Our friends in the whole country

Our Friends in the North is a British television drama serial, produced by the BBC and originally broadcast in nine episodes on BBC Two in early 1996. Telling the story of four friends from the city of Newcastle upon Tyne in North East England over 31 years from 1964 to 1995, it also brought in real political and social events specific to Newcastle and Britain as a whole during the era portrayed, including general elections, police and local government corruption, the UK miners’ strike (1984–1985) and the Great Storm of 1987. Publicity material for the serial used the tagline “Three decades, four friends and the world that shaped their lives”.

The serial is commonly regarded as one of the most successful BBC television dramas of the 1990s, described by The Daily Telegraph as “A production where all… worked to serve a writer’s vision. We are not likely to look upon its like again.” In a poll of industry professionals conducted by the British Film Institute in 2000, it was 25th in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century.

It was also a controversial production, as its stories were partly based on real politicians and political events, and several years passed before it was adapted from a play performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, due in part to the BBC’s fear of litigation.

I watched this series a couple of years ago, rented from LoveFilm, having missed it when it was shown originally. If you haven’t already seen it I highly recommend it. It provides a snapshot of major issues in political, economic and social Britain at important junctures in recent history, starting with 1979 and finishing as Major’s government slid, unstoppable, into the mire.

One of its most important themes is corruption. Corruption of the planning system resulting in concrete towers that did not work. Corruption of local politics. Corruption of the police. Corruption, corruption, corruption: the disease that affects us all. The disease that Britain’s elite likes to claim is minimal and disorganised. The lack of this disease which is supposed to put this country right up at the moral high table of international superiority.

Not looking so bloody virtuous now, are we?

Some would say that in a country where so many decisions are made by central government, in a country with a parliament that both produces and checks the government, in a country with little political plurality, in a country where politicians are drawn from a tiny gene pool and where most who find career success in other fields would not be seen dead on the campaign stump, in a country where the media’s opinion-formers are drawn from the same tiny gene pool, is quite likely to turn out to be corrupt to the core. Those people would seem to be correct.

Not long ago, Britain’s ruling class were basking in the reflected glory of the Arab Spring. Look! they shouted, some dodgy countries are waking up to their corrupt and undemocratic regimes! How slow they were to wake up to how systematically unpleasant their countries were! How stupid of their population to have put up with it so long! Look how enlightened we are in comparison!

Not looking so pious now, are they?

It turns out that some of our most important institutions have been turned to dust by corruption, mismanagement and political kowtowing. This isn’t must about Rupert Murdoch. This is about spinelessness and pork-barrelling. This is about keeping one’s principles private to avoid appearing out of line with the consensus. This is as much about the corruption of money and favours as about the corruption of not standing up and saying no, enough is enough. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” – have we not seen that in spades recently?

So now what?

It’s time for a proper (moderate, British-style) revolution. We need to get away from the central decision-making machine. We need proper localism. We need direct elections of more political posts. We need to smash up the party system. We need proper parliamentary pluralism and scrutiny of government policy. We need to set constitutional limits on what the government of the day can do. We need a major clear-out of personnel in Whitehall and the political parties. We need mass retirements to country houses for the senior executives of our major institutions, both public and private.

This is only the first crack of thunder in what will turn out to be a slow but important political storm. Let’s hope it clears the air.

5 Responses to “Our friends in the whole country”

  1. 1 Radders
    18 July, 2011 at 6:29 am

    Excellent post, Blue; there’s nothing there I can disagree with

  2. 20 July, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Small beer i know but in 25 years of building I’ve never met a building control officer or somebody from the planning or heritage depts of local council who would be open to bribery,not a situation i would imagine in many countries.

  3. 21 July, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    One of the child actors from the program went to my high school. Right little sod he was too!

    As for corrupt planning/building control officers – no they are not. You won’t find a corrupt environmental health offcer, or licensing officer, or trading standards officer either in terms of taking bribes.

    Once you climb the organisation you will find planning windfall gains given to friends of councillors – just look at ‘rotten boroughs’ in Private IEye. You will find council officers who are prepared to make outrangeous, unjustifiable decisions to appease managers and climb the greasy pay grades pole too.

Leave a Reply

WordPress.com Logo

Please log in to WordPress.com to post a comment to your blog.

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. (Log Out)

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. (Log Out)

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.



mail @ behindblueeyes . co . uk


  • 78,123 hits since 19.10.09