Clocking Off was an acclaimed BBC drama series about the lives of employees in a Manchester textiles factory. It explored the relationships between staff in a series of stand-alone episodes that focused on a different employee each week.
Set in Mackintosh Textiles, it was created and written by Paul Abbott and broadcast between 2000 and 2003. The patchwork of colourful stories featured just about everything including marriage problems, vanishing husbands, arson attempts, harassment, plastic surgery and infidelity!
The factory setting heightens the characters' dilemmas as they hide their personal problems, not wishing to 'air their dirty washing in public' among friends and workmates. However, the pressure cooker environment invariably becomes too much, until eventually they explode and the fireworks begin.
Abbott, who went on to write gritty drama Shameless, explained how the factory was something of a sanctuary for the staff, where they could try and forget the problems in their personal lives. He said it was about ordinary people and their relationships - a drama with a little comedy thrown in. He admitted the series wasn't particularly about the "mechanisms" of a factory but rather a series of stories set within that environment about working life in general, stating: "It could have been set anywhere."
He wrote the stories with the binding element being working life - which everyone could relate to - believing the workplace to be an "arena for stories". It was not written as an issue-based series, rather focusing on ordinary people's relationships. Abbott said he enjoyed writing both hard-line drama and comedy, so he had tried to intermingle the two genres.
The show featured a number of major stars, including Sarah Lancashire of Coronation Street fame as Yvonne Kolakowski. She experiences problems in her personal life after her boyfriend throws her and her children out, making her homeless.
Pam Ferris - famous for The Darling Buds of May and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - starred as Pat Fletcher, the new boss of the factory. Intent on making it more successful, her performance at work was jeopardised by her chaotic home life, thanks to her gambling alcoholic husband (Keith Barron).
The series won a British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series of 2001. Every series was BAFTA-nominated and top writers such as Danny Brocklehurst (The Stretford Wives), Jan McVerry (Coronation Street) and John Fay (Brookside and Coronation Street) wrote individual episodes. However, after the show was axed from the BBC in 2003, Abbott - who had become a consultant for the show, rather than the writer - criticised the way it had been handled.
As the show's title suggests, clocking off remains an important part of working life but particularly in factories. Not only is it an accurate means of monitoring employees' hours at work to calculate their wages, it is also used to fulfil health and safety procedure so that an employer knows who is on the premises at a given time, should there be an emergency such as a fire.
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