Tune in, switch off - Streets ahead

21st August 2009 at 01:00
What's it like for a young soldier to cope with facial disfigurement? Or for a parent to resort to prostitution to live in the catchment of the best school? And what about suddenly confronting the handicapped, 16-year- old son you never knew you had?

Well this is The Street, (BBC1) where these recent topics have proved so sensitive, so controversial, you wouldn't mention them in polite company. These one-off dramas are the TV equivalent of a trip to the theatre and reminiscent of the pioneering Play for Today. All that links the characters is their postal code and their profound social problems. This road must be Asbo hell.

Jimmy McGovern tutors new writers in a series as intoxicating as a fine wine. In a recent vintage, Kieran, apparently racist to his roots, was caught in a moral trap so profound it changed his self-belief. At the scene of a fire, he was literally left holding the baby his friend, who didn't want to risk losing his disability benefit, had rescued. Heroics are supposed to be for fit types after all.

Laptop love letters in the form of videos exchanged with the child's mother, now the Polish girl of his dreams, allowed Kieran and his lover to share secrets at the poignant press of a switch. Who said computers don't have feelings?

In this week's episode, alcohol was the fire burning the heart of central character, Shay Ryan, played by Stephen Graham, swilling vodka and spraying venom with incendiary verbal violence only softened by the poetry of his language.

The anger and emotion were so raw, it felt as though the characters had no skin to protect them. When Shay's ex, Madeleine, revealed his Down's syndrome son, she was brutally forthright: "I want nothing to do with you. He does." She reminded him why they split: "Sex with you was junk." And when she took their son, Otto, away she was equally frank: "Your dad loves alcohol more than he loves you." For once, I sipped only water.

Shay's view of Down's syndrome children was shocking. He shooed Otto away as if he were a stray dog, telling anyone who would listen: "They're not as intelligent or as athletic as us so let's stress their emotion, shall we? Well that's just gratitude." Embarrassed, I pretended to read the newspaper.

But Shay grew to love his son and leave the booze, just as racist Kieran learned he loved a Polish immigrant, and disfigured soldier, Nick, began to love the world again.

Safe to say that The Street is probably not on Phil and Kirsty's list of hot spots, now they're back helping hopeful couples find dream homes in Location, Location, Location (Channel 4). If houses are selling again, it must be good news for estate agents - knocked off bottom place in the public trust tables because we'd all forgotten they existed.

But this isn't really about houses: it's about the relationship between the home-seekers. "There's poor inter-marital communication between these two," whispers Phil as the search grows desperate. The wall that needs to come down isn't in the property at all. Maybe there is a McGovern plot line in there somewhere.

  • Ray Tarleton is principal at South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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