By Ursula Duddy
The streets of the city were like a ghost-town on Thursday night as every self-respecting Derry man, woman, child and beast gathered around their TV sets to watch the first airing of Derry Girls.
The Channel 4 comedy set in 1990s Derry was written by local talent, Lisa McGee, who has penned previous sit coms, London Irish on Channel 4 and Six Degrees One.
The action focuses on a group of Derry schoolgirls and the hilarious scrapes they get themselves into set against the backdrop of the Troubles. The first episode aired last Thursday night at 10pm on Channel 4.
However, despite being set in the conflict, it is the girls’ jokes and japes that shine through giving our neighbors across the water a tantalising taste of typical Derry humour in the first episode, leaving them longing for more.
The Derry News spoke to politicians, a principal and a producer to see what they thought of the Derry Girls first saunter onto our screens.
'Class, hi!' - Derry Girl MP
Derry girl and local Sinn Féin MP, Elisha McCallion, said she felt the show had portrayed the Derry sense of humour and pride in the city perfectly.
“I really enjoyed the first episode although it is certainly worrying for me as someone who still looks upon themselves as a young woman to start feeling nostalgic about the early 1990s!” she said.
“It captured some of the Derry humour and certainly the affection that we Derry ones have for our city – ‘Derry is class, hi’!
“It was also wonderful to see local talent and the backdrop of Derry being showcased on such a big stage.
“I'm certainly looking forward to the next episode!”
Martine Mulhern is the proud principal of St Cecilia’s College where two stars of the show were former pupils; Sorcha Jackson who plays central character, Erin, and Jamie-Lee O’Donnell who stole many laughs with her ballsy portrayal of Michelle.
Although born in Belfast, Mrs Mulhern is an honorary Derry girl herself having been raised here most of her life. She gave her take on the new home-grown Channel 4 show.
“I loved it bar the language, I don’t remember it being that bad back then or now but I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to bad language and it’s a comedy, so it is what it is!” she laughed.
“It really did show the situations you got yourselves into, the things you talked about and the reality of your lives against the backdrop of the insanity that was going on in the background with the Troubles.
“That line ‘I want to be an individual but I don’t want to be an individual on my own’ was brilliant. That’s not just the 90s generation that’s still happening with teenagers today. Back then it might have been denim jackets, another time it might be a hair style or colour or shoes or heels – it really caught a lot of things about the reality of school life.
“I particularly like the different characters within that one friendship group. The fact that they were all so different but still friends and allowed to be themselves and maintain that friendship.
“These girls were actually based on Lisa’s real friend group and, it’s true, the friends you make in teenage years last because they’ve seen the best and the worst of you.
“I’m really proud that two past pupils, Sorcha Jackson and Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, star in a national show and just watching them with those big hoop earrings...I had those earrings! I was very good growing up but I always had the biggest, hoopiest earrings and only took them off when I started teaching!
“I hope the dynamics of the friendship group and the comic parts allow the show to travel. The teenage angst is there and, taking away the backdrop of the Troubles, it reflects teenage life anywhere in the UK.
“The show is quirky and it’s quirky things like this that catch on. The reaction here has been amazing and sometimes Derry people are very hard on themselves but it’s lovely to see the positivity for Lisa and for the show.
“The half hour watching it really flew in and I got a kick out of it. I saw so many girls sharing their school photos on social media and there’s a real sense of camaraderie with the Derry girls, especially from women of that age that grew up then.
“It’s definitely a thumbs up from me and I’ll definitely be watching again.”
'Leave our roadsigns alone' - Gregory
East Derry’s DUP MP Gregory Campbell gave a mostly positive review of the show but was sure to get in a few quips about the longstanding dispute over the city’s true name.
“Many people (especially Londonderry residents) were 'feard we wud be wrecked' if it featured a group of Nadine Coyle sound-alikes, without the half-American add on...fears proved unfounded,” he said.
“Negatives were the opening scene with vandals trying to obliterate the 'London' from a 'Londonderry' road sign. Don't know why that had to set the scene - and the all-pervasive swearing.
“I know it follows in the line of gritty, dark, urban Channel 4 comedies, and people will say it was the way it was in the 1990s but it didn't need it.
“Some of the parts weren't played well; the smaller blonde girl had a permanently pained expression for no apparent reason.
“The positives were there some hilarious one-liners. The Michelle character clearly relished the role with the bullying scene on the bus and the waiting outside the Principal’s office afterwards.”
