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Bread (1986-91)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Bread (1986-91)
BBC1, 1/5/1986-3/11/1991
51 x 30 min in 7 series, plus 3 specials, colour
DirectorsSusan Belbin
 Robin Nash
 John B. Hobbs
ProducersRobin Nash
 John B. Hobbs
ScriptCarla Lane

Cast: Jean Boht (Mrs Boswell); Jonathon Morris (Adrian Boswell); Peter Howitt, Graham Bickley (Joey Boswell); Gilly Coman, Melanie Hill (Aveline Boswell); Victor Mcguire (Jack Boswell); Caroline Milmoe, Hilary Crowson (Julie); Nick Conway (Billy Boswell); Kenneth Waller (Grandad); Ronald Forfar (Freddie Boswell)

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Life with Catholic Liverpool matriarch 'Ma' Boswell and her large brood, who face poverty and unemployment with wit and a knack for finding their way around the benefit system.

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Carla Lane's second long running series to feature Liverpool and its people draws on the themes of redundancy and unemployment that destroyed the economic and social fabric of Liverpool in the 1980s. Following in the footsteps of Alan Bleasdale's hard-hitting social drama Boys from the Blackstuff (BBC, 1982), Bread explored the domestic lives of a Catholic working-class family living in a Victorian terraced street typical of the dockside neighbourhoods that developed either side of the Pier Head in Liverpool's heyday.

Taking as its focus the Boswell family created in the final series of The Liver Birds (BBC, 1969-79), Lane uniquely combined the traditional sitcom series format with long-running storylines typical of soap opera. The central character Nellie Boswell is a Catholic matriarch whose philandering husband Freddie has left her for 'that tart' Lilo Lil; she has four grown up sons and a daughter, all struggling to make a living. Initially condemned by critics in her home town for perpetuating negative stereotypes of the city's population as work shy scroungers, Lane defended the series as "an optimistic salute to the resourcefulness of Liverpudlians on the dole-line and the invincibility of the family unit."

The focus on a family sticking together through hard times undoubtedly appealed to a nation reeling from the Thatcher government's privatisation policies, the closure of nationalised industries such as coal and steel and the social and economic devastation to traditional working-class communities that followed in their wake. The strong sense of identity, emphasised by the use of convincing regional accents and location camerawork, personalised the effects of unemployment on the everyday lives of working-class people and gave the series an authenticity that other sitcoms of the day lacked.

Classic sequences include regular confrontations between family members and the exasperated clerk Martina at the social security office as Joey seeks to take advantage of various government employment incentive schemes and Nellie Boswell's daily prayers at meal time gatherings, where she collects the money from her children to pay the household bills. After a slow start, Bread became a national success, challenging the domination of the UK's most popular soaps at the top of the ratings; it ran for seven series from May 1986 until November 1991 and remains the most successful of all Lane's sitcoms.

Julia Hallam

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Video Clips
1. Modelling audition (1:25)
2. 10 O'Clock (4:38)
3. A profound thing (4:42)
Complete episode (29:44)
Liver Birds, The (1969-79)
Royle Family, The (1998-2000)
Lane, Carla (1937-)
Tushingham, Rita (1942-)
The Sitcom Family