1 9 8 2 (UK)
5 x 50 minute episodes
Beginning life in January 1980 as a single drama entitled The Black Stuff, writer Alan Bleasdale’s hard-hitting black comedy, set against the harsh backdrop of struggle and hopelessly bleak unemployment in the Liverpool of Thatcher’s Britain, chronicled the lives of a group of tarmac layers as they sought to find work, whilst suffering the despair and indignity of life on the scrap heap.
Encouraged by the enthusiastic audience and critical reception to the stand-alone play, the BBC approached former English teacher Bleasdale with a request to create a linked series of plays focusing on each of the central characters in turn.
BBC executives were so impressed with the end result that they ordered the first to be reworked into a one-off drama entitled The Muscle Market, whilst the remaining five were melded into a cohesive whole to form the series proper.
Bernard Hill’s BAFTA-winning depiction of the tragic decline of Yosser Hughes (Bernard Hill, pictured at left) was superb.
Yosser had been systematically stripped of job, pride and ultimately, his family, and reduced to a shattered shell of the proud and self-confident man he had once been.
The plight of the Yosser character, which all too painfully mirrored the real-life distress of millions of the nation’s unemployed, was summed up in the hauntingly simple catchphrase, which would almost immediately find a lasting place in the vocabulary of the national consciousness. “Gizza job . . . I can do that.”
Although the series is best remembered for Hill’s character there was also a moving performance from Michael Angelis as Chrissy Todd, a man reduced to looking down the back of the sofa for money, whilst being constantly nagged by his wife (Julie Walters), until finally, at the end of his tether he cracked up and slaughtered his pet geese.
Dixie (Tom Georgeson), once the gang’s foreman, had become embittered and unforgiving, his pride as a working man shattered. George (Peter Kerrigan), the oldest, was a wise and respected trade union official who refused to give up hope even on the remarkable wheelchair ride through the decaying Albert Dock which precedes his death.
Like Cathy Come Home before it, Boys From The Blackstuff had an impact on British society at large. It painted an uncomfortable but nevertheless warranted portrait of a city and a country teetering precariously on the brink of social and economic disaster, where the only real victims were those who were prevented by circumstances beyond their control from leading fulfilling and productive lives.
The city of Liverpool and its people were never so faithfully represented by television drama as they were in this series.
Its indirect influence is detectable in the proliferation of Liverpool-based television and film drama of the 1980s, including the sitcom Bread and the long-running soap Brookside.