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Children's Ward/Ward, The (1989-2000)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Children's Ward/Ward, The (1989-2000)
Granada Television for ITV, tx. 15/3/1989-4/5/2000
143 x 25 min episodes, colour
Devised byPaul Abbott
 Kay Mellor
Writers includePaul Abbott
 Kay Mellor
 Russell T. Davies
Producers includeRod Natkiel
 Gareth Morgan
 Russell T. Davies

Cast: Janette Beverley (Staff Nurse/Sister Diane Meadows/Gallagher), Rita May (Mags Davies), Tim Vincent (Billy Ryan), Tom Higgins (Dr Kieran Gallagher), Judy Holt (Nurse/Sister Sandra Mitchell), Dean Gatiss (Matthew McCann), Chris Bisson (JJ), Patrick Connolly (Sean Swift), Maxine Peake (Geraldine), Danny Dyer (Tony), Anthony Lewis (Scott Morris), Tina O'Brien (Claire), Vicky Binns (Tash Naylor)

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Life among the young patients of Ward B1 in Manchester's South Park Hospital.

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Writers Paul Abbott and Kay Mellor first explored the experiences of young hospital patients in the Dramarama (ITV, 1983-89) play 'Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night' (tx. 13/6/1988), which prompted Granada to request a series. Developed with the help of the local Bolton General Hospital Paediatric Unit, and squarely influenced by the hospital melodrama genre, Children's Ward's portrait of the everyday dramas of South Park Hospital's Ward B1 quickly made it a hit. Two rapid follow-up runs meant that in 1990 the show aired 27 weeks in the year.

Russell T. Davies, producer for several series, summed up the appeal: "One of the show's great strengths is that we're not restricted by age. Add to this other aspects such as class and ethnicity and you see the melting pot the convenient format provides." Conflict was preferred to gooey sentimentality - joyriders ended up on the same ward as their victims, as did two sides of a gang rivalry that had resulted in a stabbing.

Much screen time was devoted to the ward staff, their career tensions and their love lives - despite the title, the show seemed to be courting an adult female audience as much as a youth one. Patients tended to move on each year, with ward staff providing continuity. In the show's heyday this meant sensible, empathic Sister Diane Meadows, easygoing Scouser Dr Gallagher (who later married Diane), cold fish Nurse Mitchell and down-to-earth Nurse Mags (the only character to feature in all 12 seasons).

Not all storylines ended happily: illnesses and ailments included cancer, AIDS, child abuse and rape. Latter series also featured Casualty-style jeopardy, with increasingly unlikely scenarios: one stunt had a young pop band falling into a grain hopper while shooting a video. Camp comedy lightened the last couple of series, for which the Children's Ward title was reinstated after three runs as just The Ward. The temporary change suggested a confusion over the intended audience, and the show finally fell foul of ITV's abandonment of the over-10s.

A breeding ground for North West writing and acting talent, Children's Ward saw the blooding of an entire generation of young Coronation Street (ITV, 1960-) stars, including the actors subsequently better known as Leanne, Ashley, Maria, Tyrone and Molly. Local talents Maxine Peake and Ralf Little also gained early experience, while Ward writers Abbott, Mellor and Davies are now among Britain's most successful TV dramatists.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Teenage mum (1:37)
2. Gary's flashback (2:11)
Complete episode (23:37)
Appleyards, The (1952-57, 1960)
Casualty (1986-)
Abbott, Paul (1960-)
Davies, Russell T. (1963- )
Children's TV Drama
Medical Drama