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My Arts: Jimmy McGovern

The creator of Cracker, Hillsborough, The Lakes, The Street and now Accused, talks to Angie Sammons about his favourite stuff

Written by . Published on November 12th 2010.

My Arts: Jimmy McGovern

So, you've got Accused coming up. Exciting times, eh?

I'm kind of getting used to it now, but you are always nervous on the day itself.

You have been in the papers a lot in the last week. You've probably had a belly full of controversial questions about TV.
What happens is, you do a TV programme and for the first time in 18 months the press start firing questions at you. You answer them truthfully and there's a big furore. But for the other 18 months, I'm getting on with my life, thank you very much, and so when you start answering questions you get the name of being controversial and you are not.

But it's the misinterpretation.... The BBC have never censored me in my life. Nor would they. The BBC's brilliant. But to interpret what I said, that the BBC is censorious in some way, is stupid.

I liked your line about Man United (he is quoted as telling BBC chiefs “every chance I get I write with anti-Manchester United bias”).
Ah, football is one of the least important things in life, isn't it?!

What about TV drama? Do you think that can be considered art?
There are a lot of things in my life I remember, and a lot of them are to do with TV drama. I think of the late, great Jim Allen who wrote the likes of United Kingdom and The Spongers for Play For Today – absolutely magnificent drama – and if that isn't art, what is?

That to me represents art more than any play of Shakespeare's. If you truthfully said to somebody, if you asked them the question: You will die soon, and we will allow you to see one thing: One TV production, one film or one play. What would you choose? How many people would say: “I would choose Hamlet.? Compared to how many people would say “I want to watch Apocalypse Now, or High Noon, or The Graduate? That's where it matters and TV and film can aspire to great art just as any production of Hamlet can.

In what way are they art, though?
They are beautifully told stories, about things that matter.

What was your first professional writing job and how did you get the break?

I got £15 for a short play that was produced by Unity Theatre, in the days when Unity Theatre was radical and Left-Wing. Early 80s. These days you would frame that cheque, but we were so skint we had to cash it, so we took a photograph of the cheque.

What was the play?
Lost City Echoes I think it was called. It was a thing I wrote as a mature student at Ethel Wormald College. I went on to become a teacher. But it was toured and I owe a lot to the Unity Theatre because it was seen by Pedr James (then artistic director at the Everyman) and I got a big break from that.

Pedr James directed Our Day Out on the telly.
And brilliantly. He is still going strong in Cardiff, apparently still vibrant and outspoken.

What tune is running around your head at the moment.
You probably get this all the time. I'm a Red, so it's Ring of Fire. Mainly because I was at the game recently.

What newspapers/magazines do you read?
The Daily Mirror, Monday to Friday. The Guardian on Saturday and all the broadsheets on a Sunday, with a lie-in.

What word do you most like the sound of?
There's a wonderful Aboriginal word for water, “Arkalula”. There are over 200 Aboriginal languages and I am not sure that word even exists. But if it hadn't, it ought to have been invented.

Who or what do you listen to on the radio?
I am a Radio 4 freak, unless Liverpool are playing and I listen to Radio Merseyside.

What was the best television programme ever made?
The Spongers by Jim Allen. In fact anything by Jim Allen. The second would be United Kingdom, which he also wrote. He did many many things, including the screenplay for Land and Freedom which Ken Loach directed. He is dead now.

Did you know him?
I had the chance to meet him once and I was frightened that he wouldn't like me, and that would have crucified me so I didn't take it up. I was insecure, but he was my god, Jim Allen.

I didn't realise the BBC were going to bring Upstairs Downstairs back till I read an interview with you.
It's going to be very difficult to cast, but I think the acting is better now than it was then. Certainly the part of Hudson, that's very difficult to take over, that role. But the aristocracy themselves, came and went if you remember. Everyone raves about Hannah Gordon, but actually she wasn't in it that long.

Top film ever?
High Noon. I remember being mesmerised by it as a boy, then I saw it as a much, much older man and I was still mesmerised. It's such a lean, mean piece of film making. The photography is exceptional as well – but in anything the most importantly thing is the story.

Carl Foreman wrote it, it was about McCarthyism. It's always been a favourite. I even used a pastiche of it in The Street, with Bob Hoskins.

What book in childhood made the biggest impression on you?
The Tom Merry books. Not many people will remember them.

What school did you go to?
SFX, I was brought up in both. I went to the infants and juniors off Shaw Street and then passed the scholarship to the one in Woolton. If you had to get two buses anywhere you had the right to cry off.

What's your current book at bedtime?
I don't read books at bedtime. But I have got one on the go about New Zealand in the bathroom.

Not thinking of running away there are you?
No! Too far! But I am fascinated by Maori and aborigine cultures.

Do you go to the theatre and what did you last see?
Lennon at the Royal Court. It was more of a night out really.

Did you see the original in 1980?
Yes, but I remember that being more of a play. This version I saw was a very good concert.

Who or what makes you laugh?

Tommy Cooper. And the memory of Tommy Cooper just makes me laugh. There was a lot of humanity there. He was nervous, low self esteem, drank too much. But a really funny man.

What single work of art do you find the most moving?
That wonderful piece of sculpture, the Mother and Child, outside Liverpool Women's Hospital. (by T McDonald). The time I came across it was when my own children were giving birth. It's art with a purpose.

Which public figure do you most admire?

Tony Benn.

What is your favourite piece of architecture?
Lime St Station.

*Accused, starring Christopher Eccleston, Mackenzie Crook, Juliet Stevenson, Peter Capaldi, Andy Serkis, Warren Brown, Marc Warren and Naomie Harris, starts on BBC One on Monday, November 15 at 9pm.

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