'Our Friends In The North' - Eccleston Joins Panel

2009-12 BFI is offering Radical Television Drama screenings and discussions. In the programme on Friday, 11th December, 18:20 is one episode of 'Our Friends In The North', and for the discussion part, beside Peter Flannery, producers Michael Wearing and Charles Pattinson, Christopher Eccleston will also join the panel.

BFI Southbank:
Loyalties to family, community and political principles are tested to breaking point in this episode of Peter Flannery's seminal series. As the miners' strike takes hold, police brutality is used to hold the line and contain 'the enemy within'. Combining the personal with the political, this caught the mood for a whole generation.

Episode 7: 1984

We are delighted to announce that cast member Christopher Eccleston will join the panel discussion after this screening.
Book the ticket here.

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Additionally -- Excerpt from 'Sight and Sound':
'Our Friends in the North' will be one of the major television programmes of this or any other year. Its ambition alone is invigorating, as is its lack of concession to international market forces; the script is one of the most passionately engaging since Bleasdale's 'Boys from the Blackstuff' or 'GBH'. According to writer Peter Flannery, the joke was that the BBC hierarchy worried it had commissioned a drama about post-war British housing policy; that lasted until a Controller of BBC2 was heard that "no one is interested in the Labour party anymore" (about as inaccurate a prediction as was possible). Good sense prevailed, and Flannery's story of four Geordie friends and the political forces shaping their lives over a 30-year span, was recognised as the nearest thing we're likely to get to a British 'Heimat'.

'Our Friends…' is a study of social responsibility, including a vividly dramatised debate about the increasingly dirty manipulation of politics by early spin-doctors and PR men, and "the great moral issue facing British politics – corruption." It centres on some particularly colourful cases […] played out against a background of entrenched complacency; Flannery's work is a culmination of that tradition of British engaged – some might say enraged – realism that began with 'Cathy Come Home' (and includes his own 'Blind Justice'). The character of Nicky Hutchinson is used to test the old certainties of political social realism, to question whether the forms of commitment familiar from television drama are still workable as the legacy of the 60s and 70s passes away. Which makes 'Our Friend' very contemporary. And the great strength of the television serial – the ability to present the passing of time in a long-form narrative – has never been better used: every episode is set in a different election year, from 1964 to the present... How the cultural can infect the personal is also brilliantly realised.
--Ray Cathode, 'Sight and Sound', February 1996--

Thanks to Hedgehog.

Brief report by Jen:

"First of all they showed the episode and then had a Guardian journalist speak to the panel about the making of it, the controversies surrounding it and why Christopher was attracted to it in the first place. Christopher had just finished 'Lennon Naked' for BBC4. Wearing jeans, black jogging top and his black Timberland boots, with a shaven head he looked threatening to the audience, but lightened up after a few minutes, taking two plastic cups of a unknown red wine. There was time for three questions in the following discussion.

In 1995 Christopher had just finished 'Shallow Grave', and it was Danny Boyle who said at the time to him there were a lot of good scripts floating about, I think you ought to look at them, one of which was 'Our Friends In The North' - which Christopher's agent at the time was getting her hands on. The one thing that attracted Christopher to the series was when his character's father (played by Peter Vaughan) was attacked by the Rottweiler, it reminded him so much of his parent's generation living in the same estate all their lives and suddenly finding the world changing at an alarming rate. Made him realise that society was changing too.

Regarding drama production - it's not so much about quantity, Christopher suggested, but quality. He thought once he went to America ("to make some shite movies" in his own words) he'd come back to real drama because that's what he was brought up in his generation (those who are aged 40 or over, including me) with single stand outs such as 'Play For Today' and 'Abigail's Party' et al.

Regarding the historic events in this episode of the series, in reality the power of editing distorted actual truth. You may remember the controversy surrounding the furore about 'Queensgate', and how the BBC were forced to apologise over how the Queen 'appeared' to be storming out of a photoshoot with Annie Lebowitz? The same matter happened with the Miner's Strike and the battle of Orgreave Colliery. The BBC edited images so it 'appeared' that the miners were in the wrong, and that they had caused trouble, and that the police had stormed in. Fact was that it made it cheap to sell the story to the tabloids, and that nearly twenty five years on the BBC had to retract it.

