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With Cracker he got inside the criminal mind. Now, in two new dramas, both set in Liverpool, screenwriter JIMMY McGOVERN is tackling the politics of education and the issue of homosexuality in the Catholic church. Eddie Gibb spoke to him about mixing Big Ideas and popular television.
hovelling forkfuls of the mush that passes for lunch into his mouth. the student teacher glances up to see a stack of plates and trays teetering on a trolley. He looks back down at his food. and CRASH! the stack of plates keels over with a noise that’s heard above the school dinner din.
lt‘s a neat visual metaphor which quickly establishes the setting of Hearts and Minds — a big comprehensive on the edge of crisis. Morale in the school is at rock bottom as teachers light a losing battle to exert some kind ofcontrol. The sense of adults drowning is emphasised throughout this four-part television drama by shots of teachers. only their heads and shoulders visible. literally wading through streams of schoolchildren flowing down corridors.
Drew. the student teacher played with smouldering intensity by Chris Eccleston (see panel). has an unshakeable commitment which he‘s certain will allow him to rise above the cynicism of the staffroom. Having come to higher education late. Drew believes in its power with the kind of real that you find in converts. His mission is to bring English literature. and poetry in particular. into the lives of working class kids whose imaginations nobody has ever taken the trouble to waken. He’s after nothing less than their hearts and minds.
For writer Jimmy McGovern. who talks with passion about the working class at a time when it’s become unfashionable in socialist circles. school is where you change the world. It is the place the die is cast for one half of a generation of kids without prospects. while the other half accelerate smoothly away towards A levels. degrees and white-collar security. A reformed education system would. for McGovern. be the place to start evening up the score.
Christopher Eccleston as Drew: one man’s struggle against classroom boredom
‘You've got to be able to chatnpion education as a thing of merit. irrespective of whether it‘s a passport to jobs because now there aren‘t jobs. and I don‘t think teachers have faced up to that.’ he says.
Hmrts and Minds draws on McGovern‘s own experience of teaching. though the spark to write
it came when his son‘s school opted out of
council control. In later drafts much of the overt politicking was replaced by the more accessible story of a man’s struggle against the system. but
the final version is still critical of the government‘s attempt to break up
comprehensive education. "l‘he way it‘s done is so devious — the debates are rigged and people feel intimidated by the way they‘re run.‘ says McGovern. ‘I just hated the way the whole campaign was organised.‘
Drew is an uneasy character to watch; we’re continually forced to question his motives and ask ‘is he really just a bastard." (‘crtainly his wife and children suffer because he can't leave his frustrations at the school gates. But like McGovern‘s other creation. the hard-drinking criminal psychologist Fitz in ('rw‘km‘, Drew has his own morality which never wavers. It‘s hard not to admire this sense of certainty. even it leads into uncomfortable territory.
It‘s likely that McGovern’s preference for complex. flawed anti-heroes stems from his seven-year stint on the Liverpool soap Brooksidt’. 'l‘he soap opera format requires that stories are generated from within the characters themselves. rather than as a reaction to an outside event. This means each character needs sufﬁcient flaws to generate enough friction to