Brief Outline: First aired in 1982, Boys From The Blackstuff was a drama based around 5 unemployed tarmac layers, hence the ‘black stuff’. Set in Liverpool, the series was 6 episodes long and was a sequel to the television play ‘the black stuff’. It was also originally written for the ‘play for today’ anthology series for BBC 1 in 1978, although it was not aired until 1982 and was then moved to BBC 2.
Boys From The Blackstuff was aired at a time of social and political chaos. The series tackled the issues facing the British working class.
Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister, had caused mass unemployment by closing the mines. In this series we follow the lives of five Liverpudlians who have suffered at the hands of Thatcher’s Britain, although most of the series was written before Thatcher was in office there are obvious influences and references to her leadership, put in place as a protest to her actions. This drama tries to highlight some of the problems that the working class people faced, that it was hard to earn a living honestly when unemployment was so high.
Filmic Style & Language
Bleasdale set each episode around a different character. To add a sense of verisimilitude to the serial, it was filmed on location in Liverpool.
Bleasdale made the characters relatable to their audience by giving the most memorable character, Yosser Hughes, catchphrases such as; “gissa job” and “I can do that”, which replicated the general consensus of the unemployed seeking work during this era.
One episode, Yosser’s Story, was most notable for being shot on 16mm film, instead of videotape like the rest of the series.
After watching some clips from Boys From The Blackstuff we noticed some typical English conventions. Obviously there is the dialect, we see a lot of phrases and banter that are common in Britain. But there is also a lot of British traditions shows, i.e. going to the pub, the final episode is set predominantly in a pub.
If we examine a typical modern British Drama we see quite a slow pace, in Inspector Morse there is barely any action, but the British public enjoy watching the events unfold slowly. In that sense they are patient. What we found when watching Boys From The Blackstuff was that it portrayed life at that time, instead of slow paced drama, it was slightly faster and contained more of a working class theme. You could say that this attitude was unusual due to the fact that it was aired on BBC 2 which was traditionally seen as more ‘high brow’.
Boys From The Blackstuff plays an important role in the history of British drama as it helped to give a voice to the people suffering, like the characters, from unemployment under Thatcher’s power.
A drama like this is also important because it helps to identify the different ways in which directors and producers get political and social issues across. If you look at a recent drama such as The Children , on ITV, it identified many problems that parents face in the modern times, such as paedophilia, divorce, and how family break ups affect the children. This was all shown subtly through several episodes. However in contrast, Boys From The Blackstuff tackled the important social issues of the decade head on. It did not attempt to hide or coat the problems, it basically said, ‘this is what Britain faces, now what can we do about it’.