A drama series set in a psychiatric hospital doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but Eddie Gibb found himself laughing manically all the same.
‘Television is no‘ just a simple diversion here. it‘s a way of life.‘ says Campbell. the nineteen—year-old manic depressive who runs rings round the other inhabitants of St Jude‘s Mental Hospital. When Eddie McKenna (Ken Stott) arrives at St Jude‘s. armed only with his collection ofsingles (circa 1955—75) and a pair of personalised headphones. he enters a closed world where staff and patients are locked into a monotonous existence measured out in the half- hourly cycle of soap operas. Undemanding telly is the disease. or at least its most obvious symptom — classic pop tunes from yesteryear could be the cure.
On the outside. McKenna‘s life is also going from mundane to worse. At home his life is dominated by an overbearing Lithuanian granny. at work he's on a ﬁnal warning as a double-glazing salesman for failing to close a sale to a semi—detached couple who actually mm! new windows and. worst ofall. he‘s lost the only thing that keeps him sane — a coveted slot on Glasgow‘s main hospital radio station. Eddie has become the Hairy Cornllake of hospital radio — unwanted and unloved.
His arrival at St Jude‘s. definitely a demotion in the hospital radio pecking order. is the starting point for a moving six-part BBC Scotland drama which weaves together the stories of several very different characters. including Katy Murphy as the intensely
disturbed Francine who asks Eddie to play ‘Help!‘. before stubbing a cigarette out on her arm. 'Iirkin' Over the Asylum rings with the laughter of despair.
‘What the first episode does is establish the two worlds.‘ says Stott. who has himselfsold double- glazing door-to-door. ‘lt should leave you thinking “which one is sane'." ls the world of double glazing sane? If that‘s sanity then we've got an awful problem on our hands.‘
Writer Donna Franceschild undertook extensive research into mental health before writing the screenplay. Most of the patients‘ story are composites of cases she read about. which lends authenticity to the characters. although sometimes credibility is sacrificed to make a point. (When Eddie stumbles over the recently released character of Nana sleeping rough. it jars as a thinly-disguised jibe against the Government‘s Care in the Community programme.)
Franceschild admits that the intital draft ofthe script was an attempt to establish credibility with mental health workers who had helped out on the details. ‘When I said I wanted to have humour in it they said
.‘ _. Eddie McKenna: you don’t have to be mad to work here. . . “so. you think loonies are funny?“ It was horrible and I kept saying “No. this is a sincere effort“.‘ After seeing a draft of the script. her contacts in the mental health world accepted the integrity of her motives. which allowed Franceschild to relax and develop a dramatic situation. ‘Making them work as characters became important and when I started treating them as people rather than as a diagnosis — which we all should do — it fell into place.‘ she says. Ken Stott‘s portrayal of Eddie is the most compelling thing about 'IZrkin' Over the Asylum. He gives a remarkably warm. yet downbeat performance. which allows the viewer to identify with a central character. while maintaining an uncomfortable doubt about when it‘s appropriate to laugh. ‘lt‘s a serious story and there‘s not much to laugh at.‘ says Stott. ‘The humour is inadvertent — there's humour in the situation. and the strength of the characters. their self-respect. allows them to be funny.‘ 'lirlu'n' ()rrlr l/Ié’ Asylum begins on BBC? on ’Iiwszluy 27 .S'epiemlmr (1! 9pm.
_ ‘ Choice from the ; blackstuff
Following the success of ‘CBll’, Channel 4 were eager to be involved in Alan Bleasdale’s next project. Never a i writer afraid of taking risks, Bleasdale has used the opportunity to realise a personal ambition in bringing to the screen the works of four writers new to television. Under the banner ‘Alan Bleasdale Presents . . . ’ , the series sees him wearing the producer’s hat in an attempt to re-create for a new generation of writing talent, the kind of opportunity he experienced some
‘Selt Catering': Some like It llorrocks twenty years ago, in the days of Arts Council Grants and TV bursaries.
Having devoted the best part of two and a half years to the project,
. including time spent wading through
the 2000 scripts submitted and
; subsequently working with the four
; selected authors on their work, the
Bleasdale hand is evident in the films - from the casting of familiar laces such as Andrew Schofield, veteran of ‘Scully’ and ‘CBll’, to the soundtrack contributions of Elvis Costello, another long-time collaborator. However, this is no narcissistic exercise - when speaking of the series’ concept, Bleasdale has said that ‘the one rule was that there were no Bleasdale clones. I wanted to put on screen the kind of work I could not
Given the unknown factors already present in the scriptwriting, the choice of directors is another courageous step, as only one of the tour has any experience in screen drama. The resulting package, then, is four very different pieces bound
together by a shared trademark name of quality assurance.
The series begins with ‘Self Catering’ by Andrew Cullen, an update of a ‘Lord of the Flies’-type scenario wherein a handful of strangers, the only survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island, attempt to reinvent ! themselves, appropriating the names of the movie stars they most identify with. John Gordon Sinclair does what he’s best at as ‘llenry’ (Fonda), the cinema buff attempting and failing to appear knowledgeable and mysterious, spouting film quotes at every opportunity. Schofield, as ‘Clint’ is simply very nasty, but it’s Jane Horrocks who is unmissable, giving yet another amazing performance as ‘Marilyn’, the beautician from hell. (Damien Love)
’Alan Bleasdale Presents . . . ’ begins with ‘Self Catering’ on Channel 4 at i 10pm, Tuesday 4 October.
The List 23 September—6 ()ctober l‘)‘)-l 59