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Boys from the Blackstuff (1982)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Boys from the Blackstuff (1982)
BBC2, 10/10-7/11/1982
5 x 55 minute episodes, colour
DirectorPhilip Saville
Production CompanyBBC Pebble Mill
ProducerMichael Wearing
ScriptAlan Bleasdale

Cast: Bernard Hill (Yosser Hughes); Michael Angelis (Chrissie Todd); Peter Kerrigan (George Malone); Julie Walters (Angie Todd); Tom Georgeson (Dixie Dean); Alan Igbon (Loggo Lomond)

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A gang of former tarmac workers struggle with the poverty, unemployment and despair of early 1980s Liverpool

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Boys from the Blackstuff (1983) continues the stories of an interlinked group of characters who first featured in writer Alan Bleasdale's single play, Black Stuff (BBC, tx. 2/1/1980). The eponymous 'stuff' is the asphalt used to tarmac roads; in the original play the 'boys' - Chrissie Todd, the focal point of the group, and his sidekick 'Loggo' Logmond; 'Dixie' Dean and his son Kevin; 'Yosser' Hughes; and George Malone - are working in Middlesborough, away from their native Liverpool. By the time we rejoin them, all are back in Liverpool, struggling with unemployment, poverty and desperation in a city going to waste under harsh Thatcherite economic policies.

The cast features what feels like a whole generation of Liverpool character previously appeared in The Liver Birds; Jean Boht later turned up in Bread; Tony Scoggo and Vince Earl subsequently took roles in Brookside. The three actors who broke out of this particular ghetto were Julie Walters, Bernard Hill and Ricky Tomlinson (although Tomlinson also passed through Brookside).

Bleasdale never merely shows the effects of environment on passive characters in a one-dimensional surface naturalism. His characters each react differently to circumstances. Director Phillip Saville found a visual analogue for this in his notion of 'the interruptus' - an abrupt or shocking change of tone, as in the cut from the interior of George's house, during the wake, to the shot of the priest vomiting in the drain. 'George's Last Ride' is characterised by what the crew were calling 'Saville shots': big signature images that took the drama beyond surface naturalism. Examples include the cutaways of dock architecture and the final pull away shot of George's body slumped in his wheelchair.

Boys from the Blackstuff represents several radical departures in the filming and production of television drama. All episodes except one - 'Yosser's Story', which was shot on film - were made using the new Light Mobile Control Room - an outside broadcast unit developed at BBC Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham. The LMCR enabled multi-camera operation on location, and was developed to cover sporting events; it had never before been used in drama. Even here, its use was innovative. Instead of live vision-mixing the feeds from the cameras, the output was recorded and post-produced. The result was to capture the spontaneity and energy of live performance, with the leisure and contingency of film production.

Mark Reid

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Video Clips
1. An inspirational speech (3:11)
2. Defeatist talk (3:51)
3. Yosser (3:42)
4. Chrissie and George (3:30)
Episode 5 - George's Last Ride (1:07:33)
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Bleasdale, Alan (1946-)
Hill, Bernard (1944-)
Saville, Philip (1930-)
Walters, Julie (1950-)
Wearing, Michael (1939- )
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