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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 January 2008, 11:49 GMT
Liverpool's legacy of culture
By Arif Ansari
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

When Liverpool was picked as European Capital of Culture for 2008, the judges singled out the fact that the people were actively supporting the bid. But the city's population has always had a sense of identity and pride.

Liverpool skyline
Liverpool has undergone major redevelopment in recent years
Popular culture in Liverpool developed after the abolition of the slave trade, Liverpool University social historian Professor John Belchem says.

"Sailors from the 'black Atlantic' and beyond enjoyed the freedom and melting-pot culture of its 'sailortown' environment," he explains.

"The most un-English of Victorian cities, multi-ethnic Liverpool differed sharply - as its accent came to attest - from the immediately surrounding districts of the industrial north."

Huge Irish immigration added to the mix. By 1850 one third of the working class population was Irish.

The Scouse accent was first recognised in 1890, described by some as a Lancashire dialect with an Irish accent.

Liverpool also backed up its emerging cultural strength with impressive architecture.

In 1860, Charles Dickens gave a reading to 2,000 people in the impressive St George's Hall, which was then just six years old.

The Philharmonic Hall was completed in 1849 and William Brown Library followed in 1860.

Liverpool now has more listed buildings than any other British city outside London.

Gritty drama

But as one of the most important ports in world, much of its wealth was based on profits from the slave trade.

One visiting actor, heckled on stage, responded by telling the audience that every brick of their town was "cemented with the blood of an African".

The cast of Boys from the Blackstuff
Boys from the Blackstuff won a Bafta in 1982
Liverpool's at-times tough social environment has resulted in some gritty drama.

Many characters would be struggling against authority, but Liverpool provided the inspration for one of the BBC's best-known police series.

Z Cars began patrolling the city's streets in 1962, offering a portrayal of policing which was more realistic than its TV predecessors.

Liverpool also provided the backdrop for three of Willy Russell's scripts. Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine and Blood Brothers were all successful on stage, with the first two also making it to the big screen.

'Gizza job'

The city's social problems were also recognised in drama.

Alan Bleasdale created Boys from the Blackstuff, considered to be a social critique of Thatcherism.

It gave the nation the phrase "gizza job", and Bleasdale himself kept busy with work such as GBH, loosely based on Liverpool's radical politics.

Jimmy McGovern adopted a similar approach. Several of his challenging TV scripts provoked debate about real events, including the Hillsborough football disaster, Bloody Sunday and the Liverpool docks strike.

If you grow up in Liverpool, you think, 'I can do that'
Dr Mike Jones
Liverpool University

He also wrote for Brookside. The Liverpool soap, famous for its attention-grabbing storylines, was created by fellow Scouser Phil Redmond who had already started Grange Hill, later produced Hollyoaks and remains an influential figure in television.

It was not all gloom though. Writer Carla Lane had TV viewers laughing with The Liver Birds, Bless this House, Butterflies and Bread.

Other famous Liverpool authors include Beryl Bainbridge, Nicholas Monsarrat, Lynda La Plante and Brian Jacques.

Merseybeat boom

But Liverpool's most enduring cultural impact was amplified around the world in the 1960s, with the notes, tunes and melodies of the time still lingering in the air.

Lennon and McCartney
John Lennon and Paul McCartney filming in Liverpool in 1963
The Beatles still hold the record for the most US number one singles.

"They almost single-handedly created the British record industry in terms of volumes of sales," says Dr Mike Jones of Liverpool University's Institute of Popular Music.

But it wasn't just the Beatles. Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and The Searchers all fuelled the Merseybeat boom.

In the early 1980s groups such as Echo and the Bunnymen, A Flock of Seagulls and Frankie Goes to Hollywood also made it big. And in the 1990s, Cream opened, quickly becoming one of the world's best-known club nights.

Dr Jones says Liverpool's youth are still enjoying the legacy of the Beatles.

"Sgt Pepper was 40 years ago. There's a self-belief among young people here," he says.

"If you grow up in Liverpool, you think, 'I can do that.'"


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