If I was black I'd be pretty wary of television drama. Unlike white actors, who get cast as a range of people, you tend to get "the black guy" - not a character but a cipher, a stereotype: a gangsta, a charmer, a yardie, a ladies' man, a dealer, pusher, pimp...
Why does the casting of someone non-white have to be so pre-meditated, have to stand for something? Why is it often brought in to fulfil a quota or to make a social point? I ask this because such typecasting isn't just confined to race. Middle-aged women get cast as mothers. Gay people must be queeny or bitchy - or both. Country folk come off as simple-minded Thomas Hardy fantasies. And Northerners. Yeah, them too. Because anyone with a twang of the North in them is gritty, right? They're gruff and taciturn, but they get things done. They swear a lot - no harm meant! - but their hearts are in the right place. Bless 'em.
This week the latest project of acclaimed TV writer Paul Abbott, he of Cracker and Shameless fame, comes to an end. Like much of Abbott's work, the cop drama No Offence has been hugely enjoyable - witty, fluid, densely plotted, with compelling turns from Joanna Scanlan, Will Mellor, Alexandra Roach, and just about the entire cast really. It's prime steak television and it'll probably win a prize or two. I'd recommend it to anyone.
But while the craft's flawless, there's something about the show that irks me. It irks me the same way Shameless, also set in Manchester, irked me, or Queer as Folk, or Coronation Street. Or, in fact, most TV drama about the North. What irks me is that stereotype - that enduring image of the Northerner. Gobby, sweary. Brusque but genuine. Bark's worse than their bite, salt of the earth, diamond in the rough, etc etc...
I'm not saying it's the worst stereotype there is. Cockney wide boy or Devon bumpkin are arguably more negative. But here's the thing: it's just not true. Manchester is not brimming with gruff but golden-hearted diamonds. It's as moody and complex as any major city. Go to the centre and it's filled with trendy cappuccino cafes. Go to the fringes and it's all glazed newbuilds and yuppiedromes. The locals may be a bit chattier than in London - where aren't they? - but they harbour pretensions like anywhere else. There's hipster snobbery to rival Dalston; even Coronation Street's Salford is remodelling itself as an arts Mecca.
And yet the stereotype persists, fuelled and re-fuelled by TV, that us Northerners are a gruff, coarse but "genuine" bunch who haven't any time for fancy nonsense.
Are Northerners really so simplistic? Not in my experience. Some of us are moody, haughty, subtle, sarcastic. Some of us are anything but genuine. Why would a change of accent and a punishing climate turn us all into warm-hearted simpletons and biscuit-dunking Gromits?
I say this because I've always resented the assumption that, because I've got a soft Northern accent, I'm somehow decent, honest, more "authentic". I'm none of these, and nor is anyone I admire. As a matter of fact my first move on reaching adulthood was to re-locate to the capital, where the things I associated with ambitious Londoners - ruthlessness, cunning, cultural edge - appealed to me far more than being some uncomplicated Northern gruff. Once you're in London you can barely see beyond Primrose Hill. Apart from trips home to visit family, I became a Southern snob who happened to be born in Yorkshire.
Now that I've grown up I'm glad to say I can see beyond such typecasting. I know now there are as many witty, cultured, erudite Northerners as gruff, gentle-hearted Southerners. But where's the TV to reflect it? Where are the Northern Alan Rickmans or Mr. Darcys? Can you imagine Benedict Cumberbatch with an accent from Bolton?
Give us some complex and classy characters, some Machiavellian anti-heroes. A cat-stroking supervillian from Dewsbury. A gallery director from Macclesfield. The North is a complex, nuanced and often conflicted place; surely that represents a better opportunity for good drama than recycling tired clichés. I'll doff my flat cap to anyone who manages it.