BROOKSIDE

British Soap Opera

Brookside, produced independently by Mersey Television, is inextricably linked to the history of the British independent publishing channel, Channel Four. Founded in 1982, Channel Four's remit was to attract audiences not already catered for by other channels, and to innovate in form and style. In particular, Brookside attracted a young audience who were essential to its success.

Unlike earlier serial dramas, Brookside avoids the traditional drama television studio, with the show filmed on a small housing estate built as part of a Liverpool housing redevelopment. The structure of the close itself, with small "two up, two down" working-class accommodation next to large detached houses for wealthier occupants, set the stage for confrontation between classes, with politically contentious issues dealt with in an upfront manner.

Whereas its competitor soaps are perceived to be "character-based," Brookside's initial aim was a realism that directly tackled the social and political problems apparent in the Britain of the 1980s. This approach has been followed by the BBC's Eastenders, which also copied Brookside's "weekend omnibus repeat" format. More recently the pressing concerns of audience maximisation have led to a more sensationalist approach to social issues, with British television's first "on-screen" lesbian kiss, and a recent storyline focusing on an incestuous affair between brother and sister. These developments have led to suggestions that Brookside, in particular its Saturday omnibus edition, is unsuitable for "family audiences".

One crucial difference between the Brookside of the 1980s and other British soaps was the lack of a central community meeting point such as a public house or corner shop, forcing characters to interact either on the close itself, or in scenes shot on location in and around Liverpool. However, the addition of a shopping development to the set, has led to more traditional interactions over the counter of a Pizza Parlour, and at the bar of Brookside's nightclub, La Luz.

Many of the main changes in Brookside are symbolised by the fate of the Grant family. Moving onto the close at the start of the programme, the Grants symbolised the expansion in working-class property ownership encouraged by the Conservative governments of the 1980s. Bobby Grant, a trade unionist with a fierce line in socialist rhetoric, suffered unemployment, Damon Grant was murdered in London (with the death filmed as part of a Brookside spin-off entitled Damon and Debbie, a format copied by Granada's Coronation Street), Karen Grant left home to study at University, and Sheila Grant left Bobby, symbolising the breakdown of the traditional post-World War II family unit. Barry Grant gradually developed the role of a ruthlessly competitive young entrepreneur, encouraged by the boom-bust cycle of the British economy during the 1980s and 1990s. He continued with the series into the 1990s, but gradually disappeared after murdering the wife and child of his lifelong best mate, Terry Sullivan. Murder and violence are no strangers to the Brookside set, which since its inception has seen two armed sieges, the murder of a child abusing father, a violent rape, and a fatal cocaine-fueled car accident.

Channel Four now broadcasts three episodes a week of the soap, and Brookside is invariably the channel's most popular programme, giving it a greater scope for minority-oriented programming elsewhere in the schedule. Still shot film-style, with one camera, the contemporary Brookside retains many of the formal qualities of its 1980s twice-weekly version. However, gritty social realism has gradually given way to a more populist approach; whereas early episodes did their best to reflect the specific concerns of the northwest of England, nowadays Brookside rarely references its Liverpudlian roots.

-Stuart Borthwick

Brookside
Photo courtesy of Channel Four

CAST

Roger Huntingdon.................................. Rob Spendlove Heather Huntingon................................ Amanda Burton Sheila Grant........................................... Sue Johnston
Bobby Grant...................................... Ricky Tomlinson
Damon Grant......................................... Simon O'Brien
Karen Grant......................................... Shelagh O'Hara
Barry Grant................................................ Paul Usher
Jean Crosbie......................................... Marcia Ashton Anabelle Collins.................................... Doreen Sloane
Paul Collins.............................................. Jim Wiggins
Lucy Collins......................................... Katrin Cartlidge
Gordon Collins........................................ Nigel Crowley
Gavin Taylor............................................ Daniel Webb
Petra Taylor......................................... Alexandra Pigg
Debbie McGrath................................... Gillian Kearney Audrey Manners....................................... Judith Barker Emma Piper.............................................. Paula Belle
Sarah Banks...................................... Andrea Marshall
Rosie Banks............................................ Susan Twist
Eddie Banks........................................ Paul Broughton
Carl Banks.......................................... Stephen Donald David Crosbie......................................... John Burgess
Rachel Jordache (1993-)...................... Tiffany Chapman
Beth Jordache (1993-).................................. Anna Friel
Mandy Jordache (1993-)....................... Sandra Maitland
D-D Dixon.................................................. Irene Morot
Ron Dixon................................................... Vince Earl
Mike Dixon.................................................. Paul Byatt Mick Johnson........................................ Louis Emerick
Patricia Farnham............................... Gabrielle Glaister
Jackie Corkhill......................................... Sue Jenkins
Jimmy Corkhill........................................ Dean Sullivan
Mo McGee................................................ Tina Malone
Kevin......................................................... Terry Melia
Max Farnahm......................................... Steven Pinder
Sinbad................................................. Michael Starke
Viv....................................................... Kerrie Thomas
Bev McLoughlin (1993-)............................. Sarah White

PRODUCER Mel Young

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

Channel 4 (Brookside Productions)
1982-

FURTHER READING

Brown, Mary Ellen. Soap Opera and Women's Talk: The Pleasure of Resistance. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 1994.

Geraghty, Christine. Women and Soap Opera: A Study of Prime Time Soaps. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991.

Kilbourn, R.W. Television Soaps. London: Batsford, 1992.

 

See also Soap Opera