How to Find Your Voice in Burnley
Raising a glass to Paul Abbott
by Rob Williams

Published: Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

[Ext. Burnley Town Centre. Day]

A rusty white Cortina moves slowly out of town, steering through police horses and football fans heading to Turf Moor for the match. Inside the car, the DRIVER, a tired-looking middle-aged Asian man, and his passenger, an inebriated younger man – a STRANGER to the area – are thrown around by every new pothole as they enter increasingly untidy suburbs.

DRIVER

This Healey Wood.

STRANGER

I don’t want to go to Healey Wood. I’ve already been here.

DRIVER

Where you want to go?

STRANGER

I’ve told you … What’s your name?

DRIVER (Turning as he stops at junction)

Eh?

STRANGER

Your mate just shouted “Uncle”. What’s your proper name?

DRIVER

Uncle.

STRANGER (Slumping back into seat)

I told you where I need to get, Uncle. Coal Clough.

UNCLE

Why you want to go Coal Clough? Bad area you know.

STRANGER

Yeah well everywhere I’ve been someone’s said “Bad area”.

UNCLE

Some bad areas in Burnley, innit.

STRANGER

Where do you live, Uncle?

UNCLE

Duke Bar. That’s bad area if you’re white. This bad area if you’re me. You get me?

STRANGER

But you’ll pick me up though? I don’t know where the fuck I am anymore.

UNCLE

No card, innit.

STRANGER

But …

(The STRANGERS attention snaps left as the car is overtaken by a child of no more than twelve, helmet-less, screaming down the road on an off-road motorbike.)

UNCLE

Why you want to go Coal Clough?

STRANGER

I told you. I’m looking for someone.

[Ext. Streets of Coal Clough. Day]

The STRANGER cuts a solitary figure shambling down and then up a painfully steep street, made tiny by the wild misty hills of the South Pennines ahead and the mill chimneys of the town to his rear. The camera cuts between his breathlessness (conspicuous on this bit-terly cold yet sunny afternoon), his wide glassy eyes (disconcerted at the amount of sky suddenly available ever since changing trains at Preston) and his uneven steps – echoing loudly through the cobbled gulleys between identical rows of back-to-back houses crowding the narrow roads. It might be a sandier-brick Coronation Street, if every fourth house weren’t boarded up and the streets weren’t deserted but for a few groups of scruffy kids kicking a football or playing on their bikes. They watch the stranger suspiciously. He’s looking lost now. A net curtain twitches. He stops to light a cigarette. Traffic noise pulls his attention to an adjoining road.

[Int. Pub. Day]

The camera roams around a busy neighbourhood pub that with its claret gold-patterned carpet and dark wood furniture, resembles the home of a working class family with middle class aspirations. A gas heater fires out its warmth as the racing on the TV fights with S Club 7 on the jukebox: “Reach For The Stars”. The music appears even more incongruous as the camera surveys the patrons: includ-ing an alarmingly thin, heavily tattooed MAN IN HIS FIFTIES, sitting next to a HUGE YOUNGER WOMAN with “Seek and Destroy” embla-zoned across her Pennine-like chest; a crowd of MIDDLEAGED MEN

at the bar watching the racing – all in jeans and jumpers – all loud, all white; a PAIR OF MEN in England rugby shirts with TWO WOMEN dressed for a grab-a-granny nightclub rather than an afternoon in the local; and the STRANGER, on whom the camera rests, standing alone at the bar with a cigarette in his mouth and an almost empty pint of Guinness in front him. A small, stocky MAN OF PENSIONABLE AGE arrives next to him and reaches over the bar. The barmaid, a short woman instantly recognisable as the LANDLADY, hands the man a clipboard.

LANDLADY

All paid up, Jim?

JIM

Just checking now. Alan been in, Pam?

PAM

Why, has he won?

(It seems PAM has grown accustomed to receiving no response from

JIM.)

Another one, love?

(The STRANGER takes a moment to realise that PAM is talking to him.)

STRANGER

yeah. Thanks. And one for yourself.

PAM

I’m alright. Here for the football, are you?

STRANGER

No. I’m … looking for someone.

(He waits for PAM to ask who. She doesn’t.) Paul Abbott. Do you know him?

(PAM weighs the money in her hand, shaking her head.)

PAM

Do you know him, Jim? Paul Abbott.

(JIM shakes his head without looking up from the tote sheet.)

STRANGER

He used to live round here. He’s the bloke who writes “Shameless”.

PAM

Our Richard watches that. I’ve not seen it. Do you watch that Gary, that “Shameless”?

(GARY, who up until now has been standing with his back to the STRANGER, barely turns his head.)

GARY

I have done. It’s set round here.

PAM

Honest?

