Obituary: Michael Wearing, the innovative TV producer who reignited Britain's passion for period drama

Michael Wearing was head of serials for the BBC at a make-or-break time for the genre

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The Independent Online

Michael Wearing, who has died aged 78, was the television producer who brought some of the most memorable drama series of the Eighties and Nineties to the small screen, including Boys from the Blackstuff and Edge of Darkness.

Wearing was born in 1939 and studied anthropology at Newcastle University, where he became interested in drama. His first theatre role was as assistant stage manager at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, later moving to the Royal Court Theatre. He joined the BBC as a script editor in 1976.

Wearing’s best-known production was the five-episode serial, Boys from the Blackstuff, written by Alan Bleasdale as the sequel to his acclaimed BBC Play for Today The Black Stuff (1980), about Liverpudlian tarmac layers. It immediately entered into the public imagination on its first showing in 1982, particularly for the lead character Jimmy “Yosser” Hughes, played by Bernard Hill, and his catchphrase “Gizza job!”. Bleasdale said of the production’s location in a later interview “It was a city built on casual labour, which meant we were going to be among the first to suffer. They looked around and thought ‘Well, they can go’. You knew Liverpool was going to take a terrible battering.”

Blackstuff was the last significant production to come out of the BBC’s English Regions Drama unit at Pebble Mill in Birmingham. Wearing moved to London where his first project was the production of Edge of Darkness (1985), an eco-political thriller starring Bob Peck as a Yorkshire police detective investigating the murder of his daughter. That programme went on to win six Baftas. 

The mid Nineties were a critical make-or-break time for period drama on the BBC, when Wearing was head of serials for the corporation and executive producer for several of its greatest successes. The genre had been seen as somewhat out of fashion but the six-part adaption of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1993), with a £6m budget and Wearing as executive producer, proved otherwise. Broadcast in 1994, it attracted more than 5.5 million viewers, and went on to sell to many countries worldwide. Wearing’s success with Middlemarch was followed by Pride and Prejudice (1995).

Kevin Loader, who worked with Wearing at the BBC, told The Independent: “Michael was resolutely contemporary in his interests, with politically engaged work. So, period drama wasn’t initially his bag but he became a late convert. He was an enormous influence on a whole generation of producers and writers who had been script editors under Michael’s wing.”

The gritty social realism of Blackstuff would be repeated in Our Friends in the North (1996), produced by Wearing and written by Peter Flannery, based on his 1982 stage production. Wearing received the honorary Alan Clarke award at the 1997 British Academy Television Awards, for outstanding creative achievement. On resigning from the BBC the following year, he commented at the time how he felt “stifled” by the corporation, under its then director-general, John Birt.

His son Benjamin and his daughter, Catherine, followed in their father’s footsteps into the creative media. Catherine, his elder daughter with former wife, sculptor and photographer, Jean Ramsey, died in 2007 aged 41 from complications related to diabetes.

Wearing is survived by Sadie, his other daughter with Ramsey, and by Ella and Benjamin, the children from his subsequent relationship with artist Karen Loader.

Michael Wearing, television producer: born 12 March 1939; died London, 5 May 2017