In Jimmy McGovern's The Lakes (BBC, 1997–99), the central character, Danny Kavanagh, leaves home looking for work. His search takes him to the Lake District where he is interviewed for a job helping in the kitchens of the Ullswater Hotel. When questioned about his health he replies, ‘I've got an infectious laugh.’ The chef, realizing Danny is from Liverpool, counters: ‘Think you're a comedian? ... I've got a theory about Scousers. You're all descended from the bastard children of slave owners, so you can't help it, sitting by while all the others do the work.’ His words deliberately echo an earlier declaration by the hotel's owner: ‘Do you want to hear my theory about Scousers? Bone idle. It's not your fault you understand, it's in your genes. You're all descended from the feckless Irish. Half starved, you get on a boat, you get as far as Liverpool and say, “Sod that, I'm not going any further, this'll do.”’ With this comic repetition, McGovern simultaneously foregrounds and defuses the locals’ prejudice and, what is more, that of many of the series’ viewers. By making Danny the most eloquent character in the series, he counters such familiar negative stereotypes with an equally familiar positive one: that of the garrulous Scouse rogue with the trademark patter who, when asked if Liverpool is rough, responds, ‘Everywhere you go they stop you and ask you if you've got a weapon and if you say no they give you one to take in.’
The Lakes draws on McGovern's own experiences of employment in the Lake District as a young man, and these exchanges hint at a persistent, formal dynamic in his work. McGovern conducts a dialogue with the familiar and the customary and twists it into something new. It is a strategy which also helps define his relationship with genre, making it feel urgent rather than comfortable. As such it is productive to view McGovern's writing alongside that of another television dramatist from Liverpool, Lynda La Plante. Both are prolific, both came to prominence in the early eighties, and both helped renew mainstream television drama by engaging with genre. But where McGovern's writing obviously bears the city's imprint, La Plante's, at least superficially, is defined by its absence.