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Charlie Brooker
Photography Matt Holyoak

Charlie Brooker on Screenwipe and how Black Mirror-esque the pandemic is

The writer and presenter says comparisons to the dystopian show are ‘terrifying on an oh-shit-the-world-is-dreadful level’

Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe is back, this time with a coronavirus special edition, aptly titled Antiviral Wipe. In a new interview, the writer and presenter discusses the 45-minute special, and reflects on how the pandemic is very Black Mirror-esque.

“We were supposed to be making a new Philomena Cunk show when this whole thing kicked off,” Brooker told the BBC, “and that got postponed. We wanted to keep as much of the team on as possible – the BBC asked if we’d make a new Wipe show instead, and I initially said no before relenting when it became clear the format itself would still work under lockdown.”

Although Antiviral Wipe has been filmed entirely in quarantine, Brooker says it hasn’t been “hugely different” to previous filmings of Screenwipe. “The Wipe shows don’t have a live audience, and there’s almost never more than two people on screen at once, and most of it is archive,” he explained. “The edit and dub have been the most challenging bits, but even that is in some ways easier than normal because there’s no commuting.”

Revealing how the team filmed specific segments, Brooker said: “It’s basically a locked-off shot so you don’t really need a big studio, and it’s about as complex as Gogglebox. As luck would have it, both Al Campbell (who plays Barry Shitpeas) and Diane Morgan (who portrays Cunk) are directors. So the equipment basically got dumped on doorsteps and from that point on, it was all a bit DIY.”

Antiviral Wipe will explore the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the things that people are watching and doing to pass the time while at home on lockdown. It will be the first episode of Screenwipe since its Bafta-winning 2016 Wipe.

Discussing his own quarantine experience, Brooker says “snacks” have kept him going, and believes it’s “sensible to limit your (news) consumption to one bulletin a day”, adding that “it’s a bit like eating apples – good for you in moderation, but consume too much and you’ll give yourself the shits”.

The Black Mirror creator also reflected on comparisons between the pandemic and his dystopian show. “It’s flattering on a personal level,” he said, “but terrifying on an oh-shit-the-world-is-dreadful level.” Speaking about the most dystopian experience of his own lockdown, Brooker confirmed it was “watching our six-year-old play a game called ‘Vacation Simulator’ on a VR headset”.

Like the rest of us, Brooker has been using his time in quarantine to “work through the massive backlog of shows we haven’t had time to watch yet”, adding that modern technology has been a positive relief from boredom. “Can you imagine this happening in 1989? We’d be huddled round a steam-powered radio or something. You’d have to queue up to use the phone in your own household.” 

Last week (May 6), Brooker revealed that he’s taking a break from Black Mirror amid the coronavirus crisis. “At the moment, I don’t know what stomach there would be for stories about societies falling apart,” he told the Radio Times, “so I’m not working away on one of those.” The writer also admitted that nearly a decade of writing dystopian plots for TV has prepared him for the pandemic more than most: “If you’ve spent years anticipating the worst, oddly, when the worst happens, you can stop worrying about that possibly happening because it has.”