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Blackpool
BBC 2004
Episode 1
TX : 11th November 2004
Director : Julie Anne Robinson

Publicity :
Peter Bowker's loud, brash new drama series lays its cards on the table in its opening scenes, as the cast mimes along to Elvis Presley in a rousing version of Viva Las Vegas. From then on, Blackpool never lets up, as we're pitched headfirst into the world of big-mouthed, tactless entrepreneur Ripley Holden (the fabulous David Morrissey, who hurtles through Blackpool-like a tornado).

Holden is awful: he cheats on his wife (Sarah Parish), bullies his two children and throws aside those who get in the way of his business plans. In fact, Holden could be so repellent that he'd be unwatchable. But Morrissey is so good you want to hang around: in fact, when he's off-screen, you might start twiddling your thumbs as you wonder how long it will be before he returns.

That's not to say the rest of the cast isn't up to scratch. Sarah Parish is excellent as the neglected Natalie, and it's good to see Georgia Taylor, formerly Toyah Battersby in Coronation Street, shining as Holden's sweet daughter, the improbably named Shyanne.

Blackpool is terrific stuff- something different, vibrant and new. The only sticking point is the Dennis Potter-ish musical numbers. Frankly, I can't see the point and find them a bit embarrassing. But they don't dominate to the detriment of an absorbing story, so there's a strong chance you'll want to return to see what happens next week. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham)


Cast : Mike Hooley (James Cartwright); Girl in Club (Suzanne Procter).

Synopsis :
Brash, charismatic local entrepreneur Ripley Holden opens his state-of-the-art amusement arcade, but the event is marred by a dead body found on the premises.

Notes :
David Morrissey had previously been seen in television favourites State of Play, Out of Control, Murder, Out of the Blue, Holding On, Clocking Off, Linda Green and Between the Lines
Sarah Parish is one of the main cast members in Cutting It

David Tennant made his television debut in Talking Over the Asylum and then went on to star in The Tales of Para Handy, He Knew He was Right, Casanova and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Georgia Taylor played Toyah Battersby in Coronation Street

David Bradley has been acting on television since the early 1970's and counts amongst his credits The Professionals, Between the Lines, A Touch of Frost, Our Friends in the North and Cracker, as well as having a regular role in the Harry Potter films as Argus Filch

Steve Pemberton is one of The League of Gentlemen

Familiar as a member of The Fast Show team, John Thompson is also a regular collaborator with Steve Coogan

Writer Peter Bowker earlier worked on Casualty, Peak Practice, The Canterbury Tales and the alien invasion drama serial The Uninvited.

Coky Giedroyc has Silent Witness, Murder in Mind and Carrie's War amongst her directorial credits.


Composer Robert Lane is one of television's most prolific musicians, having provided the soundtracks for Hillborough, David Copperfield, The Lost World, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Prime Suspect 6, Hearts of Gold, and The Long Firm amongst others.

Episode 2
TX : 18th November 2004
Director : Julie Anne Robinson

Publicity : Ripley Holden (David Morrissey) is an insensitive boor who takes no account of the feelings of those supposed to be closest to him. He could be an out-and-out monster, but Morrissey is such a good actor, he invests Holden with a certain vulnerability that makes him an interesting, though admittedly hardly lovable, character. Tonight, in the second episode of Peter Bowker's lively, entertaining and vivid drama series, the focus shifts slightly to the scruffy, smitten DJ Carlisle (the excellent David Tennant). He's fallen in love with Holden's neglected, unhappy wife Natalie (Sarah Parish), and it appears his feelings are reciprocated. Meanwhile, Holden's world begins to unravel now that the police investigation into the murder of a man whose body was found in his arcade moves into a very uncomfortable phase. DI Carlisle, for obvious reasons, has taken very much against Holden, and wants to make him feel as uncomfortable as possible. He does this through Holden's sweet, but confused and unhappy young son Danny, a poor lad who's already been the subject of a dreadful "lesson" from his overbearing dad. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Cast : Drag Queen (Betty Legs Diamond).

Synopsis :
The murder investigation begins to make Ripley's life very difficult indeed. Continuing the darkly comic thriller with musical numbers.

Episode 3
TX : 25th November 2004
Director : Julie Anne Robinson

Publicity : This intriguing, lively drama series has become a weekly treat (if you can live with the vaguely embarrassing musical numbers, of course And please, please leave the Smiths out of it). The ghastly Ripley Holden's world is tottering on unstable foundations. There's still no resolution to the murder investigation, and the bailiffs circle as the full extent of his debts is revealed. But Holden (David Morrissey) either can't or won't see the writing on the wall. Neither does he notice that his wife Natalie (Sarah Parish) is distracted and unhappy, thanks to her affair with the mysterious (to her, anyway) Carlisle (David Tennant). And the Holden children have problems of their own to deal with. It all adds up to one of the week's best hours of TV. Blackpool presents us with a strange, heightened reality on top of some laugh-out-loud moments, and a neat murder mystery. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Cast : Fortune Teller (Anne Nolan); Desk Sergeant (Mike Rogers).

