Thursday, 29 December 2016
First viewed : 2 November 1982
Another piece of the modern world falls into place here with the beginning of Channel Four. That's particularly underlined by Brookside as many of these actors ( e.g. Ricky Tomlinson, Sue Johnston, Amanda Burton ) have never been off the telly since.
Brookside was the brainchild of self-regarding Grange Hill creator Phil Redmond whose company, Mersey Television, got the nod to produce the new channel's flagship soap opera . An actual cul-de-sac of thirteen houses on a new build estate in Liverpool was purchased by the company, nobody being over-keen to move into the city at the time.
The soap started with just three houses occupied. The Grants were a working class family on their way up despite patriarch Bobby's unionism . The middle class Collins family were having to downsize from their home in Cheshire following dad Paul's redundancy and the Havershams were what would soon become known as a yuppie couple.
I wasn't sure if I'd seen the very first episode so I've re-watched it and on balance I think I probably saw at least some of it; the first ten minutes are so stunningly banal they would defeat anyone's recollection. It did improve and it was poignant to see the late, lamented Katrin Cartlidge playing the Collins's daughter Lucy. The other thing that struck me was the earthy language which the show was soon forced to clean up.
I stuck with it for a few episodes partly out of fascination for Damon Grant's scally mate Gizmo ( Robert T Cullen ), the most unhealthy looking TV character until the advent of McKenzie Crook, but he didn't last long . I didn't like its all-VT antiseptic look or the obvious left-wing bias in the writing. I was forced back to a few episodes in the first half of 1985 when I was running a sort of Bad Video club at my Hall of Residence . The screenings were supposed to start at 8pm after Corrie but this lad called , I think, Satnam sometimes insisted we wait until after Brookside. Otherwise I resolutely stayed away. However someone at Record Mirror was a big fan, even putting Barry and Karen Grant on the cover in January 1985, so I was rather unwillingly kept up to date with happenings on the Close.
With Brookside , Redmond pioneered the art of stunt storylines with particularly dramatic developments deliberately leaked to the press beforehand to create a buzz. It started with the "Free George Jackson" campaign which never really took off and the poor bloke was left in jail. Then you had the seige, Sheila's rape, the body under the patio, Anna Friel's lesbian kiss, the incest and so on. None of it was enough to tempt me back.
Redmond managed to keep the show buoyant until 1994 when the Monday episode was forced out of its time slot by a third episode of Eastenders on BBC 1 and had to compete with The Bill on ITV on a Tuesday. Thereafter ratings steadily fell and in November 2002 it was cut to one 90 minute episode a week late on Saturday evening, It was never going to recover from that and indeed the axe was announced the following summer, the last episode going out in the week of its 21st anniversary.
Redmond had long boasted that the series could continue through VHS then DVD if it was chopped. Thus , a DVD , Unfinished Business , was released just after the final episode was broadcast to predictably poor reviews and low sales. It contained a trailer for the next one, Settlin' Up but that's all that was ever shot of it. By 2005 even Redmond had accepted the show was over and sold Mersey Television to the All3Media Group. The houses were put up for sale but at far too high an asking price and remained empty and decaying until 2008 when they were used in a horror film called Salvage. Just after that a property developer bought them all and sold them as private residences in 2011.