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Family at War, A (1970-72)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Family at War, A (1970-72)
Granada for ITV, tx. 14/4/1970-16/1/1972
52 x 60 min episodes in 3 series, black & white/colour
Directors includeGerry Mill
 Baz Taylor
 Bob Hird
ProducersRichard Doubleday
 Michael Cox
CreatorJohn Finch
Writers includeJohn Finch
 Alexander Baron

Cast: Colin Douglas (Edwin Ashton), John McKelvey (Sefton Briggs), Shelagh Fraser (Jean Ashton), Barbara Flynn (Freda Ashton), Leslie Nunnerley (Margaret Ashton), Coral Atkins (Sheila Ashton), Trevor Bowen (Tony Briggs), Keith Drinkel (Philip Ashton), Colin Campbell (David Ashton), David Dixon (Robert Ashton), Patrick Troughton (Henry Porter), Margery Mason (Celia Porter), Ian Thompson (John Porter), John Nettles (Ian Mackenzie)

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The experiences of the Ashton and Briggs families during the Second World War, both at home in Liverpool and on the battlefields of Europe and West Africa.

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A Family at War is an epic saga, exploring in detail the minutiae of daily life during the Second World War as experienced by a working-class Liverpool family. Designed to encompass the entirety of the conflict, this ambitious project was made in an almost continuous two-year production period, but right from its debut it proved an enormous success, with audiences frequently exceeding 26 million. Sir Denis Forman, then head of Granada, the show's production company, would later call it "The most cost-effective series ever made".

Each instalment begins on a specific date and the series spans the period from August 1938 to December 1945. The central focus is on the Ashton family, Edwin, his wife Jean and their five children: sensible and reliable Margaret, self-centred philanderer David, idealistic Philip, amiable Freda and soft-spoken Robert. Edwin is an ex-miner who, to support his wife and children, swallows his pride and enlists at the print works owned by Jean's family and run by her brother, Sefton. Much of the tension in the series arises from their class conflict.

The brainchild of John Finch who acted as script editor and principal writer throughout, the series was sometimes mocked for its unrelenting grimness and solemnity. It is certainly true that practically all the relationships prove to be tangled and largely unhappy; even the ever-smiling Freda is crushed when she and her husband (John Nettles) discover they can't have children. However, no family dynamic was more agonisingly miserable than that of Henry and Celia Porter, torn apart by Celia's dangerously obsessive fixation on their son John, Margaret's husband. Patrick Troughton and Margery Mason play their bitter and distressing exchanges to splenetic perfection.

Although the series does depict the war overseas (with Derbyshire standing in for Spain, the Fylde Coast near Formby for Egypt's Western Desert and locations in Llandudno for the North Atlantic), the focus is mainly domestic. Thus, although Robert and Philip are killed in action, it is Jean's death in 'A Separate Peace' (tx. 17/2/1971) that is given the greater dramatic prominence, uniting Edwin and Sefton in grief. In a touching and surprising conclusion, the final episode sees the two men left to each other's company to face the postwar world.

The stirring theme music was taken from Vaughan-Williams' Sixth Symphony.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Farewells (4:03)
2. Just good friends (1:15)
3. Just good friends (continued) (2:56)
4. Cost of war (3:43)
Complete episode: 'War Office Regrets': Part 1 (16:36)
Part 2 (14:26)
Part 3 (19:50)
Troughton, Patrick (1920-1987)
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Liverpool: Days in the Life