Boys from the Blackstuff defined an era in this city - Bernard Hill was its beating heart

Bernard Hill as Yosser Hughes meets Graeme Souness in the TV drama Boys from the Blackstuff
Bernard Hill as Yosser Hughes meets Graeme Souness in the TV drama Boys from the Blackstuff -Credit:BBC Picture publicity


'Boys from the Blackstuff' defined an era in Liverpool and Bernard Hill's portrayal of Yosser Hughes was its beating heart.

Mr Hill died in the early hours of Sunday (May 5) at the age of 79. Tributes to the actor, whose career spanned six decades and saw him star in 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy and 'Titanic', were paid after his death was announced.

However, it was Mr Hill's role as Yosser in Alan Bleasdale's 1982 BAFTA-winning TV drama which dominated those tributes. That is no surprise.

READ MORE: 'We will never forget Yosser': Tributes paid to 'true legend' Bernard Hill

READ MORE: Boys from the Blackstuff star Bernard Hill dies at age of 79

ECHO reader Bev Green summed it up as she said: "All of us of a certain age will never forget Yosser". Valerie Fleet added: "Stand out performance in a stand out series. Never bettered. RIP Bernard."

The Merseyside-born Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who has spoken often about his appreciation for Alan Bleasdale's seminal TV drama, tweeted: "‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ was massive in my early life. God love you, Bernard Hill."

The impact of that performance - and that show - is still evident more than 40 years on.

Bleasdale's series, which follows a group of unemployed tarmac layers as they battle the many challenges of life in 1980s Liverpool, is seminal. Yosser, famous for his catchphrases of "Gizza job" and "I can do that", is key to that.

He is brought to life by the genius of Bleasdale's writing, matched by Mr Hill's searing performance. The Mancunian actor's portrayal of Yosser captured the hopelessness of a situation that so many found themselves in, but was defined by a defiance that is central to this city's character.

For so many in Liverpool, the dark days of the 1980s in Liverpool are not easily forgotten. The decline of docking and industry in the city resulted in searing unemployment, leaving thousands of people with nowhere to turn.

There was little in the way of help from Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. People were left to fend for themselves.

Yosser begins the series unemployed and unable to cope with its consequences. He is a proud man who believes in a social contract - one that means working hard will allow him to provide for his family - his priority.

He quickly finds out that society isn't keeping its half of the deal. Viewers get dragged to the abyss with Yosser as his life disintegrates - his income and dignity are stripped from him before his children are taken into care.

Macho, insecure, stubborn and violent, Yosser is a long way from perfect. But he is the damaged result of a cruel and uncaring system. One which eviscerated his pride, took away any meaning to his life and tried to grind him down to nothing.

In expressing that turmoil, Mr Hill's performance is phenomenal. Able to take you to the depths of despair with a single look, break your heart as life's stresses try their hardest to get the better of Yosser, but also make you howl with laughter with a simple one-liner - it is acting at its very best. Crucially, it is a performance imbued with the humour and wit that make Yosser so authentically Scouse.

Garston's Barry Sloane, who has taken on the iconic role in the stage adaptation of 'Boys from the Blackstuff', said it best as he paid tribute to Mr Hill: “He was a true inspiration, his performance as Yosser touched the hearts of a nation, he bared his soul for us. He is the bedrock on which Yosser stands. I dedicate all future performances to Bernard. Sending much love to his family.”

Mr Hill's Yosser is an icon of Thatcherite Britain - a symbol of this city's willingness to battle in the face of adversity. What a role, what a performance, what an actor. He will be sorely missed.

The Liverpool Daily Post newsletter delves into the biggest stories on Merseyside