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Brookside Close

Brookside

Brookside, commonly referred to as "Brookie", was a soap opera set in Liverpool, England, introduced with the then new British television network, Channel 4. Produced by Mersey Television, it aired from the channel's first night on 2 November 1982. Conceived by Phil Redmond, who also devised Grange Hill (1978-2008) and Hollyoaks (1995-present).

Brookside became well known for its tackling of realistic and socially challenging storylines and was most popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. In the mid-1990s it began raising more controversial, and perhaps sensationalist issues under the guidance of new producers such as Mal Young and Paul Marquess. It is especially well-known for broadcasting the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss on British television in December 1993, as well as a storyline featuring consensual incestuous sexual relations between two sibling characters during 1996. Although the series had a long and successful run, by the year 2000 its viewing figures were in decline and low ratings eventually called for its cancellation. The final episode was broadcast on 4 November 2003 and was watched by around 2 million viewers.

The first ever episode of Brookside was also shown as part of Channel 4 at 25 on 1 October 2007 on More4 as part of a season of celebratory Channel 4 programmes as it celebrates its 25th birthday.

Development

Brookside differed from other serials because it was filmed in real, brand-new houses, in a real cul-de-sac, in the North-West City of Liverpool. Built by Broseley Homes, the houses were custom built in an attempt by the producers to add to the show's realism. In early 1982, Mersey Television, with Phil Redmond at the helm, bought 13 houses altogether, 6 of which would be seen on-screen as sets, and the remaining 7 properties would house Administration, Post Production and Canteen facilities for the cast and crew. Phil Redmond especially saw the benefits of purchasing an entire 'close' of houses, not least as he was able to achieve the desired realism of Brookside, but also as he was able to maintain total control of his important creation.

Narrative

Beginning

The first episodes concentrated on the development of the anchor Grant family, with Sheila (Sue Johnston) and Bobby (Ricky Tomlinson) having moved up the social ladder to a big, four-bedroomed house on the 'middle-class' Brookside Close from a run-down council estate. They were the first family to have moved onto the Close at Number 5, as initially, only three of the six new-builds were occupied by characters. Episode 1 saw the Collins' arrival, and they were conversely on their way down the social ladder, downsizing from their lavish home on the upmarket Wirral, to the small, box-sized Number 8 Brookside Close. Other characters included Heather (Amanda Burton in her TV debut) and Roger Huntingdon (Rob Spendlove), two young professionals residing at semi-detached Number 9, and next door at Number 10, low class Gavin (Daniel Webb) and Petra Taylor (Alexandra Pigg) moved in during very early episodes, selling stolen cookers from the front lawn, naturally infuriating the intriguing mix of new neighbours.

Initial reaction to the serial was far from positive, and critics were quick to point out various technical problems as well as the choice language now being screened before the watershed. Viewing figures buoyed around 1 million as the production team and writers started to iron out Brookside's teething troubles. Soundproof panels were placed on the ceilings of the houses to contain sound and eliminate echoing, and the scriptwriters toned down the language. Out went the turgid, humourless and contentious feel the soap initially had, and in came new, interesting characters such as Harry (Bill Dean) and Edna (Betty Alberge) Cross, who finally bought Number 7, and in April, comedy figure Alan Partridge (Dicken Ashworth) moved into the Bungalow, Number 6, and these new characters helped bring humour and balance to the existing cast during 1983.

Further cast changes during 1983 saw the arrival of the Jackson family. Both Gavin and Petra Taylor departed Brookside early in the year, with Gavin becoming the first casualty of the soap, dying from a brain haemorrhage, and Petra committed suicide a few months later, after a mysterious disappearance from the Close. Petra's sister, Marie Jackson (Anna Keaveney), her husband George (Cliff Howells) and their twin boys (Gary and 'little' George) moved into Number 10, and became central to Brookside's highest profile storyline yet, when George was wrongly convicted of a warehouse robbery. In an unprecedented move, the plotline was leaked to the tabloid press, and as Marie Jackson began the Free George Jackson campaign on-screen, the press followed, creating levels of media hype never seen before in the UK, especially towards a British soap opera (although the US soap Dallas had seen solid British tabloid support during the 'Who shot J.R.?' plot of 1980, and Crossroads leaked the Motel fire storyline of November 1981 with huge success). Viewing figures rose as the hype continued; a record called "Free George Jackson" by Blazing Saddles was released (and flopped), merchandise was produced, including T-shirts and posters. However, even though the storyline ultimately had a low-key conclusion (Cliff Howells who played George resigned and George Jackson stayed in prison), the plot largely helped Brookside on the pathway to success, particularly when the Corkhills arrived to replace the departed Jackson family in September 1985. This type of soap opera hype would much later be copied by Coronation Street with the 'Free Deirdre Rachid' campaign of 1998, and later, in EastEnders with the 'Who Shot Phil Mitchell?' plot of 2001.

