SCREENWRITER Jimmy McGovern is known for creating some of the grittiest shows on television.

If you're unfamiliar with his name, chances are, you're well aware of his work.

From Cracker to Accused to Moving On, McGovern's writing is raw, emotive and, at times, makes for truly uncomfortable viewing.

The Liverpudlian writer is also well known for setting his dramas in the north west – 'approximately Warrington' – as Jimmy puts it.

Now the 71-year-old has just released his new highly-anticipated BBC One drama, Time, centred around life within the British penal system and the moral dilemmas faced by those living and working within it.

"I'm always looking for stories," he said, "and the thing about a British prison is, it's full of stories."

"I think, really, I've been working on it since the 80s. From about '82 onwards, I did a fair bit of work in prisons; I was always popping in there and doing writers' workshops and popping out again.

"I was always fascinated by it; I think the main reason was I always felt: 'There but for the grace of God go I', you know? Because I was young and skint once as well, and I did a few naughty things."

Actor Sean Bean, 62, best known for his role as Ned Stark in Game Of Thrones, stars as newly incarcerated Mark Cobden, a man consumed by guilt after killing an innocent man in an accident.

Welcoming his four-year sentence as an act of penance, Bean's character finds himself interacting with principled jail officer Eric McNally, played by Line Of Duty's Stephen Graham.

Sean Bean as Mark Cobden

Sean Bean as Mark Cobden

Warrington's Sue Johnston is also in the three-part series while the Silver Jubilee Bridge in nearby Runcorn can be seen in the second episode.

Jimmy handpicked Sean Bean and Stephen Graham for the roles of Mark and Eric.

He added: "I just think they've got faces you'd die for, you know? Full of life and full of compassion and humanity.

"And I think, if you're going to write about a British prison, that's the kind of thing you need. Compassion, humanity, experience – and all are in the lines of those faces."

Jimmy says he would have worked with Stephen sooner, were it not for the actor's own Liverpool roots.

"It was a story I came across a while back in an episode of Accused," he said.

"There was a part – it was a taxi driver who takes a girl to the airport and goes back and burgles her house – and it was absolutely perfect for Stephen Graham.

"I said: 'We can't have Stephen. We cannot have a Scouser playing the burglar because of the negative stereotype attached to the city.'

"And yet, at the same time, you want the work in the city, because these are quite highly paid jobs.

The writer says it's a situation that is 'always awkward' and leaves creators 'wide open to charges of not giving Scouse actors jobs in Scouse dramas'.

"It's strange, because Cracker was set in Manchester," continues Jimmy. "And it was full of psychopaths, you know, real weirdos, and nobody in Manchester complained, because that doesn't face the negative stereotype."

Stephen Graham as Eric McNally

Stephen Graham as Eric McNally

'Doing Time' saw Stephen step inside the walls of a working jail in order to learn the tricks of the trade. The actor found himself shadowing an active prison officer, absorbing the nuances of day-to-day life and honing routines as he went.

"I soaked it up like a sponge," said Stephen, 47.

"We were at the prison and I met this lovely fellow who had been a prison guard for 25 years.

"I went off with him for about two and a half hours and I came back - and you know how you want to impress your footie manager, and you come back and show him what you've been doing?

"I got some keys and I said 'Come here, come here'," he says with a grin. "And I could see he was dead excited. It was like a kid and his dad really."

"What he missed out at the end of that story," interjects director Lewis Arnold, "was he actually flicked the keys up and caught them on his belt. He was showing off and it worked, and I could see him trying to do it.

"He never did it again."

Time is airing weekly on BBC One on Sundays or you can watch it on iPlayer.