Don’t Even Think About It!

Photograph by Don McCullin

August 4, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

In the ‘Cultural Touchstones’ section of this blog you’ll find examples of films and writing and music and events from the past and present that we feel represent and express places and experiences within the North of England in a fresh and imaginative way. We’ll keep returning to them as inspirations for our work together.

But we also felt that it would be just as helpful for us to define what we don’t want to do. Together we came up with a list of clichés and habits of imagination about the North of England that really get on our goat. Our personal bugbears, if you like. We wanted to just shoot from hip, go with the gut and be as subjective as possible. Here we go then…(collective intake of breath)… 

  • The North of England is the land of the working class.
  • Gritty and grey urban realism OR a heightened urban grimness.
  • ‘Authentic’ language is people being inarticulate.
  • The need to escape to pursue aspirations or seek a ‘better’ life that is elsewhere.
  • Bright working class boy or girl made-good returns home.
  • The cartoonish representation, or demonization, of the ‘under-class’ i.e. as ‘monster’, ‘slut’, or ‘buffoon’.
  • Horror stories or fairy tales that encapsulate a life of struggle.
  • Anything set in a non-specific place, a generic ‘North’.
  • Anything where accents aren’t specific to place.
  • Short films depicting a coming of age struggle or the break-down of the family. (Usually a young boy in a small town, stay at home mum, lots of cultural stereotyping masked as ‘gritty realism’. Often shot in black and white. Just depicting the general ‘it’s grim up north’ theme).
  • ‘Northerners’ are hostile to outsiders.
  • Everyone in The North is unemployed.
  • Everyone in The North has a sense of humour.
  • Everyone in The North works in the public sector.
  • Everyone in The North wears T shirts on a Saturday night out even in winter.
  • Everyone is lazy (because they can only get a job in the public sector or they are on the dole – “Newcastle has become too reliant on public sector jobs”).
  • The discourse is different outside London: “as we all know [knowing pause for the audience] the discourse is different outside London”, which translates as “we are multi cultural world-city sophisticates and they are all ignorant small town racists with no ‘culture’”.
  • This is sort of reverse cultural cliche: anything that has “English”, “British” or “National” in the title but clearly benefits one place more than anywhere else: National Gallery, National Theatre, British Broadcasting Corporation, British Museum, National Media Museum (in Bradford), English National Opera, Festival of Britain (currently being re celebrated on the Southbank in London after 60 years) . This would be true of Northern Stage and Opera North as well, they benefit Newcastle city-region and Leeds city-region far more than anywhere else.
  • This: “Filmed earlier this year throughout Filey, Scarborough and Bridlington, Sugartown is a new three-part comedy-drama series for BBC One which had its first episode screen on Sunday 24th July. Sugartown revolves around a small seaside hamlet in the North of England which once enjoyed a heyday as the “stick-of-rock” capital of Britain. Shaun Dooley, Miranda Raison and Tom Ellis are among the ensemble cast and Screen Yorkshire supported the production with locations and crew assistance.” from Screen Yorkshire’s bulletin. (For a review that gives it the bollocking it deserves, click here)
  • And this: ‘Make way for 8 loud and proud Geordie lads and lasses who promise to show you a summer you’ll never forget! From the city that gave us Cheryl Cole, Ant & Dec and Gazza, the UK’s latest reality fix ‘Geordie Shore launches on MTV on Tuesday 24 May @10pm. the glamorous city of Newcastle becomes the latest stomping ground for this gang of tanned and buffed individuals, ready for 6 weeks of unadulterated partying toon-style. Living in a gorgeous five star house complete with shared bedrooms, a shag-pile outhouse for ‘special visitors’ and a hot tub, MTV cameras will catch all the action as they work during the day for a promotions company and then get their tash on at night, at some of the most renowned hotspots on the Diamond Strip. There’ll be tears, tantrums, drama and outrageous behaviour by the bucket-load… and that’s just from the boys!’
  • And…if that wasn’t piss poor enough…this: ‘Geordie Finishing School’ BBC3: What happens when some of Britain’s most privileged ex-public school girls leave the home counties and head to one of Britain’s most infamous cities in the country: Newcastle?’

How does rubbish like this come to be made? Who makes the commissioning decisions and where they are sitting when they make them? This review in The Guardian just about sums things up.

And marvel at this (the comments below it are priceless!).

Are we missing anything? Do let us know…


Main Image: Don McCullin - ‘West Hartlepool, Co. Durham, 1963’.