UK TV Drama 2011

Watching the turgid ‘THE HOUR’ on BBC2 last night made me think about the state of current UK TV drama – I find myself in so many conversations these days with writers, script development people, producers, who say things like, ‘I don’t watch much TV drama – not British TV drama anyway.’ People only ever seem to want to talk about US TV drama – or increasingly European TV drama (The Killing, for instance) and movies. People have to struggle to think of British TV shows they’ve liked recently.

For me the best UK TV drama in the last few months (years) have been shows like EXILE (Danny Brocklehurst) and THE ACCUSED (Jimmy McGovern) – but these shows, while excellent, don’t feel like pioneering, cutting-edge shows – they feel like the vanguard of a movement that was at its peak 20 years ago when Jimmy McGovern and Paul Abbott were making a real splash.

So where is most of the good new dramatic writing to be found at the moment? Well, for me, a lot of it is in the theatre. When I used to work in development at the BBC, Carlton, Granada, etc, I used to go to a lot of theatre. And my main response to it was how so much of the writing wasn’t on the same level as so much TV drama. Now I’m not so sure. Shows like TACTICAL QUESTIONING (Tricycle Theatre), CYLBOURNE PARK, POSH (Royal Court), MOGADISHU (Lyric Hammersmith) and LITTLE PLATOONS (Bush Theatre) all felt fresh, exciting and like they all had something pressing to say, whether it was about the Tories and the establishment (POSH), the British army’s role in Iraq (TACTICAL QUESTIONING) or education (LITTLE PLATOONS, MOGADISHU).

And last week I saw THE VILLAGE BIKE at the Royal Court Upstairs. This was funny, dark and original – really top quality writing. And a fantastic central performance from the same Romola Garai who is given so little to work with in THE HOUR.

So where’s all the top-notch TV screenwriting in the UK?? Please tell me!

Philip Shelley


Aug 3rd 2011