They cited BBC2 controller at the time, Michael Jackson (no, not that one or the beer expert either), to take the gamble of not only making 'Our Friends...' but 'This Life' too. Both were high quality dramas way ahead of what BBC1 were putting out. Michael Grade just said 'no' at the time, "it wouldn't work", and that he much rather put on Noel Edmonds on a Saturday night to attract a larger share of the audience. People aren't dumb, but just look at the state of television now, the same mediocrity is being churned out at an alarming rate.

Television writers have to clinically sanitise dramas to satisfy those in the organisation i.e. to play it safe. There was according to Peter Flannery a course and a questionnaire that they all had to fill out suggesting ways how to film. Mainly because of what happened after the Brand "and what's that other chap's name?" telephone calls. Example given was the mouse scenario which Christopher played on sarcastically. There's a scene with an actor and you need to capture an emotion so you put in a mouse into the shot. Do you a) film it, b) not film it or c) film it to see the reaction of the actor. There's no right or wrong answer until there's one answer, a basic Catch.22 situation is played out.

There was going to be a prequel called 'Our Friends In The South' and that Geordie Peacock was going to be stuck out in the jungle somewhere.
[The original play dealt with "the scandal of sanctions-busting by which British oil companies supplied the illegal white supremacist regime in Rhodesia." This abandoned strand actually provided the title for the series: "An internal memo from BP in South Africa cryptically spoke of looking after 'Our Friends In The North' - a coded reference to the rebel government of Ian Smith" // M. Eaton, "Our Friends In The North", BFI TV classics book]

Christopher said that the programme has to have an ending, while he thought continual dramas such as 'Lost', coming back season after season, a bit of waste of time; there must be a conclusion. He also criticised 'Spooks' for being unrealistic.

There will never be a drama serial quite like in the realms of 'Our Friends In The North' not because of the expense, but because of getting a commission for it. It's a scary thought that the BBC is now concentrating on what they call "returning dramas" i.e. soaps instead of producing good quality drama. Any wonder why Jimmy McGovern is not making any more of 'The Street' - it's simply because of this, and it made the panel angry that there are good writers out there who want to put on dramas for the modern age and can't.

This is tragic insomuch that the generation below me is going to be spoon fed on 'X-Factor', reality TV and soaps, and that the likes of 'Our Friends...' would never get commissioned by any of the main five channels let alone any of the satellite stations. It's criminal to think that no-one has the courage to and stand up for intelligent scripts and the like."

Continue to Hedgehog's report.


Hedgehog said...

Ha! I've started rewatching the series a couple days ago - haven't made it to 1984 yet though... ;-)

joanr16 said...

Ah yes, the decade of hair products... as the photo illustrates.

If anyone has plans to attend, I'll eagerly await your report. This sounds very interesting.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

The illustration isn't representative of the episode in question - it's the early period, sixties look. An image from '1984' ep f.ex.this one here.

Here's hoping too for an account of proceedings.

Tarot said...

I wish I could go to that. Wrong side of the pond as usual.

Hedgehog said...

Has anyone before attended such a panel? What's usually happening then?

karen_p said...

And speaking of being on the wrong side of the pond...does anyone know if Our Friends in the North" is available on DVD in the states? I've been able to watch the first four episodes on Youtube, but the rest haven't ever been posted.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...


DVD (boxset) only available as import Region 2. Good investment though.

More info at our review.

joanr16 said...

Hedgehog, it may be similar to the panels that the American "Museum of Television and Radio" convenes from time to time. There's usually one or more moderators, various participants in the making of the series, and either live questions from the audience, or written audience questions read by the moderator. These panels often appear as "DVD extras"-- for example I've seen them on DVDs for the American shows The Wire and 30 Rock. A favorite moment: a woman in the audience for The Wire stood up and began her question with "First I'd like to say, Mister [Idris] Elba... thank you for existing."

chiclit said...

