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A fond farewell to Waterloo Road

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Peter Salmon Peter Salmon | 00:01 UK time, Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Violet Carson as Ena Sharples in Coronation Street.

When I was a little lass, the world was half a dozen streets, an' a bit o' waste land, an' the rest was all talk.

After all these years, the words of Violet Carson, Coronation Street's legendary battle-axe Ena Sharples still echo in my ears. For me, that line perfectly captures that fine balance between grit and fantasy which has always been particular to the best Northern drama - storytelling with a hard edge but a soft heart.

More recently, I was struck by two articles in the national press about that special relationship between drama and the North of England. Both Mark Lawson in Grimetime TV: why the North rules in the Guardian, and Leo Robson's FT article Why Auntie still has a southern accent, pay tribute to the strength of programmes that had either been inspired by the North or written by people who had their roots in the region.

So it seems particularly appropriate, as we bid a fond farewell to Waterloo Road, to remind ourselves not only of its own success on BBC One but also of its place in this rich Northern heritage.

Like many others, I am lucky enough to have grown up with so many outstanding dramas from this part of the world, such as Boys From The Blackstuff, Auf Wiedersehn Pet, Our Friends In the North, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Born To Run, GBH, Cracker, Cold Feet, Band of Gold, Shameless and Clocking Off. It's been great to work with some of the wonderful writers associated with these dramas on occasion as well - people like Jimmy McGovern, Peter Flannery, Debbie Horsfield, Victoria Wood, Pete Bowker, Alan Bleasdale, Mike Bullen, Paul Abbott and Kay Mellor.

I also take pride that the BBC, supported by some of those writers, has a real commitment to new and emerging talent. BBC Writersroom for example helps writers to find their voice and fine tune their talent which can result in a new piece for the BBC and a career in the industry. Only recently BBC North supported one of their events, The Writers Festival 2011 in Leeds, and I was stunned not so much about the wealth of new talent in the room but also how established writers there including Paula Milne, Tony Marchant and Gwyneth Hughes were willing to share their knowledge and experience - and by their collective conviction that drama can change peoples' lives.

The BBC and ITV continue to make dramas that celebrate the Northern spirit: United, about the Busby Babes; The Road to Coronation Street; South Riding; Eric & Ernie; Accused; The Street; 32 Brinkburn Street; Moving On - to name but a few. Filmed across the region, with local talent both in front of and behind the camera, not only do they continue to entertain audiences, but often challenge them to see contemporary life or recent history from a different perspective.

Since its first troubled term in March 2006, Waterloo Road has taken viewers on a journey, tackling some of the grittier issues of the day - suicide, drugs, bullying and alcoholism. But at the heart of every story, in each of the seven series, Shed Productions, the scriptwriters and the actors themselves ensured that the characters involved were very real and utterly believable. It is this strong, confident storytelling coupled with finely balanced and sympathetic acting from the cast, that ensured that Waterloo Road walked away with Most Popular Drama at the National TV Awards earlier this year as well as prizes from the North West RTS.

We have an ongoing aim at BBC North to train and excite new talent by giving them exposure to dramas being filmed in our area. For last year's Waterloo Road we worked with four schools from across the North. Pupils from Gateshead, Grimsby, Sheffield and Preston worked with the scriptwriters to create, film and star in their very own five-minute mini-episodes. I went to a special screening event in Manchester to showcase the finished works and was very impressed by the talent and energy of all those young people involved. I hope the experience will inspire some of them to become the next generation of Northern writers, actors, directors or producers who will continue this strong drama tradition.

So, after seven very successful series, Waterloo Road is moving to Scotland. Having been made entirely on location in Rochdale, filming of the current series will end soon and from next April it will start filming in a new location, with a new story line, in Scotland.

But the North continues to inspire the very best with a strong slate of new and promising dramas.

First and foremost, we should not forget the immense contribution made by BBC Children's. It's always had a very rich drama tradition, and I'm particularly pleased that this Autumn - as the department moves to Salford - three big series are being made across the North of England. With stories ranging from sibling rivalry and vampires to care home antics, they prove that CBBC is nothing if not diverse.

Brand new to CBBC is The 4 O'Clock Club. Two brothers - teacher Nathan and pupil Josh - clash over the younger brother's dream of becoming a rap star. Currently in production in Bolton, the show mixes music and drama and stars former rapper turned comedy actor Doc Brown. Incidentally, 'club' in the title is the nickname of the detention room where the two brothers seem to spend most of their time. It's Flight of the Conchords for a kids' audience.

