on 18 January 2016
Once upon a time Brookside was my favourite British soap, back in the days when we just had four channels here in the UK. So, what happened? By the dawn of the twenty-first century there was an over-kill of soaps in your face. When other soaps like Coronation Street , Emmerdale and EastEnders were aired two or three times a week, there was adequate space for Brookside, but suddenly they were all on every day of the week. Not only that, but in the case of Brookside it began constantly being re-shuffled around in the TV schedules to accomodate the likes of Big Brother. Eventually, Brookside's ratings began dwindling and in a bid to fuel them, began relying on heavily sensationlist and ludicrously over-the-top storylines which only made even more people switch off. While at its inception it was sharp, witty, aggressive, funny and poignant, by the end it was merely a shadow of its former self, ultimately leading to its demise in late 2003. However, Brookside will always be remembered for being groundbreaking and innovative in its heyday, tackling taboo issues previously ignored by other soaps.
Created by Phil Redmond (also renowned for Grange Hill ), Brookside centered on the lives of the residents of a cul-de-sac in the heart of Liverpool. Running from 1982 to 2003, there were well over two-thousand episodes made. It boasted strong, believable characters in the beginning, the storylines were compelling and the tone was both gritty and realistic. It was sad to see the programme finish as towards the end of its run, it had gone back to basics and started concentrating on more realistic storylines as it had done at its inception. Sadly, it was too little to late. Infinitely superior to Channel 4's regular soap Hollyoaks, it would be nice to see it re-surface, although after all this time it's highly unlikely. But, never say never, and you just never know. Many had hoped it would be picked up by Channel 5, but they made it clear that they weren't interested in a resurrection of the show.
Nine years after it finished, Channel 4 finally released a compilation of episodes on DVD to tie-in with the thirtieth anniversary of the first episode being transmitted. Watching this DVD made me long for it to come back and reminded me (and its many fans) how truly brilliant the soap once was. However, it's difficult not to conclude that you can see the writing on the wall in its demise when viewing some of the later episodes that are featured in this double disc collection.
There are sixteen episodes in total featured on this DVD collection and, for fans, it's a great, nostalgic trip down memory lane. Yet, because the episodes jump all over the place, the narrative is totally lost so to anyone not familiar with the series, it's unlikely to make much sense to you. Then again, it goes without saying that this collection is only likely to attract loyal fans, so, therefore, this is just a small quibble. Making total sense is an introduction by Dean Sullivan (Jimmy Corkhill) at the start of each episode, who briefly provides a background to the plots featured, so this makes it all the more logical. He even mentions the conclusions of such storylines which proves useful. What the show never fails to provide is insightful social commentary for its time.
1. The First Episode
Original Transmission Date: 2 November 1982
The middle-class Collins family, unable to afford living in their big country house anymore after Paul Collins (Jim Wiggins) is made redundant, pack up and move into Brookside Close and are far from impressed. They are alarmed to discover their new home has been broken into, their toilet has been stolen and the bedroom has been sprayed with graffiti all over. Despite not having any proof, Paul accuses Damon Grant (Simon O' Brien) of being the culprit though his brother, Barry, defends him ("Our Damion only spells "bollocks" with one 'l'", he insists). Meanwhile, unionist Bobby Grant (Ricky Tomlinson) fears pay cuts and a possible strike, while his eldest son Barry (Paul Usher) is attempting to make a living doing property renovations with materials stolen from a builders merchant where his friend work. Also, his daughter, Karen (Shelagh O' Hara), finds herself trapped with period pains because her Catholic mother, Sheila (Sue Johnston), won't authorise her to go on the pill, fearing it will only tempt her to promiscuity. It's an eventful start to its 21-year-run, and would only get better and better as it went along, before reaching its peak in the mid 1990s.