Joan: I have seen a couple of those "Paleyfest" Museum of Television and Radio cast Q and A's as DVD extras. They are quite interesting-the museum also keeps some of the shows on tape for visitor viewing. Wonder if BFI will tape this session-but it would be lovely to identify someone to go and give us a report back.

Karen P:DVD players leave the factory as all Regions -coded later for the Region they are sold in. If you know the brand and model of your player, Google is your friend:)

Hedgehog said...

Well, Ladies, looks like the Hyperventilating Hedgehog is sprouting wings once more this year - if I can get a flight and a place to sleep, I'll go travelling. ;-)

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Fantastic! Fingers and toes crossed for you.

You're aware that you're enlisted as field reporter, yes?

karen_p said...

chiclit - Oooh! Thanks for that information. A Googling I will go...

chiclit said...


That IS excellent news-and I really hope you will be our special correspondent. I can't speak for everyone, but if you do make the trip-since I dream of getting to the UK one of these days, I would also like to hear about how the trip goes over all, details etc-although of course most interested to hear about the Qand A event. Do you twitter (or is the correct word tweet)?I wish I could come over, but let us know if we can research anything on the internet for you by way of support. Good positive thoughts being sent your way-

Karen, let me know how it goes, its a very low tech solution. I highly reocmmend "Clocking Off" and "Flesh and Blood":)

Hedgehog said...

I hope I'll be able to live up to the expectations!

I *knew* I should have taken a course in stenography 20 years back when I had the chance! Still, I'll do my best and try to keep up with the fast-writing (and hardly being able to decipher it yourself) "style" I cultivated for seven years as a student. ;-)

My greatest fear though (except for hypercaffeinating and the usual starstruck awkwardness (did I ever tell you when the base player of a band I had absolutely no reason of being starstruck about handed me his Fender to hold while he was about to take a leak and I needed all reflexes of being a guitar player myself not to simply faint and drop the instrument?)) is that I won't be able to catch up accoustically / languagewise... sometimes when people talk English too fast or too colloquial I am having quite some problems.
But everything I'll get I'll write down as good as possible.

Oh, and I hope 'Amelia' will still be shown at the cinemas - sometimes "minor" movies only run for two weeks or so, then I'll be able to check that box as well. Win-win. :D

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

I used this site to check film times for Amelia before going to London.

I second what Chiclit said, if you need any kind of help/support, let us know!

chiclit said...


No pressure; the most important thing is for you to be present in the moment and enjoy the experience. Whatever you can share with us, regarding the scene, the tone of the conversation, your overall impressions, etc will be special.

Hedgehog said...

Thank you both for your encouragement! If I may ask for anything, just keep those positive thoughts coming and it'll almost be like I'm not alone there. ;-)

Chiclit: I don't use Twitter, but I'll try and give you a short life-sign before my flight back (which will be late Saturday night - the things you do to avoid going via Dusseldorf ;-))

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

That's the least we can do! There will be positive thoughts transmitted from east and from west on your designated frequency =) You're not alone.

If you want to contact us off-blog, my email's on my profile.

chiclit said...

Well Hedgehog-

I am especially good at sending positive thoughts from this side of the Atlantic, so no worries on that score.

I also have my email on my profile -but Alex (or OC) will also keep me posted if you decide to update us that way.

I am excited for you- planning and anticipation is always a vitalvc part of taking a trip!

Hedgehog said...

The room has filled up pretty much, which is good (and I've got the travel nerves, I think it is called. Didn't catch it in summer, which seems to have been an exception. As long as I can remember the last night at home before going travelling has always been filled with a special kind of can't-wait-til-the-wheels-start-rolling-unrest. ;-) It's like some kind of inner engine firing up while going over the packing checklist one last time.)

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Well, gotta leave a couple places for last-minutes too.

Good thoughts are being sent your way, Hedgehog.
Looking forward to your report and, if possible, maybe you could give a status from London?

