Jimmy McGovern fears sanitised capital of culture

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The Independent Online

Jimmy McGovern, Liverpool's best-known screenwriter, warned yesterday that the city's selection as European Capital of Culture would do nothing to alleviate hardship in its poorest neighbourhoods.

The writer of the hit television drama Cracker said he was convinced that the most deprived districts of Liverpool would be "hidden from view" when visitors flocked to the city to witness its cultural renaissance. "This city is a great, vibrant city," he said. "But there are still areas of poverty and I don't see how the capital of culture will help those areas. They will be passed by."

He said that he feared districts including Smithdown, Kensington, Granby and Anfield would be screened by city officials to make them invisible to visitors, in an attempt to make Liverpool more aesthetically pleasing in its showcase year of 2008.

The screenwriter recalled that he had once complained to the council about the dilapidated state of an alleyway in Kensington and that the response had been to plant a row of trees to conceal the eye-sore. "There's supposed to be a lot of cash being spent on Kensington but the people have seen small improvements if anything," he said. "Money has been pumped in but it has gone into the pockets of outsiders and developers."

McGovern was not involved in the bid for capital of culture status but has assisted school children from some of the city's toughest areas in making films, which will be shown this week on television in recognition of Liverpool's title. The films deal with difficult issues such as theft, truancy and bullying and were filmed after McGovern advised the children on writing their scripts.

He said the silent movies, made by children aged between 12 and 17, were "amazing" and showed an outstanding talent for storytelling. The films were given their premiere recently at Liverpool's Empire Theatre, and the children were delivered to the venue in stretch limousines.

McGovern described the project as "absolutely incredible". He added: "If I had been through that experience it would have changed my life a lot quicker. If somebody had walked into my classroom and did that exercise I would have been convinced I wanted to do that with my life. I discovered extremely late in life what I could do."

McGovern was born in 1949 as the fifth of what would become a family of nine children He was a car worker, chemical worker and bus conductor before he began attending writers' workshops and rediscovered an interest in learning that led to him training to become a teacher. With this Liverpool schools project, called First Light and backed by the Film Council, he has made a return to the classroom.

"We would have a workshop with all the kids around me and we would go almost shot by shot," he said. Among the storylines is Anfield Community Comprehensive's tale of a Scouse lad who steals his father's 70-year-old football, once used by the Everton legend Dixie Deans, only to lose it in a lake. McGovern said that if Sir Jeremy Isaacs, the head of the capital of culture judging panel, had attended the premiere at the Liverpool Empire, "we'd have pissed [the title] much earlier".

The First Light films will be shown all week on the Community Channel and McGovern is lobbying for them to be aired on terrestrial television.