G.B.H. (TV series)
Michael Palin as Jim Nelson & Robert Lindsay as Michael Murray (DVD cover)
|Created by||Alan Bleasdale|
|Written by||Alan Bleasdale|
|Directed by||Robert Young|
|Composer(s)||Elvis Costello, Richard Harvey|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||7|
|Producer(s)||David W Jones|
|Running time||567 minutes|
|Original release||6 June 1991 – 18 July 1991|
GBH was a seven-part British television drama written by Alan Bleasdale shown in the summer of 1991 on Channel 4. The protagonists were Michael Murray (played by Robert Lindsay), the Militant tendency-supporting Labour leader of a city council in the North of England, and Jim Nelson (played by Michael Palin), the headmaster of a school for disturbed children.
The series was controversial partly because Murray appeared to be based on Derek Hatton, former Deputy Leader of Liverpool City Council—in an interview in the G.B.H. DVD Bleasdale recounts an accidental meeting with Hatton before the series, who indicates that he has caught wind of Bleasdale's intentions but does not mind as long as the actor playing him is "handsome".
In normal parlance, the initials "GBH" refer to the criminal charge of grievous bodily harm (i.e. beating someone up)—however, the actual intent of the letters is that it is supposed to stand for Great British Holiday (as revealed by Bleasdale in an interview on the DVD).
The story is set in an unspecified city in the North of England, towards the end of the Thatcher years, a period during which local left-wing councils are vying for increased autonomy. Michael Murray, an aggressive, womanizing Labour councillor (with links to a militant far-left political organization), has just been elected as city council leader.
Returning to his old primary school, Murray locates and burns copies of his school records which describe an event that almost caused him to be committed to a juvenile offenders' institution. He also uses his position to intimidate the elderly headmaster, Mr Weller (a witness to the long-ago event), and remove him from his position. Weller is summarily dispatched into lower-status teaching work in a rural special educational needs school run by the popular headteacher Jim Nelson.
Murray meets with three members of the militant group (far-left politician Lou Barnes, academic Mervyn Sloane and "fixer" Peter Grenville) who persuade him to call a 'Day of Action' and general strike in order to humiliate central government and protest against its policies. Due to the incompetence of Murray's supporters, Nelson's school is not picketed and remains open, making it a focus for journalists eager to discredit the Day of Action, including tabloid writer 'Bubbles' McGuire. Murray tries to intimidate Nelson, a moderate Labour member, into joining the strike. When this fails, criminal thugs hired by Grenville as muscle besiege the school and terrorise the children. Outraged, the easygoing Nelson is very nearly provoked into reciprocal violence before the thugs are moved on by police.
Over the next few months, Nelson's school is picketed in a vengeful attempt to force his resignation (a campaign that includes vicious covert harassment of Nelson and his family at their home). Already a hypochondriac, Nelson develops a collection of neuroses as a result of Murray's harassment, including sleepwalking in the nude and an inability to drive his car over a local bridge. However, his neighbours remain sympathetic and he is assured by a local farmer, Mr Burns, that the majority of traditional socialists in the area will defend him against the militants. Meanwhile Murray has problems of his own. Already conflicted between his ambition and his growing conscience, he now finds himself caught between the needs of the city and the revolutionary plans of the militants, who are threatening to blackmail him. His marriage (under strain from his constant infidelity) and his ongoing need for his elderly mother's approval also render him vulnerable.
In the middle of this, Murray encounters a wealthy and beautiful woman named Barbara Douglas, who appears to admire him despite his crude manners. At the same time, he receives a letter purporting to be from Eileen Critchley, his childhood friend and the victim of his unspecified childhood crime. Eileen's warning in the letter — that she is about to 'have some fun' with Murray — drives him into a state of hysteria. The letter has, in fact, been delivered secretly by Barbara, and it is implied that she herself might be Critchley.
