Play for Today, The Black Stuff, BBC 1, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, written by Alan Bleasdale and directed by Jim Goddard.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00tw1jz/play-for-today-series-10-the-black-stuff

Most people my age fondly remember Boys from The Black Stuff shown in the early 1980s. Yosser Hughes’s (Bernard Hill) catchphrase: ‘I can do that, gie’s a job!’ The Black Stuff was a prequel to Boys from The Black Stuff. It had the kind of audience figures—I’d guess around 15-20 million—that had cultural resonance in its depiction of working-class life in rundown Liverpool. Ironically, the repeat of The Black Stuff on BBC 4 was preceded by another programme, as it was in real life, Thatcher: A Very British Revolution.

It was the latter, rather than the former that was essential viewing. Alan Bleasdale’s drama hasn’t aged well. At just over an hour and a half it was overlong, and I thought it was shite.

Yosser Hughes was a bit-part player in The Boys From the Black Stuff series, yet he reached iconic status. Here we get the back story. He’s a misogynist wife beater, with a couple of kids, whose wife is cheating on him. His main gripe against Chrissie Todd (Michael Angelis) is that ‘he’s too nice’.   

Nice doesn’t get you anywhere in a Thatcherite world. Chrissie even admits to being nice and what’s worse, being happy. He shows he’s being nice by bringing a goose, ferret and some other animal in the work van with him as he drives to the tarring job they got lined up in some new housing estate in the Midlands. They’re staying in swanky digs and he claims nobody will feed the animals.  

Chrissie is too nice to be the gaffer. Gaffers are always bastards. Dixie Dean (Tom Georgeson) is fighting a losing battle with Yosser from the start. The men want more money. And even when Dixie gets it from his boss, McAuley, the men still aren’t happy. Yosser demands the men get a five pound a day rise, then when McAuley agrees says they should have asked for an extra tenner.

The only worker Dixie has power to bully is his son Kev (Gary Bleasdale—I guess a bit of nepotism here with the writer’s son getting a key role in the production).   They play this for laughs, and was about as funny as Benny Hill.

Kev, for example, ogles a female student in the petrol-station café who is holding a sign for Leeds. Loggo Logmond  (Alan Igbon) nicks his food from the counter but finds its display only, not edible, and then nicks food from his mates’ plates. Inevitably, been nice, Chrissie picks the female hitchhiker up and gives her a lift. Yosser gives her a hard time about being a student, and even worse, being female. Saudi Arabia’s got it about right he says were females are shackled to men’s needs. She gives as good as she gets with a feminist manifesto that includes details such as it’s not a good idea to threaten to rape female hitchhikers, while finding time to talk to shy Kev, and make him admit that he too had dreams—but hey, needs must, we live in the real world.  

Booking into the hotel, Dixie tells Kev to stop staring at the female customers and gives him money to go to the pictures. Make sure it’s not one of those Emmanuel type movies is his advice.

Chrissie’s worried about old George Malone (Peter Kerrigan) he’s heard him spewing up in the toilets. Old George is about my age now. George says he’s fine. A former Communist, Chrissie tell his fellow workers in a whisper with some admiration and a grudging respect. He needs to work and takes painkillers to sleep.

Kev, in Benny-Hill mode, finds out the hotel has a masseur that does extras. Naturally, there’s a bit of a mix-up.  £4 for a masseur, £15 for extras. I found the financial details more interesting than the smutty strand of the storyline, which makes me think, I might be turning into my da.

The major storyline also relies on stereotypes. Here you have a major turning point. Hardcore on a farm laid, but no tar to finish it. Yosser is willing to cut a deal and drag his mates along. But they two Irish ‘gypos’ type. Easy to stiff. Right from the off, the plot goes  as you’d expect. If you can’t see the ending then you too must have been on the hard stuff.

I’m sure Boys from the Blackstuff was good at the time. Maybe I should have left it there. You never step into the same stream twice argument. To think I used to watch Benny Hill—fuck off. To think unemployment was around the fifteen percent mark in the early eighties. It’s only five percent now. Dream on. Nobody’s laughing.

