Franc Roddam’s drama set largely in the Tameside and Stockport areas
In the 1980s, Franc Roddam gained a reputation for his honest portrayal of working class life. For many, his most celebrated work is Quadrophenia (1979), loosely based on The Who’s rock opera. Others may consider Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983 – 88 and 2002) his finest hour. Few would have thought one of his next moves was the long-running Masterchef (1990 – to date).
At the start of 1989 was another drama which focused on modern-day working life. It was gritty. There was the odd instance of industrial language, and it had a pretty decent run: 24 episodes over three series from 1989 to 1991.
- Produced by: BBC North West/Television New Zealand;
- First Broadcast: 06 January 1989;
- Episodes: (24 x 45 minute episodes, over three series);
- Producer: Franc Roddam;
- Writer: Debbie Horsfield;
- Signature Tune: ‘Vanishing Point’ by New Order.
- Jill, Melanie Kilburn;
- Queenie, Margi Clarke;
- Rosie May, Shirley Stelfox;
- Rex, Keith Allen;
- Norma, Tracie Bennett;
- Simon, Gary Beadle;
- Donna, Heather Tobias;
- Chunky, Brian Hibbard;
- Klepto, Moya Brady.
Whereas Auf Wiedersehen, Pet focused on Geordie builders finding work in Germany, Making Out focused on the high-tech industries, part and parcel of late-1980s Britain. A critical link from concept to completion of any product was the humble PCB assembler. Making Out focused on the mainly female workforce at New Lyne Electronics, clocking in each day to solder PCBs.
Much of the series focused on the travails of holding down a mundane job. Maintaining a decent standard of living; work-life balance; maintaining a family unit. Where each colleague tries their best, this is set among the realpolitik of running a struggling business. Early on in the series, 20 voluntary redundancies are threatened, but a deal with a Korean electronics giant secured the company’s future.
The boss at New Lyne Electronics is Rex, played by Keith Allen. Somewhat randy, and firm with his employees. He is assisted by Personal Assistant Norma, played by Tracie Bennett (who you may better remember as Sharon Gaskell in Coronation Street). Rex’s superior is Mr Beachcroft (Don Henderson of Bulman fame).
As with Coronation Street, strong female characters forms the mainstay of this drama. The silver-tongued Queenie (Margi Clarke) is the sharpest one with her Liverpudlian wit and banter. Her opposite number, in terms of character is the prim Donna (Heather Tobias), sometimes the subject of ridicule.
Queenie’s partner is Chunky (played by the late Brian Hibbard from The Flying Pickets), adding some comedic relief with his wheeler dealing. The eldest member of the team is Carol May (played by Dukinfield’s very own Shirley Stelfox), who has an affair with Rex. Klepto (Moya Brady), a slightly built Greek character, gained her nickname due to ‘borrowing’ items and not returning them.
The first episode sees Jill (Melanie Kilburn) starting out at New Lyne Electronics, with another strand of the series’ storyline being her role in maintaining a family. Husband Ray (Tim Dantay), having had trouble finding suitable work in Northern England lands a job in Folkestone, helping to build the Channel Tunnel. Jill’s wage would be the sole source of income for their two children. He would later divorce Jill, with her new beau becoming Gavin, a footballer.
Another colleague, Simon (the only male assembler at New Lyne Electronics, played by Gary Beadle), lives at home with his mother. He is a fitness fanatic with his position being enough to maintain a social life.
* * *
With equal focus given to social lives as well as working lives, viewers were given a complete picture of their characters. We see Simon and his mother gospel singing; we see the colleagues of New Lyne Electronics having a few scoops after work. Chunky is seen selling tortoises at a car boot sale till the police bounce on him, and arrest him for importing illegal goods.
We also see social comment. We also see the man’s role as breadwinner diminished as the manual work, once associated with the area covered, gone. Likewise with the cotton industry, hence of course a former cotton mill (Tower Mill) being New Lyne’s base (some ten years after the very real ICL left nearby Park Road Mill).
In other words, all forms of life covered. Life, death, love and marriage. Strikes, work, rest, play and its travails, in uncompromising detail. Beauty within the mundane, in a way which Charles Dickens, Tony Warren and John Sullivan would do so well.
* * *
Second only to Yanks, Making Out was Tameside’s best known feature, with a real buzz around the borough prior to transmission. For me, it was the first television programme I saw where I could say ‘I know that place’, ‘I’ve seen these houses’ or ‘I’ve passed that mill several times’.
Whereas Making Out is well known throughout the Tameside area, it seems to have been forgotten in the midst of time. With only a limited DVD release, it has some sort of a cult following. Underrated, it deserves a better airing. As for a repeat run, long overdue.
Making Out Locations:
A comprehensive list, though not a complete list. I would be grateful of any help in finding further locations.
- Top of Prospect Road, Dukinfield: looking out to Tame Valley;
- Pantomime Steps, Dukinfield: from Prospect Road;
- Britannia Hotel, Portland Street, Manchester: reception and external view;
- Armentieres Square, Stalybridge: with views of Les Smithies’ Newsagents, Smith’s Dry Cleaners, Shirley’s Shoes and Casablanca;
- Buckton Castle quarry, Carrbrook, Stalybridge;
- Palace Cinema: Market Street, Stalybridge;
- Dukinfield Town Hall: view from forecourt overlooking King Street. Also a glimpse at part of Dukinfield Liberal Club (gone) and NatWest Bank (closed since April 2013);
- Hartshead Power Station cooling towers: seen from Grove Lane, Millbrook, and spare ground nearby;
- Stockport Market: shots of the outdoor market opposite…
- The Bulls Head Hotel: a Robinsons’ public house;
- Co-op supermarket: Grosvenor Street, Stalybridge;
- Paul Dean Bookmakers, Grosvenor Street, Stalybridge;
- Peel Street, Dukinfield: then-new Roland Bardsley houses and Rowcon building system maisonettes of the Dukinfield Central estate;
- The Talbot public house, Market Street, Stalybridge;
- Fir Tree Lane, Dukinfield: one episode sees a shot of one of Stuarts’ coaches parked in a driveway!
- Chinese chippy, Fir Tree Lane, Dukinfield: part of the small shopping centre opposite The Forester public house;
- Bickershaw Colliery, Leigh: view of conveyor belts from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal;
- The Salutation public house, near the University of Manchester, Chorlton-on-Medlock;
- Fireman’s Steps, Stalybridge: off Stamford Street: chime of Victoria Market Hall clock can be heard in the background;
- Belle Vue Greyhound Stadium: Kirkmanshulme Lane, Belle Vue;
- Tower Mill, Tame Valley, Dukinfield: the nerve centre of New Lyne Electronics.
The Signature Tune:
The signature tune, and variants of the theme used for incidental music is an instrumental version of “Vanishing Point” by New Order. Their 1989 album, Technique, has the vocal version whereas the instrumental version is known as “Vanishing Point (Making Out mix)”.
Other bits of trivia:
- The computer game seen in the eighth episode is the Commodore 64 version of Ocean Software’s Operation Wolf.
- Video footage of the football ground seen where Gavin plays is Highbury Stadium, Arsenal F.C.’s former home.
Before I go…
If you have any anecdotes about the programme, or wish to state any additional locations, feel free to do so.
S.V., 23 February 2015.