Turning The Town Red: A Tribute To Alan Bleasdale's Scully

To those of a certain age and pedigree, there will only ever be one Francis Scully.
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To those of a certain age and pedigree, there will only ever be one Francis Scully.

Maybe you’re a fan of The Doors and the words ‘Come on baby light my fire,’ cause your mind’s eye to conjure up images of a brooding Jim Morrison on stage at The Hollywood Bowl. If that’s the case, I’m happy for you. There are worse bands you could be into than The Doors. For me though, and I venture for a great many others of a certain age and pedigree, those lyrics provoke memories of a classic scene from teacher turned playwright Alan Bleasdale’s Scully, which finds the title character manhandling the bully Kelly through their probation officer’s doorway after Kelly holds a cigarette lighter to the hair of Mooey, a somewhat simple soul and Scully’s only real friend, and forces Mooey to sing the aforementioned line.

Scully ran for seven weeks and told the tale of football mad street urchin and high school pupil Francis Scully (played by Andrew Schofield) who dreams of playing for his beloved Liverpool. Updated from short stories Bleasdale crafted as a teacher in the 70s in an attempt to engage his hard to reach students who couldn’t relate to the Standard English Lit curriculum, Scully tapped into the feeling of helplessness that had become so pervasive amongst school leavers in the 80s. Just as he had done with the equally magnificent Boys From The Black Stuff, Bleasdale told Scully’s story with a measure of compassion and humour; albeit of the ‘if you don’t laugh you’ll cry,’ variety that made for compelling viewing.

Elvis Costello’s song Turning The Town Red worked brilliantly as the show’s theme tune. The opening credits showing Scully training with the Liverpool squad, his jeans and cagoule hung up next to Sammy Lee’s clothes in the Anfield dressing room, then cutting to Scully running out onto the pitch in the Merseyside derby wearing the number 7 shirt and kicking a football into the Kop while the Liverpool supporters chanted, ‘There’s only one Francis Scully.’

Scully saw visions. Specifically Scully saw Kenny Dalglish, regularly. He saw Dalglish in sports shop windows, in the street and, notably, he saw Dalglish as a fairy godmother (as in dressed up and on a stage) and Kenny talked to him.

Go through the current crop of Liverpool stars, not one of which will ever be able to hold a candle to Dalglish, and try imagining any of them agreeing to be in a Channel 4 regionally made TV show. Dalglish played it straight which was all the part asked of him, his presence torturing young Francis who regularly broke the fourth wall, wondering aloud if he was going insane. His teachers held the promise of a trial with Liverpool over him as they tried to get him to star in the school play as the fairy godmother, but Scully resisted.

Throw in neighbours who hoarded the footballs local kids inadvertently kicked into their yard, a sadistic local copper, an unattainable love interest (Cathy Tyson in her first TV role), teachers smoking in school, an unfortunate incident with a bottle of talc and Y fronts, a séance, the eternal quest for a few quid, a steam train obsessed brother (Elvis Costello), people just trying to survive the madness that is life and the realisation that Scully’s not actually that great at football after all and you have the recipe for one very entertaining, highly relatable slice of TV. It’s probably available on DVD these days. There’s worse things you could spend your Christmas money on.