Sentimental trading of inner-city woes

Michael Church 29.9.1983

We hear a lot about the hidebound attitudes of light entertainment producers, but less than we should about a comparable affliction among the purveyors of "serious" drama. One Sumner, proudly presented by Yorkshire on Channel 4, is merely the latest in a seemingly endless line of products trading on a ghastly, masochistic sentimentality about inner-city woes.

The woes which drive Billy and Icky out into the Welsh countryside are real, of course, as were the •woes which drove Yosser to distraction in The Boys From the Black Stuff. Being unemployed is no fun at all, nor is the feeling

Billy has that his zombie-like mother does not love him. Icky is a typical product of a comprehensive system in galloping decline, and cannot read: that is no fun either. To label these lads "disillusioned" is to imply (which seems unwarranted) the presence of analytical thought, but deprived they most certainly are. They are also depraved, in the conventional teledrama manner.

They steal compulsively, and will pull out a knife at the drop of a hat. Under that thick veneer of foul-mouthed, brutish bravado which teledrama has helped establish as the obligatory uniform for working-class kids, they are shown to be sad individuals, dimly aware of their inadequacies. The rural cure which Willy Russell, their creator, prescribes is the cue for the introduction of an equally stereotyped caring father-figure who patiently atones for the sins of all the other uncaring adult stereotypes - parents, teachers, scoutmasters, ticket-collectors and of course police.

Sounds familiar? Indeed it does. Russell's theme goes way back beyond A. S. Neill to the Victorians, who set their orphanages in the country for similar reasons: it is not so much well-worn as well-nigh worn out. But it could still have formed the basis for a real piece of serial drama if Russell (or his rewriters - he has half-disowned the series) had followed the example of another Victorian, Charles Dickens. Dickens, whose episodes throbbed with suspense, always left his readers with a cliff-hanger ending: the dramatic pulse of the first four episodes of One Summer is sluggish to the point of coma.

One feels some slight sympathy with Billy and Icky, but only idle curiosity as to what will happen next. Presumably that much-brandished knife will kill or maim someone; presumably they will end with more self-knowledge than they began with. But that will be enough for the sentimental television moguls.

Filmed drama slots are an ever more precious commodity. One Summer has removed the possibility of six new films, or ten new plays made in the studio. What a waste.

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