So, farewell then, Frank Gallagher, the foul-mouthed but eloquent poet of Manchester’s fictional Chatsworth Estate. After nine years, 11 series and 139 episodes, the Channel 4 comedy-drama series Shameless drew to a close on 28 May. For the final episode, long-departed cast members reunited with Gallagher, played by the talented David Threlfall. It was a reminder of how the show has provided a launchpad for the careers of a generation of actors, among them Anne-Marie Duff and James McAvoy.
But Shameless was always about more than good drama. Its treatment of councilestate life played on media stereotypes about lazy, feckless “chavs”: a powerful image of the undeserving poor that is being invoked by coalition ministers as they seek to justify rolling back the welfare state. Some on the left have accused Shameless of perpetuating such stereotypes but its genius was to turn them on their head – the Gallaghers were warm, witty and loving people. Their lives were shown to be complex.
That is no accident: the creator of the series, Paul Abbott, is one of a dwindling number of talented, working-class writers who have found their way into the national media. Fiction should never be mistaken for documentary, but if our art does not reflect the depth and breadth of social life, it is all the weaker. We need not a replacement for Shameless, but a new wave of working-class talent. As Britain becomes ever more unequal, it is vital that more such voices be heard.