Rita Sue and Bob Too – The best British film ever made?

Good question! For those that don’t like it, then the answer is no and that’s that. But for everybody else who loves it, it is a very good question. Britain has a very long list of great films. Could Rita, Sue and Bob Too really be the very best one? In my opinion, the answer is most certainly yes, and I think I’ve watched every British film of note so I’m basing my answer on a good bit of homework.

I love British films, it has been a passion of mine for a very long time. My DVD collection has got so out of hand that you could be excused for thinking that you’ve turned up in a charity shop as you head up our stairs for the loo. I just can’t get enough of them, the smaller the budget and the fewer the stunts the better, for me. I’m more interested in the story, the dialogue, the settings and the message than I am of massive budgets and superstar lead actors. I started my love affair with low-budget movies in the 1980’s when Channel 4 used to broadcast their home-grown productions on Sunday nights at 10pm. (Don’t grass to my mum, she thought I was asleep and that my portable telly was off.)

One Sunday night in 1988 I watched that week’s offering, Rita Sue and Bob Too and it really blew my socks off. I’d never seen anything quite like it in all of my twelve years. The relentless swearing, the inappropriate jokes and snide remarks, the caustic insults and the general chaos of the story had everybody talking the next day at school. I remember it like it was yesterday. If you love your British films, and watched them like I did on Sunday nights, you’ll remember sitting open mouthed as you watched this extraordinary film, probably just as clearly as I do. There had been plenty of working-class films before this one, but nothing had ever been shown which was quite like this before. Despite the best efforts of incredible working-class film producers since, people like Shane Meadows and Danny Boyle, I don’t think it has been matched yet. I still watch this film at least once a year, it is without any challenge my absolute favourite British film and dare I say it, inspires the kind of books that I write, desperately trying to capture that raw, real-life honesty which comes out in abundance throughout this 90 minute comedy-drama.

Rita, Sue and Bob Too is an Alan Clarke production. Alan Clarke was born in Birkenhead on 28 October 1935. He only directed three films for cinematic release, the bulk of his output was made for television. Alan Clarke was a radical, uncompromising and innovative director, his best work concerned the exposure of injustice towards the most despised and neglected groups in society. He was responsible for some of the hardest hitting film and television productions that this country has produced, including Scum, (which launched Ray Winstone’s career) and Made in Britain, (which launched Tim Roth’s career) but most notably of all, for Rita, Sue and Bob Too, (which launched Siobhan Finneran‘s, Michelle Holmes‘, Lesley Sharp‘s and George Costigan‘s careers.) Alan Clarke died of lung cancer in 1990 when he was only 54 years old and I always wonder what his filmography would look like today if he was still around. You can guarantee that his CV would include a BAFTA Fellowship, at the very least.

Alan Clarke in 1989.

But Alan Clarke wasn’t really the genius behind Rita Sue and Bob Too. That accolade belongs to its writer and creator, Andrea Dunbar. RS&BT started life as a play , written in 1982 when Andrea was only 21 years old, hot on the heels of her first play The Arbor which she had started writing when she was fifteen. The story of Rita, Sue and Bob was inspired by Andrea’s own experiences growing up on the Buttershaw estate in Bradford, helped along the way by a conversation that she had overheard between two teenage girls in the ladies toilets at Keighley Market. Andrea Dunbar’s story of Rita and Sue was streets ahead of the news when it was written almost 40 years ago. The story of a married man grooming two impressionable, impoverished young girls who came from dysfunctional families is a topic which has made the news headlines with depressing regularity over the past decade or so, particularly in the run-down northern towns where the story is set.

Andrea Dunbarr on the Buttershaw Estate in 1987

My view that this is the best British film ever made is something I stand by, although I must admit to feeling extremely surprised that it doesn’t appear in the BFI’s Top 100 chart. (Mind you, East is East didn’t make this rundown. Neither did Wish You Were Here so something’s gone a little bit awry.) Looking through the list, I can’t think of a single film on that rundown which has left viewers with so many catchphrases. How many can you remember from Rita, Sue and Bob Too? Here’s just a few of those classic one-liners which litter the entire script. “You’ve done nowt and you’ve been nowt all your life!” “It looks like a frozen sausage!” “Make your own fucking tea!” “I’ll wrap this round your fuckin’ neck!” “It’s better than Match of the Day, this!” I could go on, because we’ve not had Willie Russell’s best line, “I’ve done some things” yet. This is where the magic lies for me, in the script. Whilst telling a tragic and complex tale with great humour, Andrea Dunbar managed the near-impossible feat of creating realistic sounding dialogue in a poor, northern town, whilst adding laugh-out-loud, cutting humour to every scene. Was this formidable achievement an accident of brutal, unapologetic honesty or just simple genius? I believe it was the latter.