Anyway, have a nice trip and enjoy yourself =)

Anonymous said...

This is the Hedgehog calling from London... have arrived safely, just spent two hours drawing the Tower Bridge while waiting for check-in at the hotel... now on my way to South Ealing, of all (but they're showing 'Amelia' today).
(And of course, I've forgotten how to access my blogger account :))
Plus, it's a beautiful sunny day in London, very much unlike dull Cologne rain! Will give another update tomorrow if possible :)

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Hedgehog, thank you so much for the update. Good to hear you're following the schedule =) and that the weather's nice. Have fun and let us know how it's going once in a while =)

Anonymous said...

Did I tell you, that am going too tomorrow night as well?

Sorry if I forgot to mention this earlier but it's going to be a mad dash getting the last train home back home from the other side of the Thames!

So Hedgehog if you see someone with long curly hair in a pony tail, wearing an Lowry woolly jumper say "hello" to me.

Watched the said Episode 7 last night. Really forgotten how fantastic the drama. It was to brilliant to compare all the different aspects of power, corruption and lies that the bullies involved took it upon themselves against the victims they so easily preyed on.

chiclit said...

Hedgehog and Jen:

So good to hear from you both-sending positive thoughts across the Atlantic- from the West Coast of the USA actually- that everything goes smoothly and you both have a good time.

I hope you will be able to check with us soon, and I cannot wait to hear your thoughts and impressions and am sure you will do ATBN proud as special correspondents!Remember both our email are in our profiles if you don't want to be "public" and although we don't do domestic here, I love to live vicariously through London visitors, so be sure and share a bit about what your trips to BFI were like.

Do you have questions ready?

Take care!


Anonymous said...

(it's the Hedgehog again)
Aw, I wish I'd have checked here once more before I went! Would've *loved* to say hello!!!
Hope you enjoyed the screening and the panel as much as I did - and I will never ever tell you how close I was to bailing out at the last moment when panic finally did hit. At least for almost as long as I need to spell "bail out". Must have been that wave of positive thoughts from all around the world that made me dismiss this option faster than I could've finished that thought. From where I stand now, I'd have walked there from Cologne, crossing the Channel inclusive.
To those who due to unfavourable geography could not be with us tonight: Ladies, I wish I could turn back time and beam you there just in time! I shall do my best to give a representative account, and for that purpose will now go and try to decipher my handwriting while the memory is still fresh!
Will sit down for proper report tomorrow late night when I'll be back in CGN.
Cheers, 'edge'og.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Sounds like you had a whale of a time, Hedgehog. Awesome.

Can't wait to read your account of events - I even forgive you for calling me a lady =)

chiclit said...

Waiting anxiously to hear how it went, thanks for checking in H.

Hedgehog said...

Finally I'm not "anonymous" anymore - plane landed safely in CGN. Pint of good coffee and bottle of red wine to celebrate my return! Will get to work right-away now. ;-)

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Welcome back, Hedgehog. You might want to wait with the wine until after the work, though =)

chiclit said...

Thanks Jen- I take it you had a good time! What was the crowd like?

Hedgehog said...

Just wanted to let you know: I've *started* with the work, but I'm realising now it might take me a couple days longer, especially as daily life and work keep interfering. I've seen jen has something up on her blog already, nice photo btw! Sorry for the wait, ladies and non-ladies ;-) - I promise I'll keep writing as fast as I can any opportunity I get and in the meanwhile, defer to you jen, if I so may.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Hey Hedgehog, thanks for the update - we were wondering where did you disappear. Take your time - but hopefully you won't make us wait too long =)

Hedgehog said...

One more thing I'd like to add before I hit the pillow: the discussion panel has indeed been audio-recorded - I don't know if they're going to put it up online though. I did a short scoop of the BFI-website but so far came up with nothing.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Are you saying there's a tiny chance for a podcast? Would be great.

Anyway, really looking forward to your report...

chiclit said...

Hedgehog- completely understand, no pressure! Also feel free to do installments if thats easier. Have a good rest and we will hear from you soon, I suspect.