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Sherwood writer James Graham: 'These people are my friends, family and neighbours'

Sherwood James Graham
David Morrissey, Lesley Manville and Robert Glenister star in Sherwood (Image credit: BBC)

James Graham was just a year old when the miner’s strike began in 1984, yet the scars of that tumultuous era continue to haunt his hometown to this day.

Now the acclaimed screenwriter is telling the story of former pit communities like the Nottinghamshire town of Ashfield, where he grew up, in Sherwood, a star-studded BBC One drama about memories, miners and murder.

Partly inspired by real events from 2004, the fictional six-part series is set in a community that found itself on the frontline of the 1984-85 miner’s strike and still bears the scars to this day. 

While some of the town's miners went on strike, others returned to work, causing a bitter feud that has lasted decades and is reignited by a pair of brutal and unexpected murders. 

With the town on the brink of meltdown, it's up to Detective Chief Superintendent Ian St Clair (David Morrissey) and DI Kevin Salisbury (Robert Glenister) to find the killers. James, whose previous writing credits include hit ITV drama, Quiz, tells us more..

This drama is loosely inspired by real events that took place in Nottinghamshire in 2004. Did you feel extra responsibility while telling this story from your own community? 

"Definitely. It's quite an unusual thing to have a writer who was living in the community while such traumatic events are occurring, but It felt like something I should do. I didn't want anyone else to do it, because these are my neighbours, these are my family, my friends. But we also worked in consultation with some of the real people involved in the killings and the manhunt that took place in 2004 and made a decision to fictionalise the characters and invent some other plots."

Aside from the murders and the manhunt, what else did you want to focus on in the series? 

"Well, communities have more than one story and they're not always defined by one thing. I felt like it's actually an opportunity to take a red wall town, which everyone is interested in at the moment, and filter that into several different stories."

Did you give the cast any advice on capturing the Nottinghamshire accent? 

"It’s a strange one, as it’s not quite Yorkshire, it's not quite Midlands, it's a hybrid of sounds. I think we're getting used to it through actors who come from the area, like Vicky McClure and Perry Fitzpatrick, who plays Rory Sparrow in the series. It’s a challenge, but I think the cast really captured it. I've completely lost my accent and sound posh, so I told them not to listen to me!"

What are your memories of growing up in the years following the strike? 

"A lot of the trauma was just suppressed and buried, but it absolutely simmered and continues to simmer. To this day, there are people who will cross the road from their family members or friends who've made different decisions. There's different pubs depending on whether you were on strike or weren’t. I was very young, but I vividly remember the consequences of the strike and the shock of my community physically changing when they closed the pits. It’s an economic trauma, but also a spiritual one as these communities are built entirely around an identity that was torn away from them."

The people of Ashfield are shocked to hear there could be a spy cop still embedded in their community during this week’s episodes. What more can you tell us? 

"We wanted to tell different stories inspired by historical events or anxieties and that is one of them. There have been suspicions that security services placed undercover operatives in law-abiding and non-violent communities to report back on ordinary people, for many years. But the undercover police inquiry, which is taking place at the moment, is uncovering more victims of that all the time. The National Union of Miners believe that during the 1980s, spies exacerbated and provoked tensions within mining communities. It’s a new and shocking story, which most people aren't aware of."

Sherwood begins on BBC1 on Monday 13 June at 9pm

Sean Marland
Sean Marland

Sean has been writing about all things telly for over 10 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are The Great British Bake-Off, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.