Also coming back to CBBC are Young Dracula and Tracy Beaker Returns. Both are big with the CBBC audience and it's good to see them set in Liverpool and Newcastle respectively. Who could have foreseen back in 2002 that Jacqueline Wilson's original story about a feisty young girl in a care home would be such an abiding success with young audiences? That's innovation for you.

And this Christmas CBBC will be unwrapping The Lost Christmas. Filmed in Manchester and starring Eddie Izzard, it's a heart-warming story about one man's unique talent to transform the lives of five ordinary people whose lives have been affected by decisions they made in the past.

And Northern stories continue to make their mark in the peaktime BBC schedules too. Decades after the first larger-than-life characters were tearing up the screen, producers from across the region have fresh stories to tell.

The prolific Red Production Company who, working with AbbottVision, brought John Simm and Jim Broadbent to BBC One in the excellent Exile this Easter, is currently working on Anthony And Cleopatra to be filmed in the Yorkshire Dales. Written by Halifax-born, former Corrie writer Sally Wainwright, also author of ITV's Manchester-based Scott and Bailey, it's a poignant tale of love and second chances for two people in the sunset years of their lives.

Also in Yorkshire, Kay Mellor, who heads up Leeds' Rollem Productions is about to film Syndicate for BBC One. It's a feel-good piece about a group of supermarket workers and a massive lottery win. It charts the impact the win has on their lives and how it changes their fates for better and worse. Just down the road, Tiger are filming in Sheffield, one of the region's most versatile cities. It was such a striking part of the wonderful Channel 4 series This is England '86, and for the BBC it's the backdrop of the tough new series Prisoners' Wives, a fresh take on some sparky women and their turbulent lives.

Closer to new home, Salford's own Christopher Eccleston returns to BBC One in Bill Gallagher's new psychological thriller, The Fuse, filmed and set in Manchester. Eccleston plays a council official hiding a murder behind a façade of public success.

From the pen of talented writer Jimmy McGovern comes a new series of Accused that takes stories and people from every day life and transforms them into the searing, heart-stopping dramas that have become his trademark.

And finally, from BBC Writersroom alumnus Stephen Butchard, whose credits include the Five Daughters, House of Saddam and Vincent, is Savage. Set in Liverpool, it's about the conflict between revenge and public duty. Again, it films for BBC One this autumn.

Both Mark Lawson in the Guardian and Leo Robson for the FT were searching for reasons why the North of England often leads the way in great drama writing and magnificent actors. Is it our heritage, culture or landscape? A spirit of innovation, education or nostalgia? Immigration, the economy or just the power of family life? More likely it's a potent blend of the lot - a tangle of characteristics that is as dense as the weave of Ena Sharples' hairnet.

What is indisputable is that those great Northern-based dramas from the past, with their strong storylines and memorable characters, have had a huge impact. They defined a dramatic generation, created stars on screen and off and made audiences think about and question the society that they lived in. I would like to think that both the BBC and ITV, partners at MediaCityUK and working with production companies across the UK, are keeping that tradition alive for all our audiences.

So while we bid the cast and crew of Waterloo Road adieu, a farewell tinged not only with sadness but with a real sense that it has made a difference, I look forward to sitting back and watching new and bold Northern dramas unfold.

Peter Salmon is Director of BBC North

  • News and information on the BBC North web site.
  • The picture shows Violet Carson, Ena Sharples in Coronation Street.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    ASB

  • Comment number 2.

    Is there an elephant in the room?

  • Comment number 3.

