How Telford inspired Midlands-based drama Take Me Home
It is 30 years since camera crews descended on a West Midlands town to put it at the heart of a BBC drama series.
Take Me Home is still held in high affection in Telford. The community is considered by many as Shropshire’s extension to the Black Country because so many families moved there when it was created as a new town.
Written by Tony Marchant, it told the story a middle aged married cab driver Tom ad his love affair with a young unhappily married woman Kathy in a fictional Midland new town, which was heavily inspired by Telford itself.
He liked the idea of portraying a town that was in its infancy and the story of the people drawn there from other areas, often looking for a better life.
The late Keith Barron, who became well-known for his role in A Touch Of Frost, and future Shameless actor Maggie O’Neill played the main characters, alongside their respective on-screen married partners Martin played by Reece Dinsdale (Coronation Street) and Liz, played by Annette Crosbie (One Foot In The Grave).
“I looked at various new towns and Telford was attracting new industry, but also had a lot of old industry too,” says Tony, a Bafta award winning writer for stage and screen, as he looks back at the programme.
“It was and outward looking and forward looking place. It was the past and the present rubbing up against each other.”
Take Me Home was set in Woodsleigh Abbots, which was undergoing major redevelopment.
Residential areas were flourishing, and roads were homing in on a new business park where a Chinese computer technology firm InfoCo had set up home.
Social and economic transformations attracted many white-collar workers like Martin, who moved up from London to set up home. They were trying to blend in with those who had worked in traditional industry in the town, like Tom who had lost his job as a toolmaker.
“I had the idea to do this love story but in a contemporary setting,” adds Tony.
He wanted to focus his story around a young couple who were moving to a new town, bringing in aspects of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy.
“That was juxtaposed with an older couple and older man who were part of an overlooked generation that had lost their jobs in industry,” says Tony.
“Whether they liked it or not they were chucked into the service industry. It was one generation juxtaposed against another.
“With the music I was obviously trying to point our as many generational differences as possible between the couples. Tom listened to Dusty Springfield, now I suppose she’s cool in any era really. But Deacon Blue were Kathy’s choice and they were a very 80s band and sound.” The idea for the story and the setting for filming were in place first, with familiar sights such as town park spider’s web and parts of Telford Shopping Centre appearing in a number of shots.
After that, the cast fell into place relatively quickly and smoothly.
“All the actors were just the right fit,” says Tony. “Keith we knew was a serious actor who had gone into comedy and we knew he could pull off the role.
“The part of Tom was a tricky one to play and was quite exposing. I do remember the director Jane Howell saying she wasn’t sure we should cast Keith because he stank of aftershave. But I said that is exactly why we should cast him.”
He continues: “I knew Maggie O’Neill socially and her vulnerability in terms of her performance was palpable.
“She was attractive without being overt. It’s what they were supposed to be. The characters were just ordinary people.
“Reece I knew through his acting in theatre, and while I didn’t know Annette Crosbie personally I was aware of her work.”
The show was a success when it hit screens in 1989, and was Tony’s first series in television having written both for theatre and one-part television films previously.
It provided a starting point for a career that has taken in a number of substantial television dramas.
Last year’s ITV drama series Butterfly, starring Anna Friel, was one of his, following on from BBC series including The Secret Agent, starring Toby Jones, and Public Enemies. He also did some writing on the hit series McMafia, starring James Norton.
“I think Take Me Home was very significant for my television writing,” adds Tony. “The three parter was a step up from writing a one-off.
“The first episode has to have a hook for the beginning, and there has to be a separate middle and an end.
“In terms of craft it was great. The three parts meant I had to pay more attention to structure and how it ebbed and flowed, something not as essential in a one parter.
“The show got about 11 million viewers, which at the time wasn’t uncommon, but for a show of its nature it was extraordinary and I felt vindicated by that.
“I suppose if there was one thing I would do differently is make some of the secondary characters more complicated.
“I concentrated mainly on the main four characters, but I could maybe have made some of the others more four dimensional.”
Despite its significant impact on his career Tony hasn’t watched the show back in a long time – although it was recently released on DVD.
“The fact it wasn’t on DVD hasn’t helped,” he laughs. “I’ll probably go back and watch it now. Although I do remember it quite vividly.
“It’s been a long time and I think the last time I would have looked would have been when I was teaching or doing a talk on my work.”