligent, witty, politically engaged. Their council house doubles as a library – as did the Moran’s.
Caitlin: “Every single wall was covered with very badly made bookcases made by our dad, and filled with every kind of book. That was the very best thing about our childhood: the sheer amount of books that were in our house and the variety.”
From the outset she’s been keen to emphasise that there’s more to Raised by Wolves than wince-inducing gags.
“Half the hoo-ha that happened over Benefits Street was because it was the first time we’d seen the working-classes on television,” she told RadioTimes.com last year. “There’s been Benefits Street and Shameless and apart from that nothing. And culture should be a mirror to what is happening in the country. If you’re working class and you look at television, the mirror doesn’t work. You do not see yourself there unless you’re a drug dealer riding around on a tiny bicycle, having sex on wastelands and being a bit dodgy.
“Obviously there are those people on council estates but there are also fat, shy 15 year-old girls reading Orwell and Dostoyevsky but you never see that. You presume automatically that everybody on benefits is hard and lairy and scary – and they’re not.”
An estate with a difference
So what do the rest of the Moran clan make of their big sisters’ first foray into TV?
Caroline: “They’re stoked, aren’t they? Although some of them are a bit narked that we’ve nicked funny lines that they said.”
Caitlin: “Yes, I’m sure at Christmas there’ll be a reckoning. Everyone will bring out their paperwork: well, I observe that this joke, which I made on 17th September 1997, has been used here. I hereby invoice you £10.”
“When all eight of us are round a table, you wouldn’t be able to make out any words because we talk twice as fast when we’re altogether.”
As if to prove it, they start jabbering over each other (again), merrily reminiscing about the festive quiz Caitlin always forces her siblings to play, and the time Caroline threw a potato at her and it prompted their brothers to invent a game called “bad potato”….and RadioTimes.com leaves them to it.