1980s

With the obvious popularity of the Grant family, many storylines were geared around Bobby and Sheila's turbulent marriage for most of the 1980s. Bobby's short-temper and frequent visits to Union picket lines opposite Sheila's staunch catholic faith and family values all served to be compelling viewing for many viewers, as did the antics of their popular older children Barry (Paul Usher), Karen (Shelagh O'Hara), and Damon (Simon O'Brien). They were joined by Clare later in the mid-1980s in a thoughtful storyline where Sheila and Bobby dealt with parenthood later on in life.

1985 was a pivotal year for Brookside with the arrival of its longest-running and most well-known family, the Corkhills. The first generation of Corkhills to descend on the Close were Billy (John McArdle) and Doreen (Kate Fitzgerald) who moved into Number 10 with their children Rod (Jason Hope) and Tracy (Justine Kerrigan) along with a multitude of marital problems and debt. A favourite scene with fans occurred in 1987. Doreen and Billy's crumbling marriage reached breaking point after Doreen admitted to Billy she had been sexually propositioned in return to pay off the family's spiralling debts. With fierce and tremendous rage, Billy jumped into his brown Nissan and aggressively sped over all his neighbours' gardens - partly as revenge to the rest of the residents of the Close who had driven over his garden to avoid a huge hole that had appeared in the middle of the Brookside Close access road.

Brookside achieved its biggest viewing figures of the eighties in mid-1985 with the 'Number 7 Siege'. The extreme and hard-hitting storyline was watched by 7.5 million people, an incredible achievement for Britain's newest TV channel, still only in its third year. Number 7 Brookside Close was home to two young nurses - Sandra Maghie (Sheila Greer) and Kate Moses (Sharon Rossita), and former hospital porter Pat Hancock (David Easter) who rented the property from Harry Cross. Through their nursing, they encountered the seemingly harmless and gentle giant John Clarke (Robert Pugh), whose elderly mother eventually died (of natural causes) in Hospital, under their care. Gradually, John's instability grew into insanity and he was unable to cope with the death of his mother - with devastating consequences. He forced his way into Number 7, armed with a revolver and ready to avenge his mother's death. He violently held the three nurses hostage for several days in a claustrophobic three-episode run with Brookside Close dramatically sealed off and surrounded by armed police. The siege culminated three shots resulting in the death of Kate followed by John's suicide. Although some critics howled at the unlikely plot-premise (former Daily Mail critic Hilary Kingsley described it as "ludicrous" in her book Soap Box), these were well produced and powerfully acted sequences, creating genuine and uncomfortable tension with a level of drama arguably never previously seen before in a British soap opera. The storyline put Brookside in a predominant position and made other soaps, such as ITV's Coronation Street and the revamped Crossroads take notice, and the BBC, previously snobbish about the soap opera genre, finally realised they needed a popular soap and launched equally hard-hitting EastEnders the very same year. Brookside was now seen as a quality soap opera, a cult hit within the core of its target demographic, earning it the reputation as being "The Rolls Royce of Soaps" among devoted fans.

1986 was another memorable year for the soap, featuring the horrifying attack of Sheila Grant in some of Brookside's most harrowing and deeply disturbing scenes. The storyline was praised for its marked restraint, and stunned viewers and critics alike. Sue Johnston's powerful portrayal of the heartbreaking scenes showing Sheila coming to terms with her shocking rape ordeal were unbearably realisitic and earned it the second most popular Brookside storyline ever, as featured in the documentary Brookside: 100 of the Best (See below). This year also saw the introduction of the soap's longest-running character Jimmy Corkhill, played by Dean Sullivan. Initially a bit-part player, Jimmy was the brother of Billy, and his early appearances usually saw the character in many money-making schemes, a true scally, along with characters such as Barry Grant, and also the hugely popular Terry Sullivan (Brian Regan) and Thomas 'Sinbad' Sweeney (Michael Starke). Barry, Terry and Sinbad would all go on to have extremely powerful storylines of their own in the future episodes of Brookside.

The second ground-breaking storyline in 1986 was the death of Nicholas Black (Alan Rothwell). Having divorced her first husband Roger in 1983, Heather reverted to her maiden name, Haversham, becoming a strong and sassy independent career woman once again. However, these characteristics changed when Heather met businessman Nicholas Black. After a whirlwind romance, Heather and Nick hurriedly married, but little did she know he was a secret heroin addict. Although seemingly keeping to his promise to her to give up the drug, the pull of the drug became stronger. After weeks of deceiving his wife to raise money for drugs (including stealing and selling her jewellery) he disppeared, only to die of exposure in Sefton Park after taking heroin. As a result, Heather left Brookside Close for good (in reality, Amanda Burton quit because she strongly disagreed with the plot). The storyline was intentionally shocking, becoming the first British soap opera to candidly tackle the issue of heroin addiction and, notably, Brookside would return to the destructive effects of drug abuse frequently throughout its 21 year run, particularly with the Jimmy Corkhill character, through to the concluding episodes nearly 20 years later.

