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While You Were Out: Alexei Sayle's Liverpool (BBC2)

Lew Baxter was the journalist in the Edinburgh audience when Alexei Sayle famously went off on one about Liverpool, in 2003. Here he casts his gimlet eye over the comic's latest offering

Published on June 9th 2008.

While You Were Out: Alexei Sayle's Liverpool (BBC2)

AS Alexei Sayle launched into his “homage” to Liverpool the approach was, rather than a grovelling herogram, something of a gentle growling tribute from a grizzly bear turned cuddly teddy, which comes by way of a three part BBC2 series.

You perceptively observed that the furies and passions driving scousers
to howl like werewolves at perceived injustices often do more
damage to them
and the city itself

This action follows the lad being verbally torn limb from limb on his home turf after dissing the city during a book tour in 2003 - and then cheekily whingeing about touchy Scousers.

Now, I was sporting a gimlet eye as the programme began, as it has been bigged up by the Beeb and tagged Alexei Sayle’s Liverpool, which is a bit much considering his outburst in Edinburgh nearly five years back stirred up buckets of Scouse ire.

Yet the first show was reasonable and a seemingly well-intentioned profile of the city and its citizens - people like Alexei - if a tad riddled by cliché.

But then Alexei has been in London since he was old enough to order a spritzer, rubbing shoulders with the UK showbiz glitterati and can’t now be expected to grasp the nuances of much that flows beneath the surface of this wildly anarchic city.

But Alexei readily acknowledged the fiery temperament of scousers and Liverpool – indeed he is a product of that very rebellious spirit and was raised by proud Communist parents.

He confessed that he was baffled about why he had made the remarks. Well, it was for laughs, Alexei old son. Just for cheap laughs that came in rippling waves as you played up to the prejudices of smarmy folk who’ve probably never been within an ass’s roar of Liverpool. You were in Edinburgh blagging your book to an audience of literary posh tottie and their well-heeled blokes. But what you didn’t expect was little old me huddled at the back clutching me notebook, as I thought you might make a nice diary piece.

Touchy Scousers? Nah. That first response and riposte was just a defence of the character of people who’ve been spat on and treated with contempt for decades, me old sausage – as you well know.

Fair play, though, you took the stick and even shuffled up north to apologise – although we can imagine that the BBC commission has easily compensated for the humiliations heaped on ye by the press and ordinary scousers.

From early indications, this is an almost affectionate look at the city, which means that you could be on the yellow brick road to rehabilitation, if not sporting a cultural ambassador’s lapel pin.

And, as a native, you are very much aware of the fault lines that rumble through the past, the present and presumably the future of this remarkable city; a city that “hung you out to dry” for such wilful jibes.

Liverpool is certainly not Sleepy Hollow, and does shout louder and longer than anywhere else, and is often regarded as an outcast by the rest of the UK – but as Phil Redmond recently remarked: We don’t care.

But you perceptively observed that the furies and passions driving scousers to howl like werewolves at perceived injustices often do more damage to them and the city itself.

And you are right about the Beatles – although diehards will rip you to shreds for such blasphemy. Their extraordinary success did result in a black hole into which was sucked what came before and, for a long time, what came after – or “obliterated” as you actually said.

You certainly picked out a number of apposite individuals to chat with such as Phil Hayes from the fabulous Picket and Frank Cotterell-Boyce, one of the original Brookside writers, and Terry Cooke, the veteran shop steward at the Halewood car plant.

And you gave a fair show to the ferocious dockers’ dispute of the mid 1990s that was remarkable for the dynamic support of the Women of the Waterfront, reporting how some of the ex-dock workers now run the Casa restaurant and bar, although of course the Casablanca was a Somali jumpin’ joint even at the time of the riots. Indeed your comments about this chunk of urban upheaval were, on the whole bang, on.

It was also good that you fixed on Brian Patten and his chums who instigated the poetry boom that ran in tandem to the Mersey music scene, which was illustrated by Gerry Marsden who rarely gets a chance to shine like this but has remained true to his roots.

The researchers clearly did their homework, although didn’t always get it right.

The citizens didn’t elect a Militant council in 1983 – it was Militant influenced, and the accolades about creating green swards and swathes of new housing should go largely to Tony Byrne and not solely Derek Hatton, although it was rather warmly nostalgic to see the firebrand as lippy as ever. But, water and bridges, eh.

If this is to be the general flow of your look at Liverpool then good on yer: but I’m keeping my quill sharpened.

*Alexei Sayle's Liverpool, BBC2, Friday, 9pm and on BBCi Player.

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18 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

wavyjellyJune 9th 2008.

