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Clocking Off (2000-03)

Courtesy of Red Production Co./BBC

Main image of Clocking Off (2000-03)
Red Production Co. for BBC1, tx. 23/1/2000-6/4/2003
27 x 60 min eps in 4 series, colour
Directors includeBrian Grant
 John Strickland
ProducersJuliet Charlesworth
 Annie Harrison-Baxter
Writers includePaul Abbott
 Daniel Brocklehurst
 Peter Bowker

Cast: Philip Glenister (James 'Mac' Mackintosh); Lesley Sharp (Trudy Graham); Jason Merrells (Martin Leach); Christine Tremarco (Katherine Mackintosh); Jack Deam (Kev Leach); Siobhan Finneran (Julie O'Neill); Sarah Lancashire (Yvonne Kolakowski); John Simm (Stuart Leach); Christopher Eccleston (Jim Calvert); Ricky Tomlinson (Ronnie Anderson); David Morrissey (Franny Rothwell); Sophie Okonedo (Jenny Wood)

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Everyday dramas of the management and employees of Manchester-based Mackintosh Textiles.

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Paul Abbott's breakthrough first story for Cracker (ITV, 1993-96; 2006) began in a Manchester textiles factory, with a bewildered young John Simm exciting the interests of a hoard of screaming women. Abbott's Clocking Off, set in another Manchester textiles factory, began with an older but still bewildered John Simm - this time the object of attention for just two women.

Not that what followed was any kind of creative treading water for Abbott, now emerging as one of TV's most restlessly inventive storytellers. Clocking Off's 27 slice-of-life stories were rich and diverse, with the tales of assorted Mackintosh Textiles employees initially orbiting those of factory boss Mac, his serially unfaithful wife Katherine and underappreciated diamond of a secretary Trudy. The first story - telling of a husband's unexpected return after a year's absence with apparently total amnesia - set the tone: subsequent plots were high on everyday hyperbole and marked by their wit, frenetic energy and audacious narrative gambits: a single mother driven to arson, a joker who discovers his best mate is a paedophile, a lorry driver's staging an elaborate fake hold-up to fund a new life with his disabled wife's nurse.

The series' success may have unfairly eclipsed its most obvious predecessor, Debbie Horsfield's Making Out (BBC, 1989-91) - set in yet another Manchester factory - but the workplace drama has a long history stretching back at least as far as The Plane Makers (ITV, 1965-69). Born in a less ideological age, Clocking Off was, as its name suggests, at least as concerned with events beyond the factory gates as within them, meaning a greater focus on characters' personal relationships and crises than on, say, industrial relations.

Clocking Off was credited with reviving the lost tradition of the TV play anthology, fifteen years after the demise of Play for Today (BBC, 1970-85). In fact, although the variety and texture of its stories did capture something of Play for Today's versatility, structurally it wasn't really an anthology at all, but a good old-fashioned series - with the stability of its factory setting allowing for a large, overlapping cast of characters to tell a quite different story each week. This was a form that British TV seemed to be progressively abandoning in favour of the perceived audience draw of serials, but it not only suited Abbott's own frenzied imagination but his bold attempt to fashion a kind of ersatz job training scheme for young writers.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
Abbott, Paul (1960-)
Eccleston, Christopher (1964-)
Lancashire, Sarah (1964-)
Tomlinson, Ricky (1939-)
TV Drama in the 2000s