Our Friend in the North: Alex Connock

Our Friend in the North: Alex Connock

By Alex Connock,
Wednesday, 16th March 2016
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Alex Connock gives a guided tour to magical realism in Manchester and other Northern media hubs

The narrator of Netflix’s hit 2015 series Narcos said: “There’s a reason that magical realism was born in Colombia. It’s a country where dreams and reality are conflated.”

In 2010, Coronation Street saw the 31-year soap veteran Jack Duckworth dancing in his living room with the ghost of Vera, his late wife.

And it was said, in The Guardian, that magical realism had now entered the rich, dramatic palette of Britain’s most successful TV programme.

Whether or not magical realism really took hold in the North of England I’m not sure, but, without doubt, there is a close relative up here right now: magical reality.

Northerners have been going out and winning the big reality TV shows with bewitching regularity. In fact, one northern powerhouse of recent reality stars came not only from the same place, but the same niche show.

Articulate and endearing Vicki Pattison (Geordie Shore) won I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! in 2015.

Model and “fitness expert” Charlotte Crosby (Geordie Shore) won Celebrity Big Brother 2013; she now has the obligatory fashion range, Nostalgia. And buff Scotty T (Geordie Shore) won Celebrity Big Brother in 2016.

To mention the North in any august TV management circle, or even RTS conference, over the past few years was to knowingly order a depressing, lukewarm goulash of public policy, accountancy and suburban dinner-party snobbery.

Was the BBC right to put money into Salford? Was there any sports news in provincial Manchester?

Should an important BBC breakfast presenter be expected to stomach life outside the capital? It was repetitive. Even The Daily Mail gave up.

Now, there is a much happier phenomenon – the engaging spectacle of new generations of Northern talent appearing for the right reasons: organic, viewer-driven choices made by commissioners without a quota in sight. Those talents are in front of the camera and from all ages and cities of the North. Think of Peter Kay’s Car Share, Happy Valley, Vera, Prey, Take Me Out.

The new Northern talents are also behind the camera – from Boy Meets Girl to The Dumping Ground to The Gift of Life.

We saw superb examples of the next generation in the recent RTS North West Student Television Awards.

These included a crazily dark comedy horror sequence about a crime-scene cleaner, called The Switch, from Manchester Film School; a brilliant drama on gnomes from Liverpool (there are always gnomes somewhere in student film awards) and a fantastic animation from Lancaster called Frankenstein’s Daughter.

We staged that event at the Lowry Theatre. The energy and warmth in that room, and the participation, were brilliant even for bashed-up cynics like me.

The guy who won runner-up in the Factual category – Olugbenga Afolabi for Finding Nollywood – was so justifiably proud of his certificate that he brought his two-year-old daughter on stage with him to receive it.

And the Yorkshire Student Television Awards saw contributions from two vibrant film schools in York, plus Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Hull.

This year, the Drama category was won by the genuinely creepy The Unveiling, directed by Ryan Bloom. It has already won Best Horror at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival.

And, finally, these new Northern talents are away from the set entirely, planning how great their next show will be with just a laptop and a conversation. To facilitate that, Soho House is reportedly opening a branch in Manchester.

To square the thing off with a nice, philosophical bow, the planned location is said to be Quay Street, in the old Granada building. That’s magical reality.

Alex Connock is Managing Director of Shine North, Endemol Shine Group.

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