Notes from the NS archive

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27 March 1987: Screenwriter Jimmy McGovern on the subversiveness of soap

From our correspondence.

A portrait of the screenwriter Jimmy McGovern.
The television screenwriter Jimmy McGovern. Photo: Getty Images.

27 March 1987

Once again Brookside is vilified in the NS, this time by Harriet Gilbert (NS 6 March). All soap opera, she seems to say, is a load of apolitical or reactionary rubbish. Six days before her article appeared, Bobby Grant was castigating a workforce who wanted to go back to work in an asbestos polluted factory. Bobby laid the blame for this fairly and squarely on Thatcherism. If that is apolitical rubbish, let’s have more of it.

Furthermore, there is nothing more obscure about the potential for subversiveness in soap opera. People get to know its characters over years, rather than minutes as in a one-off play. People know, for example, that Brookside’s Harry Cross had no political axe to grind. The day dawns, however, when Harry can’t get his wife into a hospital bed and he makes a bitter speech that is political to its core. Because it is Harry and not Bobby Grant making this speech, because the audience has grown to love Harry’s wife almost as much as Harry does, and because the situation relates so much to their everyday experiences, his speech had added impact – enough, anyway, to draw an official protest from the Tory party. That, Harriett, is “subversiveness”.

Jimmy McGovern, Liverpool