“Shit haircuts and terrible jumpers”

Wednesday, September 20, 2006 by

Following on from Stuart’s This Life musing, in April, Jack Davenport was promoting his role in the two-part ITV1 dramaThe Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant. Inevitably, he was asked about the reunion. At that stage, the whole notion was very much up in the air…

“We did talk about it,” he said. “We all met, the five of us from the first series, and Amy the writer and Tony Garnett, and they kind of mooted it and kind of polled us on it. We were all up for it – and so we should, because we wouldn’t have careers of any description whatsoever if it wasn’t for that show. 

“The difficult thing is, because Tony Garnett so elegantly killed it at the moment of maximum demand – which is one of his very cool traits as a producer – to find the entry point to revive it, even for an hour, without it looking a bit tacky, is quite difficult. Amy had suggested a couple of things, which were pretty damn good, I have to say. But, nonetheless, it’s really, really difficult. 

“My favourite thing about that show was when it ended, everybody – expect for two characters – was fucking miserable. Well, isn’t that just like life? It’s arguably quite subversive for a television drama to go, ‘Fuck this’. Usually it’s a big old car crash, people not getting what they want. It’s a bit of a kind of a downer.”

He was then asked why, over the last 10 years, demand for the show hasn’t abated.

“It is weird having been in something which is held in that much affection, that much after the event. It’s not like movies, where people carry their love for a particular film around for years and the rest of their lives. Let’s face it, Casablanca it ain’t. 

“It’s just a series about a load of lawyers with shit haircuts and terrible jumpers. But, you know it’s still written about … you guys [journalists] refer to it all the time! But nobody saw it – not really. It was on BBC2, and it got five million people. That’s less than one in 10 of this country. No-one else has ever fucking seen it. 

“To be honest with you, to begin with, never had a show been so roundly ignored. When it was first broadcast, there was no advertising – but that was actually part of the brilliance of it. Nowadays, Channel 4 have these huge billboards in Vauxhall. I can see why they do it, but I don’t know about you, sometimes that makes me much more resistant to watching a show. ‘Don’t fucking tell me what to watch. If I find it, I find it. If I don’t, I don’t’. 

“So This Life just completely slipped into the schedules, late. Pretty late at night. And no-one watched it. The reason I think it picked up is somehow we got recommissioned, and they re-ran the first series and then went straight into the second. They showed it twice a week. We were on television twice a week for 32 weeks. Now that’s a lot of television. We beat people over the head! People could not avoid it after a while. 

“But the writing was fantastic, let’s not forget that. I’m being a bit facetious. It’s the Holy Grail in TV to make something that’s relevant to ABC1s, and it was, because everyone loves to see things about themselves, basically, and not feel patronised. It’s a high-risk thing to do – something that talks about ‘contemporary issues’ without sounding like a public information film. I don’t know how they managed to pull it off, but they did. 

“We had it all. We had sex, we had disease, we had homosexuality, we had lesbians, we had robbery – you name it. And it didn’t feel like some issue-led, pious, holier-than-thou show. And maybe that’s why it’s endured.”


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