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Jimmy McGovern (born 1949 in Liverpool, England, UK) is a British television scriptwriter, known for his powerful and thought-provoking dramas often based around hard-hitting social issues or controversial real-life events.
He started his career working on Channel 4's socially-realist soap opera Brookside in 1982, tackling many social issues such as unemployment.
In 1993, he created the drama serial Cracker about the work of a criminal psychologist played by Robbie Coltrane. Made by Granada Television and screened on ITV, the series was a phenomonal critical and popular success, being regarded as one of the finest British television dramas of the age, winning many awards and making McGovern one of the most sought-after writers in the industry.
Since Cracker, his work has included BBC One drama serial The Lakes (1997-99), ITV's Hillsborough (1997, a dramatised reconstruction of the events of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster), and Sunday (2002) for Channel 4, based on the events of 'Bloody Sunday'.
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2005 - 2017
Jimmy McGovern: The whole bloody truth
The man who honed his talents on 'Brookside' and made his name with 'Cracker' is driven by a need to give a voice to the voiceless, as his award-winning film on Bloody Sunday showed. Sarah Harris meets him
Published: 15 April 2007
In 1972 Jimmy McGovern watched the Bloody Sunday tragedy unfold from his house in Liverpool on a black and white television. "I don't really know what I felt at the time," he recalls, "but I know I was deeply, deeply suspicious about what our government had done."
Thirty-five years on, the controversial, Bafta award-winning creator of Cracker and The Lakes - and Liverpool's unofficial working-class hero - is promoting the DVD release of his 2002 documentary-drama Sunday. It marks the 35th anniversary of the report by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, into the events of Bloody Sunday and tells the story of the 13 unarmed civilians who were shot dead by British paratroopers on the streets of Londonderry during an illegal civil rights march.
A tribunal followed which largely cleared the British Army of blame, and has since been criticised as a "whitewash". McGovern's film has been credited with changing the public perception of the events of that day, particularly in the stark absence of the report of Lord Saville's subsequent investigation into the tragedy - one that began in 1998, and is yet to be published.
"I would have been roughly the same age as you are now when it happened," McGovern tells me thoughtfully. "I'm no Irish Republican," he adds, "but looking back, I think I would have tried to join the IRA. I know the kind of man I was. These people were simply marching for the right to vote. Isn't that incredible?"
But now, sitting across from me in the quiet café of the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, cradling a frothy cappuccino, Jimmy McGovern seems a long way from the angry young man he was then. He stammers slightly and shrinks into his dark, woollen jumper when it comes to the subject of himself, but speaks with a quiet, passionate intensity about his work.
"I always begin with the notion of ownership of story," he tells me, "and Bloody Sunday is owned by the people of Derry. The truth is paramount. You're not doing anybody any favours if you lie, because that's not a story any more. It's just a myth. So if there's any tension at all in my work, it's a tension between ownership of story and truth."
Injustice, disempowerment and death are at the core of much of McGovern's writing, starting with his harrowing 1996 documentary-drama, Hillsborough, and moving through to Dockers (1999). But initially he was reluctant to take on the Bloody Sunday project. "I was scared because I am English," he admits. "I turned it down and turned it down," until he went to the annual Bloody Sunday march in Derry one year and stood alongside the families of the dead to listen to the speeches. "It became apparent that we didn't just kill young men that day," says McGovern, "we killed their parents as well - and it was that compounded sense of anger and grievance that made me do it."
McGovern spent three years in Ireland interviewing the families of the victims and piecing together the events of 30 January 1972, a process he calls "financial suicide".
He was raised in an Irish-Catholic area of Liverpool and at the age of 11 won a scholarship to a Jesuit grammar school (which he hated), but even now he says, "the Catholic faith gives me the power to examine motive and conscience. I have never given myself an easy time over anything, and as a writer that can be a useful tool."
Even in his hit ITV series Cracker, the orgy of criminal v iolence, gambling, swearing, drinking and adultery is not without a moral reference point. "Often I give the insane people beautiful lines," he said once, "but they have killed people and they will suffer for it." When I ask him what makes him feel guilty, he says, "stupid male weaknesses like sex, drink and gambling". As a younger man, McGovern had a serious gambling habit, and admits that writing the character of Dr Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald for Cracker, made famous by actor Robbie Coltrane, was an exorcism of sorts.
The years spent filming Cracker were "lost in a haze of alcohol," he admits. "It was amazing the amount we all put away. Robbie is 6ft 4ins and huge, so if you try to keep up with him you're dead."
It was Cracker in 1993 that launched McGovern's career as one of the most talented British scriptwriters of his generation, but the gritty Merseyside soap Brookside was his training ground. He worked there as a scriptwriter from 1983 to 1989, spouting endless impassioned tirades for Bobby Grant, played by Ricky Tomlinson. Before that he worked as a waiter, chemical worker and bus conductor, until training as a teacher in Liverpool in 1979. But it was always writing that enthralled Jimmy McGovern. "All the way through school I could write. To me it was freedom," he says.
The fifth of seven children, McGovern muses that perhaps the written word came naturally because he didn't speak before the age of about seven. "It was very rare you got the chance in a house full of kids," he recalls. "I remember being lost in worlds of my own." When he did speak it was with a severe stammer, so it is easy to imagine why the writer feels so strongly about giving voices to those people who would otherwise remain unheard. Following a similar vein, his next project will be a stage play - his first for 20 years - called King Cotton at the Lowry in Salford to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade.
On the walk back down the hill to Liverpool's Lime Street Station, past the rows of red-brick terraces, run-down boozers and stained 1960s office blocks, McGovern seems to relax. He tells me that he is tired of the gritty docu-drama, and suggests a return to the world of fiction. These days he likes evenings at home with his wife, Elaine, looking after his four grandchildren, and Friday nights playing cards with his brothers down the pub.
He shows me the huge modern Catholic Cathedral on Hope Street nicknamed "Paddy's Wigwam", cracks open the door of the Beehive Tavern where the "Teddy Boys" drink, and looks to the point on the hill where he watched the crowds swarm through the streets after the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. He talks about football; about the time he ended up at a lunch party with Melvyn Bragg and Salman Rushdie before an Arsenal match, and about the local girls in short skirts who drink too much on Saturday nights. That's the thing about meeting a Scouser, he says, "you'll always be able to talk to him."
Biography: From waiter to winning writer
1949: Born in Liverpool.
1960: Won a scholarship to St Francis Xavier's grammar school.
1965-1979: Left at 16 to become a waiter and bus conductor.
1968: Met his wife, Elaine, while working in a Lake District hotel.
1979: Trained to be a teacher.
1983-89: Brookside scriptwriter.
1993: Created the multi-award-winning serial drama Cracker.
1994: Wrote Priest, starring Linus Roache as a homosexual priest.
1996: Bafta-winning Hillsborough told the story of the disaster that left 96 Liverpool fans dead.
1996: Co-wrote Go Now, starring Robert Carlyle.
1997-99: Bafta-nominated serial The Lakes followed the lives of hotel workers in the Lake District.
1999: Wrote the Bafta-nominated docu-drama Dockers.
2001: Liam, directed by Stephen Frears
2002: Channel 4 film, Sunday, starring Christopher Ecclestone.
2004: Gunpowder, Treason and Plot, about Mary, Queen of Scots.
2006: The Street and the return of Cracker for a one-off episode.
2007: The Cotton King.
Source: The Independent
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