Mr Campbell said that, while he believes the show will be a massive hit locally, he just hopes it travels well.
“Will it suffer the same fate of our late and much-loved BBC broadcaster, Gerry Anderson, who on moving to Radio 4 found that English audiences didn't 'get' his accent or his take on life?
“Loved locally but further afield, more difficult. I think it could become cult viewing for NI audiences if the first episode is anything to go by.
“It will probably be a case of ' Ah canny wait for the next episode, hi', followed by, 'Have ye heard if they're makin’ anoller series yet?'”
'All credit to Lisa McGee' - Mark H
Mark H Durkan, SDLP Foyle MLA, gave Derry Girls a glowing review and praised the home-grown writer and actresses for their work in showing a wider audience just how great it is to be from the Maiden City.
“I was impressed, it was really good,” he said.
“It’s early days and it’s the first series so we will of the programme and we will see the characters develop and become more familiar and grow on people even more. Last night was just a taster so we will see what there is to come.
“I saw a lot of feedback on social media and there were mixed views, Derry people engaged more, but I’m really keen to see the reaction of audiences elsewhere.
“My wife, Anne, is not from Derry and I was torturing her throughout saying, ‘What do you think about that?’
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for marketing to be on primetime Channel 4 with a show based in this city. Another upside is that other writers and artists from within this city can use this as a great platform.
“Plenty of other cities and towns would give their right arm for the opportunity for such promotion. All credit to the show’s writer and creator, Lisa McGee; I’m sure it must have been an extremely difficult pitch to a British TV station to say, ‘This is where I came from and this is how it was’. But she obviously did a fantastic job in that regard and they enjoyed it.”
Mr Durkan said that he was tentative watching the first half of the show as he hoped that it would do the city proud and not paint us in a cringe-worthy light.
“It reminded me of watching a party political broadcast, it’s difficult to watch objectively, that’s why our party’s last few were my favourite...because I wasn’t in them,” he laughed.
“Derry’s where I’m from, it’s where I’m proud of and very defensive of too so I was nervous watching the first half so I would like to watch it again also because you get distracted recognising different places in Derry!”
He added: “My praise couldn’t be stronger for the show’s creator and the fact that she managed to pitch the show to Channel 4 for such a prominent primetime slot.
“I found it very enjoyable and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.”
'Ballsy and witty' - Blame Game producer
Jackie Hamilton, Derry ‘boy’ and former pop star with Derry rock band, The Moondogs, is today the producer of the BBCNI comedy The Blame Game, with his own company, Moondog Productions.
The final word goes to Mr Hamilton, speaking as a native of the city and a man who knows a thing or two about comedy, who gave Derry Girls a resounding seal of approval.
“I thought it was great; it was very funny and quite refreshing,” he said.
“In terms of comedy for different age groups and comedy as a narrative space, the Troubles was a background but front and centre was these handful of teenage girls and that was funny and different.
“It was quite authentic too in its use of words, it didn’t enter into TV land. I was trying to watch it as a punter without overanalysing it but when you’re sitting over 70 miles away watching something about the place you know and love, where you grew up...I had to resist the urge to watch it from behind the sofa!
“We can say what we want about Derry but if anyone else says anything bad we will jump straight on them!”
“I don’t know Lisa McGee but she has really done a great job. We’ve only seen the first episode so we will have to wait to see the whole thing in the round but as a first outing it was very funny.
“It hit the mark and was very much talking from a local place but to a wider audience. You have to ask is it funny and do the jokes work and I think they do.
“Channel 4 is very much viewed by a younger audience and they are bolder and very different from other UK channels. It’s not necessarily just aimed at younger people but its centre of gravity will be defined by the late 20 to 30-somethings.
“Channel 4 has a clear remit of ballsy, witty stuff for a younger audience, not youth or teens, but they do things in a different way and as long as Derry Girls and Lisa keep delivering plenty of jokes and, a key part of it, authenticity, then it should definitely resonate particularly with North England and Scotland.
“Social media plays a big part too, what we need to see are 30-somethings not from Derry sharing it with each other.
“I hope it does work. The acting was good too and the young actresses gave a good account of themselves.
“It generally was a good show and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it. The key word is authenticity, if she can keep that intact I hope to see a second series, but it is the audience beyond here that will define the future of it. Long may it last.”
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