The patriarchal character of George Malone is a stark contrast with the behaviour of families like the Todds and the Deans. It is clear that George commands a certain respect through his extended family bonds, whether it is the differing language used when George is in the vicinity or the fact that his arrival is the only thing that can stop a bitter argument between Chrissie and Angie. He is also a role model for the relationship that many of the families in ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ longed for – the Malones treat each other with respect and love, which is clear in the scene showing George’s return from the hospital.
Mrs Malone says to him, ‘Hello love, hello pet, welcome home. ‘ The fact that Bleasdale includes the Malones in the drama proves further that Bleasdale creates an accurate portrayal of family life in the 1980s, as it was not all depression and hardship, making the drama much more realistic. Unemployment also affected the relationships between parents and children. Whilst their parents fought, their children gained an extremely pessimistic view of the world and also lost a lot of respect in their parents. This was especially the case in the Dean household. Freda would often complain,
‘They just don’t listen to me. ‘ Because of the lack of respect in their elders, the children of unemployed parents have little confidence in their own abilities to find unemployment. Danny, the Dean’s 16-year-old son, commented, ‘y’ need nuclear physics to be a bin man these days. ‘ The implication is that school is futile for all but the very intelligent. It also gives a sense of absolute hopelessness, a common occurrence in families in the 1980s. Families with small children had different problems, especially when trying to disguise the fact that the family unit was falling apart.
Scenes like when Chrissie and Angie Todd physically fight over Chrissie’s inability to find unemployment were common during the 1980s, again showing Bleasdale’s success in creating an accurate portrayal of family life. The audience knows that the parents love their children as they try to shield such scenes from them – Chrissie says, ‘Its all right, Justine. Me and Mummy are just playing at wrestling. ‘ Bleasdale again uses dramatic convention at this point to further convey the point that the family do love and care for each other, when the audience see Chrissie, Angie and the girls well wrapped up watching television.
This addition again makes the drama more realistic as it shows all aspects of family life, not just the bad ones. Another example of the protective and nurturing behaviour shown by unemployed parents is found when the audience witnesses George Malone talking to one of his granddaughters about his impending death. When asked what it felt like to die, he replied, ‘Nobody knows, kidder. It’s like… the next episode of… Spiderman. Nobody knows what its like… until it happens. ‘
The fact that George plays down the severity of death shows that he loves his children and grandchildren and tries to protect them from the worst things in life. Bleasdale also creates a loving family unit in the Hughes, despite the absence of the children’s mother and their impoverished situation. It is clear that Yosser loves his children and wants the best for them. He says, ‘When you were born… I was all right then… without me you… ‘ However, although Yosser believes that he is doing the best for his children by keeping them out of the reach of the Social Services, he is actually achieving the opposite.
By stopping them from going to school and out of contact with children of their own age, the children’s social skills degrade and disappear. This is apparent when Anne-Marie, Yosser’s daughter, head butts the social worker as she tries to take her away from her father. It also proves that Yosser has inadvertently set a bad example for his children, therefore the Social Services were right to take them away. It was not just the children of unemployed parents that suffered during the recession of the 1980s. Miss Sutcliffe, a DHSS worker was a character shown with an elderly and senile mother.
By showing the problems they experienced, such as the pranks Mrs Sutcliffe played on her daughter, Bleasdale creates a human side to the DHSS, who were often portrayed as unfeeling automatons. In this way, Bleasdale accurately portrays family life in the 1980s as by creating the different family units the audience sees all aspects of the suffering and hardship people encountered. By showing the point of view of those that are happily employed as well as those that are impoverished and destitute the drama is much more realistic and true to life.