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Sunday 14 May 2023

An introduction to Ten Pound Poms by writer Danny Brocklehurst


Ten Pound Poms will air weekly on BBC One from Sunday 14 May at 9pm. 

Ten Pound Poms is an original drama series created by BAFTA-winning Danny Brocklehurst, produced by Eleven - the team behind award-winning Sex Education. A co-production between the BBC and Stan, the series will debut on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK, and as a Stan Original Series in Australia.

The six-part show chronicles the journey of a group of Brits who leave post-war Britain in 1956 to start a new life in sunny Australia. Promised better housing, job prospects, and a higher quality of life for a mere ten pounds, they quickly discover that life down under is not the paradise they imagined. The series follows their challenges and successes as they adjust to their new lives as immigrants in an unfamiliar country.

The central characters of the series are Annie (played by Faye Marsay) and Terry Roberts (played by Warren Brown). As they strive to create a better life for their family, they are tested by the difficult living conditions and the negative attitudes towards immigrants. Kate (played by Michelle Keegan) arrives without her fiancé and is determined to leave her painful past behind. Bill (played by Leon Ford) is desperate to prove he's living the Australian dream, even if he can't maintain the lifestyle he desires. Stevie (played by Declan Coyle), a troubled teenager, hopes this new adventure will be his escape from his oppressive father. Finally, Ron (played by Rob Collins), an indigenous Australian war veteran, struggles with feeling like an outsider in his own country.

Overall, Ten Pound Poms promises to be a captivating drama that explores the challenges and triumphs of immigrant life in the 1950s.

After World War II, more than a million Brits were enticed to emigrate to Australia for just £10. In return they were promised a better house, better job prospects and a better quality of life by the sea in sun-soaked Australia.

When Eleven Film first approached me with the idea of a series about the Ten Pound Poms and asked if it was something I would be interested in writing about, my interest was piqued. You get this sort of thing a lot as a writer and quite often you think “You know, it’s not for me.” But there was something about this that really appealed. I’ve not written a period drama before, for good reason, because they’re generally quite tricky to make good. But I was drawn to the themes of escape, of no matter where we go, we take our problems with us – something which is ever present in my work – and the fact that this was a piece of our history that I didn’t know much about. It’s a period piece that isn’t all bonnets and frocks - and the more I looked into it, the more I thought: “Yeah, there’s definitely a TV series here. I’m in.”

Once I was on board, Eleven decided to hire a full-time researcher who dug around quite intensively for a few weeks and produced a detailed 50 page document and when I started to watch documentaries and read books, it opened up a whole river of imagination and knowledge which I found fascinating. The research offered up so many ideas that it was almost overwhelming; there were so many fascinating and heart-breaking potential stories, so many directions I could go in. I had to choose who was going to come over to Australia, who was already there, what year do we begin, there were lots of important decisions to make early on.

Britain in the fifties was a fairly grim place and many people were tempted by the adverts for Australia as “a great place for families.” The technicolour promo films of the time showed golden beaches, beautiful houses with picket fences and big gardens, attractive, suntanned people water-skiing and playing volleyball. But in reality, many immigrants arrived to gross disappointment. They were housed in post-war steel Nissen huts with outdoor showers, no flush toilets and terrible food. The accommodation was cramped, insects rife, the heat stifling and walls paper-thin.

I decided I wanted to bring over a loving couple with two children. They are trying to change their life because Terry the father is haunted by memories of what he saw in the war and is drinking too much in an effort to blot them out. Bright and ambitious, his wife Annie has always put herself second to the needs of her family. Then there’s Kate, a lone traveller who leaves her fiancé at the port and has a deeply emotional motivation for coming to Australia. At the hostel in Australia, we meet an English family, Bill, Sheila and their twin daughters who have been there for some time. She is desperately homesick and longing to return home.

So that was the core of my series. And they obviously collide with various Australian characters on the compound and in the town, funny, friendly, abusive and embracing. There was a real sense of “Who are these poms, coming here, taking our jobs.”

Australia, like many places in the fifties had issues with racism, sexism and masculine culture. Women weren’t allowed in pubs, indigenous Australians were sent to the back of the queue in shops, children roamed free all day long despite the very real danger of snakes, spiders and dingoes. But there were no class hang-ups and women were encouraged to work whilst families spent time on the beach - and of course the landscapes are stunning.