2. The Siege
Original Transmission Date: 5 August 1985
Pat (David Easter), Sandra (Sheila Grier) and Kate (Sharon Rosita) had been held hostage by a mentally unbalanced man (grieving the loss of his mother) and here the siege continues. The whole Close is evacuated and given alternative accomodation, watching events unfold via television coverage. Meanwhile, Kate seems to be succeeding in talking the gunman round, especially after she convinces him to let Pat and Sandra go free. However, when he threatens to turn the gun on himself, gunshots can be heard firing out just before the episode ends. Too be honest, it was very well-acted throughout and its tone is realistic even if its premise was far-fetched and a little too drawn-out (this was stretched over three episodes).
3. Sheila Grant's rape
Original Transmission Date: 8 July 1986
Now here we have a real classic of an episode. I can remember watching this episode when I was seven years old at the time of its original transmission, and, naturally, found this very disturbing and scary, even though I wasn't aware of what rape actually meant. Sally Dinsdale's husband has gone on the rampage, and she is fearful of what he might do. Meanwhile, Sheila and her friend Matty argue and when she gets in a taxi with him, she ends up getting out the taxi. As she walks down a quiet street, a male voice murmurs "Sheila", before a blanket is thrown over her head and she is dragged off into the bushes, kicking and screaming for her life...
4. Aftermath of the rape
Original Transmission Date: 14 July 1986
Dazed and confused, Sheila stumbles back home after being sexually assaulted. After revealing to her husband Bobby what has happened to her, she insists on not involving the police. Meanwhile, with three suspects in the frame, the police pick up a drunken Pat, who has a large scratch down his face. Is he the rapist? Top accolades to Sue Johnston's intelligent and sensitive performance here which is both powerful and harrowing. She really did herself proud and the subject of rape was dealt with very well.
5. Sue and Danny fall from the scaffolding
Original Transmission Date: 4 October 1991
The compilation leads forward another five years all the way to 1991 here; and this proved another shocker at the time (and still shocks!). A day off work leads to disaster for Sue (Annie Miles). While being virtually stalked by a man she works with, she agrees to meet up with him so they can talk and hopefully resolve the situation. When she goes to meet him, her young son, Danny, climbs up some scaffolding. She immediately rushes to his rescue but while high up on the scaffolding, a man grabs hold of her wrist and she and her son end up falling over the edge and both are instantly killed. Very uncomfortable scene as it involves such a young child, the press pondering at the time whether it was necessary. However, it is all extremely well-handled. While it seems obvious that the man who was obsessed with her, Graham, was responsible for their murders, it was later revealed it was in fact Barry Grant (though he hadn't actually intended to kill them).
6. The Jordache Murder
Original Transmission Date: 7 May 1993
Another corker of an episode and this was Brookside at its best. The Jordache family (Mandy and her two daughters, Beth and Rachel) had fled to the Close to escape the evil Trevor (Bryan Murray), who had subjected Mandy (Sandra Maitland) to physical and mental abuse for years. It also transpired that he had, on several occasions, sexually abused Beth (Anna Friel). However, he had managed to track them down and had managed to charm his way back into Mandy's life. Once his feet was under the table, he had fallen back into his old ways and was worse than ever. Mandy and Beth had poisoned him which hadn't fully worked, so when he catches Mandy and Beth crushing up several tablets to put in his drink, all hell breaks loose and he threatens to kill them all. As he attacks Beth, Mandy grabs a large kitchen knife and stabs him...Very disturbing and shocking stuff but brilliantly done. They later buried his dead body under the patio in their back garden.
7. Jimmy Corkhill on drugs - Frank Rogers wedding day
Original Transmission Date: 4 November 1993
Drug-addicted Jimmy (Dean Sullivan) decides to go on the run as the net closes in on him with his dodgy dealing. Meanwhile, on the day of Frank (Peter Christian) and Lyn's wedding, DD (Irene Marot) and Bev (Sarah White) come face to face (Bev had been having an affair with her husband, Ron). Later, a terrible car accident occurs, caused by Jimmy Corkhill, resulting in the death of Frank.