STRANGER

Well, it’s filmed in Manchester but –

GARY

It’s set round here.

STRANGER

yeah …

(GARY looks the STRANGER up and down before turning back to the racing.)

He grew up round here and he’s still got family in the area, I think.

PAM

What do you want him for?

JIM (Still without looking up)

Wossername knows the family. Barry’s Angie. Reckons it’s all true.

PAM

Honest?

GARY (Turning sharply)

So it is set round here, in’t it.

STRANGER

yeah. (To Jim)

Has it changed much?

JIM

Where?

STRANGER

Round here. Have you lived here long?

JIM

(Reluctantly raising his head) Me? No. ‘Bout forty years.

STRANGER

Can I buy you a drink?

JIM

No.

STRANGER

Right.

PAM

(At the other end of the bar, serving one of the glamorous woman) Do you watch that “Shameless”, Sue?

SUE screws her face like she’s gulped vinegar rather than gin as a rush of arctic air announces the entrance of a BIG BALD MAN with a thick moustache and immediate presence. He is greeted warmly by the entire pub as KEITH. KEITH stands just behind gary and the STRANGER, resting a tattooed hand on the bar. PAM pulls KEITH;S pint without being asked – a guest ale with a home-made label that the STRANGER can’t make out any more than the fading green letters on the huge hand.

JIM

Father in-law got mugged outside here last week.

STRANGER

Did he? Erm, shit. Is he alright?

JIM

Would you be alright if you were eighty-six and some cunt’s bust two of your ribs for seven quid?

STRANGER

No.

JIM

Well then.

(As he massages his head the STRANGER glimpses KEITH, laughing through his nose and mumbling to GARY.)

Benefit town this is now. Fucking benefit town.

(The STRANGER and GARY have to shuffle along the bar as KEITH pushes his bulk between them; the STRANGER very aware of KEITH eyes on him.)

PAM

Two pound, Keith.

KEITH (Searching his pockets, eyes still on the STRANGER) Who you looking for, lad?

STRANGER

Well I’m not exactly … Paul Abbott?

KEITH

Him off the telly? I know him.

STRANGER

Do you?

KEITH

Calling me a liar?

STRANGER

No. I … I knew he grew up round here.

KEITH

That’s how I know him, in’t it. How much, Pam?

STRANGER

I’ll get that. And another Guinness, please. And one for your-self erm, Pam.

(PAM smiles thinly and takes the money. Frank Sinatra gives way to Neil Diamond on the jukebox and at least half the pub starts singing along: “Love On The Rocks (Live Version)”. The TV channel has been switched in favour of Sky’s minute-by-minute football service.)

KEITH (Sipping his pint and winking at various customers as they catch his eye)

What d’you wanna know then? Cheers, by the way.

STRANGER

Cheers. Erm, just a bit more about the area.

KEITH

Journalist are you?

STRANGER

No.

KEITH

Student?

STRANGER

No. Abbott –

KEITH

Paul.

STRANGER

Paul, yeah. He reckons research gets in the way of a good story.

KEITH

Fuck you doing here then?

STRANGER

I’m interested.

KEITH

In what?

STRANGER

In how you can come out of background like his, seventh of eight kids, mum and dad gone by the time you’re eleven, brought up by your sister, you try and kill yourself at fifteen so they section you, divorced by twenty one … And instead of ending up in prison or McDonald’s duty manager, you go on to write some of the best British TV of the last twenty years. “Cracker”, “Clocking Off”, “State of Play” –

KEITH

Shall I tell you? Either you find a way to laugh at the shit or it buries you. Simple. Ask us a difficult one.

STRANGER

He reckons writing saved his life.

KEITH

Aye well that sounds suspiciously like a load of bollocks to me but he’s a good lad is Paul, so I’ll take his word for it.

KEITH (enjoys the disinterested sniggers of GARY and JIM.) What’s he up to now?

STRANGER

Living in Manchester, I think. Writing a rock opera about the race riots.

KEITH

You should talk to young Kev over there. He’s BNP. Stood outside the Duke of York night it went up.

(Shouts)

That’s right in’t it, Kev. You’re BNP.

KEV

Fuck off!

KEITH

He’s so tight is Kev, if he finds a plaster he cuts his self …

Where you from, lad?

STRANGER

Birmingham. Living in London. I’ll have to watch the time.

KEITH

Never mind time you’ll have to watch your back round here now it’s getting dark. Fucking rucksack. You look like a tourist.

STRANGER

Get many tourists round here, do you?

KEITH

That’s what I’m tellin’ you. No. We having another? It’s thirsty work is this research.

STRANGER

I’ll do it.

(PAM pulls another round. KEITH and the STRANGER lean further into the bar.)

KEITH

Aye, it’s a good do is “Shameless”. But it’s not real. Or it’s real enough for your fucking Guardian readers, but it’s not really real. With me?

