Friday's book: From Liverpool to Los Angeles, Peter Ansorge (Faber & Faber pounds 8.99)

After all the hype that greeted the idea of Cool Britannia - the so-called cultural renaissance of 1990s British - it's not surprising that critics of its overblown claims have begun to gather.

One of the quickest off the mark is Peter Ansorge, who casts a sceptical eye over new writing for theatre, television and film. As head of drama at Channel 4, Ansorge is well placed to give an overview of all three sectors. This is better than looking at each in isolation and enables him to grapple with questions that win no friends: will the Britpack of young writers currently causing a stir in theatre end up in Hollywood? Is British drama improving - or are we just kidding ourselves?

Ansorge's polemic is engagingly simple. Writers no longer develop in a stable relationship with their patron institution, but have to chase commissions from theatre to television to film. The result is a loss of individuality, of the sense of place at the root of some of our best drama: think of Dennis Potter's Forest of Dean or Alan Bleasdale's Liverpool.

Without the long-term security that binds dramatists to institutions new writing grows formulaic: all those cop shows and hospital serials. It becomes just "another forgettable blip on the information superhighway". After attacking the policies that led to mass sackings at the BBC and cuts in theatre subsidy, Ansorge points out that if individual voices such as Mike Leigh or Jimmy McGovern were starting out today, they wouldn't make it. Then, clearly irritated by the complacency that hails the young writers of today - such as Jez Butterworth - as part of a new golden age, Ansorge moves on to criticise the critics.

With its stinging account of how journalism is part of a general dumbing down of culture (as criticism makes way for fawning previews and acerbic put-downs) From Liverpool to Los Angeles is certain to bruise a few media egos. Mark Lawson, for example, won't relish being reminded that he got the plots of Potter's Karaoke and Cold Lazarus wrong.

It's unfair to judge each new writer by comparing them to John Osborne and the exceptional impact of Look Back in Anger in 1956. But Ansorge's lambasting of the failure of nerve on the part of television executives and lack of anger on the part of writers makes the pulse quicken, even when the mind disagrees. Even if you don't agree that young writers today are under the baleful influence of Tarantino and drug culture, the criticisms are thought-provoking and timely. If this book kicks off a lively debate about Britain's best cultural asset - its writers - then his idiosyncratic tour of Liverpool, London and Los Angeles will have been worth it.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

    £35-45K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer / Web ...

    Recruitment Genius: .NET Web / Software Developer - ASP.NET

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Small and agile digital marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Accountant

    £12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A national firm of chartered ce...

    Recruitment Genius: Full Time and Part Time Digital Designer - North Kent

    £20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful web design/deve...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders