'Bleak TV' takes off in Halifax

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The Independent Online
CITIZENS OF Halifax, Labour Party spin-doctors and fans of the television series Changing Rooms are unlikely to appreciate the launch of a television genre on BBC2 tomorrow.

Provisionally labelled "bleak TV", Twockers is the first in a new type of drama based on the lives of the people who act in it. The programme features Trevor, a 17-year-old living on a grim Halifax housing estate where the days are filled by pointless petty crime and endless hanging around on waste ground.

Its award-winning co-director, Paul Pawlikowski, described Twockers as the opposite of the broad mass of television which reflects "aspirational happy Britain, where people have a good time".

Most British television "is all about smiling - and is really quite depressing", he said. It caters for the new, broad middle class, and is about improving quality of life - better gardens, better food and, as in BBC1's Changing Rooms, decorating. "But about a quarter of the population has been materially left behind. And politicians don't care, because these people don't vote much.

"We did not have a political purpose as such. But we were interested in the abandoned corners of society, where there is no hope and little imagination beyond the horizon. Where people's imaginations are fired by television."

The drama, while being set in a bleak, nihilistic corner of Blairite Britain, has a gentle love story at its heart, and stars 17-year-old Trevor Wademan - who was found by a researcher who spent weeks outside McDonald's, at youth clubs and near schools, looking for a "character" to base the drama on.

Dozens of children did screen tests, but Trevor came through, partly because of his natural relationship with the camera and partly because of what Pawlikowski describes as his hinterland. "Trevor writes poetry and, amazingly, has a Hungarian penfriend who he has kept in contact with for years," he said.

Twockers has already been shown at the London Film Festival, and Pawlikowski has a track record in documentary making and drama that has won him a mantelpiece full of awards. Serbian Epics in 1992 was made as a result of being part of the only camera crew permanently attached to the Bosnian Serb army.

Dostoevsky's Travels, a comedy of manners about a tram-driver descendant of the great writer mistakenly invited to a Western literary conference, won him an RTS award. He also has a Prix Italia.

Twockers seems likely also to attract critical acclaim, but hardly the ratings of a Changing Rooms or a jolly docusoap about vets. However, the BBC2 controller, Jane Root, is said to be keen on the new genre and has commissioned three further programmes from Pawlikowski and his co-director, Ian Duncan. Their next venture will feature the poorer quarter of Margate in Kent, where local people live alongside asylum-seekers who arrive on ships at nearby Dover. The search is on for the next Trevor.

However, Pawlikowski says, there is potential to take the genre out of the world of the bleak, although the middle classes are somehow "much more uniform and less interesting to look at".