Here’s a hi-octane blast of Rita Sue and Bob Too

Andrea Dunbarr died from a brain haemorrhage in the same year as Alan Clarke, 1990. She was 29 years old. Speaking as a fan, and a fellow writer, this tragic end to Andrea’s life, when she had so much left to say, never gets any easier to accept and I feel a true sense of loss for what Andrea would have gone on to achieve. I’m just so glad that she was there to see her hometown and estate overrun and buzzing with film crews when she was 25, as one of the UK’s most celebrated film directors shot her script. It’s wonderful to know that she would have been watching as well, that Sunday night in 1988. Andrea Dunbarr lived a very short, very sad life and it is heart-breaking to think that instead of going where her talents could and should have taken her, she instead became a heavy-drinker and lost the sense of hope which had inspired her formidable work. The saddest part of all is that she died in her local, The Beacon. The pub shown in the opening shots of Rita, Sue and Bob Too. RIP to Bradford’s finest, Andrea Dunbarr and thank you for creating the one British film that everybody has an opinion about.

What were you doing when Manchester was blown up by the IRA?

Saturday the 15th June 1996 was such a memorable day for anybody with any connection to Manchester. This was the day that the IRA planted the biggest bomb that had ever been detonated in Great Britain, a bomb so big that it completely wrecked the western side of Manchester city centre.

At 11.17am, a thunderous blast echoed all around the city. It was so loud that the rumble was felt ten miles away in all directions. As the dust settled, the people of Manchester were shocked and stunned by the sheer scale of the damage. Manchester had been attacked by the IRA several times before, but this latest attack was on another scale altogether.

The bomb had been hidden inside a Ford Cargo truck which had been abandoned roughly where the tramstop opposite the new entrance to the Arndale Centre is situated today. This 1.5 ton bomb was so big, it was the equivalent to thirty bags of sand. The blast which these explosives created smashed windows as far away as Hulme and Salford in either direction. There were very few panes of glass left intact in the city centre. The job of simply replacing windows took a year, the job of rebuilding the city centre is still ongoing to this day. Here is what happened at 11.17am that day, the police helicopter is hovering above the area now known as The Printworks.

I have researched the events of that day and written a book called Miracle on Corporation Street. This is a factual account of everything that happened that day, written as a novel. When I began writing this account, seen through the eyes of Andrew Miller as a young PC, I considered it would be a “novelette,” not quite long enough to call a full length book. Once I’d began researching, I soon realised that there were so many incredible stories from that day, that I could very easily write two books on the subject.

There were so many miraculous things which went on that day, like the fact that a traffic warden Denise Cartwright ticketed the Cargo truck and radioed her control-room to get it towed. Fortunately for Denise and the 100,000 people in the immediate vicinity of the truck, there wasn’t a tow truck available. Had there been, I shudder to think how many people would have lost their lives that day in Marks and Spencers, inside the Arndale and the Corn Exchange, or walking through Victoria Railway Station. But that’s just one example of the miraculous day that Manchester experienced on that hot Saturday morning. The rest of the unbelievable stories can be found in Miracle on Corporation Street.

The biggest miracle of all was the news that nobody had died that day, thanks to the efforts of Greater Manchester Police who somehow, against all the odds, managed to clear the area of 100,000 Saturday shoppers and workers in just over an hour.

Join a young PC Andy Miller on an incredible day in Manchester’s history. You won’t believe the things that went on.

What is Gambling Addiction?

The seventh DCI Miller book Nothing To Lose delves into the very distressing world of gambling addiction. Anybody who knows what a destructive and painful issue this is will not need any proof or evidence of the devastating side-effects gambling can have on people when it strays from being a harmless pastime into something which takes over your entire life. This is a powerful addiction which doesn’t just affect those who fall unwittingly into the trap, it affects everybody who loves them too.

When I was thinking about writing a story which really explained how quick and easy it was to become a full-blown gambling addict, I received a few dismissive comments from people who had no understanding or experience of the problem. The comments were along the lines of “gambling addiction? Huh, whatever next!?” It was this reaction that further motivated me to pursue the idea of writing a story which centred around the problem and I actually compiled a few of those “real-life” remarks and inserted them into the story, so thanks guys! I found it fascinating that some people were so fast to dismiss it so quickly, whilst admittedly having no understanding of what a massive issue this is, one which affects millions of people, one way or another. If somebody said that they had a drink problem, or a drug habit, I doubt they’d encounter such a dismissive reaction. I wanted to know why people couldn’t accept that this is no different to a heroin addiction.