Peak of popularity

The late 80s saw the gradual disintegration of the popular and central Grant family. Damon was fatally stabbed whilst on the run with his girlfriend Debbie (Gillian Kearney) in 1987 (and contained in a Brookside 'Soap Bubble', see below), Karen left for London to study in early 1988 and never returned, and she was followed by the departure of Bobby in April after he discovered he wasn't eldest son Barry's biological father. As the marriage painfully crumbled, Sheila and little Claire moved into the spare room at Billy Corkhill's (Number 10) and 4-bedroomed Number 5 was sold to the Rogers family in 1989. The Rogers were a similarly large family who'd moved into Number 7 in 1987, renting it from Harry Cross. However, when Number 5 went up for auction, truck driver Frank (Peter Christian) and left wing Chrissie (Eithne Browne) decided they wanted to buy their own home, so bought the former Grant house on their way up the property ladder, a very right wing approach to home ownership in the eighties.

The Collins' had also had a relatively eventful time on the Close. Nearing retirement, Paul (Jim Wiggins) suffered humiliation at his redundancy and subsequent unemployment, resulting in the family having to move to Brookside Close. Meanwhile, in another British soap opera first, a ground-breaking storyline saw their son Gordon (Nigel Crowley/Mark Burgess) coming out as homosexual, while daughter Lucy (Katrin Cartlidge/Maggie Saunders) embarked on a controversial affair with a married man. Mother and family matriarch Annabelle (Doreen Sloane), had to rescue her elderly and abused mother, Mona, from a corrupt care-home and this was followed by her illicit affair with Magistrate, Brian Lawrence. By 1990, however, the entire family had to be written out of Brookside following Doreen Sloane's sad and untimely death from cancer in early 1990.

The Corkhill's marriage had also ended in divorce and Doreen left the family in late 1987. With Rod becoming a Police Officer and Tracey a hairdresser, the family regularly saw Uncle Jimmy popping in to create a spare room at Number 10 by knocking a door way through to the garage. This room was eventually occupied by Sheila and Claire Grant, and it marked the beginning of Sheila and Billy's slow dance to love and marriage -- another hugely popular storyline with viewers.

During 1987, Brookside saw the arrival of 1980s archetypes 'yuppies' Jonathan Gordon-Davies (Stephen Pinner) and Laura Wright (Jane Cunliffe) into Number 9. A popular union was tragically cut short when Laura received an electric shock from a faulty light switch, sending her tumbling down the stairs. She was comatose for 3 months, dying in January 1988. The recently vacated Number 7 saw the Choi family (widower Michael and his young daughter Jessica, accompanied by Michael's sister Caroline) move in for a short period, providing storylines for the increasingly popular window-cleaner Sinbad, who embarked on a shortlived attraction to Caroline Choi (Sarah Lam). The soap was now averaging around 4 to 5 million viewers as the 1980s drew to a close but it was at this point that the tide was beginning to turn. Off-screen, Mersey Television had bought a defunct Technical College in the district of Childwall, around 15 minutes away from the set of Brookside Close and on-screen, part of this new premises became a row of shops called Brookside Parade. The introduction of a shop, bar, chip-shop and other businesses saw Brookside's main focus shift from the Close, to this new set, and many storylines went with it. To launch the Parade in 1991, coinciding with the soap's 1000th episode, the writers developed the storyline of Terry Sullivan's wife Sue (Annie Miles) and baby Danny being pushed to their deaths off scaffolding. This again gave the soap extremely high viewing figures. When Barry Grant was revealed as Sue's murderer, his character became somewhat oppressive and sinister, but he was no less popular with the ever-growing audience. However he was not as popular as serial love rat and general heart throb Patrick Kape (Ged McKenna) who had a real life off-screen turbulent relationship with co-star Anna Friel.

In the early 1990s, the plots of Brookside became increasingly sensationalised. Most of the original cast had left, with Billy and Sheila, the entire Collins family, the Choi's and Harry Cross all departing by the end of 1990. In came the Dixon family, the Farnhams and the Johnsons. Also, the Barry Grant character (Paul Usher) became centrally involved in many dark and dramatic plots. Mick Johnson (Louis Emerick) had been a lodger with Harry Cross in 1989, but, by early 1990, he'd been joined by his wife Josie (Suzanne Packer) and children Leo and Gemma. Max and Patricia Farnham (Steven Pinder and Gabrielle Glaister) moved into Number 7 in April 1990 and became the soap's new yuppie couple. Ron and DD Dixon (Vince Earl and Irene Marot) drove onto Brookside Close during October in the 'Moby', a huge mobile shop, to move into Number 8, and it wasn't long before the family were rowing with their new neighbours over the junk on their front lawn!

