Bread

The famous British sitcom, Bread, focused on the daily grind of the working-class Boswell family, who lived in Liverpool and faced a continual struggle to make ends meet. It was created in 1986, during the golden era of British television, by the late Carla Lane, who hailed from Liverpool herself.

The 1980s were something of a gloomy era for many Brits, as the UK's youth unemployment level had risen past one million and Margaret Thatcher was an unpopular prime minister for many working class people. Economic uncertainty gripped the nation, as Britain had been in the depths of a deep recession.

There were problems at home and abroad, with police and newspaper printers clashing outside the News International printing plant in Wapping, as thousands of demonstrators protested against changes to working conditions, and the US launched air strikes against Libya with the full support of Mrs Thatcher.

Bread cast

Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

New show

For many, comedy shows on television provided light relief from the grim everyday goings-on in real life. The new series called Bread (the slang term for money) was aired for the first time on 1st May 1986 and depicted life in Thatcher's Britain for many ordinary people.

It soon became cult viewing during its five-year run, attracting 21 million viewers at its peak, despite some criticism that it reinforced negative stereotypes of Liverpudlians as "scroungers".

The plot revolved around the Boswells, who were a Catholic family headed by matriarch Nellie Boswell, played by Jean Boht. Each episode began with the familiar theme tune, sung by members of the cast.

The lyrics related to their philosophy of making money any way they could to keep a roof over their head and food on the table, despite living on the poverty line. The show was popular partly because of its family values and the way everyone looked out for each other and shared what little they had.

Plot and characters

Much of the action took place around the dinner table. A recurring theme was an egg basket, in the shape of a cockerel, being placed in the centre of the table before the evening meal. Then, the family would put any money they had made that day into the basket to pool their resources and pay for their upkeep.

The family members included oldest brother Joey (Peter Howitt), the most sensible sibling, who remained level-headed in the face of adversity. His younger brothers were hard-working wheeler-dealer Jack, sensitive would-be poet Adrian and immature Billy, all of whom meant well, but weren't the brightest lads, often getting into scrapes. Joey was there to look out for them all.

Their ditzy sister, Aveline, famous for her red hair and garish clothes, was obsessed with becoming a model and enjoyed a little success.

Optimism

Nellie kept all her children on tight apron strings, even though they were all adults, partly as a reaction to the fact her layabout husband, Freddie, had deserted them. They also looked after granddad, who lived next door and was cantankerous and grumpy.

Despite their ups and downs, they all pulled together and worked to support each other through thick and thin - which was how many families survived in reality during the tough times they experienced in the '80s.

The premise was intended to show that despite the harsh living conditions, ordinary working class folk retained a degree of optimism, due to the family unit being an invincible one.

However, not everyone took it in good humour, including a review by The Times which proclaimed it reinforced the "cultural stereotype" of Liverpudlians as a "bunch of spongers abusing the welfare state".

Cliff-hanger endings

Regardless of what the critics thought, the show was a huge hit, with its soap opera-style storylines. It was unusual in its day due to the fact it didn't follow the format of most sitcoms in having a self-contained story in each episode.

Instead, it had plenty of soap-style cliff-hangers and viewers would tune in the following week to see the next episode containing the outcome. The plots unfolded as the series progressed, rather than having a different short story each week packed into the 30-minute episode. This was highly unusual in the '80s, although the format has been used in comedies since.

The show even featured a cameo appearance by Paul and Linda McCartney, who were Lane's real-life friends. In one memorable episode, Nellie asked the pop legend's wife, "Your husband - got a job, has he?"

The sitcom became the biggest show of the 1980s as it echoed reality, continuing for seven series and 74 episodes, until the final show aired on 3rd November 1991.

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