We are all familiar with the government health warnings regarding Gambling, the “When the fun stops, stop” posters and fast-reads on the end of adverts which promise such fun. These health warnings exist for a very good reason, the UK is in the middle of a gambling epidemic. The bookmakers are usually the only shops left on the decaying precincts and high streets of Britain’s most impoverished towns, after the off-licences of course. There is a very good reason for this, the bookies know that the poorest people are the easiest to attract into their shops and onto their websites with promises of a quick answer to all of their money and esteem problems. People with little or no money are the ones who are keen to find escapism from their problems, hence the off-licences and bookies. I decided to look into this in detail and I quickly realised the sheer scale of the problem and how quick and easy it is to become entrapped by the nightmare of gambling addiction. More disturbing was the realisation that the gambling companies couldn’t really give a fart about the damage that their products are doing to people, their families, their lives. It was a sobering experience, and one which left me wondering how it was possible, let alone legal – to actively encourage people to develop a full-blown gambling habit. If only it was as easy to shake one off. I was shocked to learn that there are hundreds of support groups, all run by charities and that their numbers are increasing week on week, as people finally come to terms with the problems that they had previously been in denial of. I wondered what had been that final straw that had inspired them to seek help and support.

As I mentioned, the reaction to the problem is usually one of complete dismissal. This has got to stop. If you know somebody who is suffering from this overwhelming problem, the last thing you should be saying is “stop doing it” or “why the flipping heck have you done that?” The people who are tackling this problem really need your hugs, your understanding and your love. They feel a lot worse about this than they might be prepared to show. They feel confused and ashamed and they genuinely do not know why they are doing it, they’re not just trying to fob you off. It might be your son or daughter, your husband or brother, it could be your dad. The fastest way to help them to continue on this destructive path is to call them names or dismiss what they’ve done, regardless of how frustrated, devastated and furious you might be feeling. Because here’s the thing – gambling isn’t addictive because it makes its victims feel so worthless and bewildered. It’s addictive because the person doing it gets the biggest buzz of their lives while they are gambling. It’s because the brain receives a massive dose of dopamine and adrenaline in one almighty hit, which basically feels ten times more intense than when you step off the biggest, fastest, scariest roller-coaster ride at the theme park. This is what a gambling addict is interested in, not the lost wages, the arguments and the feelings of hopelessness which follow. This overwhelming chemical reaction in the brain is highly addictive, and that’s the problem.

If you or anybody you know is going through this first-hand, or you are sitting on the sidelines as a worried family member, please remember that there is support available. Lots of support. Because this is a big problem, and you are not alone. Talking to somebody who really understands what you are experiencing is a huge help, so please take that step today. This can be beaten, but it starts with understanding what a complex problem you are dealing with.

Organisations that provide help and advice on gambling matters
BeGambleAware.orgA website that gives advice on gambling responsibly – this means making choices based on all the facts, and staying in control of how much time and money you spend.
Problem gambling
Central and North West London NHS Foundation TrustTel: 020 7534   6699 / 6687Treats problem gamblers in England and Wales who are aged 16 and over. It assesses the needs of problem gamblers as well as those of their partners and family members, and offers evidence based treatments as well as interventions to assist with financial, employment, social and relationship difficulties.
The Christian Centre for Gambling RehabilitationA Chinese Christian charity established in 1996 that helps mainly Chinese-speaking problem gamblers to stop gambling and recover from their addiction and its adverse effects. They provide information, advice and support services which include counselling, money advice and group meetings to pathological gamblers and their relatives and friends.
Count Me OutA not for profit social enterprise that aims to help vulnerable children and adults who are addicted to, harmed or exploited by gambling by promoting self-exclusion and social responsibility.
Gam-AnonSupport to those affected by another person’s gambling. A fellowship of men and women who are husbands, wives, relatives or close friends who have been affected by problem gambling.
Gamblers Anonymous
National helpline number:
02073 843040
A fellowship of men and women who have joined together to do something about their own gambling problem and to help other compulsive gamblers do the same.
GambanGamban is an easy to use application which blocks online gambling on all installed devices. It is available across all platforms and helps people who want to stop gambling from accessing gambling sites and apps.
GamblockGamblock helps prevent gambling sites running on your PC. Once downloaded, users are directed to the GamBlock website when trying to access a gambling website. The GamBlock website also provides advice to people who have problems controlling their gambling.
GamCare
National helpline number:
0808 8020133
A registered charity that takes a non-judgemental approach to gambling, and a leading authority on the provision of information, advice and practical help in addressing the social impact of gambling.
Gordon Moody AssociationTel: 01384 241292Provides residential treatment for severely addicted gamblers, as well as providing outreach support and internet counselling service.
Consumer support
Citizens AdviceHelps people resolve their legal, money and other problems by providing free information and advice, and by influencing policymakers.
Debt support organisations
Money Advice ServiceAn independent service, set up by government, to help people manage their money.
Debt Advice FoundationA UK debt advice charity offering free, confidential support and advice to anyone worried about debt.
Debt Support Trust
Tel: 0800 058 0226
A not for profit debt charity with trained, friendly debt advisors ready to advise you on available debt solutions.
National Debtline
National helpline number: 08088 084000
Provides free confidential and independent advice on how to deal with debt problems.
StepChange Debt CharityTel:  0800 138 1111A debt advice organisation offering free, confidential and impartial debt help to anyone who needs it, available online 24 hours a day.
Other support organisations
Action for ChildrenHelps children achieve their full potential, through services that support some of the most vulnerable and excluded children in the UK.
Counselling DirectoryProvides a counselling support network, enabling those in distress to find a counsellor close to them and appropriate for their needs.
Samaritans
UK helpline number:
116 123
A 24 hours a day service providing confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide.