8. The Lesbian Kiss
Original Transmission Date: 14 January 1994
The subject of homosexuality was still fairly taboo at this point in time. Here, Beth and the Farnhams' live-in nanny, Margaret, kiss and begin their affair. Following the terrible car accidents a few months before on the day of Frank and Lyn's wedding, Ron Dixon's son, Tony, is still in critical condition. Ron begins to lose hope. Elsewhere, religious fanatic Simon introduces Terry to his cult. Was never quite sure about this religious cult storyline as it was a bit far-fetched, and it seems totally implausible that a man like Terry (Barry Grant's best friend) would be sucked into it all.
There is audio commentary accompanying episode 1 by Dean Sullivan and senior producer, David Hanson, which provides a fascinating insight into the show's inception. There is also a feature called Brookside History House By House which is fun for the nostalgic fan.
9. Jimmy on drugs - Tony Dixon's Funeral
Original Transmission Date: 16 February 1994
It's the day of Tony Dixon's funeral and Katie defies the brainwashing Simon by going to the service. Margaret is delighted to see her ex-partner Derek again, while at the burial of Tony, a distraught Jimmy breaks down and confesses to the congregation that he was the driver responsible for the deaths of Frank and Tony.
10. The Cult Suicide Pact
Original Transmission Date: 28 October 1994
Hmmm...as I mentioned earlier, I was never keen on the religious cult storyline as it was so overblown and unbelieavble. It seemed a case of the producers trying just a tad too hard - after all, they had a lot to live up to after the excellent storyline involving the Jordaches burying the evil Trevor's dead body under the patio. In order to make some form of twisted statement, the deranged leader of the cult, Simon, and his brainwashed accomplice, Terry, steal Barry's car and attempt to gas themselves...
11. The Jordache Murder - Trevor's body is discovered
Original Transmission Date: 30 January 1995
This was really where the show peaked. The body of Trevor is discovered under the patio as the Jordache family and Sinbad are on the run back in Ireland. A great start to the episode which shows flashbacks to the horror and torture the family were subjected to prior to his murder.
12. Nat and Georgia's incest
Original Transmission Date: 4 October 1996
Never liked this storyline: Brother and sister Nat and Georgia begin an incestuous relationship. It was at this point in the soap's run that Brookside began to lose its way.
13. Start of Gas Explosion
Original Transmission Date: 13 April 1998
Lynday Corkhill's daughter, Kylie, is missing and several of the other residents of Brookside Close are either injured or trapped, and a second blast rocks the parade.
14. End of Gas Explosion
Original Transmission Date: 17 April 1998
More overwrought hysteria ensues as rescue efforts continue, and a dead body is brought out the wreckage.
15. Anthony kills Imelda
Original Transmission Date: 13 March 2002
We then jump forward four years to a strong and well-handled storyline where the young Anthony, after months of being bullied, accidentally kills Imelda.
16. The Siege 2002
Original Transmission Date: 14 November 2002
This was another ridiculously over-the-top storyline as during a siege, a helicopter crashes into the parade, while Emily falls to her death during the siege. This all seemed a bit too desperate in a bid to regain ratings and though the stunts are all impressive enough, the whole thing just didn't work. Any sense of reality in the soap had long gone out the window.
There are additional audio commentaries accompanying some of the episodes here by Dean Sullivan and David Hanson, as well as a photo gallery.
Compiling a "best of" compilation is always subjective to say the least, but this DVD certainly gives a good overview of the series' run, though it would have been nice to have included the final episode. Some are far from the best episodes in the series, but gives you a taste of how the series evolved throughout the years. Essential to any Brookside fan as it most definitely represents a landmark in British TV history and the quality of the earlier episodes on this disc still hold up very well. Such a shame it fizzled out in the end, but in its prime it was a soap that explored new boundaries, broke down barriers and impressively handled issues that had previously been considered taboo. All in all, a highly enjoyable collection.