Boys from the Blackstuff

From Academic Kids

Boys from the Blackstuff is a British television drama serial of five episodes, originally transmitted from October 10 to November 7 1982 on BBC TWO. The serial was written by Liverpudlian playwright Alan Bleasdale, and was a sequel to a television play called The Black Stuff, which he had originally written for BBC ONE's Play for Today anthology series in 1978, although it had languished untransmitted for two years before eventually being screened in 1980. The acclaim that the play received on its eventual transmission led to the commissioning of the sequel serial, of which Bleasdale had already written a considerable amount.

Boys from the Blackstuff follows the stories of five unemployed tarmac layers (hence 'the black stuff') after they have lost their jobs due to the events of the original play. Set in Bleasdale's home city of Liverpool and reflecting many of his own experiences of life in the city, each episode focused on a different member of the group. The series was highly acclaimed for its powerful and emotional depiction of the desperation wreaked by high unemployment, and was noted by many reviewers as a critique of the Margaret Thatcher administration which was seen as being responsible for the fate of many of the working class unemployed.

By far the most memorable of the characters was Yosser Hughes, a man driven to the edge of his sanity by the loss of his job, his wife and the authorities' continued attempts to take his children away from him. His catchphrases, "gissa' job!" and "I can do that!" became part of the popular consciousness of the eighties, summing up the mood of many who sought desperately for work during the era.

Hughes was played by Bernard Hill, who subsequently went on to find fame acting in various films and television series, including appearances in the blockbuster movies Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03). The serial also helped to establish the career of Julie Walters, who played the most prominent female role as Angie, the wife of Chrissie (Michael Angelis).

The serial was notable for being a high-profile production made not by the BBC's central drama department in London, but by the English Regions Drama department based at BBC Birmingham, although it was shot on location in Liverpool. The producer was Michael Wearing, who was based at Birmingham with a specific remit to make 'regional drama', and who would late be instrumental in bringing the equally influential BBC drama serials Edge of Darkness (1985) and Our Friends in the North (1996) to the screens. The writer Alan Bleasdale went on to pen many more acclaimed television dramas, of particular note being The Monocled Mutineer (BBC ONE, 1986) and G.B.H. (Channel 4, 1991)

The series was so successful upon its original broadcast that only nine weeks after it had finished transmission, it was re-shown on the higher-profile BBC ONE. It was also transmitted again on BBC TWO as part of that station's twenty-fifth anniversary season in 1989. In 1983 it won the BAFTA Television Award for Best Drama Serial, and in the year 2000 was placed seventh in a British Film Institute poll of industry experts to find the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of all-time. It was also named as one of the Forty Greatest Television Programmes in a 2003 list compiled by the Radio Times magazine's chief television writer Alison Graham.

The complete series, including the original play The Black Stuff, was released on DVD as a three-disc set by BBC Worldwide in 2003.


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