Waterloo Road stretches the bounds of credibility

OK, so hands up who’s watched Waterloo Road? It’s a BBC drama series set in a northern English urban school. It’s run for a number of series, but this one has gone all out for drama, and in doing so has bordered on the ridiculous, in plot terms.

All the issues raised in the programme are real: teenage shootings, a crooked coach trying to make a Dwaine Chambers out of an aspiring boxer (and nearly making a Michael Watson of his opponent), child trafficking … but the idea of all these things — all these things — happening in one school, in one term, is stupid. To be honest, I found the programme stretched things a bit with the shooting plot, in which both a pupil and a teacher who had been threatened with a gun by a new boy, pretty much kept quiet, letting his 11-year-old brother rot in jail for several weeks, until the real gunman murdered his girlfriend (after she discovered that he had fathered a child with another woman, who was living in a shack, and the pair of them were planning to sell the child).

Some of the less dramatic storylines in the programme are well-handled; there are two possible Asperger’s sufferers in the programme, one of them a timid young girl and the other an older boy who is trying to ingratiate himself with his peers, without much success (and his troubled family, which includes two of the teachers, does not help). The girl is found to have a talent for drawing, and is strong-armed into drawing portraits of other pupils (in the toilets, of all places) for money, but the arrangement breaks down when one or two of the girls don’t like the result.

However, the revelation that one of the teachers (a mixed-race woman who is all smiles until she gets a whiff of anything ending in ism, at which point she has no mercy for whoever is accused of it) has actually smuggled the toddler she calls her daughter into the country from Rwanda, had me thinking, how much further can they stretch this? This reminds me of Brookside, which boosted its ratings enormously with a storyline about a wife who killed her violent husband (after taking him back above her daughter’s protests) and was briefly sent to jail; there were a number of women who were in jail in Britain for similar killings at the same time. Subsequent storylines included a killer virus, brother-sister incest, a cult which turns one of the houses on the Close into a mini Ranch Apocalypse and a drug bust at Bangkok airport. It was drama, drama, drama, but it wasn’t a soap anymore and ratings went downhill all the way. Waterloo Road has packed all this drama into a few weeks, not a few years.

I could not help but notice that the storyline does not make any of the black characters look all that good. Of course, it’s a drama and no news is good news, but the black characters who have had a major part in the story are the murderer Earl Kelly, his hapless little brother, the wannabe boxer, the girl who bullied the female Asperger’s sufferer, and a teacher who steals someone else’s daughter from Rwanda and smuggles her into the country. Not to say that the white characters are heroes, but the biggest “scallies”, as they say up north, are black, and the one who appears to be decent turns out to be a criminal as well. Not very helpful, particularly when you read stories like this which was in today’s Guardian. And the white characters all manage to avoid showing any racial prejudice (until the Travellers turn up, that is). At this rate, a “normal day at Waterloo Road” will soon be too unusual to fit into the plot.

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