Dear England writer will deliver MacTaggart lecture on ‘social injustice’ and TV

Dear England writer James Graham will deliver the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

The talk from the playwright and screenwriter, 41, will explore the “role and responsibility of television drama in shaping the political agenda and illuminating social injustices”.

Previous lectures have been delivered by a host of notable figures including I May Destroy You creator and actress Michaela Coel, documentarian Louis Theroux, former Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow, and former Newsnight hosts Jeremy Paxman and Emily Maitlis.

James Graham with his best new play Olivier Award for Dear England
James Graham with his best new play Olivier Award for Dear England (Ian West/PA)

Graham’s Olivier award-winning play Dear England sees Joseph Fiennes portray football manager Gareth Southgate, and concerns the team’s journey to the 2022 World Cup.

His television work includes Bafta-nominated crime show Sherwood and Emmy-nominated drama Brexit: The Uncivil War, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as former Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings.

Graham said: “I am genuinely honoured to be invited to deliver the MacTaggart lecture this year of all years, following a potentially landmark election.

“In these difficult and divided times, culture and the arts have never been more important; TV moments can still bring a nation together through shared viewing experiences, whether it’s in a drama that brings our collective attention to unbelievable injustices or a sporting performance that unites us in celebration (or disappointment!).

“I’m aware that delivering this lecture is a real moment, as well as an opportunity, to consider the future direction for the creative industries

“I’m keen to look at the wider role that drama, storytelling and culture can play in politics, society, and in particular those left-behind communities.”

His speech in August is also set to celebrate “the role of arts and drama, and the future of public service broadcasters, in the new cultural landscape”, hot off the heels of a potential new government.

James Graham with the Michael Billington Award for Best New Play
James Graham with the Michael Billington Award for Best New Play (Ian West/PA)

Graham’s show Sherwood, starring David Morrissey and Lesley Manville, is set in his hometown of Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, which has a rich mining history.

The backdrop of industry is something he also explored in The Way, which aired as a three-part series on the BBC in February and was set in Port Talbot, Wales, as a strike takes place at a steelworks.

Aside from other political dramas including the 2015 Channel 4 film Coalition starring Industry actor Mark Dexter as David Cameron and Bertie Carvel, who had played newspaper publisher Rupert Murdoch in Graham’s play Ink, as Nick Clegg, he also wrote the play and ITV show Quiz, based on the infamous Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? cheating scandal.

Quiz starred Matthew Macfadyen as Major Charles Ingram and Fleabag’s Sian Clifford as his wife Diana, while Michael Sheen took on the role of Chris Tarrant.

Dubbed the “Coughing Major”, Ingram was found guilty along with his wife and their accomplice, Tecwen Whittock, played by Michael Jibson, of cheating their way to the top prize in 2001.

The trio maintained their innocence but were convicted of deception following a high-profile 2003 trial.

Graham’s other plays include Best Of Enemies, starring British actor David Harewood and American actor Zachary Quinto and This House about life in the 1970s House of Commons during a hung parliament.

James Graham standing next to Rupert Goold, left
Rupert Goold (left) and James Graham (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

He also wrote the musical Tammy Faye, about the life of American evangelist Tammy Faye Messner, who raised Aids awareness during the height of the pandemic in the 1980s.

Rowan Woods, creative director of the festival, and Harjeet Chhokar, this year’s advisory chairman, called Graham “a fearless contemporary chronicler of British history, institutions and power structures”.

They added: “A firm believer in the power of television in shaping the political agenda and illuminating social injustice, as well being committed to representation that confidently includes social class and regionality, we couldn’t think of anyone better to speak to where we find ourselves culturally, socially and politically in 2024.

“Between The Way, Boys From The Blackstuff, Punch, Dear England, the return of Sherwood and the broadway transfer of Tammy Faye, James Graham is having a truly stellar year, and we have no doubt that he’ll deliver a powerful and timely lecture that will be remembered for years to come.”

The Edinburgh TV Festival runs from August 20 to 23.