Local-boy-made-good James Graham tops the TV election night polls

REMEMBERING HIS ROOTS -- James (left) on a visit to meet students at The Manor Academy in Mansfield Woodhouse to offer tips and advice.
REMEMBERING HIS ROOTS -- James (left) on a visit to meet students at The Manor Academy in Mansfield Woodhouse to offer tips and advice.

Election night is to be brightened up on TV by a unique play written by a local-boy-made-good who hails from the Ashfield area.

James Graham (32), who grew up in Annesley, has been acclaimed as Britain’s brightest political dramatist of his generation.

And his latest work, ‘The Vote’, has been deliberately timed to coincide with the final 90 minutes of polling up and down the country in the General Election on Thursday.

To be broadcast live on More 4 from the Donmar Warehouse theatre in Covent Garden, the ‘real time’ play, starring Catherine Tate and Judi Dench, is set in a fictionalised London polling station, where staff must deal with an innocent mistake that spirals into crisis.

It’s the latest feather in the cap for James, whose career has taken off in recent years after a string of successes as a prolific playwright and TV and film writer.

And it can be traced back to his schoolboy days at Kirkby Woodhouse Primary School, where he got his big breakthrough in drama when cast in the lead role of the musical ‘Oliver!’ as a shy ten-year-old.

“That gave me the theatre bug,” James recalls. “I couldn’t sing, so they had to get someone else to do that for me! But I loved acting.

“My parents also used to take me to pantos at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, and mum used to sit me down to watch adult TV dramas by Alan Bleasdale. I was probably too young for themn, but I loved them.

“Mum also bought me a typewriter and I used to write reams and reams of stories that I made my family read.”

James’s mum was a school secretary, while his dad was a legal boffin with Nottingham City Council. He says their differing views on how to vote at the 1992 General Election, coupled with the lingering aftermath in Annesley of the 1984 miners’ strike, sparked his fascination with politics.

But he has hailed Martin Humphrey, his former drama teacher at Ashfield Comprehensive School in Kirkby, as “a massive influence” on his burgeoning career as a writer for stage, film and TV.

“He introduced me to modern, working-class playwrights, such as John Godber and Willy Russell, and I performed in school productions, such as Grease and Forbidden Planet,” James remembers.

“I found a confidence on stage that I didn’t have off it. I was quite introverted and liked to be on my own.”

After A-levels at Ashfield, James studied drama at Hull University, where he wrote his first play, ‘Coal Not Dole’, which focused on the 1984 miners’ strike that had affected his home village of Annesley so deeply.

The play went to the Edinburgh Festival, and James’s love for the theatre intensified when he took a job on the stage door at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall, working 16-hour days.

He later became writer-in-residence at the tiny Finborough Theatre in London, and soon displayed a penchant for cutting political dramas. These included the controversial ‘Tory Boyz’, the humorous ‘This House’, set in Westminster in the 1970s, which was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for best new play, and ‘Coalition’, which was screened on Channel 4 earlier this year.

However, self-confessed workaholic James has proved his versatility too. For he scripted the musical adaptation of ‘Finding Neverland’, working alongside Gary Barlow and producer Harvey Weinstein. The show, which tells the story of Peter Pan creator J.M.Barrie, has wowed audiences in New York on Broadway. “Working with Gary Barlow has never excited my mum so much in her life!” joked James.

Single and now living near London, James has never forgotten his roots. He has made many visits to his old school, and others in the Mansfield and Ashfield area, to give talks, tips and advice.