Tonight BBC1 shows the first episode of From There to Here, Peter Bowker’s fabulous new three-part drama about the emotional repercussions of the 1996 Manchester Bomb.
As well as being Bowker’s love letter to the city of his upbringing, it is essentially a family drama which begins with Daniel Cotton (Philip Glenister) trying to keep the peace at a family summit in a local pub between his wide boy brother Robbo (Steven Mackintosh) and their grumpy dad (Bernard Hill).
But just as things are about to turn nasty within the family, things turn even nastier outside… because the date is 15 June 1996.
The ripple effects of the real life explosion which ripped Manchester city centre apart (and miraculously didn’t kill anyone) are felt by everyone. Married Daniel finds himself drawn to Liz White’s Joanne, who was cleaning the pub at the time of the explosion, and discovers that she lives in the area his birth mother is from (he was adopted). And of course there’s Robbo, who gets the idea of creating another explosion in order to get compensation for himself. And as for anyone who cares about how well England do hosting the 1996 football championships… well, there's that too...
As Bowker says, the bombing creates a number of contradictions – mainly that the destruction led to the rebuilding of Manchester. Or as he jokes: “Riots or terrorism are the only way you could get an old city rebuilt from the bottom to the top. The Scousers had already had riots and so there was an interesting contradiction that you had.”
Whether or not you have heard of Bowker, chances are you have seen his work, whether it’s the fabulous awards-laden Iraq drama Occupation or Blackpool, his bold musical drama with David Morrissey.
One of the brilliant things about his writing is his capacity for capturing people who experience enormous emotions but don’t always have the means of expressing themselves. Polestar when it comes to that in From There to Here is of course Daniel, but it also affects the group and Bowker has written some beautiful family scenes where the thrum of everyone’s agendas can be felt under the surface, although they are not always properly or clearly expressed.
Does he agree with this?
“I don’t think human beings are very good at communicating full-stop, and that’s good for me, because it gives me a living, but bad for humanity," he chuckles.
“I mean, this came together for me – the Euro 96 thing helped because you know, talking about football and talking about emotion and, you know.... I know my Dad never said he loved me because he was from Salford, but taking me to the match was his way if saying it. It could be a Smiths’ song. “
It is also probably a sad reflection of this particular viewer that one of the most painful aspects of episode one is having to relive the England-German penalty shoot out in the semi-finals. And here I upbraid the writer for failing – yes FAILING – to use dramatic licence to change the result of that particular game.
He laughs: “Well, I think there’s a great irony at the centre of that day, and it’s that this terrible thing that happened in the morning – the bomb – allowed Manchester to reinvent itself yet again, and so this very bad thing caused good things to happen, and the myth of Euro 96 being a new start for English football… it was clearly a stepping stone and we were going to be winning the World Cup within four years. I’m not saying they occupy a moral equivalent by the way, but I think there’s a kind of irony, and sport is full of second chances and life is rarely full of second chances, so that’s the kind of parallel I’m trying to draw.”
And he does it brilliantly.
From There to Here begins on BBC1 at 9pm on Thursday 22 May