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Tom's Column - June/July 23

The Nostalgic Joy Of Going Back To School – With Waterloo Road by Tom Beasley

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Having spent the last six years covering the entertainment industry for work, that's something that couldn't be clearer. People love to point at things they remember and smile out of pure recognition. It's basically what carried the first of the new Star Wars movies over the line in 2015 and, as I write this, a movie built on how much people of all ages love to play Mario Kart has just earned a billion dollars at the box office.

But I've had my own personal experience of the importance of nostalgia in the podcast I host. During the early days of the pandemic lockdown in 2020, a friend and I decided to start a podcast together – along with just about every white man on the planet, it seemed. We chose to cover a TV show episode by episode and, while my friend's suggestions were mostly for traditionally acclaimed programmes, I suggested the BBC classroom drama Waterloo Road. I remembered enjoying the show as a teenager, and it had then just been added to iPlayer in full.

The show first aired in 2006 and ran for 10 series until 2014. It followed the travails of the staff and pupils at a troubled school in Rochdale, until it moved to Scotland for its final three series. No, I don't know why that happened either. Maybe the producers just really liked square sausages?

The show isn't always great – in fact, it's sometimes terrible – but I thought it had the perfect mix of weirdness and obscurity to make for a fun topic. It's full of teen pregnancies, dramatic love triangles, and schools being set on fire. What's not to love? That was three years ago and, a few weeks ago, the podcast ticked over the 100,000 download mark. A huge milestone. We've recorded more than 140 episodes and interviewed multiple actors from the cast.

In 2021, Waterloo Road was revived by the BBC thanks to the excellent iPlayer figures. That year, old episodes had got more iPlayer views than both Doctor Who and Death in Paradise. The first revived series of Waterloo Road aired earlier this year and, by the time you read this, a new run of seven episodes will be well underway.

Even weirder, the BBC has also launched Phoenix Rise – another school-based TV show, filmed in Coventry. And not only is it filmed and set in Coventry, but it's filmed in the very school where I spent my teenage years. It seems that I can't get away from the world of school-based TV shows.

But more than anything, I've loved learning a lesson about nostalgia. I've spent a lot of time over the years recording various podcasts about the world of film and getting very little response from any sort of audience. I expected the Waterloo Road podcast to go the same way. We thought it would be a fun lockdown diversion that no one would listen to, and we'd probably give it up once we were allowed outside again. But that didn't happen.

Instead, we found an audience of devoted fans of Waterloo Road – old and new – who loved having the opportunity to experience it again through the lens of a podcast willing to celebrate, criticise, and mercilessly mock the programme. With love, of course. We've even got a paid subscription page where people chuck us a few quid to listen to extra episodes, including reviews of Phoenix Rise in which I mostly just point out rooms at Woodlands I remember from 15 years ago. A different kind of nostalgia.

It has been a delightful three-year journey into the world of nostalgia, and I look forward to continuing along that path as we watch the remaining episodes of Waterloo Road. As long as people keep listening, we'll keep recording. And we'll have a lot of fun mocking one of the most absurd schools in television history. Like I said, with love.

Our podcast is called Everything From Nothing: The Waterloo Road Podcast, and it's available on Apple and Spotify.

© 2023 Tom Beasley

Tom Beasley is a staff writer for the film/TV website, The Digital Fix, living just outside London and originally from Coventry. He can be reached at tomjbeasley@gmail.com.