84. North

Tapehead no 84

It would, of course, be fatuous to say Our Friends In the North is not as good as When The Boat Comes In – just because they’re both set in the North East. But let’s face it that never stopped Tapehead before and it’s certainly not going to stop him now.

In episode one, for example, not a single character came in covered in coal saying “Why-aye, bonny lad, When the buurrt comes in, why-aye” – although Peter Vaughan did talk about the Jarrow March and this week, insufferable pub rocker Tosker does say, “There is no other woman, man” to his wife.

But whereas When The Boat…was social history without even trying, Our Friends is going puce trying to sum up the history not only of the North, but of the whole of Great Britain (and, in episode six, parts of Uganda).

We’ve got to 1966 (funny little period police cars are everywhere, trrring-trring-ing their sirens like alarm clocks.) Woar Nicky, played by Christopher Eccleston (who looks like a big bloke stuffed into schoolboy shorts; a third-rate Hal Harley character; a marionette) is still getting overheated, trying to Save The Working Classes, a story-line so irritating and clichéd even the producers decide to head south. (Hurrah !)

Here we catch up with the improbably named Geordie. Surely Geordies don’t go around giving other Geordies nicknames like Geordie – they’d be saying, “Hello Geordie”, “Alright, Geordie” all bloody day.

Geordie has ended up involved in the porn wars of Soho (double hurrah !), where the scene is about to be stolen in the most spectacular way by Malcolm McDowell living it up as a cross between Andy Warhol, Miles Copeland and a villain from The Sweeney, delivering lines like “I’ve got nothing to offer you but hubble, bubble, toil and trouble” as if they were second nature (which, of course, they are).

It’s a splendid effort – one that distracted Tapehead only momentarily form his true duty, ie the study of Mary’s fantastic eyebrows, dancing sensuously in myriad indifferent directions. Come on down, Mary (down south). You know it makes sense.

Tapehead’s only other friends in the North are of course all fictional, namely the good people of Coronation Street, where young Jamie actually does say “Ay-oop-our-mam”, Jim MacDonald sleeps in his Parka, and still eats hot-pot every lunchtime and stew for dinner parties – “Call it casserole,” says Betty Turnip, and let’s face it, she should know.

Trisha is in prison; Gail and her extraordinary hairdo are about to meet their long-lost brother, and Denise the hairdresser has, improbably, left Ken for someone more boring.

“Are you saying that she’s gone ?” cries Fiona, as bright as ever – not having noticed she wasn’t there with her, in the shop. “With Brian ?!”

“I do think she’s disturbed,” says Ken. “Psychologically.” 

Bloody right. Brain (Denise’s brother-in-law) even looks disturbed – lucky to have a wife, let alone a mistress. (He looks like a virgin. A disturbed virgin.)

“Nobody knows,” explains Ken wishy-washily. “The whole thing took place in a vacuum” – which shows you what he knows (the whole thing took place in the flat above t’shop.)

The battle of the anoraks is on. 

Speaking of which…”There’s two things I don’t like sharing, Willy, ” says Jim MacDonald, like Clint Eastwood about to put his cigarette out and go and get his fist bloody. “And one of them’s a sandwich.”

Meanwhile, as Maud and Phyllis propose to Percy (they propose a rather creaky threesome), the sexual allusions are flying.

“You wanted a word, I believe” says Percy. “Is it your guttering? ‘Cos I know it’s sagging a bit at the back.”

Ooo-er. Watch out for the easy Phyllis’s blue hair clashes with Maud’s purple hat, which merges into Maud’s hair without ever threatening to show the join.

Through it all, Maxine’s beautiful narcissism remains intact.

As for Brookside, we all know the Close stopped being part of the North long ago and moved to some other planed altogether. This week, everyone changes partners Shane tells it how it is about smack, and Jackie’s cat gets wasted in drive-by.

“If the police can’t control the streets then it’s up to us,” says Ron Dicko, the Brookside Terminator.



Our Friends In The North, 9-10.05pm, Mon, BBC2

Coronation Street, 7.30-8pm, Mon/Wed/Fri, ITV

Brookside, 8.30-9pm, Tue.Fri, 8-8.30pm, Wed C4