Willy Russell's One Summer: A Clarion Call To 14-Year Olds Everywhere

Willy Russell might have disowned the TV series in an artistic huff, but for me One Summer was a poignant and life-affirming slice of drama...
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Willy Russell might have disowned the TV series in an artistic huff, but for me One Summer was a poignant and life-affirming slice of drama...

I'm 42 now but in 1983, me and all my schoolmates were 14. 'That's obvious,' I hear you cry but bear with me - I'm setting the scene. We were, as you are when you are 14, bubbling cauldrons of hormones not knowing what we wanted, how to get it, or why we wanted whatever "it" was or whose fault it was we didn't have it already. Along came this five-part drama from Yorkshire TV/Channel 4 about two 16-year-old lads (they were supposed to be younger but I'll come back to that) who were fed up with fronting up to the local gangs and wanted to see what else was out there. It's set in Liverpool against the backdrop of early '80s urban hopelessness which I remember vividly from South Leeds during the same era. Nobody had anything, there was waste ground everywhere and we were under constant threat of been blown up by the Russians apparently. Writers like Willy Russell and Alan Bleasedale used this as their canvas so well.

Willy Russell didn't agree with the casting or the tone of the piece and as a result he refused to promote it and insisted on having his name removed from the credits. He wrote it as 14-year-olds not 16-year-olds and he felt it was darker than it needed to be. It would be interesting to see how he felt it was to be filmed but I think director Gordon Flemyng (father of Lock, Stock... actor Jason) did an excellent job. As for it being a piece for inbetweeners rather than full-on teens, there are plenty of clues in the script - Billy's sister calls him a "short-arsed kid" but David Morrissey was already full six foot plus. It gave Yorkshire TV the willies as it was to be packaged as Russell's next big offering - after much arguing they eventually billed it as "from the writer of Educating Rita".

One Summer was about bursting out into the world, taking a chance, putting that foot forward. At 14 we were all planning for that without even knowing, some already at building college, others starting 'O' Levels

The boys Billy (the aforementioned Morrissey) and Icky (Spencer Leigh) get caught up in some mischief and head for North Wales in search of something better. Here they find a father figure in Kidder (the late James Hazeldine) who shows them the affection they craved. It is warily accepted as you'd expect from kids who've been hurt and abandoned throughout their lives. There is a misunderstanding and Kidder stands accused of ulterior motives prompting the boys to flee, Billy into the arms of his new girlfriend and the chance of a real future and Icky into a stolen car and death. Ian Hart plays a young scally called Rabbit and John Simm is on record as saying this made him want to be an actor. This is only a short synopsis of what happens from memory but this is no review - there's plenty of those on record.

One Summer was about bursting out into the world, taking a chance, putting that foot forward. At 14 we were all planning for that without even knowing, some already at building college, others starting 'O' Levels. It showed us that we would be hopping out of that nest in the near future so we'd better get ready. A couple of years later, cars were bought, day trips were made to the country and horizons were broadened. As for the big part One Summer played in our lives, it taught us that your job is to emerge into the light as something at the other end - not an adult perhaps but as something useful that will become an adult in time.

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