I’ll admit it doesn’t take much to wrest my attention from just about anything I’m supposed to be concentrating on… wait, was that a shiny object? I must chase it!
It’s the curse of being a control freak, I suppose, wanting to know what’s going on and finding fault at all times, but I’m easily distracted and diverted… ooh, look, chocolate!… particularly from dramas set in places I know well, because a little local knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
So I was both vexed and preoccupied this week during episode two of Kay Mellor’s frantic melodrama Girlfriends (Wednesday ITV), which is set in York. It’s typical Mellor: so much happens it’s like being pinched on the arm repeatedly by plotlines that are trying to grab your attention.
But I wandered along a byway all of my own because the character called Sue (Miranda Richardson), features editor of a bridal maga zine in York, kept parking illegally and with impunity all over the city. And York loves its parking restrictions.
If you’re not familiar with this magnificent place you won’t know this so just bear with me for a minute before I broaden things out a bit, but Sue parked at the bottom of Stonegate. I know! No one drives down Stonegate, it’s pedestrianised! (Except for loading between 5am and 10.30am. Thanks City of York Council!)
Now come on, I’m not the only viewer in the world who loves taking issue with silly things like this; it’s one of the happy by-products of a television drama world that’s opened up the entire country.
When I was a kid growing up in the North pretty much all the dramas I watched, with the possible exception of When the Boat Comes In, were filmed in London. Of course, this had a glamour of its own (which swiftly turned to ash when I actually moved here), and I would have sold my soul to hurtle through the grimy streets in a boxy Ford Consul with DI Jack Regan and DS George Carter. For years I yearned to call someone, anyone, “guv’nor”. I still do, come to think of it.
But now we can all take issue with a character’s flagrant disregard of local parking bylaws, whether we live in Leicester, London or Lincoln. It makes us feel we all have a stake in our favourite television shows.
The blossoming of drama throughout the country and particularly the North has been one of the biggest, most welcome advances in television since I’ve been a critic. Manchester (as seen by writers like Paul Abbott and Russell T Davies), Leeds and wider West Yorkshire (by Kay Mellor and Sally Wainwright) are well known to us all now.
And pockets of beauty like Durham are familiar thanks to Inspector George Gently, which also imaginatively used locations such as Saltburn Pier on the north east coast and beaches near sites of heavy industry on Teesside.
Now it’s York’s turn to bask, and I hope everyone watching appreciates its loveliness, even if Girlfriends is at times like a grown-up panto. But if you decide to visit – check the parking.