Following the departure of Billy Corkhill, his children, Rod and Tracey, were both gradually written out of the soap and Billy's brother, Jimmy (Dean Sullivan), became a regular and central player in Brookside. He was joined by his estranged wife Jackie, popular actress Sue Jenkins, well known for her role as Gloria Todd in Coronation Street, and his elder children Little Jimmy Corkhill (George Christopher) and Lindsey (Claire Sweeney) were initially seen as recurring characters. However, the formerly lovable Jimmy soon descended into intense and harrowing drug abuse, his addiction memorably climaxing in a cocaine-induced car crash which shockingly killed off long-running character Frank Rogers (Peter Christian) in 1993, and teenager Tony Dixon (Mark Lennock) eventually died of his injuries from the crash in February 1994.

Between 1991 and 1993, the establishment of Brookside Parade occurred; Ron Dixon opened a convenience store, Barry Grant launched a bar and nightclub establishment, and eventually the entire Parade was occupied by businesses owned by residents of Brookside Close. Flats above the shops also provided new homes to various characters, such as Mick Johnson, famously held at gun-point in his flat by obsessed stalker Jenny Swift (Kate Beckett). Mersey Television made full use of their former Technical College buildings in Childwall and introduced Head Mistress Barbara Harrison (Angela Morant), who moved into Number 9 Brookside Close with recently retired husband John (Geoffrey Leesley). Many scenes saw Barbara at Brookside Comprehensive (in reality derelict Childwall Technical College buildings) in charge of pupils such as teenagers Jacqui (Alexandra Fletcher) and Mike Dixon (Paul Byatt) from Number 8, and Katie Rogers (Diane Burke) from Number 5. The Harrison's storylines, including John's asthma and shoplifting, and later, son Peter (Robert Beck) who became involved in a lengthy date-rape plot with Rod Corkhill's wife Diana, weren't particularly popular with viewers, so they were replaced by the Banks family who arrived with much baggage of their own in early 1994.

Brookside's most infamous plot happened in 1993 with the storyline of wife beater and child abuser Trevor Jordache (Bryan Murray). Late in the year, his wife, Mandy (Sandra Maitland) and daughters Beth (Anna Friel) and Rachel (Tiffany Chapman) moved into Number 10. The house had been vacated by the remaining (Billy) Corkhill clan, and unbeknown to anyone, had been sold off to become a safe house for abused families. As the viewer got to know the new characters, some disturbing facts emerged. Beth and her young sister Rachel had been sexually abused by their Dad, and before long, the vile and disturbingly realistic Trevor had found them in Brookside Close and bullied his way back into the family home. As the abuse and torture got worst, Mandy and Beth stabbed him in the Kitchen of Number 10 and, with the help of Sinbad, buried him underneath their patio, where his body remained for well over a year. The finding of his remains in January 1995 gave Brookside its highest ever viewing figures of 9 million - and earned it the Number One most popular storyline in the Brookside: 100 of the Best documentary to celebrate the soap's 21st Anniversary. (The Top Ten is shown below). The Jordache family, particularly the character Beth (Anna Friel), were at the peak of Brookside's popularity, especially when Beth shared British Television's first pre-watershed lesbian kiss with the Farnham's Nanny Margaret Clemence (Nicola Stephenson) in December 1993. Unfortunately, things were to go rapidly downhill from here as Brookside boldly attempted to hold on to its largely cult audience with years of sensational and often badly handled storylines, a far-fetched sense of realism, and a range of unlikeable, tired and unpopular characters, all proven as ratings began to slide.

Decline

Following the success of the 'body under the patio' and lesbian kiss plots, the writers of the show continued to deal with controversial subjects that other British soaps did not. A religious cult headed by Simon Howe (Lee Hartney) blew up Number 5 in a suicide pact during 1994, and a mysterious killer virus saw the unnecessary death of two guest characters in 1995. But it was the incestuous relationship between brother and sister, Nat (John Sandford) and Georgia Simpson (Helen Grace) in 1996 that drew the most criticism, plus the overuse of characters such as Lindsey Corkhill in many similarly contentious plots all served to make viewers gradually switch off. The character of Lindsey was played by Claire Sweeney, and due to the popularity of the actress at the time, there were many storylines for her alter-ego. These included being stalked by her ex husband, Gary Stanlow (Andrew Fillis), an on-off relationship with bad-boy Barry Grant (Paul Usher), a very short marriage to Peter Phelan (Samuel Kane), a stint being terrorised by gang-land boss Callum Finnegan (Gerard Kelly) and then 'our Linds' became a lesbian, falling for a new character, cunning Shelly Bower (Alexandra Wescourt). Many of these plots were met with limited success, however, and viewers were even more unimpressed with a 'lesbian love triangle' involving Shelly, Lindsey and Lindsey's Mother Jackie (Sue Jenkins), an extremely unlikely plot-premise that required a huge suspension of disbelief.