Synopsis :
Forensic evidence links Ripley to the murder. To make matters worse, his bid to build a Vegas- style hotel is refused.


Episode 4
TX : 2nd December 2004
Director : Coky Giedroyc


Publicity : The Holden family is slowly tearing itself apart. Young Danny is in custody after his foolish confession, while the petulant Shyanne continues to blame her father Ripley for the beating administered to her much older boyfriend, Steve. Meanwhile, mum Natalie is still understandably smarting after she learns that her lover is, in fact, the police officer in charge of the very suspicious death case that has huge implications for her husband Ripley. But Ripley himself (the splendid David Morrissey) is indomitable, even though his business is in serious trouble and his accountant (the League of Gentlemen's Steve Pemberton) is worried, particularly as the local council is coming to call. Peter Bowker's terrific drama continues to bowl along, though the musical numbers can slow things down a bit. But this is still clever, appointment-to-view television. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Cast : Emma (Emily Aston).

Synopsis :
Carlisle doesn't buy Danny's murder confession and remains convinced he's covering for his dad.

Notes : Emily Aston played Young Jess in Oranges are Not The Only Fruit, and her famous acting family extends to Sam Aston who plays Chesney in Coronation Street.

Episode 5
TX : 9th December 2004
Director : Coky Giedroyc


Publicity :
Listen closely and you might hear the sound of lapping feathers as Ripley Holden's chickens start flying home to roost in the penultimate episode. The secrets of his past are no longer secret, his wife loves another man, and his children are both angry at and afraid of him. His business is in tatters and even his friends are turning on him. Terry (John Thomson) makes a foolish admission this week, which Ripley (David Morrissey) takes very badly indeed. Though I'm still very iffy about the use of songs, it's fun to watch Ripley and his accountant Adrian (Steve Pemberton) leaping around to Queen's Don't Stop Me Now. Morrissey in particular throws himself into his musical numbers to the point where it matters little whether they actually work or not. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Cast : Youth (Peter Sives); Cop One (Tom Ambrose); Cop Two (Matt Brint).

Synopsis :
Natalie provides Ripley with a watertight alibi for the night of the murder but his business is falling apart.

Episode 6
TX : 16th December 2004
Director : Coky Giedroyc


Cast : Mary Wobb (Cathryn Bradshaw); David (Tom Swire); Registrar (Raul Chahidi).

Publicity : Everyone is preparing for the wedding of young Shyanne to her creepy boyfriend in the final episode of Peter Bowker's vibrant, excellent drama series. Cue a full-blooded sing a long to Billy Idol's White Wedding (what else?) as the characters face up to a big day that will turn out to have ma for emotional ramifications for them all. Ripley Holden (David Morrissey), in particular, is staring at huge upheavals. After his rash action last week his dreams of being a big-time arcade and hotel owner now seem to be in tatters. And even he at long last realises that his wife Natalie's heart lies with someone else. Meanwhile the dogged DI Carlisle keeps up the pressure on Ripley, to the point where he enters some very morally dubious territory is he chasing him because he thinks he's guilty of murder, or simply because he wants Natalie? There's a terrific finale to what has been an unmissable series. Maybe the songs didn't work but in the end it mattered little. With a towering, role-of-a-lifetime performance from Morrissey and excellent support from Sarah Parish (Natalie) and David Tennant (Carlisle), Blackpool was real appointment-to-view television. Let's hope we shall see its like again soon. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Synopsis :
Will Ripley do right by his family as the final strands of his life unravel? Strong language as the acclaimed thriller with musical numbers concludes.


The first episode was publicised in the Radio Times with the following article:

Whatever happened to musical drama on TV? You're about to find out, as a thriller set at the seaside brings new life to the genre. John Naughton reports.When the tide's out and you stand there in the morning, looking out over this vast expanse of sand, you realise it's just a stunning piece of landscape." The playwright Peter Bowker -best known to date for writing the Michelle Collins vehicle, Single, and last year's dramatisation of Chaucer's Miller's Tale with James Nesbitt and Billie Piper - is describing Blackpool, the title of and backdrop to his new musical drama, starring David Morrissey and Sarah Parish.
Over six episodes, each bristling with its complement of pop songs and dance routines, Blackpool tells the story of Ripley Holden (Morrissey), a brash, small-time arcade owner who finds himself in over his head when a dead body turns up on his premises and he becomes the prime suspect for a determined police inspector (David Tennant). And, like the drama itself, the Stockport-born Bowker's impression of the seaside town carries a sting in the tail. "So it's beautiful with the tide out, but when the tide's in," he laughs, "well, if you're paddling, let's just say your toes are a little sticky afterwards."

A desire to write about "this big contemporary capitalist monster" and a chance visit inside an arcade in pursuit of his straying toddler son provided the inspiration for Bowker, a former special-needs teacher. Aptly, for a drama based around the vagaries of gambling and chance - "It's about a man who's been lucky being tripped up by bad luck" - Bowker realises he's taking a huge risk with Blackpool.

Not only does it dip its toe in the notoriously tricky waters of the musical, but its use of popular songs, woven into the narrative and ranging from Elvis to Slade to the Smiths, instantly calls to mind the work of the late Dennis Potter. Bowker's preparing himself for the accusation that he's borrowing the old master's clothes.

"We're all working under the shadow of Dennis," he muses on the TV legend who died a decade ago. "I went back and watched The Singing Detective after I'd written Blackpool and it scared me to death. I think he's the greatest television playwright of all time, so I know what I'm setting myself up for. But I also felt that he'd invented this new part of television language and nobody had used it.
I'm going to get a good old kicking." And from the opening Viva Las Vegas number, which sets the glitzy scene and introduces other cast members such as John Thomson and The League of Gentlemen's Steve Pemberton, there's no denying the extra vitality that the music brings to the piece. Yet it was only after watching an episode of Six Feet Under in which one character imagined himself as a rock star at his own funeral that Bowker decided to introduce music.

Indeed, Bowker feels American TV has been more adventurous in its use of music, citing Ally McBeal and Buffy the Vampire Slayer's musical episode Once More with Feeling, as well as Six Feet Under.
He's also clearly been influenced by Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! ("Although you'll appreciate the budget doesn't quite match up.") He does, however, feel that Black pool has its fair share of innovation.
"We've got a musical drugs bust," he laughs, "which uses the Smiths' The Boy with the Thorn in His Side, and a musical planning application with Motown classic I'm Gonna Make You Love Me, both of which I think are television firsts."

Nevertheless, it's a fact that since Potter passed on, there has been an almost complete absence of musical drama on British TV. One of the few programmes to buck this trend was the Bafta-winning documentary Felt ham Sings, which visited the young offenders' institute and staged a musical sung by its inmates. The poet Simon Armitage wrote the lyrics both for Feltham Sings and its follow-up, Pornography, which used the same techniques with workers in the sex industry. Armitage is in no doubt of the dramatic power of music. "What you find when you get people to sing is that you get something that shows all their heart," he argues. "It can be a really transforming moment in any film or TV programme when you hear a song, because it takes you out of the day today. You're suddenly involved in something you can't quite explain, but it can be incredibly sad or beautiful. It's a fantastically powerful tool." Nor is Armitage in any doubt why we don't see more of it. "It takes time so it's expensive," he states bluntly, "and it's so easy to get it wrong. It can be really corny if you're not right on the money."

Here, too, the influence of American TV is apparent, and can be summed up in two words: Cop Rock. The 1990 police musical written by NYPD Blue creator Steven Bochco, stands as a worldwide testament to what can happen when good music goes bad.

"There was an awareness within television," says Bowker, "that if a writer as talented as Bochco can fall on his face, then anybody can." Nevertheless, Bowker - whose own musical expertise stretches no further than former membership of a "very bad" punk band called the Buzz and the occasional turn on the karaoke with Always on My Mind - is adamant that, despite the risks, music brings something to a drama that nothing else can. "The relationship between our emotional lives and the songs we use to represent those emotional moments is a fascinating thing. We continue to be seduced by the simplest of lyrics and simplest of tunes if they're the soundtrack to significant emotional moments in our life."
This sentiment is echoed by Melvyn Bragg, to whom Potter gave his poignant final interview. "Dennis had a great love of popular music," states Bragg, "and I think he believed that popular music expressed emotions that 'ordinary' people, as it were, didn't want to or couldn't express. When they were in an extreme situation, better to represent it in a song than to let their words stumble out. "There's also an element of fantasy in Dennis's work, which was almost inexpressible but again could be taken over by music."

Matching Potter's legacy is an order as tall as Blackpool Tower, but Bowker should at the very least be given credit for reviving a neglected genre and having the guts to move the story on.
"I know there are some people, he laughs, "who are going to be reaching for the remote the moment the characters start singing. I think people will love it or hate it. I don't think it's one of those shows where you'll think, 'Oh, it's all right. I'll put up with a bit of singing." (Radio Times article)
.