Murray's security continues to unravel when his elder brother and downtrodden chauffeur, Franky, finally rebels against his arrogance and resigns: kicking Murray out of the car, Franky leaves him stranded by the side of the road. Franky collects their mother and drives off to spend time on holiday with his family in Fleetwood (where he becomes enamoured by the idea of a life at sea). Increasingly isolated and humiliated, stripped of the private approval which he desperately desires, Murray becomes steadily more paranoid and unstable. He starts to develop a repertoire of involuntary tics and spasms which become increasingly difficult to conceal.
Apparently working to her own agenda, Barbara Douglas tries to trick Mr Weller into handing over his copies of Murray's school records, but fails. Weller correctly suspects what might be happening and delivers the records to Nelson for safekeeping. Meanwhile, Murray is continuing his own campaign against Nelson (whom he is jealous of, secretly seeing him as the "good man" whom he himself would like to be). Nelson's own pacifist composure is beginning to crack: when menaced by a drunken skinhead, he suddenly and vengefully chases the man down in his car before being prevented by his wife. When Murray visits Nelson's school again and attempts to wheedle him into compliance, Nelson punches him. Via Peter Grenville, Murray then helps to instigate a militant takeover of Nelson's local Labour Party branch, aiming to have him expelled from the party.
More letters from Eileen Critchley arrive. Unknown to Murray, they are not in fact part of a personal vendetta but part of a conspiracy (led by the militants and including Barbara Douglas) which is aimed at destabilising him. Hoping to provoke riots across the city, Lou Barnes and Peter Grenville arrange (via Grenville's thug squad) for a series of violent racist assaults on the city's ethnic minorities, starting with a black waiter working at the hotel where Murray entertains his mistresses. Meanwhile, Murray's personal life is worsening as his suspicious wife searches for him in the hotel, reducing him to a nervous wreck. Needing more time to gather evidence against Murray, the conspirators order Barbara to calm him down by seducing him, which she duly does.
Murray temporarily regains his sanity after his tryst and attempts to respond to the wave of violence gripping the city. As the racist beatings continue, Murray is forced to appeal to community representatives to remain calm. To the surprise and dismay of the plotters, he addresses the meeting with considerable skill (drawing in part on his own original socialist conscience) and persuades the audience to refrain from vigilantism. Joining the plotters, Barbara describes Murray as "foul", but admits that she enjoyed her liaison with him.
Aiming to take a break from the pressures of the year's events, Nelson's family goes on holiday with friends. They stay in a country house hotel run by Grosvenor, a sardonic and impoverished aristocrat who mocks their Northern origins and liberal aspirations. However, on privately discovering Nelson's neuroses, he becomes both amused and sympathetic. Despite their differing backgrounds, the two men vent their frustrations over the collapse of English decency. The plotters, meanwhile, have searched the Nelsons' house for the file on Murray, only to discover that Nelson has taken it with him.
At the house, Lou Barnes and Peter Grenville meet 'Bubbles' McGuire. They reveal their true affiliation to him, explaining that they are in fact government agents sent to infiltrate the Labour Party in order to root out the revolutionary factions. Having discovered that the genuine hard-left had apparently withered, Barnes and Grenville have had to fake a substantial hard-left enemy in order to discredit and destabilize left-wing politics (using people like Mervyn Sloane and Michael Murray as patsies, and faking a left-wing campaign of violence by hiring criminals to carry out the violence themselves). It is revealed to McGuire that this plot involves Britain's entire intelligence community. Drawn into the plot in the hope of being rewarded with the scoop of Murray's fall, McGuire is used as a patsy in an attempt to retrieve the file from the Nelsons' holiday home. The attempt fails when he is discovered by Nelson, who (suspecting that he is one of Murray's accomplices) beats him severely with a tennis racket. Posing as CID police officers, the plotters then raid the holiday home and successfully retrieve the file.
