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You can see why Channel 5 made Housing Yorkshire. It’s cheap. You don’t need stars or a script. Just sit back and wait for the tweets. And you can see why the association went for it. Yes, we now know a lot more about what their teams do. But as one of the smart officers said, there are two sides to a story. Others have done a much better job of looking at life through the eyes of tenants.
Have you seen Still Game? It’s a Scottish TV comedy based on the made-up estate of Craiglang. Let’s just say it’s not exactly Brigadoon! On the one hand it’s got every cliché in the book. There are tower blocks and hooligans (or neds as we call them). And of course, everyone drinks far too much and eats the wrong food. It’s amazing how far you can get on mutton pies and monster munch.
But here’s the twist. The residents are not victims or objects of pity in any way shape or form. Jack and Victor are the main characters. These old boys live alone on the same landing and cause havoc wherever they go. They taunt Boaby the barman with their quick wit in the style of the two Ronnies. Their pal Winston is the star for me. He has one leg but that doesn’t hold him back at all. Winston finally out smarts his sworn enemy the bookie but loses his winnings in a slapstick moment. Do yourself a favour and Google it. With one kick he overturns the Tory benefit cuts on the estate.
Winston is more than a match for the rest of the cast. Jack and Victor send him for the carry-out as they say he has only one leg to get sore, but he gets his own back on them.
The Asian shopkeeper is the top dog in more ways than one. Navid’s shop seems to thrive despite not having the finest array of goods or keenest prices. Maybe he vends where Lidl fears to tread! Navid is the hero of the hour when he gets red carded in the walking football match for taking out a local hardman. And his wife stuck in the back-shop punctures all and sundry with her quick wit.
I can’t do Still Game justice without spoiling it so watch it. You’ll not see a more upbeat show anywhere. They look after Methadone Mick and get him on the right track.
Who is missing from the Still Game cast list? Where are all the officials? You rarely see them. Craiglang runs itself. Well the councillors come out to open a community centre and try to blow up the towers. And the residents give them pelters. So, it’s true to life.
Housing Yorkshire starts from the officials, but Still Game takes the tenants view. It’s a better place to start, and bang in line with the Scottish tradition. As the poet Hugh MacDiarmid put it in a poem about the terrible housing conditions in his era:
“Man does not cease to interest me when he ceases to be miserable;
Quite the contrary.
That it is important to aid him in the beginning goes without saying,
Like a plant, it is essential to water it first.
But this is in order to get it to flower, and
I am concerned with the blossom.”
Serious programmes can get it right too. Reggie Yates did one about the Grenfell families. He got real insights into the people that lost their lives by listening to the families from Morocco, the Philippines and London. By the end of it you felt like you knew them. He found a way to bring out their rich blossoms. I’m taking nothing away from Reggie’s talent. But he was at one with the people not an outsider. That was the key to the brilliance of the programme. And it's something we all must bear in mind.
By Alistair McIntosh, HQN Chief Executive
Image taken from BBC media centre