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

From our correspondence.

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

The television screenwriter Jimmy McGovern. Photo: Getty Images.

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Poem: "When the Americans came"

“Do you have vampires around here?”

When the Americans came,

they didn’t take to our gardens:

the apple orchard smelling of wild garlic,

foxgloves growing among the runner beans.


“Do you have vampires around here?”

a visitor from Carolina asked me.

It was a shambles, Wilfred knew that,

nodding wisely as though apologising


for the ill manners of King George,

the clematis purple in the thatched roofing.

But come the softe sonne,

there are oxlips in Fry’s woods,


forget-me-nots in the shallow stream,

lettuce and spring onions for a salad.

It’s certain that fine women eat

A crazy salad with their meat*


I tried to tell them. But they weren’t women,

and didn’t care to listen to a boy.

They preferred the red rosehips

we used for making wine.


Danced outside the village church

round the maypole Jack Parnham made.

Now they’re gone,

the wild garlic has returned.


* W B Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter”


William Bedford is a novelist, children’s author and poet. His eighth collection of verse, The Bread Horse, is published by Red Squirrel Press.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood