I always look forward to North-East-based programmes, be they dramas like the underrated 55 Degrees North, or comedies like the ever-brilliant Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. So when I heard about 'Hebburn' I was quite interested to see how it was going to play out, seeing as it was written by a Hebburn local, comedian Jason Cook. Was it going to be full of stereotypical northern gags about Greggs pasties and spray tans? Well, sort of. But, come on, it had to happen really, didn't it? The title itself lets you know this certainly isn't a cosy middle-class comedy, although I do think the word "cosy" can certainly apply to 'Hebburn' - right from the off I thought it had a nice feel about it, and it's a comedy about families, after all. A close-knit northern family who, okay, may display the odd stereotype with the Nana who can't stop talking about "seepage" and the sister who comes across as a bit of a tart with a heart. But the running joke about yoghurt was quite funny. Or maybe that's just my sense of humour...
|The cast of 'Hebburn' (Picture: BBC)|
Anyway, this Tyneside-based comedy has a lot of promise, in my opinion. And a lot of the reviews I've read this morning are saying the same thing. It's the kind of comedy I like to watch, you see. Because I can identify with the characters? Maybe. I'm working-class and I'm proud of that, and I'm never going to pretend otherwise. Do I think it's done the town of Hebburn any good? Not sure. I mean, maybe the character of Jack's assumption that "Hebburn is where dreams come to die" is slightly exaggerated, but what does it matter anyway? Hebburn was never on the tourist map to begin with and we're not talking about an episode of 'Wish You Were Here'. It's a comedy, about people from a small northern town, written by someone who grew up there. And isn't all entertainment exaggerated in some way? I mean, when Jack saw his mate Big Keith and asked him why he was walking round in his vest and Big Keith replied "Me shirt's in the wash", he doesn't, as Jack pointed out, say his "best shirt" - he says "me shirt", implying he only has the one. And I'm sure that, as most sensible people will know, the vast majority of people in Hebburn own a lot more than one shirt. I hope.
I've just read that a local Hebburn Councillor is far from happy about the way the town was portrayed in the show, and that the people he watched it with last night - also locals - only gave it an average of four out of ten, and I'm really sorry to hear that. Because, remember, it is a TV show. As I mentioned before, characters and situations are always exaggerated in these circumstances, and a lot of it is done with tongue very firmly in cheek. If people outside of the North-East want to believe that we all live that way, then let them. If their views and opinions of the North-East-of-England are that narrow-minded that they let themselves be swayed by a TV comedy then that's their problem. As I said before, I'm not from Hebburn myself, but I am a Geordie, and I wasn't in the least bit offended by anything I saw in the show, nor did I feel let down by it in any way. I thought it was a mostly warm-hearted and funny look at a local family, written by someone who's proud of who he is and where he comes from. I don't think Jason Cook in any way set out to put the town of Hebburn down.
Anyway, back to my review. With top-class local actress Gina McKee playing Jack's mum and Jim Moir (a.k.a. Vic Reeves - in a decidedly grown-up role, which took a bit of getting used to at first) playing his dad, the cast is strong and they play well off each other. I particularly liked seeing Gina McKee in a more comedic role than we're usually used to seeing her in, and she played the part brilliantly. I loved the remark she gave after asking Jack's girlfriend what her parents do - when she replied that they owned a shoe shop in York Gina's character says, "Oh, down south then". It was those little lines that were thrown in every now and again that I really liked. Another one that made me smile was when Gina McKee's character threw a pan of bacon in the bin after finding out Jack's girlfriend is Jewish and Jim Moir's character said "That pig's died for nowt now". Lines like that just worked. And that had a lot to do with the actors that were delivering them. Oh, and a mention must go to comedian Chris Ramsey, who plays Jack. I thought he was great!
I even liked the addition of the somewhat sleazy pub singer down the local social club - another stereotype, maybe (and it did lead a few people on a forum my husband was on at the time to ask whether this was actually a comedy or a fly-on-the-wall documentary about North-East life!) but it worked. For me. Look, I'm more pastie and peas than dinner parties and dancing, that's just the kind of girl I am, so this was a new comedy that I was instantly attracted to, and I wasn't disappointed. You can keep your 'Miranda' (never found that funny) and 'My Family' (or that) and even that new one on BBC1 on a Friday night... 'Me and Mrs Jones', or something. You can keep that too. I'm a fan of comedies like Phoenix Nights and The Royle Family, and I like the fact that we in the North-East may just have a show on our hands that can create the same warmth and humour of northern life that those two comedies did.
I'm extremely proud to be a Geordie, and I always will be. Even when Jeremy Kyle sometimes throws up the worst this region has to offer. They're a minority, believe me. And because I'm extremely proud to be a Geordie, it's led me to make a decision on the new book I'm about to begin writing early in the New Year. I suppose you could call this a bit of an announcement, really. If I was important enough to make announcements, that is, but you get me drift. Anyway, yes, a new book in the New Year... it's going to be the first in a series of books that are going to concentrate on two families from the North-East of England, a saga stretching over many decades as we follow their lives, and the stories surrounding them. So there you go. Now you know what I'm going to be doing once I've finished writing my latest book. I'm going back to my northern roots. And no, I won't be turning into the next Catherine Cookson. Far from it!
Anyway, back to 'Hebburn'. To sum it all up, I enjoyed it. It wasn't perfect, but every new show needs time to bed itself in. But I think it's got a lot of promise, and Jason Cook's writing was excellent. you can certainly tell he's a northern boy! No, this is right up my street, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series now - all of a sudden my Thursday evenings have just got that little bit brighter! Some of the gags in 'Hebburn' may, at times, make you smile rather than laugh-out-loud, but it was fair to say I didn't stop smiling for most of the show. And that's good enough for me.
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