A new family at Number 8, the Musgroves, introduced in 1998 were met with further criticism, not least due to the strange range of accents spoken by the sprawling and unpopular brood, whilst the Shadwicks, who had moved into Number 6, were perhaps a more successful cast addition. Greg (Mark Moraghan) and Margi Shadwick (Bernadette Foley) and their family marked an attempt to return Brookside 'back-to-basics' with storylines again revolving around families and their dynamics within the close-knit community. The introduction of these families heralded one of Brookside's most long-running story arcs, the date rape of Nikki Shadwick (Suzanne Collins) at a party held at Number 5. For an entire year, Nikki accused neighbour Luke Musgrove (Jason Kavannah) of the attack, however, following a lengthy courtcase, he was found not guilty. In an unpopular plot-twist and after consistently denying the allegations, Luke eventually confessed to Nikki that he had in fact raped her, and the entire Musgrove family seemingly fled Liverpool during January 2000 overnight in shame. But, in another British soap opera first, the character of teenage cannabis smoker Matt Musgrove, played by Kristian Ealey, immediately transferred to Brookside's sister-soap Hollyoaks where the character stayed until 2004.

Despite the attempts at a more grounded approach to the long-running soap opera again, Brookside had ultimately become synonymous with plots involving guns and explosions, with no fewer than 6 catastrophic fires and explosions taking place during the soap's final 5 years. A gas-cooker destroyed much of the Brookside Parade and a bomb detonated in the Millennium Club killed both Jason and Greg Shadwick. Separate fires at Number 6 and Number 8 almost killed several characters, and the roads were no safer, as a memorable car crash in which Susannah (Karen Drury) and Max Farnham's (Steven Pinder) children both perished, all served to make Brookside the most dangerous place on Television. Radio Times TV listings Editor, Alison Graham, remarked in 1998: "Brookside loves a good disaster" as well as renaming Claire Sweeney's character's name to; Lindsey "Get Your Gun" Corkhill! This was shortly before the soap was dropped from Graham's satirical page reviewing weekly soap opera plots, with Brookside's column handed over to BBC Radio 4 rural-soap The Archers which was now indeed getting a higher audience on Radio than Brookside was achieving on prime-time Television.

The long-running character Max Farnham was written out of the soap in 1998 after Steven Pinder decided to leave Brookside after almost nine years as the philandering romeo. The character's exit was extremely unpopular and involved a retconned storyline where Max had supposedly had a 10 year-long affair with a woman never mentioned before in the script. Max abruptly departed, viewers weren't convinced, and Susannah returned to her maiden name, Morrisey, going on to have affairs with Greg Shadwick (Mark Moraghan) and Mick Johnson (Louis Emerick). The Dixon family fell apart when Ron (Vince Earl) and Jackie Corkhill (Sue Jenkins) almost had an affair, but the fate of the doomed marriage was sealed when Ron did have an affair with much-younger Bev McLoughlin (Sarah White). Ron then remarried his old flame Anthea Brindley (Barbara Hatwell), the mother of his long-lost (and quickly forgotten) Jacqui look-a-like daughter in 1999, but the marriage soon ended in divorce when Anthea wouldn't lie in court after Ron shot dead Clint Moffat (Greg Petaras) in the Kitchen of Number 8 - arguably an act of 'self defence' which got him 6 months in prison. Viewer favourite Bev (Sarah White) had a one-night stand with Ron's elder son Mike (Paul Byatt), resulting in the birth of baby Josh. Years of animosity followed, but after Mike's marriage to Rachel Jordache (Tiffany Chapman), Ron reconciled with Bev and began to see Josh as one of his own.

In 2000, a new family were introduced, the Murrays, who were the creation of the soap's penultimate Producer, Paul Marquess. They became an important part of further rejuvenation of Brookside and featured singer Bernie Nolan as Diane in her first acting role, and Neil Caple as Marty. Many fans noticed a similarity between the Murrays and the Freeman family in the 1996 supernatural soap Springhill, and many actors from Springhill crossed over to Brookside when that serial was cancelled in 1997. The Murrays did spark new viewer interest in Brookside and the intriguing family became central to plots, such as Diane's lengthy IVF treatment, daughter Adele's (Katy Lamont) under-age pregnancy and abortion, and perhaps most memorable of all, young Anthony's (Raymond Quinn) shocking bullying storyline, where he accidentally killed his nemesis Imelda Clough. The Liverpool 'scally' aspect of the soap was still strong at this time with eldest son Steve (Stephen Fletcher) teaming up with Tim 'Tinhead' O'Leary (Philip Olivier), who had married Emily Shadwick (Jennifer Ellison), Ellison's character having been completely re-written during this time from a shy, frumpy schoolgirl to a confident, sexy young vixen, becoming popular with viewers. Tim and Emily lived with the increasingly isolated Jimmy at Number 10, providing storylines for the character following the exit of daughter Lindsey and his wife Jackie. But the departure of the soap's original scally, the hugely popular 'Sinbad' (Michael Starke) in an on-screen child abuse scandal, wasn't well received, with the formerly upbeat and jolly character departing Brookside Close under a cloud.

