Television schedules are packed with shows about navigating the post-university wasteland. From Lena Dunham’s Girls to current British comedies like Crashing and Siblings, adult life not living up to expectations is a recurring theme. The undergraduate days, however, are less well-documented on British telly. There's the darkly funny Fresh Meat, but that's set to end later this year after its fourth series. Given what an important, defining – and, let’s face it, difficult – period uni can be, I think it’s a topic ripe for more screen time. So, I was intrigued to hear this week about new BBC Three series, Clique.
The channel announced the six- episode ”thriller” as part of its online-only schedule. It’s created by Jess Brittain who was on the Skins writing team (her brother Jamie Brittain and father Bryan Elsley co-created the teen series), and is set at the University of Edinburgh, my own alma mater. Brittain spent a lot of time in the city growing up and her show will follow two freshers who get involved with a group of “alpha girls” and are introduced to “a seductive world of lavish parties, populated by Edinburgh’s highest-powered business men and women”.
Dave Evans of Balloon Entertainment, the production company behind the series, co-founded by Elsley with Harry Enfield, says the show will portray a “heightened” version of university life, as Skins did for life at sixth-form college – except that Skins involved more raving, sex and narcotics than anyone I knew was getting up to at 16. However, younger friends said that they found the themes tackled – mental health, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexuality – as well as the dialogue, did reflect their own lives.
I hope Clique taps into the less glamorous side of undergraduate life. “It will feel more hard-edged than most portrayals of uni,” Evans told the Independent. “It’s also very much focused on what that stage in life means. Moving away from home forces people to ask that basic question of who and what they want to be as an adult.” I never did any mixing with the “business elite”, alas, but Edinburgh is an intriguing social melee and one that can feel alienating. As Evans puts it: “It’s a university and city with a specific and fascinating class-divide.”
From my experience, it’s not just a so-called gown and town distinction. Like Oxbridge and some other Russell Group universities, Edinburgh has a not undeserved reputation for elitism. About one in three students come from independent schools, and many of them arrive in the city socially confident after gap years in Africa or South America. They’re mixing with high-achieving students coming straight from the Scottish school system who aren’t even old enough to drink in the city’s bars. Of course, those are the extremes, but it can make for a confusing, overwhelming experience, wherever you’ve come from. One that may not always add up to make university "the best years of your life". And that’s all happening against the backdrop of one of the UK’s most geographically dramatic cities. It’s a setting that I hope is done justice.
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