I’d worked with Michelle before on the series Ordinary Lies and Brassic. Early on there was a discussion with the BBC and I asked Michelle if she’d be interested. She loved the idea of Kate’s journey, because she appears to be in a relationship when we first meet her at the port in England, but she arrives in Australia on her own and tells the port official that her fiancé didn’t want to come after all and you immediately think: “Hang on, that doesn’t sit right.” Throughout the series you realise Kate’s on a very personal, heart-wrenching mission, which goes back to the research and some of the things that were happening to single women in the UK at the time. Michelle was perfect for the role – it’s the first time she’s done a period drama and we adapted the script to accommodate some of the things that came out of rehearsals.

Faye is fantastic as Annie and in many ways she’s the emotional heart of the series as the mother of our lead family. She’s the one who drives the decision to go to Australia when she sees an advert in the paper. Terry is blind drunk and he’s lost all of his money and she announces: “We are going to change our life.” When she arrives, she’s the stereotypical 1950s housewife, like lots of women at that time. She’s brought up the kids, she looks after the home, she’s very much catering for her family. But what she discovers in Australia is an unexpectedly massive opportunity to become something different alongside all of that, which could be a whole new exciting life for her, which isn’t really why they went. So it immediately creates a conflict in the family because everybody’s dynamic is changing quite unexpectedly. Faye, who’s from the north of England, is such a natural actor - she can do so much with an expression, and she looks so believable and real. It’s sometimes difficult to find actors who feel of the period, so you’re looking for actors who are chameleon like. Faye’s really inhabited Annie’s character and takes us on that journey throughout season one.

As for Warren, Terry was one of the first characters who came into my mind when I was creating the series. Our story opens in 1956, eleven years after the end of the Second World War but lots of people in the UK were still processing what had happened and many people who’d fought were struggling. I watched a very good documentary with some first-hand accounts of real Ten Pound Poms and one character stuck in my mind. He was talking about how his experiences of the horror of the war had stayed with him and he was unravelling in the UK. He had PTSD and was finding life very hard. Going to Australia was a way of trying to deal with that. The theme of the show is told through his story which is that you can go and start a new life, but you essentially take your baggage with you; you can never leave yourself behind. He’s still got all this bad stuff in his head, problems with drink and gambling. How can he try and lessen some of that through starting afresh in this new country?

Warren and I had worked together briefly many years ago on Shameless and had talked about doing something together. Terry is a hard role to cast because he’s got to be masculine and physical as a working man and labourer, but he’s also got to be troubled, with a sensitive side, we’ve got to have some humour and it’s difficult finding all that in one actor. Warren looks very good for the period, but he also has that vulnerability whilst being tough. He kind of ticked all of the boxes.

I didn’t really know any Australian actors before we started this process. I was brought up to speed by our brilliant casting director and it became pretty clear to me how much amazing acting talent there is over there. It was a nerve-wracking decision to cast only a small percentage of English actors whilst some would be played by Australians doing an English, Northern accent. The kids, Finn and Hattie, are absolutely brilliant – you wouldn’t know they’re not from Manchester. They’re an amazing find and I’m very pleased. As for the other cast, like Rob and Stephen, they’re just exceptional and we’re very lucky to have them on board.

For much of the production I was in the UK and the time difference is hellish meaning you do most Zoom conversations pretty early in the morning UK time. 8 or 9 in the morning is 5 or 6 o’clock in Australia, so you have a very small communication window which can be challenging. But once we were up and running and the director and executive producer moved to Australia, it became a bit easier on the ground. We have one Scottish director and one from Australia, so we add those different voices into the mix. They’re both superb.

I hope it’s an entertaining story that shines a light on something viewers didn’t know much about. I think Ten Pound Poms is a kind of rare beast these days. It’s unashamedly a character drama. I mean it’s got thriller moments and emotional high stakes but it’s essentially about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, their lives and their families and trying to make things work. In a TV landscape awash with cops and crime and high concept whizz bang, it’s a privilege to have the time to do a character piece that feels very rich and emotional. We’ve created a period drama with dirt under its fingernails, a show that doesn’t glamorise the past. It’s about love and hope and following your dreams.

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