Jarrow playwright Peter Flannery’s superb television serial Our Friends in the North started life as an RSC production in Stratford in 1982 and has finally been re-released on DVD. The £8 million, ten-hour adaptation that reached the small screen after 14 years used the overlapping lives of four Geordies to explore the country’s changing political climate between 1964 and 1995. It was delayed in part because of the BBC’s caution over subsidiary characters clearly based on real people, not least the late former home secretary Reginald Maudling.

Our Friends in the North’s feel for how communities far outside the capital struggle with societal change earned it legitimate comparisons to German film-maker Edgar Reitz’s similarly ambitious Heimat. Flannery’s chronicling of socialism’s failure is all the more insightful because it comes from a man of the left. Licence-payers might wonder what the year-long production schedule did to the Corporation’s wig budget. You’d never have bet that the ninth Doctor and James Bond (Christopher Eccleston and Daniel Craig, above) were lurking under all that horsehair.

No two of the serial’s nine episodes are the same length, which proves how much care was taken: storytelling on this scale is no slave to timeslot, it seems. And for all the memorable lines, it’s a testament to the emotional investment the four main actors inspire that one of their most moving scenes contains no dialogue whatsoever.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

Tags: Arts, Arts review, Our friends in the north, Peter flannery