Series / Our Friends in the North

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BBC drama series following the lives of four friends from North East England over three decades. Each of the nine episodes is named after the year in which it is set- 1964, 1966, 1967, 1970, 1974, 1979, 1984, 1987, and 1995- and they chart political events and social changes occurring in these years, from the widespread police corruption of the 1960s, the miners strikes and the rise of Thatcher in the 1980s, and the birth of New Labour in the 1990s. The series was adapted for television by playwright Peter Flannery, from his stage play of the same name.

The series provided four Star Making Roles for the then little-known actors cast as the four Friends of the title- Christopher Eccleston as Wide-Eyed Idealist and would-be politician Dominic "Nicky" Hutchinson; Gina McKee as downtrodden but quietly ambitious Mary Soulsby; Mark Strong as deluded would-be rockstar Terry "Tosker" Cox; and Daniel Craig as troubled and naive runaway George "Geordie" Peacock. It also featured Malcolm McDowell as London Gangster Benny Barrett and Peter Vaughan as Nicky's father Felix.

This show provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Geordie's father is a violent drunk who eventually drives Geordie to run away from home after assaulting him
    • Tosker grows up to be an abusive parent himself. Most of the time he is absent from the lives of his and Mary's two children, Anthony and Bernadette. In one episode he can be seen aggressively teaching his son Anthony to play drums so he can form a band with him and continue to chase his dream of musical stardom, getting angry when Anthony doesn't get the hang of it and his heart isn't in it.
    • Christopher Collins to his son Sean.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The original play ended in 1979 with Margaret Thatcher's rise to power. Given the amount of time that had passed when the series got made, Flannery expanded the story.
  • Affably Evil: Benny Barrett is a gangster and porn baron, but is very charming and affable. When Geordie reveals that he's having an affair with Benny's mistress, he takes it well. Hell, he's happy that Geordie didn't lie to him.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Geordie's father.
  • Artifact Title: The original play contained a significant number of scenes set in Rhodesia, chronicling UDI, the oil embargo and the emergence of armed resistance to white supremacy. This plot strand was dropped from the televised version, although the title Our Friends in the North, a reference to how staff at BP in South Africa referred to the Rhodesian government of Ian Smith, remained.
  • Author Avatar: Mark Strong believes that the three main characters are these for Peter Flannery. Nicky is the political side, Geordie is the Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll side and Tosker is the Newcastle side. Christopher Eccleston drew inspiration for his performance as the older Nicky from Flannery himself, basing aspects of his characterisation on Flannery's personality and even wearing some of the writer's own colourful shirts.
    • Flannery admitted that he sees himself in all four protagonists:
    Mary's Catholicism. Nicky wanting to change the world as a young man and at 50 saying "Not only do I not have the answers, I don't even know what the questions are anymore". I'm Geordie in my search for a family and Tosker as someone who doesn't give a fuck about politics.
  • Bald of Evil: The more bald Tosker gets, the more evil he gets. He starts off as a long-haired, happy-go-lucky, harmless wannabe rockstar, and ends up as a bald Freemason and dodgy buy-to-let landlord.
  • BFI TV 100: #25.
  • Book Dumb: Geordie doesn't have the slightest understanding of politics. Whenever Mary and Nicky are busy obsessing over elections, he is blissfully unaware that they are even taking place. Unlike many Book Dumb characters, he doesn't make up for it by being Street Smart.
  • Bomb Throwing Anarchist: Nicky falls in with some in 1970.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Benny loves Geordie's Newcastle accent, and impersonates it. He also mimics his Scottish henchman Charlie's accent.
  • Broken Pedestal: After abandoning his political ambitions, Nicky finds success working as a photographer and has several books of his work published. At a book signing he meets awe-struck photography student Alice, who tells him she is writing her dissertation on his work. They begin an affair, which Alice ends abruptly and with no explanation. Nicky eventually finds out that she has a boyfriend her own age and is totally over him-and he is heartbroken when she tells him she's now writing her dissertation "about something else".
