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When the Whistle Blows is the show-within-a-show sitcom created, co-written by and starring Andy Millman. It was first mentioned in episode 1.3, as a script that Millman had written and given to his agent who neglected to read it. The script was turned into a sitcom on BBC One in the first series finale, after Millman gave the script to Patrick Stewart. Excerpts from the sitcom are featured in the second series, and many of the Extras plotlines have revolved around Millman’s experiences with the show..
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The closing title track is called "Tea for the Tillerman", which is written and performed by Cat Stevens and is the title track of his album Tea for the Tillerman. The fourth episode of the second series of the show features a cover of the song performed by Chris Martin of Coldplay. The song in the Christmas Special highlighting Maggie’s depression after she hits bottom and quits acting is "This Woman’s Work" by Kate Bush. When Andy is having a bad time at the Ivy restaurant and leaves Maggie on her own, the Smiths song "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" can be heard.
When the Whistle Blows?
When the Whistle Blows is set in a Wigan factory canteen. The humour is broad and lowbrow in the manner of many catchphrase-based sitcoms. The main catchphrase of the show, "Are you ‘avin’ a laugh?," is spoken by Millman. The show is unpopular with reviewers but popular with the public. It does receive a BAFTA nomination, although Millman suspects it is there simply to make up the numbers, and in the end it loses to an unspecified programme by Stephen Fry. Millman is deeply unhappy with the show, feeling that too many people have interfered with his original ideas in the hunt for ratings. It appears that Millman originally set out to do a comedy similar to The Office, with true-to-life characters in a realistic work environment, without a studio audience or laughter track. The show has turned out to be the opposite of what he originally intended. The show is further debased by the unexplained guest appearance by Chris Martin of Coldplay, in episode 2.4, which bears no relation to the plot.
Guest star cancellations and replacements
According to a segment in the extras section of the Series 1 DVD, Jude Law was scheduled to appear in one of the episodes, after meeting Gervais backstage on the Late Show with David Letterman, but had to pull out due to film commitments. This resulted in Gervais and Merchant having to scramble to find a replacement actor at the last minute, with Leonardo DiCaprio being considered. A featurette on the first series DVD release, "Finding Leo", consists of late-night video camera footage (shot mostly by Merchant) chronicling Gervais’ fruitless and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to contact DiCaprio’s manager. Law was ultimately replaced by Patrick Stewart in the series 1 finale, although a poster for the Jude Law film Alfie appeared at the end. Other actors that did not appear in Extras despite initial reports from Gervais include Madonna, Brad Pitt, and Tom Cruise.