SONGS FEATURED IN THE SERIES

EPISODE 1:
Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presely
You Can Get It If You Really Want by Jimmy Cliff
She's Not You by Elvis
These Boots Were Made For Walking by Nancy Sinatra

EPISODE TWO: The Gambler by Kenny Rogers
Cupid by Johnny Nash
Should I Stay by Gabrielle
I Second That Emotion by The Miracles

EPISODE THREE:
Brilliant Mistake by Elvis Costello
Can You Feel The Force by The Real Thing
Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me by Slade
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side by The Smiths
The Secrets That You Keep by Mud

EPISODE FOUR: Walk Tall by Val Doonican
I'm Gonna Make You Love Me by Diana Ross and the Supremes & Temptations
Ooh Laa Laa by The Faces

EPISODE FIVE: Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash
Invisble by Alison Moyet
Don't Stop Me Now by Queen
Knock Knock by mary Hopkin

EPISODE SIX: White Wedding by Billy Idol
There Goes My Everything by Englebert Humperdink
Don't Leave Me This Way by The Communards
There's Always Something There to Remind Me by Sandie Shaw

The series was created and written by Peter Bowker and produced by Kate Kewis.

Text © Chris Orton, 2005.



Unfairly and needlessly compared to certain works from the pen of the late, great Dennis Potter by the press simply by virtue of the fact that it contains drama interspersed with mimed song and dance numbers, Blackpool was the standout drama of the 2004 BBC winter schedule.



Concerning the life of brash seaside entrepreneur Ripley Holden and his family, the serial mixed drama with actors spontaneously bursting into song at key moments. Aside from the songs, Blackpool shares little in common with the work of Potter .




Holden is an unpleasant and greedy man who during the course of the series is revealed to have been a malicious school bully who picked on people mercilessly in his youth. This character defect is reflected in the way that he goes about his business affairs now and what Ripley did to other people in his childhood (and what he almost did to himself) shape the way that he behaves in his adult life. His aim in life is to transform his northern seaside home town into a Las Vegas-style mecca for gamblers through the construction of a new super casino hotel. Brusque, and brash, if Ripley Holden wants something then generally he tends to get it. A spanner is thrown into Ripley's works though in more ways than one when the tenacious DI Carlisle and his deputy DC Blythe turn up in the town following a murder that takes place, and where the body has been discovered in his amusement arcade. Carlisle begins the task of investigating the murder, as well as making a personal investigation of Holden's wife. Compounding his problems are the fact that his son appears to be dealing in drugs and his daughter is intent on marrying one of his own former classmates.



The cast is uniformly good, with David Morrisey, Sarah Parish and David Tennant getting the lions share of screen time. The main supporting characters are played by Georgia Taylor, Thomas Morrison, John Thompson, David Bradley and Steve Pemberton. Of these, Thompson, Bradley and Pemberton are used the least over the run of the series. Despite being the lead actor in Blackpool, David Morrisey's performance is topped by that of David Tennant, who, judging from both this series and Russell T. Davies' Casanova looks set for a bright television future. Tennant acts everybody else off the screen. Despite being good in the role that he is given, David Bradley's evangelist character seems a bit incidental to the story and doesn't really go anywhere.




It was a brave experiment to include the songs in the series, but at the end of the day they are not really required. The cast (none of whom are particularly known for their singing and dancing) give it their all throughout these mimed segments, but the show stands up as a good, unusual drama in it's own right. The BBC was brave to flirt with the unusual format, but Blackpool would have been just as effective had writer Peter Bowker taken the decision to omit the musical numbers. And leaving them out would have completely avoided the unmerited Potter comparisons which it drew before a moment of the programme had aired.



Given that the show features a self-contained storyline it is difficult to foresee a future instalment of Blackpool as the story is wrapped-up satisfactorily by the end of episode six. The programme has been released on DVD.

Characters
Portrayed By
Ripley Holden
David Morrisey
Natalie Holden
Sarah Parish
Detective Inspector Carlisle
David Tennant
Hallworth
David Bradley
Terry Corlette
John Thompson
Adrian Marr
Steve Pemberton
Shyanne Holden
Georgia Taylor
Danny Holden
Thomas Morrison
Jim Allbright
David Hounslow
Detective Constable Blythe
Bryan Dick
Steve
Kevin Doyle
Hailey
Lisa Millett
Deaf Barry
Jim Whelan
Ruth
Jacqueline Pilton
Chantelle
Michelle McCaw
Karen
Connie Walker (1-3, 5)
Mark Reed
Joe Armstrong (1-2, 3)