Also exiting, the notoriously accident prone Susannah Morrisey took a fatal tumble down the stairs of Number 7 in a 2000 'Whodunnit' plotline with jilted former-lover Mick Johnson (Louis Emerick), vengeful Emily Shadwick (Jennifer Ellison) and returned ex-husband Max Farnham all in the frame when it was eventually discovered Susannah may have been pushed to her death. Max was unveiled as the culprit, although as shown in flashback, Susannah had actually tripped over a toy as she argued with Max at the top of the stairs. All charges were dropped, leaving Max free to marry previous next-door neighbour, Jacqui Dixon (Alexandra Fletcher), who became his third wife in 2001. They continued to live in Number 7, before swapping houses with Ron Dixon (Vince Earl) next door at Number 8.

The end

By 2002, the show had become a less important part of Channel 4's programming. Ratings dropped to less than 1 million, because it was constantly being moved around the schedules to accommodate Channel 4's new programme, Big Brother.

Early in the year, Phil Redmond resumed total control of Brookside and he pledged to return the ailing programme back to its former glory. In came Ben Hull, a well-known face from sister-soap Hollyoaks as a more mature character, Doctor Gary Parr with his demanding wife Gabby (Stephanie Chambers). Furthermore, after years of broken homes and waifs-and-strays making up the core-cast of Brookside, a rock-solid family unit was introduced and the hard-working, middle class Gordon clan moved into Number 5 which had recently been vacated by the long-running Johnson family. But, as Alan (John Burton), Debbie (Annette Ekblom) and their four teenage children settled into the Close, also running the Petrol Station on Brookside Parade, the comparisons to the earlier and popular Grant family were obvious, but their arrival did nothing to halt the rapid ratings decline.

The Gordons were considered miscast and generally unlikeable; furthermore, the abrupt death of Alan in the 2002 siege aftermath, followed shortly after by Debbie dying in a car crash, gave the remaining family a depressive on-screen presence as their children dealt with becoming orphans. Gary Parr's painfully contrived affair with Nisha Batra (Sunetra Sarker) was also considered a low point of Brookside's penultimate year; however, Anthony Murray's (Raymond Quinn) shocking bullying plot was a sensitively handled and highly praised storyline which earned Brookside recognition at the British Soap Awards in 2002.

Ratings failed to pick up, dipping to 700,000, and Brookside would now be regularly shunted around the schedule to make place for other shows, particularly cricket matches, or broadcast late at night. Constant changes to the schedule made it very difficult for viewers to watch the programme regularly, thereby losing the plot, and ultimately, this led to a rapid ratings slide from which Brookside would never recover.

Consequently, it was announced that Brookside would no longer be aired during its weeknight prime-time slots, but would continue in its traditional Saturday evening omnibus edition. This news coincided with the 20th Anniversary of Brookside, and it was something of a blow considering the programme was celebrating its birthday on-screen with a new look (a post-production film-effect was added): a new title sequence, updated theme tune and a multi-episode story arc that began with drug-laden armed robbers speeding onto the Close, hotly pursued by Police. They end up cornered in the cul-de-sac and took many residents hostage in their homes in highly dramatic scenes which led to a number of complaints from viewers. The scenes of three teenagers being violently terrorised, Steve Murray getting shot and dumped outside the front door of Number 9, Nikki Shadwick almost being raped for a second time, Emily O'Leary falling to her death from an upstairs window, Kirsty Gordon being raped, blatant drug abuse, offensive, strong language and a realistic portrayal of a deranged, drug addicted bank robber called 'Psycho' Gibson by Greg Milburn, all garnered complaints. Many scenes were considered unsuitable for pre-watershed viewing and, in particular, during the Saturday evening omnibus, broadcast from 4.30pm. The siege culminated the following week in a dramatic stunt involving a police helicopter being gunned down by Psycho Gibson and crashing onto the Brookside Parade car park, killing Diane Murray (Bernie Nolan). The soap transferred to the 'graveyard' Saturday afternoon slot 4.30pm, and the programme was once again retooled to fit the new 90 minute slot. Storylines now revolved around only a handful of characters, often in just one location, giving the programme a slow and claustrophic pace.

Due to contractual obligations, Channel 4 was committed to Brookside until November 2003, its 21st anniversary. During the final 12 months, there was an eerie, deserted feel to the previously high-octane soap. Characters slowly drifted away, often with little or no explanation, Brookside Parade was virtually forgotten, many experimental storylines fell flat and only die-hard fans were still watching.

A fitting final storyline, introduced 8 weeks before the last episode, saw Brookside Close being emptied before demolition for the construction of a waste incinerator. Channel 4 then moved Brookside to what would become its final timeslot, on Tuesdays in a 90 minute format, usually at 11pm. Taking full advantage of the late-night slot, the foul language frequented in early episodes was back; "fuck" was now scripted regularly, as was unmotivated violence, and drug abuse could now be seen in abundance. This did nothing to improve ratings, having now fallen well below 500,000. During the final 6 weeks, a rawness and energy previously captured in the early years made a surprising return with a new character, the despised drug-dealer Jack Michaelson (Paul Duckworth who played a previous character in Brookside), who moved into Number 8, becoming the focus of the end of Brookside as all the remaining residents found themselves affected by his destructive presence. The character itself was a play on the name of the Channel 4 controller who had wielded the axe on the show, Michael Jackson.

