Desperate Scousewives. A title in search of a programme. But one that, we feel sure, won’t be lacking in material. We all know what expect from this: fake tans, fake hair and fake… well, you can probably insert your own suggestion here.
This is the latest programme to hit the national airwaves to represent our city. Is it a fair representation? It’s probably reasonable to suggest that it will represent a side of Liverpool. The side that has Alex Gerrard, Abi Clancy, Coleen Rooney and Atomic Kitten sat on it.
We might all know that there’s much more to Liverpool to WAGs, shit bars and marching powder – but we got to wondering just what the outside view of Liverpool is; how the city has been represented on the airwaves in the past on television.
Liverpool has been well-represented on television through the ages. From Z-Cars (that’ll be the ringtone approximate 44 per cent of all scousers have on their phones) to The Onedin Line to the 80s highs of Bleasdale, Russell and McGovern to a bleak 90s of Dockers and Hillsborough.
There’s more along the way, too, from scousey cops to Yosser Hughes to the Bread Streets. Here’s our not-really-to-be-taken-seriously view of modern Liverpool on the telly. And, before we go any further, calm down…
Boys From The Blackstuff
Liverpool 30 years ago. In an age where post-apocalyptic US imports are all the rage it’s fascinating to see our own city – not that long ago – every bit as desolate, hopeless and windblown.
What’s all the more terrifying is that this was the reality of Liverpool a mere three decades ago, ravaged by joblessness.
With the jobs went a certain way of living; a peculiarly Northern working class life that all-but died out in the 80s. It’s still glimpsed in pubs and certain communities now – but Boys From The Blackstuff gives us a view into the past.
It’s grim viewing but it’s also rather beautiful, particularly this clip. George Malone’s memories of the city he lived in, and the recognition of what it’s become set against a backdrop of the docks, virtually unrecognisable. Unemployed.
It’s become popular to claim that Brookside was ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’ but even back in the day with Ricky Tominson and Sue Johnstone it wasn’t exactly Blackstuff.
By the 90s it was an odd mix of broad farce and armchair proselytising, but even this early 80s clip shows the scene rooted in a dull mise-en-scene of humdrum toing and froing.
In that respect perhaps the devil is in the detail – footy and mass and petty class rivalries – but although it certainly had more fire in its belly than the other soaps of the age, the suggestion that Brookie was a missing link between Hard Times, The Grapes of Wrath and Cracker is rather wide of the mark.
As an example of media that connected Liverpool from Boys From the Blackstuff to Hollyoaks – the sublime to the ridiculous – it offers a fascinating insight into how the city changed between those generations.
Scousers sending themselves up? Or something ore objectionable? Either way there’s a definite ring of familiarity to it all. It arguably takes the same themes and set-up as Blackstuff, but proceeds to treat the subject matter in the same way ‘Allo ‘Allo approached the second world war.
A domineering matriarch, a useless waster, an aspirational (but loveable) wide-boy, a brassy young woman. Arguably these were tropes of the time, rather than the region, but it can’t have failed to escape viewers’ attention that this was, essentially, a family on the rob and cheating the social. All in a recognisable Dingle location too.
To an outsider watching Bread, Liverpool must have seemed like The Addams Family of UK cities.
Famous (or not) for matching Samantha Janus with her future husband, Liverpool One was not a reality TV show about life in a glittering new shopping centre but a forgettable TV police drama.
Bouncers, gangsters, narks, drugs, families, prostitutes, religion and the occasional shot of the Liver building were about all this show had to bring to the Liverpool-on-telly table. Not even Tom Georgeson could save it.
In this clip Mark Womack drives the most circuitous – and improbable – route of the city centre ever (marvel at the bridge that used to go over the Strand!). It’s as interesting as it ever got.
Merseybeat was seemingly the answer to the question ‘I wonder what a really dull version of Doctors would be like, only it was about police in Liverpool?’.
The answer was Merseybeat, possibly the most boring show ever seen on television, featuring virtually no scousers. Boring, yet also ludicrous.
Amusingly lampooned by BBC Merseyside’s website in the shape of Scousey Cop, it got a critical panning and underwent a massive revamp that saw Cast provide the theme tune. It was cancelled soon after.
A reality series – full of bumbling cops and grainy CCTV footage – also showed around this time. Mersey Blues may not have had Leslie Ash’s absurdly swollen lips, but it did have a disbelieving suspect repeating “Murder?!” that would have pinged around the internet forever in this day and age.
If Bread had The Addams Family, Hotel was The Munsters. A parade of comedy grotesques inhabited the Adelphi and got into a series of scrapes any comedy writer would have laughed off as too ridiculous. The only problem was Hotel was a reality show.
Battleaxe hotel manager Eileen Downey – clearly from the school of management that believes that rudeness, insane micromanagement and snobbery can make up for ineptitude – angry chef David and hopeless disc jockey Carl combine to give the impression of a sitcom half-way between Are You Being Served?, The League of Gentlemen and Catterick.
That the Adelphi is still open at all after the series aired is a triumph in itself.