Returning home, Nelson appears at his local Labour branch to defend himself against charges made by the conspirators of working against the party. Murray is also present. Driven by guilt, he makes an oblique and faltering private attempt to reconcile himself with Nelson, but is furiously rebuffed. The public meeting continues, with local members initially outnumbered by Greville's noisy thugs (part of an attempt to goad Nelson into disclosing information harmful to Murray). The traditional Labour-supporting farmers arrive, unseat and promptly intimidate the thugs in turn, warning them off. As the motion for Nelson's expulsion is rejected, the meeting is interrupted by the press, who have learned that an arrest warrant has been issued for Murray for inciting the riots. Already primed for Murray's fall, McGuire's newspaper publishes the story.
Meanwhile, Barbara Douglas is revealed to be Eileen Critchley's younger sister. Extensive flashbacks show that during his childhood, Murray was repeatedly victimized by the manipulative and sadistic Eileen, who had wanted to 'get' Murray because he was 'easy'. Having had a morbid fascination with death during her girlhood (inspired by the hanging of Ruth Ellis), Eileen once cajoled the young Murray into choking her—the guilty childhood secret that Murray has been trying to hide. Eileen herself is shown to have pursued her death fixation while at university, and to have died as a consequence. Barbara, after a lifetime of vengeful feelings towards Murray, finally accepts that he was a victim of her sister's cruelty and begins to sympathise with him. In a meeting with her father, it is revealed that he too is part of the conspiracy against Murray, which is driven by class disdain as well as broad politics.
In recompense, Barbara helps Murray to make a secret recording of a conversation in which the plotters admit their intention to provoke riots. She leaves him a tape recording of the confession, as well as revealing the information absolving him of any guilt over his relationship with Eileen. Released from his childhood guilt, Murray weeps. With even his own mother having disowned him (after finding out about his affairs and his history of political corruption), Murray abandons his ambitions and resigns himself to his political fate, allowing Barbara to deliver him to the police. As riots spread through the city, Grenville turns his thugs over to the mob (assuming that they will be beaten to death and therefore ensure that his own tracks are covered). However, as she parts company with Lou Barnes Barbara alarms him by revealing that his attempts to prevent the recording were unsuccessful.
As Murray faces his fate (and with the potential repercussions of the unmasked conspiracy left open), the Nelsons look to the future, still ignorant of much of what has happened beyond their own immediate lives. It appears that Jim is healed of the doubt that has been stalking him, as in the final shot he finally manages to drive his car across the bridge which had previously blocked him.
- Michael Murray—Robert Lindsay
- Jim Nelson—Michael Palin
- Barbara Douglas—Lindsay Duncan
- Mrs Murray (Michael Murray's mother)—Julie Walters
- Lou Barnes—Tom Georgeson
- Peter Grenville—Andrew Schofield
- Eileen Critchley (in flashbacks)—Jane Danson credited as Jane Dawson
- Mr Weller—David Ross
- Laura Nelson (Jim Nelson's wife)—Dearbhla Molloy
- Franky Murray—Philip Whitchurch
- Teddy (Murray's deputy)—Alan Igbon
- 'Bubbles' McGuire—Peter-Hugo Daly
- Grosvenor—Daniel Massey
- Philip (Murray's researcher)—Jimmy Mulville
- Richard Grenville—Gareth Tudor Price
- Frank Twist—Colin Douglas
- Martin Niarchos—Michael Angelis
The young Anna Friel plays one of Jim Nelson's children.
External scenes of the primary school were shot at Lostock County Primary School in Bolton. Identifying signs were removed or in some cases painted out. One sign at the front of the school that read 'Bolton MBC—Keep Off' had 'Bolton MBC' painted out. The sign—and the painted-out letters- are still clearly visible in 2014.
The series was released in the UK (Region 2 DVD) on 12 June 2006, it was also released in "The Alan Bleasdale Collection" box set with two Bleasdale drama series: Jake's Progress and Melissa. It is due for release in America on 23 February 2010.
- G.B.H. at the Internet Movie Database
- G.B.H. at TV.com
- "Michael Palin on Video" at Daily Llama—list of episode names
- Jones, Ian, "There’s a Poison About – and it’s Getting Worse by the Day", detailed review on Off the Telly, October 2000