The final episode

In the extended final episode, screened from 10.30pm and divided into three distinctive parts, Brookside shocked the audience one last time with the remaining residents of Brookside Close taking a stand against Michaelson, lynching him from Number 8's bedroom window. The orphaned Gordon children left and the remaining Murrays followed soon after. Bev and Ron Dixon touchingly said their goodbyes to long-time neighbour and enemy Jimmy Corkhill, with Ron remarking; "I hope I never see you again!".

Phil Redmond, clearly gutted by the cancellation of Brookside, had his final say in a rebellious scripted rant about how ‘TV and society's not like it was’, fittingly voiced by Brookside's longest-running character, Jimmy, who was also the last resident of Brookside Close to leave their house. As a last act of defiance, he broke into the houses and left all the taps running and then painted Game Over on the boarded-up windows of several houses and drew an extra D on the Brookside Close sign, to spell Brookside Closed at the end of the episode. He then went to live with his daughter Lindsey, who had married Barry Grant off-screen, the two popular characters having returned especially for the final episode, watched by a peak of 1.9 million viewers.

In the narrative, Jimmy and Lindsey went to live in Newcastle in Barry's mansion. Tim moved in with Steve Murray, sharing an apartment in Liverpool City Centre, as shown in the Unfinished Business feature. The Murrays finally packed up and departed Number 9 and refused to tell anyone where they were going. The final shot of any of the characters is a close-up of Jimmy Corkhill winking to the audience.

Theme music and opening titles

The synthesised theme to Brookside was written by Dave Roylance, a local composer from Wirral, who died in October 2006. This version was used on the programme from 1982 until 1990. With the advent of Dolby Stereo Surround Sound, the theme was updated and modernised in December 1990, and although the theme sounded much fresher, the new version was kept faithful to the original and became the longest running version of the theme tune.

The third version of the Brookside theme launched in November 2002, a year before the programme was cancelled. A new arrangement at the start of this theme makes this version of the theme distinctive, although, the mid-section and close remained similar the previous versions.

The opening titles changed many times over 21 years, particularly as the residents of Brookside Close came and went. The beginning of the sequence contained sweeping high shots of Liverpool landmarks, before showing a bird's-eye view of the Close. Several other views of the various residents homes were shown before the camera settled by the Brookside Close sign. In the early episodes, Bobby Grant's blue Austin Princess was always predominantly parked outside Number 5, and in 1990, this became Frank Rogers' purple Ford Cortina when the Roger's replaced the Grant's as the family occupying Number 5.

In 1999, the titles were completely changed, and new shots were composed to fit into a split-screen box effect. Early versions of this sequence followed a cyclist through the Close to Brookside parade in one box, while the other box contained steadicam shots approaching each door to the houses on Brookside Close. At the end of each episode until the end of the series, There would be a "Next time on Brookside" continuity announcement with a preview of scenes from the next episode.

The final set of opening titles launched in 2002. Again following a split screen affect, one half of the (same) shot is presented in daylight, and the other half during nighttime. Totally new shots were filmed for this title-sequence and it lasted until the final episode in 2003.

These credits were often preceded with the strains of theme song and a "Previously on Brookside..." comment by various actors during a recap of previous episodes.

The series finale's end credits music was cut off at the last portion by the closing of the original Grange Hill theme, to mark one final act of defiance from Redmond.

Soap bubbles

Two 'soap bubbles' were produced in the late 80s. Damon and Debbie (1987) followed the two characters, Damon Grant and Debbie McGrath absconding to York, while 1988's South saw Tracy Corkhill and Jamie Henderson seeking a better life in London. The latter was part of an ITV For Schools English programme and was notable for featuring a guest appearance by Morrissey playing himself.

Merchandise

Video releases

Brookside was one of the first British soap operas to have classic episodes released on video. In 1990, Channel 4 and Mersey Television released a series of videos showcasing some of Brookside's most memorable episodes and characters of the 1980s:

Brookside Classics Volume One: The Siege. This video contained three episodes and brought together the gripping 'Number 7 Siege' as an extended omnibus edition of 70 minutes. These episodes originally aired in 1985 and this video has become particularly popular with collectors on various internet auction sites.

Brookside Classics Volume Two: The Sheila Grant Years. The much-loved character Sheila Grant, played by Sue Johnston, was the subject of the second video release in 1990. Sheila's horrific rape ordeal was featured.

Brookside Classics Volume Three: That Man Harry Cross. The hugely popular, cranky and nosy old Harry Cross was played by Bill Dean and this video contained memories of his legendary time in Brookside Close with his wife Edna (Betty Alberge) and, later, his old friend Ralph Hardwick (Ray Dunbobbin).

