Midlands under-represented on the small screen, says Line of Duty writer

The Midlands is under-represented on television because of the way the industry is structured, says the writer of hit dramas Line of Duty and Bodyguard.

Jed Mercurio
Jed Mercurio

Former Cannock schoolboy Jed Mercurio, who worked as a junior doctor in Wolverhampton before finding fame as a TV writer, was speaking at a Wolverhampton Literature Festival event held online.

Mercurio, who rose to fame in the 1990s as the writer of Dudley-based sitcom The Grimleys, said: "If you watch TV you don't often see the Midlands to the same extent that you see Manchester, Leeds or Glasgow or whatever, part of that is because the industry is set up in a certain way.

"There used to be a lot of regional programming in the Midlands, and a lot of that has vanished."

Mercurio, 54, said as a youngster he had no interest in arts and literature whatsoever, and once applied to become an astronaut and passed the initial selection stages.

But when he realised he could make a career as a TV writer, he developed a strong ambition to see the Midlands represented on the small screen.

"I certainly grew up feeling it would be great to represent the Midlands a little bit more," he said.

"Obviously The Grimleys was totally set there, and the other work I've done, where we haven't necessarily specified the location, there's still a Midlands feel. There was a Midlands feel to Cardiac Arrest, there was to Bodies, and there certainly is to Line of Duty."

Born in Nelson, Lancashire, Mercurio moved to Cannock as a child, where he attended 'a very ordinary comprehensive school' before studying medicine at Birmingham University.

He was working as a doctor when he saw an advertisement in the British Medical Journal for a medical adviser for a proposed new comedy series set in a hospital. But the programme makers instead asked Mercurio to write an earthy, cynical drama from a junior doctor's perspective, which became the popular BBC series Cardiac Arrest.

Then using the pseudonym John MacUre, he was still working as a doctor when the series was broadcast from 1994-86. He said the series was well received among fellow junior doctors, although the consultants and nurses, often portrayed as arrogant or lazy, were less impressed.

Its success allowed him to quit medicine and become a full-time writer, and his next major TV series was The Grimleys, which ran from 1997 to 2001.

Now better known for gritty thrillers Line of Duty and Bodyguards, he said he found institutions such as the police and NHS interesting as historically they had been portrayed in an idealised light.

"They have been about how these institutions are fundamentally getting things right. Things may go wrong but the protagonist will go that extra mile and the service they give will be outstanding. Whereas if you look at the real world, there is a huge amount of dissatisfaction with the way our institutions are run."

He said while The Grimleys revolved around an aspiring writer growing up in the Midlands, it was in no way autobiographical.

"In terms of the characters, I was probably more like the younger brother who wasn't really interested in literature or art at all," he said. "That character of Gordon Grimley, who considers himself to be a poet in the making, was absolutely not what I was like."

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