When seeking publicity goes spectacularly wrong.

A very unexpected thing happened soon after I released my debut DCI Miller story One Man Crusade. I had my fifteen minutes of fame, albeit for all the wrong reasons. It was quite an extraordinary and regrettable thing.

My first book was called The Clitheroe Prime Minister, a satire novel about a random working-class man who suddenly became a major national celebrity by accident. The story was driven by the fact that the British public loved his straight-forward views and demanded that he became PM. It was a good laugh, but during its remarkably short life, the story has become largely obsolete due to Brexit, Tory austerity and Jeremy Corbyn. However, it was set in Clitheroe, where I live, so I’d decided to promote the book’s existence by putting up posters all around the town and the outlying villages. (I saw one not long ago, a little faded now, in a phone box, still held up with blu-tack!)

Anyway, my next book came out the following year. This one was called One Man Crusade and it was an entirely different type of story. This one was set in Manchester, it was a crime thriller centring around a very interesting moral dilemma. I decided to have another go at the poster campaign, this time in the areas that the book is predominantly set, 35 miles down the road from here in Greater Manchester. I considered that the USP for the story was the fact that it was largely set in Tameside and Bolton. My plan was to try and grab some attention for the book from people who might think “Ooh, a crime thriller set around here.” There aren’t many, after all.

Now, before we go any further, it’s worth mentioning that the tag-line on the front cover of One Man Crusade was and still is “Manchester has a new serial killer.” It is generic enough to explain that the book is set in MCR and that it is about a serial killer. I had hoped that this simple strap would connect with my target audience. For my poster campaign, I thought that adapting the strapline for localities which featured in the book would pique local interest, and this was where my mistake was born.

The Tameside posters went up and my next night’s efforts were intended to take place around Bolton with a set of posters bearing the tag-line “Little Lever has a new serial killer.” But these posters would never see the light of day because mission publicity had very quickly been accomplished. But for all the wrong reasons.

Call me stupid, but what happened next genuinely shocked me. The first batch of posters had been put up around Tameside, the district of Manchester that I had grown up in. I spent about five hours driving around and sticking the A3 photocopies up in bus stops, on boarded-up buildings, at train stations and so on. The next day Karen Shaw, my editor from Northern Life magazine phoned me up and asked if it was okay to give my mobile number to somebody from the Manchester Evening News. It was a bit of a weird question so I asked Karen if she knew what it was about and she replied, “I think you’ve dropped yourself in the shit, Suttie!” You got that right, Karen.

A few minutes later, my phone rang and sure enough, it was a lady called Sue Carr from the MEN. What she said next had me face-palming myself. “The son of one of Harold Shipman’s victims has contacted us about your poster.” “Right?” I said, completely lost by the remark. “He’s very upset. Don’t you think that it was insensitive to place a poster near his surgery, announcing that there was a new serial killer in the area?” “Oh shit,” I said, as the gravity of the situation began to catch up with me.

You see, wrapped up in my own little marketing bubble, I had totally overlooked the fact that my poster was completely inappropriate in an area that has the dubious claim of being home to the world’s most prolific serial killer, Dr Harold Shipman. The Hyde GP had killed at least 250 of his patients over a thirty year period. Let’s not forget that Tameside was also home to Brady, Hindley and Dale Cregan.

