Our Friends in the North – Look Back In Anger: 6 October 2016, The University of Sheffield Drama Studio

20 years ago a nine part BBC drama changed the face of drama forever and rocked my world then and every time I’ve watch it since, not only launching the careers of its four main stars Christopher Eccleston, Mark Strong, Gina McKee and Daniel Craig, but by following their characters from 1964 to 1995 provided a unique, well written social history of this country, not being scared to realistically tackle politics, housing, police corruption, homelessness, pornography, the miners strike and much more, played out to a soundtrack that altered my CD collection and love of four decades of music forever. “Our Friends in the North” went on to win two BAFTAs including Best Actress, be nominated for five more, was named the third greatest television drama of all time by The Guardian in 2010.

Because of this, when my boyfriend spotted “Look Back in Anger?“, a screening of episode one (1964) of the drama followed by a panel discussion with the drama’s writer Peter Flannery and actor Christopher Eccleston (who arrived late due to work commitments but more than made up for it as a panel member when he did), alongside Director of Music for Film and Television at Sony, Ian Neil, in a brochure for Sensoria 2016, he knew the only place we could be at 7.30pm on Thursday 6 October was at the University of Sheffield Drama Studio.

As relevant in it’s 20th anniversary year as when it was released, the panel, moderated by Martin Carter from Sheffield Hallam University and broken up by clips from the series including the shocking footage of the miners strike episode and the end scene, discussed how the drama became such a successful production, why it’s themes still have resonance and explored the current landscape of television drama, including some interesting facts I never knew about my favourite drama including it starting out as a play for the Royal Shakespeare Company, taking 14 years for it to appear on our screens, almost being directed by the Oscar winning Danny Boyle if “Trainspotting” hadn’t come along, the first episode was completely changed half way through filming the series (glad they didn’t stick to the original version) and that a prequel has been written but will never be made by the BBC.

The evening ended with audience questions and after feeling ill during the day I was going to resist asking my own until the panel looked around for a final question and no one else put there hand up leading me to be brave and asked the panel what they like to think the foursome would be up to today. I was depressed by the response that Daniel Craig’s Geordie would have died a few weeks after the final episode but love the idea of Christopher Eccleston’s Nicky and Gina McKee’s Mary being together, even if they would be nursing Nicky’s dementia, and Mark Strong’s Tosker being the new Peter Stringfellow.

I can’t write this post without lifting a quote from Peter Flannery, which was included in the series background guide left on audience seats:

“It hasn’t lost its relevance and that is a bit sad. It was prescient and it did get the zeitgeist. I think it’s burrowed into how Britain is constructed politically and socially and these things are going to be relevant for 50 years, not 20, because change happens so slowly. I just saw the way the wind was blowing and I think if you can do that and then embed it with really interesting characters then you are going to write something enduring, it’s all about the characters in the end…although did I think we’d be talking about it 20 years later? No I didn’t.”

If I wasn’t away for the weekend in Whitby and hadn’t re-watching the box-set in the week up to the panel discussion, I would be continuing my fix with a marathon screening of all nine episodes (10 hours and 45 minutes in total) at one of my favourite Sheffield venues, Abbeydale Picturehouse on Saturday 8 October. Tickets are £6.92-£9.46 from www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/our-friends-in-the-north-marathon-screening-tickets-26095744073

Based in Sheffield, Sensoria is the UK’s festival of music, film and digital, running from Saturday 1 to Saturday 8 October. More information including the full programme and booking details can be found at www.sensoria.org.uk.

P.S. Fans of the drama will spot that the name of tonight’s event is shared with the Oasis track played over the closing credits of the final episode.

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