The IT department at Reynholm Industries is doubtless the last place that any techie would want to end up.

Over the past four years Reynholm’s IT team have found a vampire-like goth living in the server room, set fire to their office and even broken the internet.

The team are of course the creations of Father Ted co-writer and creator Graham Linehan that populate the tech sitcom The IT Crowd, which returns to Channel 4 for a fourth series starting at 10pm on Friday 25 June.

When not writing for TV, Linehan can usually be found posting on Twitter, the microblogging site that he used to great success to launch the welovetheNHS campaign to rally support for the National Health Service earlier this year.

Linehan took some time out to talk to silicon.com about where he finds inspiration for the show’s endearingly awkward characters; how he stumbled upon someone illegally downloading his show via Twitter; and his love for Apple’s iPad.

silicon.com: Why write a sitcom about IT?
Linehan:
The whole idea kicked off from when I was expecting this IT guy to come to my home and my wife answered the door to him, and rather than saying ‘hello’, he said to her: ‘You’re not Graham’.

Later on I asked him: ‘Why aren’t there more guys who do a door-to-door IT service?’ and he said: ‘They don’t have the people skills’. That really made me laugh and I thought there’s really something there.

Do you ever worry about causing offence to IT workers with your portrayal of techies on the show?
I presume that they will see it is written with a lot of affection and that it is definitely on their side.

The main characters Moss and Roy are kind of based on me at different stages of my life, Moss is based on me when I was about 16, and Roy is based on me when I was about 30.

I have seen a couple of comedy shows where IT guys are painted as being really unpleasant people, who have power over your computer and misuse it. I am sure that there are IT guys who are like that but my experience with IT guys has always been pretty positive.

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The IT crowd at Reynholm Industries
(Photo credit: Channel 4)

How do you make IT funny?
The characters don’t go into a lot of techie stuff because I’m absolutely not that knowledgeable, I didn’t do much research because I didn’t want the show to get bogged down in too much detail.

That’s the kind of technical level I like to keep it on because then everybody will find it funny, and not just the geeks.

What kind of technical support nightmares have you had?
I’ve had plenty. The worst one was…

…when I found myself disassembling my computer, which is something that I don’t know how to do, and I was on the phone to a French guy.

No offence to the French but when you are on the phone to tech support you really want to be able to understand every word.

So I’m there lying on my side, looking at something I don’t understand while talking to somebody I don’t understand – and that’s never ideal.

Why do you think that so many people are intimidated by technology?
I think that what happened to a lot of people with computers is that in the early days – when everybody was very ignorant about the dangers out there – was that people were downloading viruses, clicking spam emails, writing down their passwords in response to phishing attacks.

They got burnt too many times and as a result they thought ‘All I want to do is to turn on my computer, check my email and then turn my computer off.’

Recently that’s changing – for example, I think of Twitter as an internet within the internet, because generally you are following trusted people and you generally only get links that you are sure you can click on.

These filtering devices are helping to make the internet a safer place for people.

What computers do you use?
I use a MacBook Air for portability, it’s a nice machine and I generally use it to type scripts. I also have a PC which I use to play games.

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Richard Ayoade’s character Moss, described by The IT Crowd creator Graham Linehan as himself at 16
(Photo credit: Channel 4)

What is it that makes Twitter so important to you?
Twitter has added an extra dimension to my life. One day I searched for The IT Crowd on Twitter to see what would come up and one of the funniest things was a guy saying: ‘Downloading The IT Crowd‘.

I replied to him and said ‘Buy it if you like it’, he came back and asked ‘What’s it to you?’, then another guy said ‘That’s the writer dude’.

To be able to catch someone who’s downloading an episode and ask them in a friendly way ‘Buy it if you like it’ – well, how else would I do that?

Another day I was posting up Spotify links to songs by a band I love called Field Music. A day or two later Michael J McKean, who’s the lead singer in Spinal Tap, wrote to me and said ‘Thanks for the Field Music recommendations’.

If these things like Twitter disappeared overnight then we would have severe withdrawal symptoms because so many people suddenly wouldn’t be able to talk to each other.

How has Twitter helped you with making The IT Crowd?
We have taken on loads of extras to the show through Twitter, and…

…the set is populated by items from people writing into me through Twitter. I just say to people ‘Send in anything that you want to get up on the walls’.

Do you have an iPad?
I’m ashamed to say I’ve got two. One is from very early on after I said on Twitter: ‘I wonder how difficult it would be to get an iPad?’ The guy who made the Shazam music app contacted me and said ‘Would you like mine? I’ve been trying to develop stuff on it and don’t need it anymore’ so I got that at a cut rate price.

I got it and then realised I would never be able to get it off the kids, so I’ve got that one for the family and another one for me.

What do you think of the iPad?
The fact is that if I show my son a computer he doesn’t know where to begin. Give him an iPad and two hours later he’s still on it, still exploring and trying things out.

It’s all about being able to touch the screen, my daughter and I have been learning about music from this cheap little harp app, where the notes go down behind the string and if you touch the string where the notes are then you make music. That’s incredibly powerful.

Programs like that trick you by pretending they’re a game but actually you’re learning how to play an instrument. My theory is it will mean that our kids are going to skip the technical side of things because that’s going to be second nature to them and they are going to go straight on to being able to create.

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Roy from The IT Crowd, played by Chris O’Dowd
(Photo credit: Channel 4)

I see a future where people are going to be able to use technology to be creative in a very instinctive and natural way… A lot of people don’t care about the technical side of things and that it’s a closed platform – I never wanted to take my TV apart to see if I could turn it into a radio.

I understand that desire, and admire people who can do that sort of thing, but if Apple want to make a closed platform that works all the time then they should be allowed to do so.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by digital information online?
I’ve got so many RSS feeds set up for sites and I very quickly came to terms with the idea that I wouldn’t be able to see everything.

I see it as a cross between fishing and dodging traffic. You just watch for something that interests you, and suddenly there’s one and you pluck it out.

Actually that’s a terrible metaphor! Fishing and dodging traffic have absolutely nothing in common.

How many more series will you make of The IT Crowd?
I would say one or two but I have to be very careful because a lot of shows go severely off the boil and hang around long past the point that they jump the shark.

I’m hoping that there’s no shark in sight yet and if we do ever make the jump, then we will stop the show the morning after.

I’m experimenting with the idea of taking on other writers to see if that gives it a reboot. If that doesn’t work out then I think that will probably be enough.

To be honest I’ve no worries about this series. This series I think we’ve really hit our stride, I’m very pleased with it.