Northern blights

Our Friends In The North begins in the early 605 and follows the tangled personal lives of four friends over 30 years against a backdrop of political upheaval and town hall corruption. Eddie Gibb reports on BBC2’s most expensive

drama series ever.

For a television drama that was first conceived in I982 and begins its epic story of four Newcastle buddies in 1964. Our Friends In Tire North kicks off with some very contemporary echoes. The earnest Nicky, played by Christopher Eecleston in a role not that dissimiliar to his ultra-committed teacher in Hearts and Minds. has just retumed from America where he has been fired up by the success of the

black civil rights movement.

When he returns to Tyneside. Nicky is swiftly recruited by a reforming Labour party, cleansed of its far Left activists, which is preparing to take on the Tories again after three general election defeats on the trot. The council leadership sees a bright new future in which the slums of Newcastle are cleared to make way for spanky concrete tower blocks paid for with private capital. Nicky's father, a Jarrow march veteran who long since retired from active politics to make model boats, is on hand to repeat that familiar socialistjibe aimed at such political pragmatists: ‘The Labour party has sold us down the river.‘

The parallels with New Labour as it tries to break its electoral jinx have been hyped for all their worth, and the contemporary resonance perhaps helped

episode lips along with plenty of that snide Geordie w it that Jillilil} Nail now dines out on. When the ' justify the BBC2 spending a record £7 million on this a story progresses to the 70s and the lapels get wider, l

5 epic drama. (lvcr ten hours of view ing time spread

itCl'Os‘s nine w ecks will make Alan llleastlale‘s recent Jake 's l’rrret‘ess look like a rush job. However. the real reason this mammoth undertaking

took fourteen years to make was the threat of legal

action: screerwvriter l’etcr lilanncr} 's script draws heavily on a housing scandal in Newcastle in the 6(ls which saw architect John l’otllson and city council

‘When the story progresses to the 705

and the lapels get wider, presumably it

will begin to resemble The Likely Lads with a political conscience.’

leader 'l‘. l)an Smithiailcil for corruption. Similarities to former Home Secretary Reginald Maudling were

also a concern. All three are now dead, however. and : cannot be libelled. Fourteen years alter lilannery's stage play on which the series is based was first ; performed, Our Friends In The North was finally 5 i made.

.. _ . So was li worth the wait"? [be opening 7D-liillitllC

Oop north: Christopher Eccleston (left), Gina McKee, Mark Strong and Daniel Craig

presumably it will begin to resemble The Liker Lads with a political conscience. But despite the levity, all it takes is a couple of Labour party pamphlets and Nicky has forgotten the freewheeling Jack Kerouac spirit which took him to America in the first place. Eccleston is so good at playing characters with a sense of humour failure (see Cracker: Shallow Grave. Hearts and Minds) that you begin to wonder ifthe actor really lacks a funny bone in his body, but he is. as ever. convincing. ifa little too intense. too often. Our Friends in The North has an old-fashioned BBC feel which runs deeper than the authentic period details. It‘s the product ofthe son of Liberal-Left world view that leads the Norman Tebbitts of this world to accuse the BBC of bias. in marked contrast to the aforementioned Jake's Progress, a family drama which had at its centre the notion that the personal is the political, OFITN has much bigger ambitions by tackling politics. corruption and social

5 change. However. on the evidence ofthe first

episode. it will be the nuances ofthe relationships between the four central characters that will

encourage people to stay the course ofthis television . marathon. Our Friends In The North starts on Mon I 5 Jan on

I} [3 C2.

[teamm— Totally wired

When the BBC launched its new media I show The Spin last year, it chose a title borrowed from the voguish term “spin doctor’ that was dominating political reporting at the time. New Channel 4 is continuing this trend for l using happening buzz-words with Wired World, another media magazine show which aims to look at both the medium andthe message.

So happening is the word ‘wlred’, however, that the stylish American infotech magazine of the same name, which now also publishes in Britain, suggested the name was a protected

5: . series editor Janey Walker.

(in the wire: Peter Curran to Walker.

,, 3 trademark. Not so, said Channel 4, - - though if any viewers make the

' connection, it will clearly do the show i we will try to cover those TV moments ~- ., no harm. Both occupy the same l everyone’s talking about,’ she says. . g territory. ‘lt’s wired in the sense of ~ ' inter-connected, busy, fast,

‘We’re not trying to be Clive James and bring the wacky and wonderful but

‘We want to give a sense of what it is explains and why it matters. There has to be some kind of impact on the place it's

Wired World is made by Wall-to-Wall, coming from, not lust quirky.’ .. the same company which surfed on . ' the mid-80$ boom in media studies with The Media Show, fronted by Muriel Gray. The presenter of the new mixed-race sitcom in South Africa and show, Peter Curran, arrives from radio alleged media manipulation by Yassir but the series is not intended as a presenter-led format. Unlike The Spin, elections. (in the dornestlc front, there whose anchor John Sweeney was a ' parody of a newspaper hack in

Burberry and half-mast tie, watching w Wired World will be nearer to the

channel surfing experience,

Clips from Japanese endurance shows are out, but there will be a fair proportion of items looking at a new

Arafat in the run up to the Israeli

are plans to look at the Influence of psychedelic drugs on advertising

images. So that’s what they mean by ‘wlred’, then? (Eddie Gibb) according Wired World starts on Sun 21 Jan on Channel 4

The List l2-251an 1996 77