Sex, gambling, booze and Catholic guilt are what JIMMY McGOVERN (left) is happiest writing about. The creator of Cracker, Priest and Brookside has come up trumps again. Words: Ellie Carr
TAKE A PlNCl-l of Craeker’s hard-drinking. hard-gambling police psychologist Fitz. a dash of Hearts And Morris‘s idealistic Liverpool schoolteacher Drew and a sprinkling of Bobby Grant. the fired-up. fist- waving trade unionist from Brookside of the 80s. The upshot is a measure of the simmering stew that is Jimmy McGovern.
The Scouse scribbler behind some of the 805’ and 9()s‘ most compelling film and TV drama is first to admit his characters contain more than just a passing reference to himself. But then as a working class Catholic who winged his way from scally to schoolteacher to successful writer. he has plenty to write home about.
Despite several shared leisure pursuits. McGovern is not Fitz. Nor is he Drew. And though deeply passionate about politics. he is not 100% Bobby Grant. If you believe the hype about his latest five-part TV drama The Lakes though. Jimmy McGovern is Danny Kavanagh.
Kavanagh (played by actor John Simm). is. as it turns out. a twenty-year-old Scouser who flees Liverpool’s dole queues to seek his fortune working in the Lake District‘s hotel trade. Needless to say he finds a crap job rather than a fortune. and succeeds only in exercising his enthusiastically youthful libido on local girls. He eventually gets one of them pregnant which results in that McGovern favourite. Catholic guilt by the bucketload.
As if that wasn‘t enough. the real drama sets in when tragedy hits the village and the finger is pointed at Danny. With death and several more lakeloads of guilt thrown in. it’s McGovern at full tilt. If you‘re thinking he has missed gambling out of the equation. think again. Danny may be young. but his feeling for a flutter is as keenly developed as old man Fitz‘s.
It comes as no surprise then to learn that the young Jimmy McGovern trod the same
path as Danny through the Lakes. drinking. gambling. shagging. grafting in a hotel kitchen and generally getting tip locals‘ noses. The series is pitched as ‘partly—autobiographical‘. but McGovern warns. that ‘partly‘ is worth bearing in mind.
‘ln the first hour and a half. a lot of what happens to him happened to me.‘ he says. ‘Evcrything he goes through I went through. But after it‘s pure fiction.‘
Then again. the BBC has also dubbed The Lakes ‘21 Britpop serial for the ‘)()s'. ‘l‘vc no idea why they‘ve called it that.‘ says McGovern. with sideburns noticeably absent. ‘l’ve not got past Conway Twitty.‘
As it happens. the Britpop reference is a nod to a soundtrack which grooves along to the sound of Cast. The Charlatans and Blur. McGovern is still not convinced. ‘Bugger all to do with me. the music.‘ he burrs.
He admits the pace is fast. though. and the characters all young — an attribute
'I could die knowing my life mattered a bit
because I did Hillsborough. I could never say that about Priest or Cracker because ultimately they didn't matter.’ Jimmy McGovern
immediately setting it apart from the middle- aged spread of Fitz in ('raeker.
Like most McGovern enterprises. The Lakes is essentially driven by a strong storyline rather than any stylistic character‘s ties the publicity folk care to seize upon.
‘I was keen on a story about an isolated community.‘ explains McGovern. ‘A community with its own rules. I think that makes a fascinating story. Communities like that need tourism. but tourism brings a lot of problems in its wake. Tourism needs hotel workers. and hotel workers tend to be young. carefree and irresponsible. They do things like drop litter. and they tend to get all the local girls pregnant.‘
It‘s territory McGovern remembers well. But Danny is essentially a 90s lad working in a rural community. Surely things are different now'.’
‘I did find that a problem.’ admits McGovern.
Catholic guilt by the bucketload: John Simm, centre, as Danny Kavanagh
‘l‘m 47 years old and I’m trying to write about a guy who’s twenty. But I‘m glad to say the concerns of the 60s are the concerns of the 905, and it‘s sex. drugs and rock ‘n‘ roll. The style of dress changes and the chemicals might change, but the rest is exactly the same.’
For Danny it‘s mainly sex. but The Lakes has a far darker shadow hanging over it than just serial shagging. The village tragedy that kills three local children has distinct echoes of Hillsborough. McGovern’s moving drama- tisation of the l989 stadium disaster which killed ()6 football fans. and sparked a bitter debate over who was to blame.
Several harrowing scenes with grieving parents later. it comes as no surprise to learn that McGovern wrote The Lakes at the time he interviewed the families of Hillsborough victims.
For McGovern though. the fallout of Hil/shmvugh goes further than informing a few plotlines. ‘lf you want to hear the truth. here’s the truth.‘ he says. ‘I could die knowing that my life mattered a bit because I did Hillsborough. I could never say that about Priest or Craeker because ultimately they didn‘t matter. But Hillsborough did matter.‘
It has he says. changed forever the way he writes. making cynical old Fitz prepared to say anythinO. and Danny Kavanagh young and foolhardy with no apologies.
‘I like working class people warts ’n’ all,‘ admits McGovern. ‘A small number of working class people actually are racist and sexist. and to tell the truth. after Hillsborough I loved them for it. Don‘t get me wrong. I hate all that stuff. But what‘s made them that way? Poverty. bad schools and bad environment.
‘In the 80s I saw bourgeois lefties pounce on any ideologically incorrect statement with no thought for where these people came from. But when Hillsborough happened I thought stuff you. I identify with these people from my background who share my culture and my history. and they are working class males and I am with them.‘
The Lakes starts on BBC1, Sun 14 Sep at 9pm. 12—25 Sept 1997 THE lIST15