Inspired in Hull by Andy Harries – an engaging look at the story behind some of the most iconic British TV of recent times

On Thursday 20th November, we were delighted to welcome Politics graduate Andy Harries back to campus for an Inspired in Hull talk at Middleton Hall. On stage and in conversation with University of Hull Development Manager Crystal Ness, Andy took the audience on a whirlwind tour of a phenomenal career in film and television spanning four decades and including some of the most iconic British television of modern times. Punctuated by clips from the Royle Family, Prime Suspect, The Crown and other remarkable television shows, Andy’s talk was an engaging and enjoyable look behind the scenes at the people, personalities and challenges involved in creating some great British television.

The University of Hull’s new Vice-Chancellor Dave Petley welcomed an audience made up of students, alumni and members of the general public before bringing Andy and Crystal onto the stage for their chat. Andy began by talking about his time as a student at Hull, and the moment when, during an interview with a staff member and only four ‘D’ grades behind him, Andy was offered a position on the Politics course under the condition that he accept right there and then. Andy had been working as a journalist prior to that moment, and he continued in that vein writing for Melody Maker during his studies.

Our first clip of the evening was from a retrospective of The Royle Family, a show which Andy had forgotten he had produced. Characters such as Noel Gallagher, Johnny Vegas, Shaun Ryder and Peter Kay reminisced about the impact of the show, whilst we were shown an extended scene that illustrated the quiet genius of Caroline Aherne and her co-creators. Andy then talked at length about how he helped to bring the show into being despite reservations from the BBC and initial problems with an initial attempt at filming in a studio that wasn’t producing the desired effects.

Much of Andy’s talk centered around the people and partnerships that he had formed and the work emerging from those relationships. There were coincidences – such as noticing Helen Mirren’s resemblance to the Queen, or the input from an American Producer who helped turn a phenomenal performance in The Queen into an Oscar winning performance. But mostly it was the story of talents combining and diligent work helping to bring ideas to life and get them onto televisions for audiences to enjoy.

Andy spoke particularly about his working relationship with Peter Morgan, the writer of The Crown, and the approach he brings to writing. Peter also studied at the University of Hull, and it was this connection that Crystal was particularly keen to explore, joking with Andy that perhaps this meant that without the University of Hull, The Crown might not have been. Andy has also enjoyed collaborations with another high profile University of Hull alumnus in recent years: combining with James Graham to produce Quiz, ITV’s fantastic drama about ‘the coughing Major’ who won Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in controversial circumstances.

Though Andy took Crystal’s joke about Hull being central to The Crown in a light-hearted way, he was, however, clear about the impact that his time as a student at the University had on his life, and encouraged others to make the most of their time at the University.

Following questions from the audience, Andy ended by talking about the work done by his son, the owner of a YouTube Channel on Hull who went from being a presenter from his own bedroom to interviewing Barack Obama about climate change. Climate change was clearly close to Andy’s heart as a cause and he talked about the need to take steps to address it, his desire to work on something climate related in the near future, and the fact that he considered it to be the single most important issue facing us today.

We are grateful to Andy for taking the time to return to campus and share with us the stories from his fascinating and brilliant career in what was a great evening on campus. Andy took the time to talk to some audience members who had further questions at the end before returning to campus the next day to lead a practical session with students aimed at helping them to improve their pitching skills. For any students hoping to follow Andy’s path and go into production, the visit to campus would have been very productive.

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