25/Jul/2014 - Last News Update: 12:06

The shameless success of northern TV drama

Category: England

Published: 30th Aug 2011 01:27:19

Shameless - Channel 4's Manchester-based series about the dysfunctional Gallagher clan - returns ahead of its 100th episode. But what makes northern TV dramas so popular?

Alan Bleasdale's Boys from the Blackstuff, Peter Flannery's Our Friends in the North, Jimmy McGovern's The Street, Paul Abbott's Clocking Off and Shameless.

All are Bafta-winning TV shows central to the evolution of British drama. And all co-star - in pivotal roles - the north of England.

Danny Brocklehurst, who in 2001 got his big break writing two episodes of factory drama Clocking Off, says it has been shown time and time again that "this is an area where a lot of excellent creative output has been generated".

"So has London, so have lots of other places but I do think there's something about the north," says the Mancunian screenwriter, whose recent BBC One three-parter Exile earned rave reviews.

"I grew up under Thatcher in the 80s, a bit of a crappy time for the north, especially Manchester and Liverpool.

"You have an attitude and a way of looking at the world that I think lends itself quite nicely to drama."

Brocklehurst, 40, who almost became an EastEnders scriptwriter, cites northern soaps including Coronation Street and the now-defunct Brookside - which launched the career of Jimmy McGovern - as rich sources of quality writers.

Scouser McGovern, who wrote for Liverpool soap Brookside from 1982 to 1988, went on to create shows including Manchester-based ITV drama Cracker - starring Robbie Coltrane - and The Street as well as 1996 Bafta-winning film Hillsborough.

John Simm, who rose to prominence as a dramatic actor in McGovern's 1997 series The Lakes, has said that "brilliant art, music and creativity comes from the north" adding "there's something in the water".

The 40-year-old star of shows including Life on Mars and Exile was born in Yorkshire and raised in Lancashire.

"Northernness probably makes for good TV drama because there are very good creative writers that come from there and that are making a big success for themselves," he told the BBC News website.

Actress Lesley Sharp who, like Simm, appeared in Clocking Off and was most recently seen in ITV's Sunday night hit Scott & Bailey says simply: "Great northern dramas are made by great northern writers.

"The dramas that we're talking about are written by the likes of Jimmy McGovern, Paul Abbott, Russell T Davies, Danny Brocklehurst, Sally Wainwright - they are fantastic writers."

One of those writers, Paul Abbott, says there is "a difference between northern and southern storytellers, but not for a second would I suggest this is based on talent differential".

He believes the "radius to broadcasting HQs" of southern writers means they are more likely to pander to perceptions of changing drama policies.

"Northern writers are double the radius away with less access or none at all to that drama pre-crime Cluedo," he adds.

They also benefit, he says, from it being "colder up here, less cluttered, and a bit hungrier".

"Writers not working from London can take longer developing their voice before they pitch up at the cattle-market."

Abbott's crowded upbringing in Burnley, Lancashire, where he and his siblings were brought up by an older sister, famously influenced his Channel 4 drama Shameless, set on the fictional Chatsworth estate.

I'm up to about draft eight of episode 100 of Shameless - they're filming it as I'm writing it. I've written it at speed for certain reasons - I took it over at the last minute.

It gets pretty tense because it's a big two-hour special. It couldn't be a duffer. I was only meant to deliver 60 pages, it's getting up to about 120. I went to bed at half three this morning.

I'm trying to edit as we go along. They're filming now, in 10 minutes, a scene I finished last night because we're refining. Refining is my favourite part of the writing process.

The show, in its eighth series, is approaching its 100th episode which has been written by Abbott.

It was recently remade in the US with Fargo actor William H Macy in the role of Frank Gallagher, played by David Threlfall in the UK.

Abbott, who began his career as a writer on Coronation Street, says the soap's longevity means audiences have "a synthesised familiarity" with Northernness and "an expectation of decent quality from northern drama".

"I think that's a feeder for people feeling more comfy with Northernness because there is a laxness in the way people speak to each other," he adds.

Scott & Bailey writer Sally Wainwright, who was born and raised in West Yorkshire, is less easily drawn into the debate.

Wainwright, who created the Yorkshire-set 2009 ITV drama Unforgiven - winner of a Royal Television Society best drama serial award and a Bafta nomination - says: "I'm always a bit sceptical about the idea of northern drama.

"I don't write northern drama, I write what I write and I write in a northern accent because it's my accent and it's my vernacular.

"When I sit down and write, I don't think 'Ooh, I'll write some northern drama.' It's just drama."

The second half of Shameless series eight begins at 22:00 BST on Channel 4 on Tuesday night. The 100th episode will be shown on Saturday 27 September.

BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2011. The shameless success of northern TV drama [Online] (Updated 30th Aug 2011)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/181593/The-shameless-success-of-northern-TV-drama [Accessed 25th Jul 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Pop star Tulisa found guilty of V Festival assault

    Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa has been found guilty of assaulting a man at a music festival.
  • Bedtime light 'may stop cancer drug working'

    Even low levels of light in bedrooms may stop breast cancer drugs from working, US researchers have warned.
  • Pocket money squeezed despite recovery, suggests Halifax survey

    The economic recovery in the UK has not been felt by youngsters who have seen their pocket money fall in the last year, a survey suggests.
  • New Trevethin police and shopping centre opens

    A new police office, shops and business centre is opening at Trevethin in Torfaen following a £1.6m investment in a social enterprise development.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Mother Rosdeep Adekoya admits Mikaeel Kular killing

    The mother of three-year-old Mikaeel Kular has pleaded guilty to killing her son in Edinburgh in January.