Redcar means a lot to my family. Not so much now, when we are all scattered by the winds of career and family, but decades ago as we grew up nearby. We still visit and we are protective of this seen-betterdays seaside resort on the North East coast.
So when I was at a BBC2 new-season launch at a posh London hotel, the kind of place where the lighting is so pointlessly subdued you need a burning torch to find the lifts, and the new docu-soap The Mighty Redcar was announced, I groaned.
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Then my hackles went up and I polished the chip on my shoulder to a buff shine. Oh God, I thought, it’ll be one of those “Ooh, look at the funny northerners” series, like the Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse sketches where someone kept northerners as pets.
I wasn’t alone. I saw my brother a few weeks later, who wondered, “I’ve seen trailers for something called The Mighty Redcar. Is it a joke?”
I hope not. To us Redcar was the place we piled off to at the first hint of sun on a weekend. Dad would wrestle with the windbreak and put up the deckchairs, the kids would pelt into the freezing North Sea.
I did (hated) ballet lessons in Redcar; Mam and Dad had their silver wedding party there; we spent our pocket money in the massive seafront Woolies (ah, how I loved that plastic crash helmet, my favourite purchase). And I hung on to my big brother as I howled in terror on the ghost train in Redcar’s tiny amusement park. We ate fish and chips, and to this day I give a little inward swoon as I think of Redcar’s justly famous lemon-top ice creams. You’ll have to try one, I can’t explain. Then we lost loads of coppers in the amusements, failing to secure that windfall that was surely just another penny away.
Today, looking at my favourite framed family photos, I realise that a lot of them were taken on the seafront, or the “prom”, at Redcar. Invariably we’re huddled against the cold.
I realise I’m not painting much of a picture here; Redcar isn’t Las Vegas. But it’s ours. We don’t want anyone making fun. Yet here’s the thing, The Mighty Redcar doesn’t make fun. It’s warm, funny and engaging, and I love it.
I even felt a bit nostalgic during the opening episode, though the heart has long since been ripped out of the town I knew by the closure of its steel works with the loss of 1,700 jobs. The lifeblood stopped pumping in 2015, leaving poverty and hardship to flutter in Redcar’s depleted veins.
The Mighty Redcar focuses firmly on the town’s young. Those who don’t have the expectation of dads, grandads, great-grandads, that they’d go into the steelworks and have a job for life.
But the teens in The Mighty Redcar have wit and imagination. It’s narrated by local lass Madison Cooper, from a script she helped to write, which adds a brilliant blanket of authenticity. Madison is clearly proud of her town and that makes me so happy.
These kids dream dreams, as I did; they can’t stay put, they want opportunities and that probably means leaving Redcar. Which makes me sad.
The Mighty Redcar airs on Thursdays at 9pm on BBC2 from 6th September