One of the most popular British TV series of the 1980s, Bread was a situation comedy written by Carla Lane, who had already achieved success with The Liver Birds and Butterflies. It premiered on BBC1 on May 1, 1986, and ran for 6 years, with 74 episodes in seven series (including 3 longer special episodes).
The show revolved around the lives of a large family, the Boswells, Catholics who lived in a terraced house in Liverpool, the city which was also the setting for Lane's earlier The Liver Birds, and the then-popular soap opera Brookside. Much of the action was centred around their kitchen table at the beginning and end of the day. In between, the characters faced a variety of struggles as they fought to bring home the bread (a common slang term for money), which they then placed (as banknotes, not sliced white) in a china chicken in the middle of the table.
The show's cast was largely made up of unknowns, many from Liverpool. Most of the Boswells were portrayed as scamsters, dole scroungers and idiots, but at the center was the tough matriarch Nellie Boswell, played by Jean Boht. Catchphrase: "That tart!"
Nellie's many children were:
- Joey, a Fonz-like figure in a leather jacket and infinite cool, who was played by Peter Hewitt for 4 seasons and then the far less impressive Graham Bickley. Catchphrase: "Greetings!"
- Adrian, a sensitive poet, who proved to be totally feckless in both love and unemployment. He was played by Jonathon Morris. Catchphrase: "'Anging by a thread! 'Anging by a thread!"
- Billy, played by Nick Conway, the really really stupid one, who was always getting in messes that Joey had to sort out. (You can probably tell by now the way the show was put together.)
- Aveline, an aspiring model, whose marriage in 1988 attracted a vast audience. She was played by Gilly Coman and then Melanie Hill.
- Jack, Victor McGuire, who came and went.
There was also Nellie's husband Freddie (Ronald Forfar), not the most trustworthy of figures, and his mistress, the wonderfully named Lilo Lil (named for a type of cheap bed). The family was completed by Grandad (Kenneth Waller), with his catchphrase: "Where's me tea?"
Paul and Linda McCartney, friends of Lane's, made a brief guest visit in 1988. A stage version was shown in London in 1991. The show finished November 3, 1991.
Like most sitcoms it perhaps has a kernel of truth in the poverty and unemployment of Liverpool at the time, a once-great port city facing slow industrial decline, and a place renowned for the dry humour of its inhabitants (not that the show's humour was exactly dry). However, it equally existed in a bizarre sitcom parallel universe somewhere between the scheming Thatcherism of Only Fools and Horses and the incredibly dated idyll of Coronation Street. Which is probably not a bad place for a successful show.
While many of Lane's later shows were as much about pathos as comedy, Bread was lighthearted and unashamedly silly (in other words, its humour depended on catchphrases and repetition rather than observation or strong characters). It also proved vastly popular, winning audiences of over 20 million viewers. For all that, it was never a critical success, and initially provoked anger for its stereotyped characters. As a classic example of feel-good comedy, centred on family unity, it is not surprising that the show was as popular with viewers as it was derided by more sophisticated commentators.
Despite the show's huge success, much of its cast seemed keen to depart at the first opportunity. This saw more than one character played by multiple actors, with the inevitable effects on realism, continuity, characterisation and quality, and by series 5 (1989) it was in clear decline. Since it finished, Lane has had no real hits, with shows such as Luv being cancelled rapidly due to their dark tone and lack of jokes: these serious ventures failed to find favour with critics that hated Bread, although she was capable of skilful writing when she tried. Increasingly, she has devoted herself to animal rights campaigning.
The fortunes of the cast members have been varied. Jean Boht has proved herself a fine actor in other works, such as a starring role in Terence Davies's acclaimed tale of postwar Liverpool misery Distant Voices, Still Lives, and as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple in 4.50 From Paddington. She did return to her bad sitcom roots with a role in "Brighton Belles" (a mid-1990s English remake of the Golden Girls which vanished without a trace.)
Peter Howitt is the most successful cast member, although you won't see him on your screens too often. He directed the feature films Sliding Doors (1998), AntiTrust (2001) and Johnny English (2003); he also had blink-or-miss it cameos in the first two films. Proving himself something of a renaissance man, he wrote Sliding Doors, is working as writer/director/producer/composer on upcoming feature The Other Half, and made a brief appearance in Highlander: The Series in 1992.
Melanie Hill (not to be confused with the British Big Brother contestant of the same name), has done much television and film work: Brassed Off, When Saturday Comes, From Hell and The Hawk in cinemas, and Crocodile Shoes, NCS: Manhunt, Silent Witness, Playing The Field and Cardiac Arrest on television. She is currently married to actor Sean Bean.
Victor McGuire has made a career in bad comedy, with roles in Sean's Show (Sean Hughes's postmodern i.e. crap sitcom), Goodnight Sweetheart (Gran and Marks' spooky time travelling adultery sitcom), and kid-with-bowel-problems motion picture Thunderpants. He is also looking forward to a role as "Cop 1" in Hellraiser: Hellworld, according to IMDb. Jonathon Morris was in Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm in 1998. Nick Conway briefly appeared in Coronation Street and managed a couple of other sitcoms, as well as appearances in Sharpe (1997) and northern soccer drama When Saturday Comes (1996).
The theme song (performed by the cast with scant regard for melody) went something like this:
Gotta get up, gotta get out,
Grab the world by the throat and shout (oo-ee-oo),
Buy it! Sell it! The game's getting hard,
But someone's dealing you a losing card.
Nellie Boswell - Jean Boht
Adrian Boswell - Jonathon Morris
Freddie Boswell - Ronald Forfar (series 1-6)
Joey Boswell - Peter Howitt (series 1-4), Graham Bickley (series 5 onwards)
Aveline Boswell - Gilly Coman (series 1-4), Melanie Hill (series 5 onwards)
Jack Boswell - Victor McGuire (series 1-3 and 5 onwards)
Billy Boswell - Nick Conway
Grandad - Kenneth Waller
Martina - Pamela Power
Oswald - Giles Watling
Julie - Caroline Milmoe (series 1 and 2), Hilary Crowson (series 3 onwards)
Shifty - Bryan Murray (series 4 onwards)
Celia Higgins - Rita Tushingham (series 4)
Lilo Lil - Eileen Pollock
Roxy - Joanna Phillips-Lane
Derek - Peter Byrne
Fr Dooley - J G Devlin
Yizzel - Charles Lawson
Yizzel's mate - Simon Rouse
Leonora Campbell - Deborah Grant
Irenee - Sharon Byatt
Carmen - Jenny Jay
- Mark Lewisohn. "Bread". Carla Lane Website. http://www.carlalane.com/bread.html. July 3, 2003.
- "Bread". TV Cream. http://tv.cream.org/arkb2.htm. July 3, 2003.
- Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/. July 3, 2003.