BBC Scarborough Review: Slow to start but expertly observed characters show potential

In April this year, Jason Manford announced on social media he was part of the cast in the new sitcom Derren Litten was creating for BBC One called...Scarborough.

Saturday, 7th September 2019, 9:45 am
Jason Manford as Mike. PIC: BBC/Kieron McCarron

With that last word, my heart sunk. I anticipated years of introducing myself as being from Scarborough to be met with laughter and “Is it just like it is on that TV show?” I was imagining a six-part micky take of my beloved hometown - flawed in some ways but perfect in many more.

However, as Derren Litten has been quick to emphasise, this isn’t a story about Scarborough, it is a story set in Scarborough. There are plot points that reference the location - an illicit snog takes place behind a crab stall, the villain owns an ice cream parlour, the protagonist works in an arcade - but the story, for the most part, could happen anywhere.

Catherine Tyldesley as Karen. PIC: BBC/Kieron McCarron

That’s not to say the town isn’t present - in fact it’s never looked so good - wide, sweeping drone shots of North and South Bay glistening in the sunshine make my little hometown look like paradise but if you tune in expecting the domestic version of Benidorm, you might be disappointed.

This is a slower, more considered show. It takes a while to get going. Sure there’s gags in there, and the gaucheness of Benidorm is still present in places, but there’s also quiet moments and a dramatic plot bubbling away underneath. Catherine Tydesely as protagonist Karen did most of the emotional heavy lifting in episode one, punctuated by scene-stealing one liners from Stephanie Cole as her mother Marion.

Jason Manford plays Mike, newly reunited with Karen after five years apart, and his natural comic timing comes to the fore, particularly when opposite his real-life best mate Steve Edge as the enigmatic and slightly tragic Bigsy. I could have done without the joke referencing Jimmy Saville - the more distance put between the town and him the better, and the mish-mash of accents, many of which are Lancastrian, are confusing to a Yorkshire native.

However Scarborough grows on you as you get to know the characters. They’re expertly observed, we know these people - the couple that have a row in the pub every Friday and make up every Monday, the young pals living for the weekend, the devoted adult daughter of a well-meaning but frustrating elderly mother, the always eager karaoke singer.

After the loudness of Benidorm, the opening episode felt a little jarring, not quite a soap, not quite a comedy. But having already seen episode two I can say Scarborough does settle into itself and finds its rhythm.

Plus lets not forget how rare it is to see a seaside town on prime time television. We should celebrate that. These tight-knit communities that circle the country, often far away from the influences of big cities, are an important part of the fabric of our society, and one that not many people know about or get to see. Too often we can feel at the end of the line, forgotten about. This series puts Scarborough smack bang in front of the nation.

During the Q and A after the premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre this week, someone asked Derren Litten what he thought ‘the posh people in the South East would make of it.’

He replied, “Who cares what they think - I made it for us not for them.’

For what it’s worth, I think they’ll like it and now my worry is that I'll have to queue even longer for an ice cream in summer when more people come to discover how much this little town has to offer.