    Great shot of 'Ena Sharples'. A recent TV programme that showed the genesis of Coronation Street also showed the background to Violet Carson being cast, I almost wish I had some memory of early Coronation Street. But we didn't watch 'Corrie' when I was a lad, preferring instead to watch a Grand Prix on 16mm cine projected against the wall in our parlour. These days Corrie and the other soaps are everywhere and judging by the magazine racks at M&S many people must believe the characters are true to life, certainly the front pages of many weekly mags portray the various soap characters as real people, this is quite depressing and during the summer I need my batteries re-charged by a couple of hours watching the F1 coverage live on BBC1. I hope in the future soaps will decline in popularity and assuming the TV companies haven't wasted too much money on studio space close to the Corrie set in Salford, perhaps one-off dramas will be commissioned that inspire writers to be more inventive, instead of attracting coverage by inserting random sensational storylines and catfights. 'Northern Grit' hasn't really been shown properly yet, most dramas focus on the 'grim northern cities' and ignore the rest of the country north of Chesterfield of course. So Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle get a look-in but smaller places don't, unless there's a bit of sensational bed-hopping in a small town to be shown. The new Ecclestone drama is set in Manchester I see, which seems incredibly lazy.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    I am a Cricket Fan as well as F1. I miss my cricket being live. I complained, but I was not heard. I listed to the Cricket/Ashes via TMS and/or Radio 5 Live. Within a short period, I was knackered. (11pm at night until 7am the next morning). I would, (if I did not listen to any news/sport until the Highlights came on), watch a day’s play in 1 hour. Not good but I put up with it as I did not have or want to pay for SKY.
    Now when FOTA & the Concorde Agreement has been torn up for the greedy likes of Bernie Ecclestone & Murdoch and more the BBC for not being selfish and going to another FTA station, (ITV 1 again, or Channel 4 or Channel 5). Adverts, yes but at least Free to Air. Having 10 races on the BBC and the rest on FTA Commercial TV, would be better than nothing and I would gladly put up with this, just to have the BBC keep it's excellent coverage and not sell out.
    Do Ben Gallop & Barbara Slater really believe the drivel they have written on their blogs and/or given in their TV interviews? (Or anyone else who thinks this was a good idea).
    China is writing to the BBC to get some help in how to get better at Censorship, as they need to learn from the real masters - BBC = British Board of Censorship!!!

    Don't forget about the Petition:
    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/57

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    Peter Salmon | 00:01 UK time, Tuesday, 23 August 2011 wrote:

    Brand new to CBBC is The 4 O'Clock Club. Two brothers - teacher Nathan and pupil Josh - clash over the younger brother's dream of becoming a rap star. Currently in production in Bolton, the show mixes music and drama and stars former rapper turned comedy actor Doc Brown. Incidentally, 'club' in the title is the nickname of the detention room where the two brothers seem to spend most of their time.

    In a time when we're repeatedly assured cutbacks are essential, can you really justify this?
    To aim any show aimed at children that glorifies school detention with "The 4 O'Clock Club" title, is a woeful indication of questionable broadcasting standards, as currently flouted by the powers-that-be within the BBC.

    My children certainly won't be watching any show after school that is centred around school detention. I know of no parent in their right mind that would want their child to watch it either. How can this be money well spent?

    Children are impressionable, and the world in which they are growing up is bad enough as it is. Must we be subject to this drivel being pumped into our living rooms at the licence payers' expense?
    It would be reasonable to expect a positive role model for children to relate to rather than Josh the apparent under-achiever.
    The fact that the 'club' is where they spend most of their time, indicates that any attempts to reform Josh by his brother, are lacking frequency, effect, or both. Children will identify with the pupil, not the teacher.

    I grew up in an era when we only had the 3 channels. I have been a fan of the BBC for decades, and have been supporting the BBC through the licence fee for a great many more years than I care to remember.

    There used to be an valid argument of quality over quantity with regard to the BBC. Some of the dramas you mentioned above, some superb documentaries, and until recent years some good sports coverage have all contributed.
    The quality certainly used to apparent.
    More radio stations and a greater selection of TV channels pushed up the quantity. It seemed for a while we were going to be enjoying the best of both worlds.
    Now we are faced with a multitude of house renovation and antique-based shows. Do we really need so many cooking programmes? Whilst they all add to the quantity of content on offer, seldom few do little to add to the quality overall.

    With the dilution of the BAFTA-winning full F1 season coverage being the latest in a string of announced cuts, the quality on offer is in rapid decline, and we're left with only quantity. I'm suspecting that station cutbacks will be an inevitable part of the BBC's cost-cutting excercise in the not-so-distant future, not to mention increased repeat scheduling.
    We will have swiftly moved from the best of both worlds to the worst case scenario. Minimal quantity, and worse yet, an alarming lack of quality.


    Incidently, I noticed the following at the head of this page:

    "Senior staff and experts from across the organisation use this blog to talk about what's happening inside the BBC. We also highlight and link to some of the debates happening on other blogs and online spaces inside and outside the corporation."

