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Brookside - The 1980s

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Brookside - The 1980s
Mersey Television/Brookside Productions for Channel 4, 2/11/1982-4/11/2003
Bi-weekly 30-minute episodes, colour
Executive ProducerPhil Redmond
ProducersNick Prosser
 Stuart Doughty
 Vanessa Whitburn
Writers includeBarry Woodward
 Andy Lynch
 Jimmy McGovern
 Kathleen Potter
 Frank Cottrell Boyce

Cast: Ricky Tomlinson (Bobby Grant); Sue Johnston (Sheila Grant); Paul Usher (Barry Grant); Simon O'Brien (Damon Grant); Shelagh O'Hara (Karen Grant); Doreen Sloane (Annabelle Collins/Harvey); Jim Wiggins (Paul Collins); Nigel Crowley, Mark Burgess (Gordon Collins); Katrin Cartlidge, Maggie Saunders (Lucy Collins); Amanda Burton (Heather Huntington/Haversham); Brian Regan (Terry Sullivan); John McArdle (Billy Corkhill); Kate Fitzgerald (Doreen Corkhill); Jason Hope (Rod Corkhill); Justine Kerrigan (Tracy Corkhill); Bill Dean (Harold Cross); Betty Alberge (Edna Cross); Ray Dunbobbin (Ralph Hardwick); Eithne Browne (Chrissy Rogers); Peter Christian (Frank Rogers); Debbie Reynolds (Katie Rogers); Rachael Lindsay (Sammy Rogers)

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The day-to-day ups and downs of life in and around Brookside Close, Liverpool.

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Brookside's first outing, on Channel 4's opening night, won 2.8 million viewers, the fifth biggest audience of the evening. It was an inauspicious start for the soap, commissioned from Grange Hill (BBC, 1978-2008) creator Phil Redmond at a hefty £3.6 million for its first year. But Brookside would ultimately become the channel's longest-running drama and one of its most successful creations.

Redmond had bold ambitions: "I wanted to use the twice-weekly form to explore social issues, and, hopefully, contribute to any social debate... From the outset one of my main aims was to try and reflect Britain in the 1980s." Brookside's dedication to such issues would eventually wane, but for much of the '80s it successfully married rounded, believable characters to stories of real social relevance.

Redmond's pursuit of a new soap realism led Brookside at the outset to allow its characters to swear, until it became clear that this was alienating the very working-class audiences whose 'real' lives the serial was professing to represent. By July 1983 the regular audience had fallen to a dismal 500,000. Redmond agreed to clean up the scripts, and audiences recovered steadily, and in 1985 the Brookside reached a decade peak of 7.5 million viewers.

Storylines in the serial's first decade tackled such themes as industrial relations (through Bobby Grant's active trade unionism), delinquency (through Damon Grant), unemployment (through the experiences of Damon, brother Barry and their neighbour Billy Corkhill) and the aftershock of rape (Sheila Grant's attack precipitated the breakdown of her marriage to Bobby). Other stories explored sexual harrassment (through Billy's daughter, Tracy) and the tragic love life of Heather Haversham, culminating in her marriage to the heroin-addicted Nicholas.

This last storyline, and the extended 1985 armed siege that saw the death of nurse Kate Moses, were early evidence of a tendency towards sensationalism that would ultimately displace the realism. Indeed it was a perceived decline in Brookside's political commitment at the end of the decade that led to the departure of actor Ricky Tomlinson, closely followed by one of its most prolific and effective writers, Jimmy McGovern.

It's worth remembering, though, that Brookside was addressing unemployment and the decline of Liverpool's traditional industries nearly simultaneously with the critically lauded Boys from the Black Stuff (BBC, 1982). Eastenders (BBC, 1985- ), which in its early days was especially heavily 'issue-based', was commissioned by the BBC as a direct response to the Liverpool soap.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. 'Not one to jangle' (Harry, Ralph and Julia) (1:25)
2. Militants and the Tendency (Bobby) (3:06)
3. Trouble in the Close (Sheila and Julia) (1:08)
Complete 1987 episode (24:09)
Brookside (1982-2003)
Cartlidge, Katrin (1961-2002)
McGovern, Jimmy (1949-)
Redmond, Phil (1949-)
Tomlinson, Ricky (1939-)