Great article, Lew. Pity they didn't ask you to make the programme.

Jim McCabeJune 9th 2008.

Alexei's conversation with Phil Hayes in the first programme was revealing. However, it was a shame that no mention was made of the closure of the Picket's original home on Hardman Street. As own goals go, this was one of the biggest for the city.

albert dockJune 9th 2008.

i wish more people caught on about the odious echo as well!

toriblareJune 9th 2008.

Anyone that buys or even reads the Scum should be put in the stocks and real caring scousers could throw soggy veg at them.

eleanorRigsbyJune 9th 2008.

I agree with DIG about show i being annoying, show 2, neutral, and thought show 3 was ok I thought Alexei hailed the image of the Liverpool 'scally'. Overall it seems only ex-Pat scousers are permitted on national tele to comment and pontificate about those of us who stayed. I bet they have already book Alexei for programe 4 in 2018 when we celebrate 10 years AFTER CoC. Can hardly wait.

DigJune 9th 2008.

Comments in the 1st show annoyed me. 2nd was neutral. 3rd show.... Welcome home Alexei.

Reith of OxtonJune 9th 2008.

Well done Baxter - knew you would be on the case! Just goes to show the power of the media, in outing one of their own.

toriblareJune 9th 2008.

The best part of the programme was the newsagents part, not one sngle scouser would take a free copy of the SCUM.That is what Liverpool Culture IS about.

V. I. Lenin AirportJune 9th 2008.

Sayle was sufficiently circumspect in his treatment of Hatton. I am surprised that some people still think this bloke is a hero. A far more common Liverpudlian's experience of Hatton was that of people who supported his stance against Thatcher - until they encountered the bullying tactics of his thuggish henchmen. Apparently he was only tolerated at school because he always had spare ciggies.

DigJune 9th 2008.

Sayle called Scousers 'arsey bastards who can't laugh at themselves' on his Liverpool programme. Very hypocritical considering the comments he made back in 2003. Liverpool full of philistines and the city devoid of culture? If I'd come out with that comment I'd be pissing myself at my major faux pas, not having a go at fellow Scousers for holding a grudge.

Pete O'PhileJune 9th 2008.

I see plenty of people with The Sun around Liverpool. I rather imagine several of those customers may have been more tempted by a free copy if Alexei Sayle and a camera crew weren't watching. Mackenzie's still a big sod, though.

Mr. HardyJune 9th 2008.

The second programme was a bit more positive, but what it is with film crew directors that they love the camera to dwell on the Nelson Memorial in Exchange Flags when the subject is slavery? The men in chains are symbols of Napoleon's stranglehold on Europe which Nelson's victory at Trafalgar in 1805 smashed. There are plenty of real monuments to slavery in Liverpool without misappropriating Nelson's monument; I'd have expected Alexei to know that.

London RoadJune 9th 2008.

Or wet Echos

Our SheJune 9th 2008.

I agree with Jim. Allowing the Picket to close to make way for yuppie flats is no different in stupidity than allowing the Cavern to be bulldozed for nothing. Still, it happened similarly with the Hacienda in Manchester. Substance, over style, always seems to win where property developers and councils are concerned.

PacemakerJune 9th 2008.

Gerry Marsden famously sang " 'Cos this land's the place I love and here I'll stay" then went to live in Berkshire for thirty years. When he returned in the 1990s he loved Liverpool so much he went to live in Wirral.

AnonymousJune 9th 2008.

I thought it was quite a fair and balanced look at L.Pool's past. Loved the quote from the docker's wife how being from L.Pool you "learn to read between the lines before learning to read" very good!

Moaning MildredJune 9th 2008.

Who's got the ciggies??Hatton or Sayle???I'm gagging

Rusty SpikeJune 9th 2008.

Indeed, Mr McCabe et al....dear old Alexei actually doesn't have his finger on the pulse....no mention indeed of the one time Unemployed Trade Union Centre which was set up by the Labour run Merseyside County Council in the former Police HQ - a truly great focal point for real people in the city which was renamed, as you know, The People's Centre. And nothing about the two People's Festivals, eh...Alexei will have been too busy making oodles of dosh out of the Thatcher years - as he bragged - to have noticed, or probably cared despite his claims to left wing alliances 'cause his mum and dad were communists, blah, blah, blah, blah. And there were other omissions about the frantic but heady days of the 1980s...and even more glaring omissions about the dockers in the late 1970s and the ongoing 'war' with the Dock Company in the 1980s led by the late, great Dennis Kelly and other gallant docks stewards. Still he might be getting round to them in the next two programmes.

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