UK TV and Film gets back to work on some promising programmes

What’s going on with commercial UK TV and my county?

On Channel 5 it’s all peak time documentaries about The Yorkshire Farm, The Yorkshire Vet, The Yorkshire Steam Railway and The Yorkshire Job Centre. Not to mention their devotion to Wakefield’s Jane McDonald and her endless {and faintly annoying} pre-lockdown cruising.

Channel 4 with its new HQ in Leeds has a long history of making dramas and docs here. They currently seem obsessed with police documentaries. The working lives of officers in God’s County can be regularly seen in Traffic Cops, Police Interceptors and 24 Hours in Police Custody.

On the soap front ITV’s Emmerdale has resumed live filming both on Kirkstall Road in Leeds and at their village set on the Harewood Estate. While across the Pennines, Corrie is also back in action on the socially distanced cobbles of Weatherfield. Softy southerners Eastenders however held off making new grief until 7th September.  

Like many others through this pandemic, the film and TV industry has been on its knees. If you’ve not got the licence fee to rely on, getting back up again means attracting advertisers who have been similarly suffering. But where did the public turn when they were banged up? To their TV screens in their millions.

Making stuff to watch is expensive. If you’re a production company creating TV shows how do you produce them on a shoestring? The answer is to use the drama that is real life.

Gogglebox is a good example. Studio Lamberts multi award winning 16th series returns to our screens in September. Why? No sets, no actors, no scripts. Just point a camera at a bunch of show-offs and press the red button. Ditto endless dating shows, antique hunting, cookery, auctions and quiz programmes. I’m sure you’re as fed up as I am with this cheap programming clogging up your television. No wonder Netflix, Amazon and Disney are smiling.

For viewers the next year is going to be a difficult time as quality dramas are generally filmed a year ahead. 2020 has been a creative desert so repeats next year will be the norm.

But there is hope. The wheels of the TV industry are gradually starting to grind again.

Shibden Hall

The London based production company Lookout Point are currently working on a second series for the BBC and HBO in America of Gentleman Jack. After much delay, principle photography is due to start in October at Shibden Hall near Halifax of Series 2. Writer and creator Sally Wainwright has promised it’ll be well worth the wait. The opening sequence to the first episode of Anne Lister driving a coach and horses at frightening speed through the cobbled back streets of Bradford where the scene was shot was remarkable. Sally loves writing about strong women in difficult situations.

She also wrote the BAFTA award winning Happy Valley where Sarah Lancashire played strong willed Sgt Catherine Cawood. You may also remember Sarah from Last Tango In Halifax showing Sally’s ability to write gentle comedy – with an edge.

Just before lockdown, a reboot of the much loved All Creatures Great and Small wrapped filming in North Yorkshire. Once again Channel 5 have it.

Sam West, Diana Rigg and Nigel Havers are amongst the cast along with handsome newcomer Nicholas Ralph. There are six episodes which began at 9pm on Tuesday 1st September – plus a Christmas special.   

The film, TV series and books are based on the life of James Alfred Wright who worked as a vet in Thirsk in the 1930’s and wrote under the pen name of James Herriot.

Jim Wright, his son, says “I hope and believe this could be a breath of fresh air to the population at the moment. Would my father have approved of it? I think so.”

Grassington replaces Askrigg which was used in the original 1970’s TV series to represent the fictional village of Darrowby. The Drovers Arms pub is still there, as are lots of animals, straw and people not social distancing or wearing masks. Oh good.

I did some extras work locally in the Spring on The Duke which stars Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent and is due for release on 6th November. It’s a movie cracker. With cinemas reopening the big question is will people go? The industry is holding its breath. If they do, half empty auditoriums caused by social distancing could spell disaster and end careers.

On the live arts front it’s even worse. Theatres remain dark and pantomimes are cancelled this Christmas because we’re not allowed to sit next to someone. Pantos are a festive tradition which also keeps theatres alive by introducing youngsters to the delights of live acting. But even if they allow us to sit together in December, the planning of them starts a year ahead – so we wave goodbye to them this year. Boo.

The virus has changed our lives. But humanity has only been on this planet for 200,000 years. The Earth is four and half billion years old. There is 1000 million in a billion.

Mother Nature has watched us pollute this incredibly rare and quite possibly unique blue planet in a very short space of time – and perhaps decided she’s had enough. Disease is her way of removing us and any species that gets too cocky.

There’ll be a cure. We will carry on but much chastised as I believe as a race we absolutely should be.

Panto will return. Masks will be discarded as will endless disinfection and hand washing. Some were even able to attend the recent snooker final and shout “come on Ronnie” again (which he hates).

What also won’t go away is our understanding of just how tenuous our grip is on existence. Like the dinosaurs {who were here considerably longer than us} humanity can be removed very quickly.

We’ve just had a serious shot across the bow.

Mother Nature generally watches BBC 2 as she likes the nature documentaries. But when she turns off the set and goes to bed she lies awake looking at the ceiling and wondering if allowing a dominant species on Planet Earth was really her finest moment.

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