Four friends in Newcastle have the strands of their lives interwoven with the political and economic events over three decades. Superficially it’s a nine hour film about housing, but it’s much more than that.

The Labour Party, corruption in public life and housing, the rise and fall of T. Dan Smith (Mr Newcastle), John Poulson and Reginald Maudling, sleaze in Soho, corruption in the Met, the Tories rise to power, the violence and politics of the Miners’ strike in 1984 to name but a few of the political events covered.


C1. We meet three of the four main characters, Nicky, Mary and Geordie when Nicky comes home from a civil rights trip to the States, sees his girlfriend Mary and catches up with Geordie.

C2. Housing is introduced by way of Willow Lane, Eddie Wells and Austin Donohue (T. Dan Smith). The use of Zadok the Priest to back Austin driving around Newcastle in his jag is beyond parody.

C3. John Edwards (John Poulson) starts smarming the council to accept system building, Nicky gets interested in Labour politics and Geordie’s drunkard Dad gives him a hard time.

C4. Geordie does a runner to London having got a local girl pregnant, Tosker and Mary are going out, Nicky having neglected Mary for politics, and Austin Donohue expounds on his plans.

C5. Geordie gets a job in a Soho cafe and learns about Met corruption from a copper called Berger at an adjacent table. The Housing Committee vote to use system building to replace the Willow Lane slums (John Edwards is bribing the head of the committee). Nicky and Mary break up on the shingle beach in an engaging and angry scene:-

C6. Tosker gets Mary pregnant and Nicky takes a job with Austin Donohue instead of going to University despite his Dad Felix trying to warn him.


C1. Coming home

Nicky (Christopher Eccleston) steps down from a lorry and arrives at Mary’s house after a trip to the USA. 1960’s living room, her disabled brother Patrick (cerebral palsy) in a wheelchair, says hello. Nicky asks after Mary (Gina McKee). B/W minstrels on TV.

Mary arrives home and she and Nicky go for a walk on the shingle beach after kissing on the doorstep. Dry humping on the beach with a joke about one day going “all the way to New Orleans.” (having sex).

[According to the film notes that accompany the DVDs this section was filmed later to make the story more relevant later on.]

New Orleans – The Animals becomes a theme. The Geordie reference.

Nicky goes home in the morning to see his parents without telling them he’d arrived last night(!)

Geordie (Daniel Craig) is in on a childrens swing in a nearby playground watching houses being demolished at nearby Willow Lane. He goes to see Nicky who’s lying on his bed reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

Nicky talks about his two months voluntary work for the Civil Rights movement in the USA. Geordie has given him a Fender Bass guitar as a birthday present. It appears that Geordie works as a coal miner.

C2. Political change

Nicky’s Dad Felix comes home from his work at Swan Hunter. Apparently Nicky turned up at “9 o’clock this morning” but we all know where he spent the night, on the beach.

Nicky’s birthday tea takes place.

Geordie tells Nicky he’s getting married to Margaret Benston and Nicky can’t believe it because she’s not a looker.

Eddie comes in and the first reference to Willow Lane is made, which is what Geordie saw being knocked down when he was sitting on the swings at the playground.

The Willows

From . . .

Side by side map of Cruddas Park

The area to the East of Park Road has tree street names. Hawthorn and Maple running N/S, Scotswood, Sycamore, Pine, running E/W. In the area beneath the “Willow Lane” blocks I could not find a street named Willow but the adjacent “timber” streets give a clue to why Willow Lane was chosen for the film as does the fact that one of the (now demolished) blocks was called The Willows. Cruddas Park tower blocks demolished and

On page 55 of Old Scotswood Road by A. Desmond Walton beneath a photograph of an opening ceremony is the following caption:-

Leader of the Opposition, Hugh Gaitskell, was in Newcastle to attend the Blaydon Races centenary celebrations, 9 June 1962. To celebrate the centenary he opened the Willows flats. Behind him is T. Dan Smith whose ambition had been to make Newcastle ‘the new Brasilia’.

There’s going to be an election, Sir Alec Douglas-Home has been to the Palace.

Eddie talks about needing 20,000 new houses. Felix is jaded and cynical about the Labour Party and the Jarrow march which failed in its purpose.

Mary gives Nicky a camera for his birthday.

Austin Donohue is mentioned (T. Dan Smith) then shown driving his jag around the streets of Newcastle (to Zadok the Priest) and in the council chamber talking about slums.

“The brick built terraced house is no longer an option” – Austin Donohue.