Play For Today: Just a Boys’Game, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, written by Peter McDougall, Director John McKenzie.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p032kjg0/play-for-today-series-10-1-just-a-boys-game

‘You’re getttin’ it McQuillan’.

I’m old enough to remember this when it was first broadcast 8th  November 1979. Peter McDougall’s portrayal of working class life hit a nerve. It helped that large chunks of it were filmed in Clydebank and Drumchapel (I’ve since been told it was Greenock and Port Glasgow). Marathon shipyards featured. Or it might have been John Browns. We’re on the nostalgia trail.

By day Jake McQuillan (Frankie Miller) works in a crane. We see him up there with the seagulls. Toasting his piece of Sunblest on the electric fire.  This was a time when Clydebank had shipyards. Titan Crane, was still working and not a museum piece, it and other cranes dominated the skyline. At St Andrew’s school art teachers regularly asked us to draw a crane. We could see it over the roofs of the tenements..

By night Jake McQuillan is a hard man. We first see him in a pub, with his best mate Dancer Dunnichy (Ken Hutchison). I’m sure some of you would be able to identify the pub. Remember when we had pubs? The boys are drinking exotic mixtures, halves, double measures that cost £1.90 for four drinks and you still get ten pence change. We’re in you go out with a fiver and get pissed territory.  

Thursday night. Time for a fight. McQuillan can’t be a hard man, unless he’s tested. But he’s getting too old for the game (it’s a Boys’Game) and had put down his blade. When some daft bird nudged into Dancer’s back and they get into an argument. You know what’s going to happen. The shutters are going to come down and blades are going to appear. This is a portrayal of working class life with the chibs down.

McQuillan can put down his blade, but he’s a scalp worth taking. Other boys want a part of him.

Dancer, his sidekick, takes him away from work. ‘I declare Friday, a public holiday’ and into the embrace of booze and the institution of Clatty Bella. Entrance price, one bottle of your finest Eldorado or VAT 69.  The Buckfast of their day. Nobody accused monks of making Eldorado or VAT 69 and profiting from alkie’s alcoholic tendencies, especially since that’s got too many syllables. Clatty Bella has no electricity and no bath towel, and the throw over the couch would walk Dancer down to the harbour and fling him in. But she’s one of the good ones. She’s one of us. The kind that Tories loved so they could vote down free school meals.

The backstory of McQuillen not having a mum and dad and staying with his grannie (Jean Taylor Smith) and his granda (Hector Nicol) is a chance to see how working class folk once lived.

Ironically, Tanza (Gregor Fisher) who went on to become Gregor Fisher, Scottish institution, in his autobiography, told the reader how his da (or was it his granda?) used to batter down on the ceiling to tell his ma (or grandma) to get the breakfast on. His Ma did what she was told, without any lip. This is man’s world.

Here we see Grandma running after Grandpa, dressing him, and putting him to bed. Brushing his false teeth and sticking them in his gumsy mouth. Deprivation comes in many forms.

McQuillan is aping the life of Grandpa, who also ran with the gangs and was the hardest of hard men, who killed McQuillan’s da. This is also part of the boys’ game.

Saturday shift. The loveable Dancer and the likeable Tanza are wanting a bit of drunken fun. But they’re drawn into a  game not of their making. If you run with the wolves argument. McQuillan springs into life when they’re attacked. Dancer, an innocent, victim.

For McQuillan that’s just the way it is. Tanza, another innocent, bangs the roof of the Panda car and blames the police. ‘Where were you?’

Frankie Miller gets to sing the eulogy and sets himself up for another little number in Peter McDougall’s Just Another Saturday. It’s the same story, but set to the tune of The Orange Walk. Billy Connolly was in it. It might have been called The Elephant’s Graveyard.  Can’t remember. Remember, when he used to be funny? Aye, nostalgia gets you there and that little kick.