Hot off the press
A new drama series, Harry lifts the lid on the world of journalism. Tom Lappin gets full story and pics from creator Franc Roddam and star Michael Elphick.
Journalists. like right-wing politicians. homosexuals and children. are not a breed TV dramatists are happy depicting. The majority of writers tend to go for the cardboard cut-out stereotype ofa slavering Rottweiler with an implausible willingness to go to extreme lengths to dish dirt. in political thrillers. the heroes are inevitably pursued by a pack of greasy hacks yelling impeninent questions in guttural Cockney accents. Even Bleasdale's superior GBH had to have the requisite Fleet Street piranha. dredging up sleaze and swilling down vodka.
All of which makes Harry, a new twelve-part drama series for BBCl. long overdue. On the surface the journalist hero would seem to conform to the familiar formula. but over the course of the series. the writers dig deeper. Harry is a middle-aged Fleet Street hack. down on his luck and cast out to the relative wilderness of a news agency based in Darlington. Determined to return to the high life with minimal delay. Harry digs out the stories with a ruthless persistence,
‘I am doing Harry because it is a brilliant piece at writing. it isn’t about an alcoholic, that isn’t the main point of interest.’
aided by his long-suffering wife and his naive but loyal staff.
The series was created by Franc Roddam (he also dreamt up Auf Wiedersehen Pet). who sees his hero as a hard-bitten pragmatist. with no time for high-ﬂown scruples. ‘lt‘s not that Harry is a liar or even dishonest.‘ Roddam says. ‘He just knows that the average punter wants a little excitement; something to take the edge off everyday living. that day after day drudgery of one step forward and two steps back. Some people try to take short cuts; they gamble. cheat. steal or even murder — and if they don‘t. they like to read about those who do. The way Harry sees it. both The Telegraph and The Sun have equal chances of wrapping themselves around ﬁsh and chips — sometimes it‘s the only time people take a close look at them anyway!‘
Michael Elphick. he of Boon fame. plays Harry. and sees the role in rather more succinct terms. ‘He‘s a bit of a sod.‘ he says. ‘l've been interviewed by guys like him — and read the results. I
Michael Elphick as liarry
used to be quite generous and chat away. i hadn‘t done anything wrong after all. But then. when i started to read the things they had concocted - i started to go offthem in a big way.‘
in the wake of the Calcutt report. and the ongoing debate about journalistic ethics. and the pros and cons of privacy laws. Harry has a peculiarly topical aspect. that Elphick hasn‘t overlooked. ‘Since the coverage on Fergie, Princess Di and David Mellor. the tabloid press has become rather discredited. That is why the timing of this is so brilliant. it shows people what really does go on behind the scenes and the way that some journalists — not all. but some — operate.’
Elphick himself has found himselfon the receiving end of some particularly salacious tabloid tales himself in the past. mostly to do with his elbow- bending exploits in assorted bars and clubs. intriguineg enough. the character Harry also had a reputation as something of a dipso hellraiser prior to his exile in Geordieland.
‘I can equate with that very clearly.’ Elphick admits. ‘l‘m pleased to have the opportunity to show the sort of thing that goes on. but I am doing Harry because it is a brilliant piece of writing. it isn‘t about an alcoholic. that isn‘t the main point of interest. He does go back to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in later episodes. but hejust goes to shout his mouth off. to practice for the next row at home. AA is a very caring organisation and he abuses it. i have met people like him. Flash Han'ys who are louder than everyone else and talk a load of bull.‘
Now that‘s one journalistic stereotype everybody can recognise.
Harry begins on BBC I on Saturday [8 September at 8.50pm.
V TV REVIEW
OK. so Scotland has never quite rivalled Scandinavia or Texas as a producer of screen babes. but this is getting ridiculous. Far be it from me to cast a slur on the cream of Scottish womanhood. but it has to be something ofan indictment on the Equity female membership that when producers need a Caledonian temptress they reach for Phyllis Logan‘s phone number.
Phyllis exits stage left as Lovejoy's main squeeze Lady lane in the near future. but at the moment she‘s vamping it up as ‘Front Bench Shadow Cabinet member‘ Lou Larson in the moderately preposterous love And Reason (BBC2). a tale of skullduggery amongst decent Yorkshire mining folk and ambitious but unscrupulous Westminster types. The feel they‘re aiming for here is a kind of distaff GBH. The end result is closer to Perils Of Penelope Pitstop meets House Of Cards.
The depressing thing about Love And Reason is that it‘s probably typical of future BBC drama offerings now that the corporation is run by the balance sheet rather than the BAFTA award. lt‘s shot on video. which means the catnerawork is reminiscent of a Word location report, and the lighting suggests a minor nuclear accident has occurred just off camera (which might have livened up the plot).
‘The feel they’re aiming for here is a kind of distaff GB“. The end result is closer to Perils or Penelope Pitstop meets House or oards.’
The hastily-cobbled together feel extends to the script. a relentless onslaught of emotion-by-numbers. cliche’ and media-speak uttered in pastiche accents. and the characterisation is still locked into the off-the-peg stuff best left in a 7:84 stage polemic. Tick them off; the corrupt local politician. the turncoat betraying the brothers in the name of pragmatism. the oversexed idealist with a beard. and the strident Mother Courage defending the cause to her dying whinge, all present and politically correct.
The redeeming factor in this sort of drama is that the writers usually fade out the political windbaggery fairly
swiftly and home in on some raunchy bedroom debates. No such luck with Love And Reason (maybe the producers are aware of their lead actress‘s limitations after all). We had to wait 25 minutes for the ﬁrst snog. and even then most of the action was conﬁned to a particularly grotty kitchen.
‘The Street is a place tor tragic middle-aged philosophers who couldn’t hack it in the real world. The only youngsters who remain there tor any length of time are the sad losers like Kevin Webster and his dodgy diction, and Curly Watts, destined to become a second-generation Ken Barlow.’
Back in another grim and greasy kitchen (Jim‘s Caffto be precise) a true sex symbol was taking her leave. Angie Freeman, the Vivien Westwood (only 30 years younger and inﬁnitely raunchier) of Weatherfteld was saying her farewells to Coronation Street (Scottish) (you knew I couldn‘t ignore it forever) before escaping to Mexico. You knew Angie was leaving for good because the camera did that lingering elegiac panning shot over the viaduct that signals a permanent departure. Raquel, who left for London in the same episode. was allowed only a wave from the back of Don Brennan‘s taxi. She‘ll be back.
Angie was always fated to leave. The Street is a place for tragic middle-aged philosophers who couldn‘t hack it in the real world. The only youngsters who remain there for any length of time are the sad losers like Kevin Webster and his dodgy diction. and Curly Watts. destined to beCOIne a second-generation Ken Barlow (only without the occasional relief ofa ﬂing with a leggy Joanna Lumley).
Angie‘s brightness, trendiness and references to popular culture (remember her ﬂogging T—shirts at the Electronic gig) were always going to be her nemesis. Her mistake was not growing her hair long. borrowing a pair of Bet‘s ear-rings and helping Alma with the chips. She‘d have been there forever. Instead she packed her vast supply of lumpyjumpers and hit the road. (Tom Lappin)
The List l0—23 September 1993 67