“Are you still there?” Asked the journalist, I think she realised I was having a moment of clarity. I’d sat down, I was completely gob-smacked by the fact that I hadn’t thought of this. It was a ridiculous oversight, especially when you consider that the first proper book I’d ever read was “Devil’s Disciples” which was about Brady and Hindley and the Moors Murders. The fact that most of the facts and details took place around Tameside had kept me gripped throughout this well-thumbed paperback as a twelve-year-old. And now, that grisly mark on Tameside’s reputation had been refreshed by Shipman, and then the cowardly crimes of Dale Cregan in more recent times had only added to a very disturbing claim to fame for the town of Hyde. I’d really cocked up here and I was becoming increasingly aware.

As I was driving back to Manchester to start pulling the posters down around Hyde, Dukinfield, Denton, Mossley and Ashton, my phone was pinging non-stop. The MEN had published the story on their Facebook page and everybody I knew was tagging me in the comments. I was really embarrassed, but I could handle that. What I was more concerned about was the fact that my ill-conceived actions had upset somebody whose mother had been killed by Shipman. It was a truly horrible feeling and I was desperate to make amends and explain that this was a daft oversight rather than something sinister and deliberate.

As I was driving around, the BBC were phoning me so I pulled up on Asda car park and answered. It was a producer from BBC Radio Manchester, she said that I was booked in for an interview straight after the 8am news the following day. This was without doubt the most surreal day of my life. Allan Beswick was the host of the breakfast show, but he was also a personal hero. I had been a fan of his since being about 10 years old. Beswick’s “shock-jock” show on Red Rose Radio in the 1980’s had first inspired my life-long love of radio. I agreed to the interview and carried on with my mission of pulling down the posters, which still wasn’t accomplished.

The next morning, I got up and waited nervously by the phone. In his typically bombastic style, Allan Beswick started ripping me a new arsehole, and I humbly accepted that I’d messed up and apologised. But he kept going, bless him. “Can’t you see that folk from Tameside want to put all of this behind them?” He said. “It’s upsetting for them all, constantly being reminded of Tameside’s dark past.”

I finally decided to have a go back. “Allan,” I said, “I just heard the news bulletin at 8 o’clock. The top story in Manchester this morning is the fact that a sixteen year old lad has been stabbed. That’s a big story, so why are you concentrating on this, reminding Tamesiders of the past, instead of focusing on this stabbing? How can they forget if you are going out of your way to remind them all on Radio Manchester, in the prime-time slot?” It was a good point, I thought. Why pretend to be furious about something that you are cynically pushing to the top of the news agenda. I ended the call thinking that we could both call that a draw. As on air bollockings go, I took it gracefully and was slightly bemused a little later when Beswick said “it does sound like a cracking book, to be fair!”

An hour later, the phone rang again with another BBC Oxford Road number. This time it was the region’s biggest news show, North West Tonight. The young chap explained that they were running the story on tonight’s show. “Listen, ” I said, “I’m not interested. If I come on North West Tonight, people are just going to think that I’m dragging it out, milking it for all its worth. The story was fresh yesterday, I’ve since apologised and I’m not taking part.” “But think of the book sales!” Said the producer. “You’re missing the point, I’m not interested, I’m not doing it.”

With that, the conversation came to a conclusion and I had a very long wait to see how they portrayed the story, wondering all day long if I should have agreed to meeting with the camera crew and reporter in order to put my side of the story across. 6.30 finally came around and I watched on, wondering what I should do now instead of writing books. The report came on at about quarter to seven and I don’t think I breathed once until it ended. Luckily it was only two minutes of a job, where two of the three vox-poppers played it all down and Stuart Pollitt, the reporter I’d refused to meet with had been very easy-going given the circumstances. Maybe the NWT team realised that I was genuinely upset about the mistake when I refused to go on, they could have done a lot worse to be honest.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. The producer had been right, I had sold a lot of books off the back of the North West Tonight package. In normal times I’d have been celebrating. But I wasn’t interested at all, I was more bothered about the fact that I had upset some poor bloke who must have been to hell and back throughout the Shipman arrest and subsequent enquiries. I was gutted that I had reminded him of what he’d had to go through, and what his mother had suffered at the hands of the local GP. I got out of bed at about 3am and stalked out his e-mail address and wrote him a long, profound message trying to explain my actions. The story disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared and I was glad. It taught me a very valuable lesson though, if you are seeking publicity, be careful that you don’t get it for the wrong reasons.