The Street, Jimmy McGovern’s powerful, multi-award-winning drama, returns to BBC One for an eagerly anticipated third series.
The show, which won British TV’s top industry awards for two consecutive years, picking up both the 2007 and 2008 BAFTA and Royal Television Society Awards for best drama series, as well as international Emmys, comes to BBC One soon.
As with the first two series, McGovern has mentored up-and-coming writers to create uncompromising potent stories about people who live on the same street in the North West of England, although the first and sixth episodes are wholly McGovern’s voice.
Leading directors David Blair and Terry McDonough return to direct The Street, and the executive producers are Jimmy McGovern and Sita Williams for ITV Studios. The BBC executive producer is Polly Hill, Commissioning Editor, Independent Drama, BBC England.
Once again, the series has attracted the cream of British acting. The best performing talent has been drawn by the prospect of working on arguably one of our finest series.
The cast list boasts Timothy Spall, reprising again his memorable role as the lovable Eddie. The high-calibre line-up also features: Bob Hoskins, Frances Barber, Anna Friel, Daniel Mays, Jonas Armstrong, Joseph Mawle, Stephen Graham and Ruth Jones.
So what is the secret of The Street’s success? Jimmy, who conceived the idea for the series a few years ago, comes up with a simple but clear answer: viewers really identify with the characters.
“The Street has genuinely struck a chord with people,” Jimmy reflects. “I think it works because it tells truthful, yet extraordinary stories about ordinary people. All the stories are about heart and humanity. Viewers can relate to these characters – we can all put ourselves in their shoes and think, ‘there but the grace of God, go I’.”
Sita adds: “There’s a real hunger for stories that people can connect with. Viewers are desperate to get away from glossy, make-believe drama. I think audiences want to be able to identify with people’s moral dilemmas. There’s a genuine appetite for that kind of thought-provoking, substantial drama.”
Matthew Bird, who also worked with McGovern on The Lakes, says: “Jimmy is just a great story-teller. He is excellent at pinpointing people’s emotions and always wears his heart on his sleeve. At the centre of most episodes is a heartfelt love story.
“Jimmy also has a very strong moral sense. In his stories, those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Everyone gets the comeuppance they deserve. In one of the episodes in this series, for example, a really racist character ends up falling in love with a lovely Polish woman. Jimmy has a highly-developed sense of right and wrong.”
Sita Williams, whose impeccable track record includes many hit dramas, including Vincent, The Forsyte Saga, Island At War, Always And Everyone and Reckless, is emphatic about what is so strong about Jimmy’s work.
“The three most important elements in any drama are the script, the script and the script. Jimmy is such a brilliant writer. He’s the most modest writer I know and would hate to be compared to the greats of literature. But, like them, he deals with the major problems of what it is to be a human being. He reflects on the human condition in the most gripping way.
“If you don’t have a script, you’re nowhere. You can try to paper over the cracks, but viewers are not stupid – they always notice. For instance, you can try and cover up your script by putting loud music over it. But when there’s a loud soundtrack, I always think, ‘shut up, let me hear the words!’ The script has to work on its own merits. You can get seduced by music, but Jimmy’s words always work on their own.”
Sita explains further: “Jimmy is also a master of dialogue. He writes in the way people speak – which is why we always get such fantastic actors in The Street. His lines are so easy to say. He writes with terrific clarity and brevity. We always end up cutting the first 15 pages of a script because we feel we don’t need all this explanation – we just want to get to the nub of why we’re bothering to tell this story as quickly as possible. Jimmy has a wonderfully economic way of recounting a story.”
The executive producer emphasises how Jimmy’s scripts brim with compassion.
“Look at a character like Shay (played by Stephen Graham), an alcoholic who is initially vile to his son with Down’s syndrome. But Jimmy manages to bring out Shay’s humanity. You don’t want to like him, but you can’t help but warm to him. You forgive him because he really does try to overcome his problems. Anti-heroes become heroes in Jimmy’s world because they attempt to reverse their fortunes and, most importantly, become better people.”
Sita adds: “There is always hope in Jimmy’s work. It baffles me when The Street is sometimes criticised for being grim – it’s actually very uplifting. It’s all about redemption – in a world full of disasters and wars, we want human beings to redeem themselves. If we feel humans can make a better life for themselves, then we think that at least there is some light in the world. The Street is about people restoring relationships and making amends. People think the series is tough, but in fact it’s just a very honest and unsentimental portrayal of reality.”
There is a tremendous focus to the writing of The Street – no episode ever deviates from its main subject.
Jimmy explains that: “Every episode is very, very concentrated. I always bang on about the integrity of the narrative. We say to the viewer, ‘this is the problem’, and then stick with it for an hour. You never go off on a tangent or introduce a sub-plot. You just focus on the protagonist all the time, and an hour flies by!
“The BBC hour is a wonderful length, but it’s a challenge to find stories that can sustain over that period. You need economy and simplicity. Looking back over the 18 episodes we’ve done now, at times we’ve initially despaired and thought, ‘this is only a 20-minute story’. But we’ve always managed gradually to build each story up to an hour.”
Jimmy muses that: “People like the idea of stories focusing on different residents in the same street. You need a nice fancy bow to tie up a series, like Clocking Off or Wagon Train. But you also need creative freedom – and I feel I have had that with The Street. It’s hard to achieve, but it’s what I wanted to do. I have no desire to write cops and robbers or doctors and nurses.”
For her part, Sita notes: “The premise of The Street works really well. You go behind any door in any street in the land and discover the most unexpected things. It’s such a simple, yet brilliant, idea.”
Jimmy is extremely generous on The Street. He advertises for new writers and then painstakingly mentors them, shepherding their scripts onto the screen.
Jimmy reveals that: “People come up to me all the time in pubs offering scripts. I get offered about 250 per series. But we only accept very few of them. Then we spend ages moulding them. I get a great sense of achievement from finally seeing it on screen. I really do enjoy that. Maybe people think I’m virtuous because I enjoy helping other people, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it myself, so maybe I’m selfish!”