“Streets in the sky – high quality, high rise apartment blocks – made from steel glass and sunlight, cheap and quick to build with modern prefabricated building systems.”

Cruddas Park – Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Nicky is sitting in the public gallery and is inspired.

Scene changes to Tosker’s parent’s pub. Nicky, Mary and Geordie walk in to see Tosker playing guitar on stage. He meets Mary, plays her a song and flirts with her from the stage.

[That’s the four main characters introduced, 23 minutes in.]

C3. Seizing the power

Housing exhibition with a model on the table with John Edwards (as John Poulson) trying to sell a system to the council. Offers overseas trips to anyone who’ll listen to him.

“I don’t like pre-fabs, and I don’t like tower blocks.” says Bede Connor (Head of the Housing Committee) to John Edwards, when asked by the latter what he thinks.

Eddie Wells (Deputy Head of the Housing Committee) declines as does Bede Connor.

In the pub his parents own, Tosker joins the others at the pub table. They discuss starting a band, but Nicky is more interested in the Labour Party.

Tosker is an apprentice electrican but dreams of being an entertainer. Mary is going to University (to study law), as is Nicky (law?). Tosker is flirting tactlessly and outrageously with Mary despite her being with Nicky.

Nicky is out delivering election leaflets to the sound of Dylan “The times they are a changing”.

Geordie comes round to fetch him for the rehearsal but Nicky backs out and Geordie is annoyed. Nicky returns the guitar. “We can’t even vote until we’re 21” says Geordie.

Eddie drops in, to find Geordie and Nicky arguing.

Scene changes to the pub. Geordie’s drunk old man turns up and causes trouble. Time out from the asylum.

We learn Geordie’s surname, “Peacock”, as his Dad reads out the wedding invitation.

His Dad starts getting aggressive in the pub and hitting Geordie about the head then staggers off.

C4. Heading South

Geordie is talking to Tosker at his (Geordie’s) home. Geordie’s Dad gets violent and thrashes Geordie. It’s not a pleasant scene.

Geordie does a runner by hitchhiking to London to avoid a shotgun marriage to Margaret Benston.

Scene at Mary’s house. Nicky is expected but Tosker turns up. Nicky isn’t around so Tosker takes her out.

At the council bar Nicky is talking to Eddie. Austin Donohue is at the next table and joins in, with his masterplan to make Newcastle a European city.

Nicky turns up too late, after Tosker has walked Mary home, and watches them say goodnight.

C5. London

At home with Nicky. Felix is making a model boat, Nicky is dejected. He argues with his Dad about politics.

Geordie wakes up on a bench in a London park at the approach of two mounted policeman. He has a cup of tea in a Soho cafe – Walensky’s, and ends up working there as a waiter. A member of the Met is there, looking disgruntled, the introduction of the corruption story in the film.

“Nobody said I was mad until I started to talk about bent cops in Soho” says Mr Berger.

“They’ll have this place off you within a year, you’ll see” Mr Berger says on leaving, speaking to Mr Walensky – and they did! Berger is escorted out by uniformed officials.

Council meeting, Bede Connor (Head of the housing committee) votes through the ESB (Edwards System Building) scheme for Willow Lane and Eddie reminds him that “only a fortnight ago you said you hated prefabs and tower blocks”. It turns out later that Bede Connor is in the pay of John Edwards like so many others. [Hence the Poulson corruption scandal]. Eddie tackles Austin Donohue in the corridor outside.

Mary and Nicky on the shingle beach in daylight. She slaps him for standing her up. [She’s like Julie in Educating Rita, full of enthusiasm.]

Nicky gives up his University start for the Labour Party.

[The best scene in the film so far.] Mary gets angry on the beach at the idea of Nicky sacrificing his University place. “What is it that’s so important? I’d like to know”. This is visceral stuff.

Nicky and Mary break up on the beach.

C6. Losing touch

Outside the Polling station on October 15th 1964.

In London Geordie is serving in the Soho cafe, Walensky’s.

The Police take the ballot box to the count. The background music is profound.

Nicky calls at Mary’s but she’s out with Tosker, playing darts in the pub. He leaves. In the park afterwards Tosker declares his love for Mary and they have unprotected sex on the grass.

At home Felix gives him £20 to tide him over at Manchester (University) but Austin Donohue calls at the same time and offers him a job. Nicky is torn but takes the job and drops University.

In the park Tosker comes inside Mary and that’s that. She gets pregnant and they get a council flat at Willow Lane.

Felix warns Nicky that “you’ll waste your life son” if he takes the Austin job over University.

Willow Lane flats” (Cruddas Park)

End of 1964

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