G.B.H. (TV series)

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Michael Palin as Jim Nelson & Robert Lindsay as Michael Murray (DVD cover)
Genre Drama
Created by Alan Bleasdale
Written by Alan Bleasdale
Directed by Robert Young
Starring Robert Lindsay
Michael Palin
Lindsay Duncan
Julie Walters
Composer(s) Elvis Costello, Richard Harvey
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 7
Producer(s) David W Jones
Running time 567 minutes
Original run 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).

Plot outline[edit]

The story is set towards the end of the Thatcher years, when local left-wing councils vie for increased autonomy. In an unspecified city in the North of England, newly elected city council leader Michael Murray returns to his old primary school and burns copies of his school records, which describe an event that almost caused him to be committed to a juvenile offenders' institution. He uses his position to force the headmaster, Mr Weller, to work in a special school run by Jim Nelson. Murray, a Labour councillor with links to a far-left political organisation based on the Militant tendency, is persuaded by its leaders to call a 'Day of Action' to protest against government policies. However, due to the incompetence of Murray's supporters, Nelson's school is not picketed and remains open. Murray tries to intimidate Nelson, a moderate Labour member, to join the strike. When this fails, thugs hired by the militants besiege the school and terrorise the children. Nelson, a hypochondriac, develops a collection of neuroses as a result of Murray's harassment. Nelson is assured by a local farmer, Mr Burns, that the majority of traditional socialists in the area will defend him against the militants.

Murray finds himself caught between the needs of the city and the revolutionary plans of the militants, who are threatening to blackmail him. Murray meets a wealthy and beautiful woman named Barbara Douglas, who initially pretends to admire him despite his crude manners. He receives a letter purporting to be from his childhood friend, Eileen Critchley, which is actually written by Murray's political enemies and delivered secretly by Douglas. It is implied that Douglas is Critchley, who was the victim of Murray's 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. Meanwhile, Murray's elder brother and downtrodden chauffeur, Franky, becomes fed up with Murray's arrogance and resigns, leaving him humiliated by the side of the road. Franky then drives off to spend time on holiday with his family in Fleetwood, where he becomes enamoured by the idea of a life at sea.

Douglas is revealed to be Eileen Critchley's younger sister, while Eileen is shown to have died while a university student. Eileen, having a morbid fascination with death inspired by the hanging of Ruth Ellis, once cajoled Murray into choking her, the guilty secret that Murray is trying to hide. Douglas is a government agent involved in the conspiracy to destabilise Murray. She tries to trick Mr Weller into handing over his copies of Murray's school records, but fails. Weller correctly suspects what is happening and delivers the records to Nelson for safekeeping. Meanwhile, Nelson sees the militants beginning to take control of his local Labour branch. The conspirators torment Murray by sending him messages purporting to be from Eileen. To make matters worse, Murray's wife searches for him in the hotel where he entertains his mistresses, reducing him to a nervous wreck. The conspirators arrange the assault on a black waiter, hoping to provoke riots across the city. Needing more time to gather evidence against Murray, they order Douglas 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 beatings continue, Murray is forced to appeal to community representatives to remain calm. To the surprise of the plotters, he addresses the meeting with considerable skill and persuades the audience to refrain from vigilantism. Meanwhile, Nelson's family goes on holiday and stays in the country house run by Grosvenor, an impoverished aristocrat. The plotters search the Nelsons' house for the file on Murray, but Nelson has taken it with him. At the house, government agents Lou and Peter meet a journalist named 'Bubbles' McGuire. They reveal their true affiliation to him, explaining that they have been sent to infiltrate the Labour Party in order to root out the revolutionary factions. Since the hard left had apparently withered, Lou and Peter had to hire mercenary thugs to carry out a campaign of violence to discredit the militants, as well as Murray. It is revealed to McGuire that this plot involves Britain's entire intelligence community. Douglas describes Murray as 'foul', but admits that she enjoyed her liaison with him.

The conspirators, posing as CID police officers, raid the Nelsons' holiday home and retrieve the file on Murray. Murray's mother disowns him when she finds out about his affairs and his history of political corruption. The plotters deliver the final blow to Murray by releasing the files on his past to 'Bubbles' McGuire. However, Douglas, having read of her sister's childhood attempts to destroy Murray, begins to sympathise with him. She helps him to make a secret recording of a conversation in which the plotters admit their intention to provoke riots. Meanwhile, 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. The traditional Labour-supporting farmers arrive with Nelson and silence the militants, who are intending to goad him into disclosing information harmful to Murray. However, the meeting is interrupted by the press, who have learned that an arrest warrant has been issued for Murray for inciting the riots.

Extensive flashbacks show that during his childhood, Murray was repeatedly victimized by Eileen, who had wanted to 'get' Murray because he was 'easy'. Douglas, after a lifetime of vengeful feelings towards Murray, realises that he was a victim of her sister's cruelty. In a meeting with her father, it is revealed that he is part of the class-driven conspiracy against Murray. When Murray finally learns Douglas's identity, she leaves him the information absolving him of any guilt over his relationship with Eileen, as well as a tape recording that contains evidence of the plot. Douglas informs Lou that his attempts to prevent the recording were unsuccessful. As riots spread through the city, Murray allows Douglas to deliver him to the police. The Nelsons look to the future and 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 over a bridge.


The young Anna Friel plays one of Jim Nelson's children.

Home video[edit]

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.[1]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]