STRANGER

His thing … Paul’s … is that drama should reflect society, but not necessarily literally. There’s no reality in most TV, just fucking escapism. But there’s real drama in everyone’s life, every day.

KEITH

Oh aye? Done much scaffoldin’, have you?

STRANGER

Makes you laugh out loud at mental illness and alcoholism and even paedophilia, then breaks your heart, sometimes in the same scene, till you can’t help but realise that no one’s life’s ordinary.

KEITH

‘Cept for Jim’s of course. Your life’s ordinary as fuck, in’t it Jim?

JIM

Eh?

STRANGER

But the thing I love most about him is the faith he puts in you to cope with it all, work out what’s “real” and what’s not and make sense of it. He believes in his audience. How many writers of anything can you say that about?

KEITH

Plenty of tits an’ all, “Shameless”. Tasty that Karen, in’t she?

STRANGER (Grinning stupidly) yeah.

KEITH

Hold up. (Shouts)

How those Clarets doin’, Smithy? Still nil-nil?

(To the STRANGER)

He’s like Frank off “Shameless”, old Smithy. You’ll never see him wi’out a pint and a fag on and he’s more kids than Dr Barnardo’s.

STRANGER

If desperation’s a crime, I’m a fucking lifer.

KEITH

Most folk round here, they don’t want much. Bit of a drink, bit of a laugh and the odd million quid off European Lottery. Is that too much to ask?

STRANGER

Did you see that survey the other week, the one where they tried to find the funniest region in the UK? Lancashire came out second.

KEITH

What come first?

STRANGER

London.

KEITH

Aye well it’s a laugh-a-fucking-minute down there, in’t it. Wouldn’t get a pint down there for the price you’re payin’ here, would you?

STRANGER

Nope.

KEITH

Right, so get ‘em in then while I have a piss. Might be cheap up here but you can’t expect me to do your homework for bloody free, can you.

(KEITH leers at a YOUNG CHINESE GIRL in passing as she enters the pub and begins trying to sell DVDs to drinkers out of a plastic Lidl bag. THE STRANGER checks the time on his phone, struggling to focus.)

PAM

Alright there, love?

STRANGER

Plot won’t sustain drama, Pam. But character will.

PAM

(Watching Sky) Same again?

Cut to:

[Int. Pub Toilet]

The STRANGER sways comically at the open urinal to the dulled yet nonetheless relentless tune of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” playing in the bar. The camera jerks along with him as we


read the word-processed sign posted at eye level: “In the interests of the safety of our customers CCTV has now been installed through-out these premises. So smile”.

The STRANGER smiles.

Cut to:

[Int. Pub. Evening]

The camera swims around the room, the picture in and out of focus. The lights are on now, the jukebox is dominant and the clientele has changed. Yet KEITH and the STRANGER are exactly where we left them: at the bar, now totally reliant on its solidity for support, KEITHS hand resting on the STRANGERS back. As he talks, the camera switches between the STRANGERS wet mouth, his half-closed eyes, and KEITHS nodding head.

STRANGER

But Keith. Keith. Keith. TV drama’s not theatre or a film that wasn’t good enough to get made. It’s special. You let it into your life in a unique sort of …

(The STRANGER is distracted by the sparkling red lips of a WOMAN ABOUT FORTY across the bar. He smiles suggestively at her. Then finds KEITH shaking his head in deadpan warning – straightening the STRANGERS face in an instant.)

… way. Imagine you’re a scriptwriter. You know someone’s paid to go to the cinema or watch a DVD, so they’ve already invested in it. But TV. If you haven’t grabbed us by the throat in the first sixty seconds, the remote control’ll kill all your ideas, everything …

KEITH

Agree.

STRANGER

I mean, even books. Novels, like. If Dickens was alive, who’s to say he wouldn’t just go: “Fuck this, if society can’t be arsed with these big thick things I keep churning out, I’m off to

write for Eastenders”. You know?

KEITH

Corrie.

STRANGER

Corrie then.

KEITH

Fucking Dickens. Jesus … Are we having a whiskey me and you, or what?

STRANGER

And a cigar. Yeah.

(KEITH summons PAM and points at the STRANGER, who pulls his wallet yet again out of his jeans as if it’s an arrow stuck in his leg.)

Then I need to phone Uncle.

KEITH

You’ve an uncle lives in Burnley?

STRANGER

Not my uncle. Just “Uncle’”. He’s a cabbie. But I’ve lost his card. No. He never had a card. Put his number in me phone.

KEITH

He’ll not be a cabbie you fucking London tart. Where’d he pick you up?

STRANGER

I think I’ve missed me train.

KEITH

Outside a pub were you? In town?

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