Sugartown: it’s still dim up north

The sickly northern stereotypes are hard to swallow

At some point, growing up in a not particularly interesting part of Yorkshire, I assumed that I and every other child growing up in the same not particularly interesting part of Yorkshire would be given a kestrel, in much the same way as we would be given a Premium Bond or a Tunnock’s caramel wafer.


My tiny unformed northern mind assumed the issuing of this particular bird of prey was some kind of region-specific rite of passage. Why? Because, dear reader, I knew all about the film Kes. (Though strangely I never actually saw it until I was a proper grown-up).

Other kids at school talked about it with reverence, so I knew it was a film set in the north, featuring kids who sounded pretty much like us, even though I had never, outside of my family, formed a deep emotional attachment to anything apart from my Tiny Tears, let alone a bird. But never mind that, because someone would shortly present me with my own kestrel, because that’s what happened to northern kids.

Similarly, looking back it’s hard not to think that we all grew up in black and white (thank you A Taste of Honey, A Kind of Loving, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) with Dora Bryan for a mum (or Thora Hird if Dora wasn’t available) and Tom Courtenay as a brother. This was our duty as northerners. This was the hole we filled in the imaginations of non-northerners.

Not an awful lot has changed. Now that I am a proper grown-up, I have come to realise that my duty as a northerner is to be brisk but warm-hearted, cheery in the face of adversity, a bit thick and to wear lots of pink. In fact, I must be like the people in the not-at-all-missed Candy Cabs and now, Sugartown (Sunday BBC1). Watch out, too, for Trollied, coming soon to Sky1. It’s a comedy set in a northern supermarket. There are jokes about pork.

Yes, Sugartown is another one of those “comedy dramas” (that is, it’s neither) set in a small northern town full of brisk but warm-hearted, slightly thick people who are cheery in the face of adversity. It stars Shaun Dooley, who is, it would seem, contractually obliged to show up in absolutely everything set in a small northern town to be “nice northern fella” and Sue Johnston, who is to northern comedy dramas what Robert de Niro is to Martin Scorsese films. She simply has to be in every single one.

I was sent a promotional stick of rock by the production company behind Sugartown, which is unfortunate, as rock makes me sick. But what do you know, Sugartown made me hurl, too, such are its powerful emetic properties. It’s packed with ham-fisted clichés (the successful prodigal returns from the flashy south to turn his daft old home town on its head). There’s a token unthreatening gay character. It’s full of women who shriek instead of conversing naturally (southern women do not do this. Or so you’d think).

Everyone does silly things and embarrasses themselves (though their friends don’t mind because northerners are very forgiving). The life of the dull little town depends on one industry, in this particular case the rock factory: “This factory means the world to this community.” Everyone fights for a good cause (not closing the factory) and every single woman is a fluffy, pin-brained idiot.


It made me want to die.