Brookside: The Teenagers. A later release, from 1995, documents the Teenage characters in Brookside including Beth Jordache (Anna Friel), Margaret Clemence (Nicola Stephenson), Damon Grant (Simon O'Brien) and Katie Rogers (Diane Burke).

Brookside: The Women. Also released in 1995, this video brought together the most popular female characters in the soap, including Mandy Jordache (Sandra Maitland), Sue Sullivan (Annie Miles) and DD Dixon (Irene Marot).

Brookside: The Men. Released two years after The Women video, similarly, The Men contained previously unseen footage and interviews with actors documenting the long-suffering male characters of Brookside Close.

In the late 1990s, there were several videos that contained extensions of plots that began in Brookside on-screen, or gave viewers a chance to see their favourite Brookside actors behind-the-scenes or outside their usual roles in the soap:

Brookside: The Lost Weekend. This feature-length episode from 1997 detailed the reunion of Sheila and Barry Grant in an action-packed continuation of a storyline which began in the regular editions of the soap on Channel 4.

Brookside: The Backstage Tour. A behind-the-scenes documentary released in 1997, plus a rare opportunity to view an 'alternative' ending to the infamous 'Body Under The Patio' Trial from 1995, where Beth and Mandy are proven Not Guilty of murdering Trevor.

Brookside: Friday the 13th. Here, we are able to view Lindsey Corkhill's (Claire Sweeney) 'missing' journey to her Wedding to Peter Phelan (Samuel Kane) and also another welcome appearance of Shiela Grant, Sue Johnston having reprised her iconic role for a second time, especially for this one-off feature. It was released in 1998.

Brookside: Double Take. In 1999, this unusual video saw members of the Brookside and Hollyoaks casts playing alternative characters in a spoof-documentary style feature.

DVD releases

When it was announced that the show would be finishing as a continuing series in 2003, on Brookside's official website, there was suggestion by Phil Redmond that Brookside would continue with a succession of DVD releases. In fact, as early as 1988, Hilary Kingsley interviewed Redmond for her book, Soap Box, and even then, he confidently suggested that if Brookside were to end on Channel 4, he would attempt to continue the show off-screen:
"Redmond has even suggested the end of Brookside in that way - fittingly inspired and unusual. "Perhaps we will watch a character leave and follow him or her. Brookside will continue with its daily life, but not on-screen any more", he mused.

The first DVD after the final episode featured the climax to a long-running storyline involving Tim "Tinhead" O'Leary and Steve Murray finally getting revenge on Psycho Gibson in an 85 minute feature called Unfinished Business. Psycho killed Tim's wife Emily during the November 2002 siege, and Steve's step-Mother, Diane (Bernie Nolan), died in the subsequent helicopter crash on Brookside Parade. The DVD was released in November 2003, and there was meant to be a follow-up release involving a storyline with Barry Grant tracking down his brother Damon's killers, another story arc that began during Brookside's final episode on Channel 4. A trailer for the DVD called Settlin' Up was filmed and included on the Unfinished Business DVD, along with a promo for an Anniversary documentary called Brookside: 100 of the Best. Simon O'Brien was also slated to appear as Damon's ghost and It is believed that although scenes were shot for the Settlin' Up promotional trailer, the actual feature did not make the production stages and whilst recognising the existence of the 100 of the Best documentary, Channel 4 say they have no plans to screen it in the future. Some Brookside episodes are available via the 4 on Demand service.

Brookside Close

When Brookside was removed from prime-time Channel 4, Mersey TV immediately started using some of the houses on Brookside Close in its other soaps Hollyoaks and Grange Hill. In Hollyoaks, the Dean family moved into what was Number 7, and the Burton-Taylor family moved into what was Number 8 Brookside Close. On-screen, the two identical houses had their exteriors clad in a mock-Tudor wood effect, net curtains covered the windows, and there were rarely exterior long-shots, but eagle-eyed viewers frequently spotted familiar sights and props that gave the game away.

Brookside Close was eventually sold off in 2005 to a developer who then stripped, gutted and effectively rebuilt the entire interior of each of the 13 houses before making them available for sale to the public in January 2007. Of the houses on Brookside Close (that were used as sets), Numbers 7 and 8 were the cheapest at £199,000, while the famous Number 10 was for sale at £295,000 according to the Off Plan Investments particulars, who are selling the houses.

In 2008, the former Brookside Close was used as the set for a horror film called Salvage. Since the final scenes of 'Salvage', regular Brookside visitors have said the Close has been closed for some time, with new security systems in the area.

In February 2008, it was revealed by the auctioneers SHM Smith Hodgkinson that the previous developer had gone into receivership and that they would be taking offers for the 13 houses, considering bids in the region of £2 million.

See also

References

  • Kibble-White, Graham (2002). Phil Redmond's 20 Years of Brookside. London: Carlton.
  • Kingsley, Hilary (1988). Soap Box. London: Papermac.
  • Brookside: Ten of the Best, 30-minute documentary included on the DVD release Brookside: Unfinished Business. FHED1759.

External links

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