BBC's 'Street' Brings English Town to America
SCOTT SIMON, host:
A powerful new television series from the BBC has made its way to the United States. It's called The Street. It's airing on BBC America. The series follows the intersecting lives of people who live on one street in a town of north England slowly weaving a complex web. The series begins with the story of an affair between neighbors Angela and Peter, but a car accident on the street ends the tryst when Peter hits Angela's daughter, leaving her in a coma.
(Soundbite of TV show "The Street")
Ms. JANE HORROCKS (Actress): (As Angela) It's our fault.
Mr. SHAUN DOOLEY (Actor): (As Peter) Don't even go there, 'cause you're talking rubbish. We were having a bit of fun, that's all.
Ms. HORROCKS: (As Angela) And now we're paying for it.
Mr. DOOLEY: (As Peter) It's got nothing to do with what we were up to, nothing to do with it at all.
Ms. HORROCKS: (As Angela) Fifteen years living with the same man, same bloody predictable man, and I see the chance to have a bit of fun. God says you'll pay for it. Yeah, and punish me for it, but don't do it by taking me child. What kind of sick, twisted God is it to punish me by taking me child?
SIMON: Actors Jane Horrocks and Shaun Dooley in a scene written by Jimmy McGovern. He's the man who devised the series. He joins us from BBC Merseyside. Mr. McGovern, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. JIMMY MCGOVERN (Creator, Lead Writer, The Street): No, it's a pleasure.
SIMON: What put this series in your mind, to take the one street in a northern English town and have the lives interlap and intersect, but as happens in real life, not always know how that happens with each other?
Mr. MCGOVERN: Yeah. I think it's because of the flexibility it affords you. You know, in an ideal world you want a tight structure. Here's The Street and we will only tell stories emanating from that street. But within that tight structure and those tight controls, eminent flexibility as well. And the idea of just picking a house, you know, and behind that door there is a story, affords you absolutely amazing flexibility. And I always go back to the great American TV drama which always ended with, There are eight million stories in the Naked City, this has been one of them. And that idea that you could pick anybody in a city and tell a story about them, it's amazing.
SIMON: You are the lead writer, but let me ask you about this first couple of episodes in particular. How collegial is your writing?
Mr. MCGOVERN: A long time ago I actually worked on a drama series called The Lakes and I wrote the first four myself and then we went to a series two and we employed a lot of writers whom I greatly respected, and because of that, because they each had their own authorial voice, their own tone, the second series went all over the place. So I always told myself, if I ever do that again, I will make sure I am the single authorial voice. So although there is a small team of writers involved, I wrote the final draft every single time, and imposed what I think is a fine single authorial voice, you know.
SIMON: Often you communicate by silence.
Mr. MCGOVERN: Yeah. You have to end that silence though. To end a silence, I think, all the hard work is prior to that silence. If the audience understands what's happening in that scene, then that's fine, you know. Episode five's worth watching because Timothy Spall, who is brilliant in this, he plays the part of a taxi driver. You know, he's just - he can take a few words, he's got a four word line; he's got a thousand ways of expressing that line.
(Soundbite of TV show "The Street")
Mr. TIMOTHY SPALL (Actor): (As Eddie McEvoy) I wish we could start again. I wish we could pinpoint the exact day you decided I was a doormat, but I'm not a doormat. I let you have your own way because it makes you happy. God knows I don't have many ways to making you happy. I don't make the kind of money that makes people happy. But letting you have your own way, yeah, that's cheap. And that is something that I can do and I do it. But I'm not a doormat, Margie.
SIMON: To get here to The Street and to begin to write this and have this obviously begin to succeed in the U.K. and the U.S., what other things did you do to get here that you think you learned from that in a sense come together in doing The Street?
Mr. MCGOVERN: Well, way back in 1982 I started work on a soap opera. Prior to that I'd only done stage plays, very bad stage plays. So I knew nothing, but I learned on the job.
SIMON: No, I read they were pretty good stage plays.
Mr. MCGOVERN: Oh no, no, no - disabuse yourself of that notion. They were horrible. I didn't know anything. I wrote big sprawling angry plays with no sense of structure and no control whatsoever. They were awful. But as a soap opera writer you're always complaining you haven't got enough story. You know, how am I supposed to write a half hour episode of somebody in a house complaining about making the tea too often? You know, that's my main story. How am I expected to make this work? But as a soap opera writer you actually learn the art of mining a story for all its worth, you know. And you never forget that, you know. And even when you've cut loose and you've got freedom and a budget and good actors and that, that stays with you. Am I exploiting this enough? Am I exploring this enough? Am I being fair to this character, you know? And really, I learned all that working on a soap. It's excellent training ground for a young writer.
SIMON: Sorry to drag an arty word in, but I mean the vision at work in The Street seems to be that although we usually perceive ourselves as independent lives kind of buzzing around each other, in fact you take a look at the street and you understand that we are altogether the same entity, just occasionally working independently of each other, but that ultimately we all are implicated in each other's lives.
Mr. MCGOVERN: Exactly. Yeah. And I believe in that, you know. I mean we had a Prime Minister called Mrs. Thatcher who once said there's no such thing as society, which I thought was unforgivable, you know. I mean in the first episode, for instance, you know, a kid gets knocked down by a car. So who's to blame for that child being hit by that car? Is it the child's parents, first of all? Perhaps. Is it the guy who drove the car? Perhaps. Is it the guys who parked the cars there and obstructed that driver's view? You know, you could - I was brought up by Jesuits, you know, but...
SIMON: I can tell.
Mr. MCGOVERN: I can apportion guilt, I can apportion guilt like nobody, you know. But the other thing about the street is, the smallest incident can chance your life. All your relationships are shattered from a tiny incident, you know.
SIMON: Yeah. I read some opinion in recent years that suggests that in the U.S. and the U.K. we might be - knock wood - in a golden age of dramatic television, that what's happened in the movie business has moved it so much towards, as a generalization, big screen epics that are reliant on so much technology and flash and whistle and dazzling special effects that the human dramas, the places that they're told nowadays tends to be series or sometimes limited run series television. How do you feel about that?
Mr. MCGOVERN: I hope it's true. But I do maintain and I believe this, it's not just words, and I argue that there are some stories that are too important to be movies. They are so important, you have to invade people's homes with them. And they might turn it on and say what are we watching here, but hopefully keep watching and learn something or be appalled by an injustice. Some stories have to be told on TV, and I hope that's the case forever.
SIMON: Jimmy McGovern, who's creator and lead writer of The Street, now appearing on BBC America, speaking from BBC Merseyside in Liverpool. Mr. McGovern, wonderful to talk to you. Thanks so much.
Mr. MCGOVERN: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.