Poetry in motions: TV documentary gets down and dirty with frontline staff at United Utilities

They're the hardy souls who turn out all hours and all weathers to unblock sewers and keep the taps running for seven million people across the North West.

Now a new no-holds-barred documentary on 5Spike (Freeview channel 31) will show life at the sharp end for the staff of regional water firm United Utilities.

Sewermen hits the nation’s TV screens next week and follows the trials and triumphs of the men and women whose job is delivering some of our most vital and least glamorous household services – water and wastewater.

Sometimes hilarious, often icky, but always interesting, the first show will broadcast at 9pm on June 20 on 5Spike, with the rest of the series continuing on subsequent Thursdays.

The prime time observational documentary series is made by Label1 TV, the production company behind the BBC’s multi award-winning Hospital, now about to go into its fifth series, School, about the education system and BBC Two’s new quiz show Family Brain Games.

Fatbergs, blockages and goo are the order of the day, but it’s not all about sewers. The series also follows United Utilities’ clean water staff as they keep the region’s tap water up to scratch and work against the clock to build the UK’s biggest new water pipeline in Cumbria.

Among the show’s ‘stars’ are John Hilton whose job overseeing the company’s £300m West Cumbria Supplies Project means he shoulders ultimate responsibility for delivering 100 kilometres of pipeline, a new treatment works, service reservoirs and pumps, some of it in the Lake District.

The show follows John and some of his team as they launch a huge tunnelling machine under the River Derwent, near Cockermouth. And his colleagues have a big surprise in store for John when the machine arrives.

“The Cumbria project is the biggest water project in the UK at the moment and there are lots of challenges. When you’re leading a difficult project like this you sort of get used to expecting the unexpected but being filmed as it was happening was like stepping into the unknown. The film crew spent several days with us and some of our workforce are real characters. It should be good,” he said.

To make the programme, Label1 cameras got unique behind the scenes, under the ground and round the bend access to United Utilities 5,000 employees and almost 120,000 kilometres of pipes from Carlisle to Crewe.

The first episode sees the launch of a mammoth water pipeline tunnelling machine under the Lake District as well as a flooded pub in Blackburn and whiffy basement in Birkenhead.

Commenting on why United Utilities had decided to open its doors, Customer and People Director Louise Beardmore said: “We’re one of the North West’s most familiar household names and millions of people rely on us. The chance to show our customers the real people who keep the region’s tens of thousands of kilometres of pipes flowing was not to be missed. They keep smiling even when the job gets really difficult and the pride they have in serving our customers just shines through.”

Executive Producer for Label1, Rachel Morgan said: “At Label1 we have never got quite so down and dirty during a production! The access was unprecedented. Very few productions have been allowed into the miles of pipework beneath our feet. From waste to clean water, the call centre, the labs, to the big infrastructure engineering projects, United Utilities staff put themselves on the line and in front of the camera. We are very proud of the revealing, warm and humorous series they and all at United Utilities were brave enough to allow us to make.”

United Utilities provides water to more than seven million people and provides an essential service to every home and business in the North West. Its staff manage 42,000 kilometres of water pipes and 77,000 kilometres of sewage networks across a vast and varied region with differing environments posing a new set of challenges.