Gritty viewing of teens at home and overseas

Liz Nicholls

Liz Nicholls

First published in Life by

Those of us lucky enough not to have felt the sharp side of the justice system don’t need to give it much thought.

Until, that is, Jimmy McGovern decides there’s an issue we should mull over.

McGovern, who tends to have the word ‘gritty’ prefixed before his name, makes it his business to shine a light on injustice, via the telly. This is the man who was delving into the tragedy of the Hillsborough disaster about 20 years before it became fashionable.

Common, which aired on Sunday night (now on iPlayer) explored the unsexy-sounding Joint Enterprise law with a drama based on kids guilty of murder by association.

If ever there were a cause ripe for McGovern treatment, Joint Enterprise is it. Haven’t heard of it? Helpfully, Michelle Fairley, freshly resurrected after being Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones, screams: “It’s about getting working-class scum off our streets!”

Joint Enterprise (which sounds like an awful task by pillocks on The Apprentice) was introduced to stop aristocrats duelling but, McGovern suggests, is now being used as a handy broom to lock up youths in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In Common, McGovern has the police detective (Robert Pugh) praising the law’s power to jail youngsters, even if no one can prove “exactly which scumbag used the knife”.

Exhibit A: Johnjo O’Shea (Nico Mirallegro, graduating from Hollyoaks), a Bambi-faced haemophiliac who gave his brothers a lift to get a pizza (his biggest concern being that they get one without mushrooms) and unwittingly drove the getaway gang from a hasty stabbing. Bang, and he’s in the dock, in front of the velvet-voiced judge Michael Gambon and then forced to scrabble about for the least-horrific fate offered to him – six years for a guilty plea or gamble and maybe get more inside.

This tale had all the benchmarks of a McGovern great: broken families rowing at the kitchen sink, haughty coppers, gypsy warnings about being a grass, a mum hassled for payment as she tries to buy a white coffin for her son.

Distilling it all like that makes it sound fairly ridiculous but, as ever, the mums are the heart of the drama. Susan Lynch, as mum of murdered Kieran Gillespie and Jodhi May as mum of jailed Johnjo are compelling. Both look like they’ve done ten rounds with life and aren’t finished yet. If anyone can get viewers to sit up and listen to McGovern’s latest issue, they can.

A very different look at teenagers comes with BBC Three’s Slum Survivors which started on Monday and carries on for two more Mondays at 9pm. For the first instalment, The Beeb took three teenagers – Sean, Kayleigh and Muj – and plonked them in Ogudu, one of Lagos’s biggest slums.

Mood swings are palpable. One minute the youngsters are jumping for joy that they’re off on holiday (none of them correctly identifies which continent Nigeria is in, but are pleased to get away from their respective Liverpool, Livingston and Portsmouth nonetheless). The next, they’re confronted with the stench of raw sewage and poverty and forced to toil in a mechanic’s yard in 40-degree heat with only the threat of a beating to provide motivation and LOLs.

Kayleigh – the blue-and blonde-haired Scot – is the stand-out star of the show.

But, while the trio seem to grow and get some perspective in the presence of the friendly families living in squalor, their observations are rather off-putting.

“Here, if you don’t work, you don’t eat,” says Kayleigh. “We have benefits for people who don’t work. Send them all here!”

Not sure JImmy McGovern would approve but there’s a job waiting for her as an MP for UKIP if she carries on with this kind of analysis.

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