Hebburn's home to me
'It will be quite scary to watch,' concludes Chris Robinson. The BJ from Southampton is talking about Hebburn, BBC Two's new comedy that is set in his hometown and which takes a bit of good-natured ribbing.
Called 'The Royle Family with legs', as the characters actually manage to move off the sofa, Hebburn stars stand-up comedian Jason Cook, who also created it. The sitcom centres on journalist Jason, played by Chris Ramsey, who has left Tyneside for the bright lights and glamour of Manchester. He is reluctantly dragged back to his hometown to introduce his girlfriend to his parents.
With one episode in the bag and another airing tonight, we asked local expert Chris to give us the lowdown on Hebburn and the surreal experience of having your home become the object of national scrutiny.
Where is Hebburn?
Hebburn's a town in South Tyneside, on the banks of the River Tyne between Gateshead and South Shields, and about six miles from Newcastle. Population is about 20,000.
How would you describe Hebburn to someone who has never been there?
A typical Tyneside town, famous for its shipbuilding heyday. Friendly. Strong families. Nicer than Jarrow...
Is Hebburn famous for anything?
The BBC's own Brendan Foster [long-distance runner and commentator]. In fact, the Great North Run route goes through the outer part of Hebburn. Back in 1816, the Davy lamp [used by miners] was tested in Hebburn Colliery.
If you have a few spare hours in the area, what would you recommend for diversion?
When I go home I usually go for a run along the riverside or for a long walk. It's peaceful, green and the cranes are dramatic and a reminder of how busy things once were. My grandma used to take me and my sister there for picnics when we were children. The last time I went home I walked from Newcastle Quayside to Hebburn along the banks of the Tyne. It took a couple of hours but was well worth it.
What did you think of the comedy?
I was excited when I saw the trailer, although it sort of felt odd seeing things I recognised such as the local pub (called The Kelly in real life) and Hebburn Shopping Centre. It was obviously clichéd and stereotyped but all just a bit of banter. The famous line in the first episode, 'Where dreams come to die', was a bit harsh. There are generations of families that have lived there. I can trace my dad's direct line to the town back to 1872 and they've all had happy family lives. I'm the first to leave, although I did leave home to 'follow my dreams' so to speak.
Would you watch it again?
Yes, I can't wait. I watch it with my housemate in Southampton, who can't wait to come up and visit and tells me: 'They all sound like you, Chris!' Some of the lines in the pub made me laugh, 'I'll have a glass of Pinot Grigio.' 'We don't sell cocktails here, Pet.'
What is the town saying about it?
I called 'me mam' the day after and she said, 'Eee, it was a disgrace!' My dad thought it was funny. People from school were just laughing about seeing Hebburn shopping centre on national tv. Years ago it was bustling but it's in desperate need of regeneration and has been let down. One of the local councillors has publicly hit out at the show, and the local paper (the Shields Gazette) where I started my career, did a vox with a mixed response. Some of the pubs including The Kelly are screening it. It has to be taken with a pinch of salt, though. I'm sure people on Barry Island and in Essex felt the same about Gavin & Stacey.
Are the accents accurate?
Wye Aye (yes)! Our accents aren't as strong as Geordies from the West End of Newcastle, though. Also, Vic Reeves and Neil Grainger [who star in the sitcom] are from Teeside and you can distinctively tell that their accents are not Tyneside.
Do the portrayals resonate with you?
I think we all know someone like one of the characters, although we are probably afraid to admit it. The main character is a journalist who returns to Hebburn with his girlfriend, but he is reluctant to go back. That's not like me at all. I like going back home and seeing my family. I am quite proud of where I come from. But the comedy also shows that Hebburn folk are friendly and that family really matters. I took my partner back home from the south to meet my parents last year and my mam made a fuss, saying: 'It's not too cold for you up here, is it?' I suppose all mams are the same anywhere.
Do you think the comedy will put Hebburn 'on the map'?
I think when I say I'm from Hebburn, people will probably pick up on it. At least they will know how it's pronounced. When I tell people I'm from Hebburn, some think I say 'Heaven'. Maybe they think I'm just bad at chat-up lines. I hope it will help bring some more money to the town.
Chris Robinson is a broadcast journalist on BBC South Today and moved to Southampton three years ago to progress his career. He started out on newspapers in the North East.