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Plaque and film remember Bradford writer Andrea Dunbar
Andrea Dunbar
Andrea Dunbar was described as "a genius straight from the slums"

The life and achievements of Bradford writer Andrea Dunbar are to be marked with the unveiling of a memorial plaque and the screening of a new documentary.

Andrea, who died in 1990, wrote Rita, Sue and Bob Too - a controversial film set on the city's Buttershaw estate, which was used as the film's backdrop.

Now, an award-winning documentary which revisits the estate and Andrea's children is to be shown in Bradford.

The film's director Clio Barnard said: "It's a story that needs to be told."

Racy storyline

Andrea Dunbar burst onto the scene in 1987 when Rita, Sue and Bob Too shocked cinema audiences across the UK.

The film caused a storm of controversy, featuring explicit language and a racy storyline following the exploits of a married man and his two teenage babysitters.

Andrea was immediately hailed as a precocious young talent who wrote about what she knew - life on Bradford's notorious Buttershaw estate.

George Costigan, who played the character of Bob, said he still remembered his first reaction when he read the script.

He said: "It was, 'wow'. You don't get hold of writing like this very often. Andrea was special."

Drama project

George Costigan
George Costigan is still remembered as 'Bob' years after the film came out

Described by one critic as "a genius straight from the slums", Andrea's first foray into writing had been when she was 15-years-old.

A play she had written for a school drama project ended up in the hands of legendary West End theatre director Max Stafford-Clark.

He explained: "It was written in green biro in a school exercise book.

"It was an extraordinary piece of observation about life on a brutalised council estate.

"I thought it was outstanding."

This piece of writing became The Arbor, a play telling the story of a pregnant teenage girl.

Amazing achievement

Andrea became the youngest person ever to have a play staged at London's Royal Court Theatre.

Max Stafford-Clark said it was an amazing achievement, especially for someone so young.

He said: "This was a voice I had never heard before.

"The youth of the writer and the fact she was writing about her own childhood on the fringes of Mrs Thatcher's Britain made it a particularly important voice."

What was tragic was that we never got to see the plays of her maturity.
Max Stafford-Clark, theatre director

Andrea's next project was Rita, Sue and Bob Too - the film which would really make her name.

With its unflinching look at life on the Buttershaw estate, it attracted as many critics as it did plaudits.

However, actor George Costigan said its impact could still be felt today.

He said: "If you and I went out into the street now, someone would say, 'You're Bob aren't you?' It's very flattering considering how old it is.

"But everybody is so warm about that film. It's a life force."

Brain haemorrhage

Sadly, within three years of the film hitting the big screen, Andrea was dead. She died of a brain haemorrhage in 1990.

Her memory lives on, however, not only with a memorial plaque about to be placed on the house where she lived on the Buttershaw estate, but also with the launch of The Arbor, an unconventional new documentary about Andrea's life.

Directed by Otley filmmaker Clio Barnard, The Arbor returns to Buttershaw to find out what the estate is like in 2010 and includes interviews with Andrea's three children.

Andrea Dunbar
Andrea died in 1990, leaving behind three children

The film has already won an award at New York's Tribeca film festival and has been nominated for more.

Clio Barnard said it was important that Andrea's name and work were remembered.

She said: "I'm very pleased with the response because it seems to be reaching people.

"In a way, what more could you ask - that it reaches people and that there's some kind of understanding?

"That's my hope for it."

Outstanding talent

And, two decades after her death, theatre director Max Stafford-Clark said that Andrea had shown such huge potential for the future.

He said: "What was tragic was that we never got to see the plays of her maturity. Her talent was outstanding.

"I think she would have gone on to write better and better plays."

A new series of BBC Yorkshire's Inside Out returns to BBC One on Monday 18 October at 7.30pm with a special report from Lucy Hester who revisits the Buttershaw estate to investigate the life and legacy of Andrea Dunbar.

Clio Barnard introduces a special preview of The Arbor on Sunday 17 October at the National Media Museum in Bradford .




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