  • Brotherhood of Funny Hats: Tosker joins the Freemasons in 1984 in the hope that it will further his business venture as a dodgy buy-to-let landlord.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Mary's physically and mentally handicapped brother Patrick passes away of natural causes in 1970.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Geordie to his dad. Nicky to Felix. Mary's son Anthony calls her out for being a martyr all his life.
  • The Casanova: Geordie in general, but notably when out on the pull with Tosker.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Tosker, when out on the pull with Geordie.
  • Catch-Phrase: "Crazy name, crazy guy!" is how Tosker responds whenever anyone (especially an attractive young woman) remarks that he has an unusual name. As an older man this is used to make him seem rather pathetic and a shadow of his younger, womanising self.
  • Climactic Music: The end credits of every episode are soundtracked with a piece of music from the year in which the episode was set. The final episode, 1995, is probably the most notable for this, featuring Oasis's Don't Look Back In Anger. By coincidence, the song was on top of the charts in the week the episode was aired, and the writers hadn't even known it was going to be released as a single.
  • Crazy Homeless People: When Nicky encounters Geordie in 1987, he's become a mentally deranged, alcoholic vagrant who doesn't recognise his former friend. After seeing Eddie Wells make a speech on television, he gets mixed messages and proceeds to start a fire at the hostel he's staying at.
  • Cute but Troubled: Women seem to find Geordie irresistible, even after he's told them all about his troubles. He even manages to get lucky with one of Benny's associates after telling her he got out of prison only hours before they met.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Geordie enjoys life working for Benny Barrett. Sadly, it doesn't last.
  • Death of a Child: In 1995, Sean Collins, having been rebuffed by his father, steals a car and crashes into a wall, killing himself.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: In the first episode, Geordie tells Nicky that the reason he didn't get laid in America was because he was "too busy telling the darkies how to vote".
  • Dirty Cop: Corruption in the Metropolitan Police in the 1960s and 1970s is tackled.
  • Disappeared Dad: Tosker is never around for his and Mary's children, Anthony and Bernadette, and they don't think too highly of him. Anthony even vows that he'll grow up to murder him.
    • Geordie is one, leaving town at the start of the series to get out of a Shotgun Wedding.
  • Dreadful Musician: Tosker is convinced he is destined to become a famous musician one day despite his obvious lack of talent.
  • Driven to Suicide: In 1966, Berger, a former police constable, hangs himself when his allegations about police corruption aren't acted upon.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: The Tyne Bridge makes several appearances, and the Newcastle Council offices have a particularly good view of it.
  • The '80s
  • Everybody Smokes: This is pre-smoking ban Britain, and it shows.
  • Expository Hairstyles: The sudden appearance of lots of rather dodgy long wigs on the male characters tells us that we have reached The '70s.
  • Fall Guy: Geordie is set up and jailed under the Obscene Publications Act after Benny arranges to have illegal porn planted in his flat as revenge for sleeping with his mistress. It's been a long time coming- as the police put it: "It's time for Geordie's holiday!''
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In 1970, Nicky shows Geordie some down-and-outs to explain why he's politically motivated, but Geordie remains apathetic. In 1987, Geordie ends up like them. Also, in the first episode, his first scene in London has him sleeping on a park bench.
    • In 1964, Mary gives Nicky a camera for his birthday. Twenty years down the line, he finds success as a photographer.
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble: Nicky is the Optimist, Geordie is the Apathetic, Tosker is the Cynic and Mary is the Realist.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • Nicky is Melancholic - stubborn, passionate, moody, idealistic.
    • Geordie is Choleric - cocky, arrogant, indifferent, pessimistic.
    • Tosker is Phlegmatic - ambitious, brash, easy-going, proud.
    • Mary is Sanguine - thoughtful, sensible, compassionate, introverted.
