Screenwriter Alan Bleasdale, famous for his gritty Northern dramas, has announced that he has started work on a new project highlighting the plight of public sector workers in the formerly prosperous south.
‘Gritty dramas set against the backdrop of the miners’ strike have been done to death’ he explained. ‘It’s about time we had another setting for social dramas about everyday people overcoming the hardships of economic deprivation in an uplifting yet thought-provoking manner, and Wednesday’s one day public sector day of action is just the ticket.’
Bleasdale’s film ‘Boys (and girls, of course) from the Blackboard’ features striking teachers in grim Southern town Richmond-Upon-Thames who join a brass band as the hardships start to bite as a result of their one day strike. ‘The band is the glue holding the teaching community together in a difficult time, but cracks soon start to appear as some teachers want to spend the day of the strike practising and some want to go Christmas shopping,’ said Bleasdale.
The film features PE teacher Pete McGregor, whose plaintive catchphrase ‘Gissa cappuccino?’ encapsulates at a stroke his fear that an unpaid day of action will leave him unable to buy this week’s Times Educational Supplement. ‘Straight away he’s reduced to scavenging for education-related articles and features on the internet,’ said Bleasdale. ‘His father was a PE teacher, and his father before him, and his father’s father. What else is he supposed to do if he’s moved from a final salary pension to a career average scheme – form a troupe of male strippers? The band’s all he’s got to keep him going.’
Things get more difficult for McGregor when his son announces that he wants to join a ballet school. ‘He sees no future in teaching any more’ the writer said, ‘so he turns to dance as a way to express his feelings towards the fallout of the global banking crisis. Unfortunately for him the ballet school’s shut as all the dance teachers are on strike.’
But not everyone in the community supports the industrial action, and the dispute starts to divide families and friends. ‘McGregor’s wife is a home economics teacher at the same school, and decides to work on the day of the strike. All she wants to do is teach children how to make swiss rolls and trifles, but she’s ostracised by their neighbours, who all happen to be teachers as well.’
The film reaches a tragic conclusion as band-members are involved in angry scenes whilst attempting to stop colleagues crossing picket lines. The furious teachers yell ‘scab!’ and hurl expertly sharpened pencils at police cordons as supply teachers are bussed in under a police escort in an attempt to keep schools open, egged on by flying pickets from the civil service. ‘McGregor gets an HB in the eye and despite being taken to the school sick room dies from his injuries in the arms of the strike-breaking school nurse’ explains Bleasdale. ‘It’s a tragedy, and there won’t be a dry eye in the house as he begs her to tear his leather elbow patches off to pass on to his son.’