Lessons from The Street: We had a bargain, and we forgot

Cross-posted on TV Today

And so we say goodbye to The Street, Jimmy McGovern’s remarkable series of standalone, but inter-related dramas relating the extraordinary tales of neighbours on the most ordinary of streets. After three years, ITV Studios, which made the BBC-commissioned series, has made so many talented people redundant that McGovern doesn’t want to try and continue.

But while the series drew to a close last night with a moment of sad reflection, it also went out on a dramatic high — one that, in a way, reflects not only the end of The Street, but the end of an era.

Given that many people may have the episode stacked up on their Sky+ or on iPlayer, I’m going to continue this after the jump — so be warned, from hereon in there are spoilers

In last night’s episode, Eddie McEvoy (Timothy Spall) and wife Margie (Ger Ryan), the only principal characters to have featured in all three series of The Street, are again put through the wringer. Margie goes to stay with her father, who has just had a stroke, despite him being a frightful man who abused both Margie and her late mother.

While she’s away, Eddie’s friendly ways lead to him befriending Sandra, a colleague from his minicab office, who takes a shine to him. When she makes advances towards him, he tries turning her down — but his charitable nature sees him turn back to apologise, and then end up in bed with her because he’s too kind-hearted to break her heart a second time in one night.

On paper, it sounds just silly, but Spall is able to convey Eddie with such charm that his foibles become believable. As usual with The Street, it was full of nicely observed character moments, such as Margie’s father, who realises his daughter should go home to her husband, forcing her to leave by revealing just what a monster he has been in the past. Twisted it may be, but it’s an act of love nonetheless and generates as much conflict in the mind of the viewer as in the characters themselves.

The last fifteen minutes are the most shocking, though. As Margie comes to hear of Eddie’s infidelity in the local Indian restaurant, she locks herself in the ladies — but has left her inhaler behind. The scenes of Ger Ryan lying prone on the cubicle floor after a particularly vicious asthma attack as Spall attempts to clamber in to help her are shocking, not least because Spall’s physicality is such that you want to laugh, even though you know how serious the couple’s predicament is.

Eddie is too late, though, and we quickly move to Margie’s funeral. After pub landlord Paddy (Bob Hoskins) fluffs the eulogy, Eddie stands up and delivers his own:

> Four, five times a day, seven days a week, over twenty years of marriage, I fought the urge to throttle her… I even fantasised about it, how to kill her and make it look like an accident, how to kill her and dispose of the body…
> I handed over my licence to roam, my freedom, in exchange for Margie. And I got a bargain. I got a bargain. Years went by, and I forgot what a bargain it was. I forgot. I forgot that I loved her.
> Then something came along. A lump [seen in series 2]. And it was the prospect of losing her that made me realise how much I loved her. Well, it was a happy ending.
> But when there’s no happy ending, when it’s not the prospect of losing her, but actually losing her… it’s devastating.

And with those heartfelt words, we arrive at a metaphor not just for The Street, but for drama of this calibre from what was Granada (since renamed ITV Studios). While the company still makes Coronation Street and some non-drama commissions including University Challenge, there is a real sense that a door has closed. ITV Studios said last month that they would produce another series of The Street if it was wanted, but McGovern’s point is that the people who made the programme the success it is will no longer be there. Indeed, with ITV shedding 600 jobs this year, it feels as if the funereal mood on screen is reflected in real life too.

When I was growing up, Granada set the standard for dramas from commercial television, with other regions struggling to match — London-based Thames and LWT, otherwise so dominant, always seemed to play second fiddle to the emotive powers of anything from the Manchester-based powerhouse. Over the years, that power has diminished. Manchester remains a hub of creative energies, with independent companies such as Red and Paul Abbott’s Tightrope (now Abbott Vision) springing from the Granada tradition, and the BBC’s plans for its own drama unit in the city under the aegis of former Doctor Who producer Phil Collinson — but it feels like something has slipped from our hands. Drama has never been cheap to produce, but we had a bargain — and somewhere along the line, we forgot.

While McGovern may have resisted using the end of his series to deliver a heavy-handed allegorical speech as Phil Redmond wrote for Brookside’s closing minutes, the words he gave to Eddie McEvoy resonate for the broadcasting industry. Commercial drama can be a hard beast to like, but the prospect of losing it reminds us how much it truly is loved, and how much we need it.

And, as Eddie said of Margie, to actually lose it would be devastating.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.