    May I ask, Peter, what piques your interest blog-wise, with regard to the above statement?
    There have been numerous Formula 1 SKY/BBC deal debates ongoing for weeks on BBC sports blogs. Whilst many have been closed, the remaining ones are still very active.
    The debate is, however, all on the side of the licence payer. The questions raised have not been addressed to any degree of satisfaction by the BBC in any official capacity.

    I'm sure you are able to inform me with little haste of the blogged debates you've covered here in the past. They must all be memorable to have featured here.
    Ben Gallop's blog was closed with well in excess of 8000 comments posted. I'm assuming (maybe from an objective viewpoint) that the blogs featured must have had a greater level of contributors than this to make them viable for coverage here?

    Is it simply that the subject matter is directly being avoided? In which case, would that not be subjective journalism?
    I always believed (perhaps incorrectly?) that the BBC employed unbiased, objective ethics, and prided itself on it's professional journalistic integrity.

    Any blog with so many responses, within such a short period, should surely be singled out for inclusion here on this blog? Does the aforementioned F1 blog not fall under the description of your blogs' purpose, as highlighted at the head of this page? Instead we are presented with a list of justification as to why the BBC needed to spend millions on a move to Salford.

    I'd be grateful if you could clarify any of the reasoning behind this situation please Peter.

  • Comment number 14.

    @Devolution - post 13. Great letter, but don't wait up for a response. In fact all of the post's are great to read through. Even on all the closed blogs....

    Great to be getting so many responses still. Keep them coming. at least we are letting them know we are not going away. They will have to answer to their actions at some time.

  • Comment number 15.

    It is a pity they now use the complaints peocedure as a way not to answer questions. Questions are no complaints!

  • Comment number 16.

    I complained about the blogs closing up amongst other things, as yet not one response or even acknowledgement to my complaints. Not even an automated one!
    It's also funny that some of my post's, (which were either exactly the same or almost the same), are being considered for further moderation; yet they went through first time on another blog.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    @16 I mentioned that the moderators were not in harmony. You've guessed it, they have now taken down my posts, for further consideration.
    Does this mean they will actually answer them....?

  • Comment number 20.

    The are not refusing to answer the questions. They simply know its indefencable to use their advantage of have two year of a contract remain to make sure no other FTA broadcaster can compete. Thus instead of being the gardian of quality broadcasting they show us they opperate with the same rotten standards of the Murdoch empire.

    Time to break up the BBC.

  • Comment number 21.

    Morning all, Thanks for your comments. I've removed quite a lot of them because they're mostly about F1 and thus wildly off-topic. I appreciate the strength of feeling on the subject but I don't think there's much that we can add here, on this post about drama produced in the North, to a debate that's already attracted over 10,000 comments on relevant posts elsewhere. I'll remove further F1 posts from now on and close the post if necessary.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, About the BBC

  • Comment number 22.

    Thanks Steve, I hope you are aware that Peter Salmon is the boss of the BBC Sports head, and as such this protest is appropriately placed. Please close this blog until the BBC executive comes to us with the answers we asked for. And no, do not silence us by referring us to a flawed complaints system.

  • Comment number 23.

    @21 Steve - not happy my post at 17 removed.i commented on topic in my post.i see at least 7 posts here which did not (sorry all if deleted now).It looks to me that you wanted to hide from the public what i said about the F1 fans having now asked both Roger Mosey and Peter Salmon (2 senior members of the BBC) to send someone over to the F1 blogs to debate an issue.i will be appealing as i had replied to the above and you are censoring things you dont want the public to know.We have specfically invited BBC Directors to the F1 blog for the purpose of being at least half on topic when debating that matter (more so if you would reopen the correct blog with 8415 comments). You wont post this but that is just plain censorship and hiding the truth from the public again.i will make a formal complaint if needs be and take it to Trust level.

  • Comment number 24.

    Steve,

    You said

    to a debate that's already attracted over 10,000 comments on relevant posts elsewhere
    And no answer at all (!) to these 10000+ comments.

  • Comment number 25.

    No censorship here, GrassRootsF1Fan. I'm concerned only with the usefulness of this blog post. It's not about F1 so I don't want F1 comments here. I'm closing this post to further comments now.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, About the BBC

 

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