Love In Yorkshire?... I'd rather watch Our Friends in the North - Anthony Clavane

Does the world really need another reality television show?

Christopher Eccleston seen here playing Hamlet at West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2002. (Jonathan Gawthorpe).
Christopher Eccleston seen here playing Hamlet at West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2002. (Jonathan Gawthorpe).

To be more specific, does the world really need a reality television show set in Yorkshire? Especially one bearing the title Love In Yorkshire?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favour of more programmes being located in God’s Own County. I have long banged on about TV bosses ignoring the region and I welcomed last year’s BBC Annual Plan, which promised a “greater emphasis” on serving northern audiences.

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Anything which shifts the Beeb and other broadcasters away from their London-centric outlooks is alright by me.

Well, almost anything. I draw the line at shows aiming to make yet more Z-list celebrities out of untalented “ordinary” people.

What the world needs, in fact, is more top-quality, Yorkshire-based dramas like Gentleman Jack, The Syndicate and All Creatures Great and Small. Gentleman Jack is the best of the three: a trail-blazing, myth-debunking, explosion of a series set in 19th-century Halifax.

What we are getting instead, it seems, is a vulgar melodrama about real-life Tykes seeking romance in the style of The Only Way is Essex, Wife Swap and Geordie Shore. God help us.

This week it was revealed that MTV are planning a reality show based in the Yorkshire Dales. An insider noted that: “Essex, Chelsea, Cardiff and Newcastle have all had their slice of the limelight with their own reality TV shows. And now it is Yorkshire’s chance to shine.”

Apparently, the lads and lasses will have their “glam” lives showcased as they court suitable suitors with plenty of “chips and gravy to get them through the highs and lows of dating”. No stereotyping there, then.

By contrast, this week was also a chance to reflect on the success of a true, northern masterpiece, one of the most highly-regarded TV shows of the 1990s. I’m talking, of course, about Our Friends in the North, which has just turned 25.

Charting 30 years in the lives of four friends, Peter Flannery’s sprawling history wove together a rich tapestry of the political, cultural and social upheavals of a forward-looking, socially-mobile, aspirational era.

The critically-acclaimed drama, inspired by Shakespeare’s Henry IV, won three BAFTAs.

The nine episodes, broadcast in 1996, were the culmination of a golden age of ambitious television drama.

From the hard-hitting Play For Today to Boys From The Blackstuff, outstanding – often northern – playwrights revolutionised the gogglebox, combining entertaining storytelling with searing commentary.

As Christopher Eccleston observed: “It came from a particular era of television: writer-led, issue-led. I genuinely don’t think anyone would make it now.”

Eccleston was one of the four unknowns who were made famous by Our Friends in the North. He regenerated as Doctor Who, Daniel Craig became James Bond and Mark Strong went on to star in the Kingsman films.

My own favourite member of the Fab Four, Gina McGee, won a BAFTA for her portrayal of a working-class woman who, in pursuing a career in politics, sacrifices her personal happiness.

It’s interesting to note that the reality TV genre emerged as a phenomenon in 1997, a year after Flannery’s magnum opus hit the small screen. Driving School’s Maureen became a sensation, Britain’s first reality TV star, and the dye was cast.

Looking back, I quite enjoyed watching Maureen. She was both a funny and sad character, and the whole nation rejoiced when she passed her test at the seventh attempt.

Unfortunately, however, Mo spawned a monster. Or, should I say, several monsters: Nasty Nick, Katie Hopkins and Gillian McKeith to name but three.

It’s not often that I agree with the government but I think Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden had a point when he berated TV bosses for being out of touch with the “whole of the United Kingdom”.

They clearly need to be less obsessed with London and the affluent towns in southern England.

The question of how to narrow the North–South divide has long plagued broadcasters as well as politicians.

Might I suggest that the best way of levelling up the neglected regions would be to commission more Our Friends In The Norths and fewer Geordie Shores.