1 9 9 6 (UK)
9 x 65/75 minute episodes
This BBC 2 miniseries followed the lives of four friends from the industrial city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne as they followed very different paths between 1964 and 1995 leading away from their shared working-class backgrounds. Each episode was set in a year during this period, mainly those in which there was a general election in the UK.
Dominic “Nicky” Hutchinson (Christopher Eccleston) was a political radical, desperate to change the world and impatient with the restrictions and corruption of the political process. Mary Soulsby (Gina McKee) believed that the solution to these problems could be found in improving the mainstream parties and the system.
In contrast, rocker-turned entrepreneur Terry “Tosker” Cox (Mark Strong) became a self-made businessman with little time for concerns beyond profit and pleasure. George “Geordie” Peacock (Daniel Craig) had no interest in politics, but his life was constantly affected by those in power as he turned to crime and alcoholism.
The BBC was wary of legal action, as some of the plots affecting the characters were obviously drawn from real-life events: Nicky worked for city boss Austin Donahue (Alun Armstrong), only to discover that he corruptly organised housing contracts for a builder who was aided by the Home Secretary (referring to the 1960s scandal involving an architect, John Poulson; the leader of Newcastle City Council, T. Dan Smith; and the Conservative Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling) and in the late 1960s, Geordie worked in London’s red-light district of Soho for a pornographer and was involved with corrupt detectives (based on true events involving the Vice Squad, and the anti-corruption investigation ‘Operation Countryman’ in the 1970s).
The characters also found themselves in the thick of other events drawn from contemporary British history.
Nicky joined a terrorist organisation similar to the urban guerrilla group The Angry Brigade of the early 1970s; Tosker made money from the credit boom of the 1980s; and many characters were involved in the miners’ strike of 1984-85. Even the minor hurricane that buffeted southeast England in 1987 made an appearance.
Fascinating though the political plots were, it was the personal dramas that really engaged the viewer.
Mary married Tosker after she became pregnant by him, but her real love was Nicky, who she married in the 1980s, only to see the marriage founder over his coldness.
Nicky and Geordie both had troubled relationships with their fathers, respectively distant and cynical and violently alcoholic, only to become just like them. Mary had problems with her angry, unhappy policeman son, Anthony (Daniel Casey).
The marvellous final episode was marked by scenes of intense beauty and emotion including Nicky weeping in isolation at his mother’s funeral and his doomed attempts to earn his senile father’s respect; Anthony telling Mary that she was not a good mother because “she was never happy”; and Geordie’s attempts to stop a father who is abusing a son.
Tosker is much improved by the love of a good woman, Elaine (Tracey Wilkinson), and finally gets to fulfil his dream of playing in a rock band; and Nicky and Mary put disappointment and bitterness behind them and resolve to be reconciled.
Only Geordie, damaged by his years of drink and prison. cannot be wholly redeemed. The closing shot was of him walking past the camera over Newcastle’s famous Tyne Bridge, toward an uncertain future.
Our Friends in the North was British television’s most ambitious, and in many respects most important, drama production of the 1990s. Broadcast on Monday evenings at 9:00 pm, it was also BBC 2’s most expensive-ever production at £7.5 million
Dominic “Nicky” Hutchinson
George “Geordie” Peacock
Terry “Tosker” Cox