  • Friend to All Children: Geordie gets on very well with children. He befriends the daughter of a hotel owner in 1970 and Sean Collins in 1995.
  • The Friends Who Never Hang: Geordie and Mary only interact during Nicky's birthday tea in the first episode.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Felix is often grumbling about everything from the youth of today, to the Labour Party.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Tosker has a bit of an old-fashioned view of marriage. He expects Mary to carry out what he perceives to be her wifely duties, and resents her for spending "his" money on getting an education for herself and trying to carve out a new career. he isn't too impressed with the Labour Women's Meeting she hosts in their flat either.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Nicky again and again as he struggles to find any like-minded souls in politics. Geordie as he struggles to succeed in the criminal underworld among people who are really just using his naivety against him.
  • I Have No Son: Felix disowns Nicky in 1970 when Florrie finds a machine gun under his bed.
  • In Love with the Gangster's Girl: Geordie has an affair with Benny's mistress. Benny finds out and asks Geordie straight up if he is seeing her and he tells the truth. Benny doesn't seem at all mad and admires his honesty. Then later on, he sets Geordie up as a Fall Guy for the police in retaliation for the affair.
  • It's All My Fault: In 1987, Elaine encourages Tosker to invest their money in the stock market. They then lose everything on Black Friday. She says this word-for-word. Thankfully, Tosker gets them back on their feet.
  • Important Haircut: In 1984 Tosker Terry can be seen to have finally cut his long hair short.
  • Jerkass: We meet Christopher Collins in three different stages, and he's an utter shit in all of them - as a juvenile tearaway who annoys Felx and Florre, as a teenage delinquent and criminal, and an adult who neglects his own son.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility:
    • When cheating on Nicky with Tosker, Mary really doesn't want a baby but Tosker gets her pregnant and she ends up marrying him. When Tosker leaves Mary for Elaine, they want a baby and try for one, only to discover that Elaine is infertile.
    • Geordie gets a local girl pregnant and runs away from Newcastle partly to escape the responsibilities he isn't yet ready for.
  • Love Triangle: Nicky, Mary and Tosker.
  • Man Hug: Several, occurring when the Friends are reunited. Especially when Geordie returns from one of his disappearances in one piece.
  • Meaningful Name: Geordie Peackcock. Geordie because he's from Newcastle and Peacock because he's proud and vain.
  • Meaningful Rename: After leaving Mary and settling down with new girlfriend Elaine, Tosker insists on being known by his real name rather than the childhood nickname his wife always called him.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • The dealings between city boss Austin Donohue and architect John Edwards are an obvious reference to the real life scandal involving T. Dan Smith and John Poulson. Filming did not begin until after both men had died.
    • Claude Seabrook was based on former Home Secretary Reginald Maudling.
    • Benny Barrett was based on real life Soho gangster and porn baron James Humphreys.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Benny beats his treacherous henchman Cyril to death.
  • Oop North: Newcastle is portrayed as grim, but to be fair London is portrayed as being, if not quite as grim, one hell of a lot sleazier and more dangerous.
  • Orphaned Punchline: Austin Donohue's joke about George Brown's pork pie ("And then George says, 'If you're not going to eat that pork pie, I'll have it'").
  • Parental Neglect: Sean Collins is neglected by both parents, hence why he engages in criminal mischief.
  • Playing Gertrude: The four main actors play their characters way into middle-age. This required them being heavily made-up.
  • Police Brutality:
    • Geordie experiences this in 1966.
    • Nicky gets a first-hand view of the violence between the police and the miners in 1984.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Geordie uses the term 'darkies' to describe black people while Tosker tells a joke about a Chinaman, in keeping with the attitudes of the 1960s.
  • Potty Failure: In a rare instance of this trope being played seriously, Nicky brings a senile Felix to see a woman who remembers him from The Jarrow March to prove that it wasn't in vain...and then Felix soils himself.
  • Precision F-Strike: When the normally sweet sounding Claudia Seabrook sacks Colin Butler from her staff:
    "One last thing, Colin. Fuck off, you scruffy little man. Back to your scruffy little friends".
  • Prematurely Bald: A major source of angst for Tosker, who desperately tries to cover his bald patch with a combover.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Fed up of Tosker's endless futile attempts to become a rock star, Mary finally tells her husband that he's a mediocre musician who will never get anywhere and should give up and get a real job.
    • Nicky delivers one to Eddie in 1987 when he explains why he doesn't want to get involved in politics anymore- by telling Eddie that he's just as corrupt and pathetic as his fellow Members of Parliament whom he claims to despise.
    • Mary delivers one to Claudia Seabrook in 1987, chewing her out for the mess the Tories made of things.
  • Riches to Rags: Geordie goes from living the high life of working for a gangster to a vagrant on the streets.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Felix becomes this when he descends into Alzheimer's Disease.
  • The '70s.
  • '70s Hair: Dodgy wigs and fake sideburns abound in the 1970s episodes.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Having got a local girl pregnant, Geordie runs away to escape both the wedding and his alcoholic father. After cheating on Nicky with Tosker, Mary discovers she is pregnant and leaves Nicky to enter a loveless marriage with Tosker. note 
  • The '60s.
  • Skilled, but Na´ve: Geordie, who seems to be doing well among the Soho porn barons, until he lets his arrogance get the better of him.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Very much at the gritty end.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Tosker, who sees himself as a gifted musician and irresistible to women and even throws out his own catchphrase.
  • Smug Snake: Colin Butler, the odious agent who runs a smear campaign against Nicky when he runs for Labour MP in 1979.
  • Straw Misognynist: When Benny reveals to Geordie that he knows about his affair with Julia, he shares his view:
    Women are rubbish, Geordie. Most people are rubbish, but all women are. Look, she's just a piece of rubbish. What you and her do or don't do from now on is your business. I'm finished with her. But you and me, we stay the same. No woman is worth any amount of aggravation.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: After being framed by Benny and doing time for a crime he didn't commit Geordie decides to seek revenge. He acquires a gun and tracks Benny down to Soho, but just as he is taking aim to shoot him he finds out that the vice squad have also been after Benny, when they show up and arrest him.
  • The Tramp: In 1970, Nicky encounters a group of them being harassed by the police. In 1987, he photographs the down-and-outs of London. One of which turns out to be Geordie.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Geordie. Over the miniseries, he's been abused by his dad, beaten up, made unemployed when the cafe he worked at closed, sent to prison on false charges, had the woman he loves commit suicide, made homeless and jailed again.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior:
    • Tosker and Mary's son Anthony when he vows that he will one day murder his father. Later he goes on a bit of a crime spree and is arrested.
    • Young Sean Collins' favourite pastime is stealing cars and joyriding.
  • Turn Out Like His Father: Both Nicky and Geordie in their own ways. The former becomes embittered and cynical as he grows older, the latter becomes a drunken vagrant. In a subtle bit of foreshadowing, Geordie even reassuringly asks Tosker if he's anything like his dad.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Nicky confesses to his senile father that he wanted to please him.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Geordie leaves Newcastle to escape both his abusive father and his impending marriage to a girl he made pregnant. Neither are seen or even mentioned again after the first episode.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Nicky has dreams of becoming a left-wing politician who will make a real difference to the lives of poor working-class people. First he joins the Labour party, but quits when he discovers the levels of corruption within. He then joins an anarchist group closer to the extreme Left, but quits when he realises that they're plotting terrorist acts. He then rejoins Labour and stands in the general election but loses thanks to a vicious smear campaign by his Tory opponents. Finally he accepts that he is too nice for politics and abandons his political ambitions.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: The Valley View estate in Newcastle.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Tosker's infidelities lead to his marriage to Mary ending.
    • Nicky has an affair with a photography student in 1987.

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