Socialist Worker

EastEnders, but with jobs

by Theresa Bennett
Issue No. 1788

IT IS rare for a television drama to be set in an ordinary workplace. Clocking Off is, and has attracted audiences of around 11 million. This is the third series of the award-winning BBC drama set in a Manchester textile factory.

It successfully looks at the relationships of workers inside and out of the factory. One of the latest episodes concentrated on the class divide, with the arrival of Tash. She is the middle class design student on a work placement at Mackintosh Textiles.

Her attempts to get in with the workers amplifies the gulf between them. 'It doesn't take great brains to go to university, honest,' explains Tash as she tries to show she's really one of the girls. Her experience is a million miles away from the others. She can dabble in drugs without fear. So she presents herself as streetwise by offering the horrified workers a line of coke.

In fact she has more in common with the boss, Mac, who she quickly sparks up a relationship with. This episode sharply contrasted her with Suzie, a single parent struggling to get by as a forklift truck driver.

As the relationship between these two women develops, the programme makers skilfully portray the unspoken hardships that trap many working people. Tash knows she won't be stuck in the factory. She fails to understand that there is nowhere else for her friend Suzie to go. Tash meddles in Suzie's money troubles and disastrously stirs up even more aggravation for her from two dodgy decorators.

Male friendships between blue collar workers are explored in another episode. It is a clever exposé of the undertones beneath male canteen culture, and centres on two men with very different troubles. There is a lot of bravado about sex but also a surprisingly frank account of male sexuality.

Newly-wed Nick reveals he is worried about commitment and having kids. His fears have led to him not wanting to have sex. Mark is a deeply disturbed ex-con. He pretends to workmates that he has just left the army.

The men show a fascination with the army. But the waste of life it brings comes out when it is revealed that Mark's brother was killed in the army on a training exercise. The script has constant reminders of the importance of work on the lives of the characters.

When things between players on the football pitch start to get rough, the referee says, 'Come on, we've all got work in the morning,' in an attempt to calm things down. The programme displayed a realistic view of relationships between victims of rape and their attackers.

It was a million miles from the stereotype of a stranger on a dark street. Trust is established and later betrayed. The threat of violence is built around the rapist. Chillingly, Mark is not reduced to a caricature of evil. This portrayal reflects the complexity that ordinary people have to grapple with.

It also raises questions about the difficulties rape victims undergo, and why so many do not go to the police. This series is well worth watching.

If you have missed any of the programmes, don't worry. Each hour-long episode has a storyline designed to stand alone and focuses on a different character.


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Sat 23 Feb 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1788
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