For anyone who gets snobby about watching reality soap operas, think of THE MIGHTY REDCAR as a study in social mobility and it works fine.
Apart from the slightly uncomfortable feeling that you are admiring human achievement in the face of social adversity, whilst peeking through the curtains into your dysfunctional neighbour’s garden.
Redcar is one of those bleak northern towns, made more anonymous by not even having a professional football team permanently anchored to the bottom of the football league. Described by one of its 35,000 residents as; a typical seaside town except with a massive disused steelworks on the beach, it maybe drab, but it’s far from featureless.
The same can be said of the residents, at least those featured in the first episode. We met, Caitlin, James and Dylan - each of whom had a bucket-load of ambition and a teaspoon full of opportunity. Caitlin was determined to go to RADA which, at nine grand a year, was going to ask a lot of her Mum as she was putting away a tenner a week working at a food bank. Dylan was trying to secure a record deal armed with some home recording software and a second-hand guitar. James just wanted to graft 5-days-a-week rather than end up in prison like his Dad.
It was, Dylan who proved the most resilient. Adopted by his foster-mother after a harrowing childhood, Dylan was in all respects larger-than-life. Sporting an afro the size of a reasonably mature oak tree and excess body mass that continued to ripple long after he had become motionless, he strode conspicuously around the town like the King of Tonga - serving in the local Weatherspoons by day and, at night, performing his home-grown rap music to an appreciative audience. We witnessed him visiting his autistic brother, still in care somewhere in Stoke, and assuring him that, should his music allow, he would set them both up in a flat together. Watching this enormous black teenager hugging his slightly-built, white, half-brother at the end of their afternoon together would have been enough to make you weep were it not for the sheer volume of positive energy that radiated from them.
James, on the other hand, projected a slightly less optimistic account of life in the town where, since the steelworks closed, most young men had been deprived of the chance of an apprenticeship. He seemed willing and able to hammer fence posts into the ground and was fairly proficient at shoveling stones into a wheelbarrow and moving them elsewhere. Though for reasons that weren’t explained, he failed to be retained as a £20-a-day labourer for more than one week. This, after being denied an apprenticeship as one of 1300 applicants for 220 local jobs, seemed to conspire to push him toward a more familiar role as one of the local youths in whom the police were increasingly interested.
The Mighty Redcar managed to provoke a genuine interest in the town and its residents, be it Dylan’s infectious optimism or James’ inevitable decline, and you get the feeling that for every hard luck story there will be a more uplifting tale to follow.
It seemed as if the void left by the security of a career making steel had been filled with an insatiable ability to aspire to heights that their parents had never imagined. As Caitlin posed, self-consciously, in the 600 quid prom-frock bought by her Mum out of earnings from her three jobs, you couldn’t help feeling that, although mankind’s base instinct is ‘survival’, ‘aspiration’ runs it a close second.
- Watched on BBC Two. 06/09/2018