Liverpool on the Box: triumph, tragedy and scousey cops

 August 28, 2008         Leave a comment

Liverpool on the Box

Rather bizarrely there’s a channel on Sky (Channel 176) that’s seemingly devoted to Liverpool’s Capital of Culture in 2008.

I’d recommend it but it seems to consist solely of people who are on the outskirts of the consciousness of even noted media commentators such as myself – nevermind the average Jimmy in the street – simply talking about the city with little obvious structure or real point to proceedings.

If you’re listlessly flicking channels, and you’ve shelled out to join the legions of dead-eyed souls keeping Rupert Murdoch in Cayman Islands islands and young hot Asian babes, then have a look. I challenge you to watch for more than five minutes.

There’s also been the varying takes of Les Dennis and Alexei Sayle on the city recently, both of which were entertaining enough but a little unfulfilling. Dennis’ effort particularly rather had the feeling of a tourist board film, so desperate was he to put over his city, while Alexei (who is nevertheless fantastic) struggled to make his doc about the city rather than himself.

BBC4’s effort – Liverpool on the Box is available on iPlayer here and crops up on BBC4 every now and then.

It’s quite incredible to contemplate the sheer weight of talent and fantastic programming that’s come out Liverpool over the years, and it’s worth listing some of the work that’s hailed from the city.

Bread, Brookside, Boys From the Blackstuff, GBH, Hillsborough, Lucky, One Summer. Willy Russell, Jimmy McGovern, Alan Bleasdale. You really do forget how much TV there is. Surely there’s no other one city that makes its geography and people the stars of so many shows.

It’s worth remembering too that Liverpool is currently served by Hollyoaks – one of the worst programmes in the history of television. A sad state of affairs, and one that may prompt you to ponder where the next crop of talent will come from.

Other duff Liverpool fare of late has included Lilies, the risible Liverpool One and Mersey Beat – the latter were parodied amusingly on BBC Liverpool’s own website as Scousey Cop.

The city has also become something of a staple in those terrible but curiously watchable reality TV programmes such as The One About The Adelphi, The One About The Airport and its Horribly Rude Check-In Staff, The One About Ambulances and The One Where the Bloke Who’s Charged With Murder Says ‘Mer-deh?’.

There’s loads of cracking historical footage of the city too, including an early documentary on the city’s streets, Liverpool’s footy and music obsessions, the Toxteth riots, Hatton and Militant and dockers disputes.

Hilariously a typically 60’s BBC man turns up at the Kop at one point and is moved to describe the exotic experience as: ‘as rich and mystifying a culture as any south-sea island’.

But watching Liverpool on the Box simply makes you want to go and watch Boys From the Blackstuff, GBH and all the rest again. Even Bread which, along with all of Carla Lane’s other work, was terrible has a certain place in my nostalgic heart.

If the documentary hints at making a point it’s that Liverpool’s bursts of creativity seem to be inspired by hardship, of which the city has famously had its fair share. Phil Redmond actually vocalises this notion, pointing out that the 60’s and 80’s were the two great bursts in Liverpool creativity and expecting the next one.

It’s unfortunate that Redmond’s recent hits include the aforementioned Hollyoaks and presiding over the 2008 Capital of Culture celebrations featuring the Wombats, Ringo Starr and Dave Stewart, but the sheer depth and breadth of talent the city’s produced makes you hopeful 2008 will be remembered for more than that.

In the meantime, go and watch Boys again, and make sure you catch Liverpool on the Box before it vanishes into the ether.

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