having cold feet

Cold Feet

Cold Feet is a British comedy drama television series produced by Granada Television for ITV. It was created by Mike Bullen, who also wrote most of the episodes, and produced by Christine Langan, Spencer Campbell and Emma Benson. The series began on 15 November 1998, following the successful one-off television pilot broadcast in 1997, and ran for 32 episodes until 16 March 2003. The series is set in Manchester and follows three couples, played by an ensemble cast, who have trouble with committing to each other however hard they try.

The cast were not widely known before their appearances in the series but their careers received significant boosts; most of the actors received British Comedy Award nominations and James Nesbitt won Best TV Comedy Actor three times. The series was and remains critically acclaimed, winning multiple British Comedy Awards, TRIC Awards, and the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series. It maintained consistently high viewing figures, regularly beating other channels in head-to-head ratings battles.

Bullen, an inexperienced screenwriter, developed the series as something for people of his class and generation—middle-class thirty-somethings—to watch, as an alternative to soap operas and costume dramas. Other British screenwriters, including Danny Brocklehurst, cite Cold Feet as an influence on their writing. The series was a springboard for the careers of many directors, including Tom Hooper. It has been broadcast in over 34 countries and the format sold to producers in the United States and Italy; American network NBC co-produced a version that was cancelled after four episodes were aired. Spin-off merchandise has been released, including DVDs, books and soundtracks.


The award-winning pilot was conceived when Granada Television's head of comedy Andy Harries sought a television series that would reflect the lives of people from his generation; young professionals who were moving in together for the first time and settling down into family life. Mike Bullen had written a one-off comedy drama in 1995 called The Perfect Match that features characters from the age group Harries was looking for, so a meeting was set up between Bullen and Granada producer Christine Langan. Bullen pitched Cold Feet as "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back", using a series of "cutaway gags" and flashbacks to tell the same story from a different point of view. The initial pitch was based around Adam and Rachel, which would have limited a series appeal, so Harries suggested adding self-contained plots for the other four characters that could be continued should a series be commissioned. Bullen admits to having "tacked on" the plots to the finished script.

The pilot was directed by Declan Lowney and filmed in 1996, before being shelved for a year by ITV Network Centre. It was broadcast late on 30 March 1997, getting only 3.5 million viewers and little critical attention. Harries submitted it to the jury at the Montreux Television Festival and it was awarded the Rose d'Or, the highest accolade of the festival. A six-part series was commissioned by ITV in late 1997 for broadcast in November 1998.


The original six cast from the pilot episode returned to the series, all playing the same characters. John Thomson had appeared in The Perfect Match in what Bullen describes as a "proto-Pete role" and Langan "begged him to write a role with [him] in mind". Throughout 1998 Helen Baxendale (Rachel) had appeared as a recurring guest on the American situation comedy Friends, considerably raising her profile in the UK. Robert Bathurst (David) had displayed a "disciplined comic energy" as the lead character in the mid-1990s sitcom Joking Apart, while Fay Ripley (Jenny) and Hermione Norris (Karen) had established themselves in smaller roles. Since the pilot aired James Nesbitt (Adam) had made several appearances in the BBC Northern Ireland series Ballykissangel. The first series added Jacey Salles as Ramona Ramirez, Karen and David's eccentric Spanish nanny. She had appeared in another Granada production, The Misadventures of Margaret (playing another eccentric Spaniard), and was cast after she "did a bit of comic bastardisation of the English language" in her audition. Initially contracted for only two episodes, Salles appeared in 27 of the series' 32 episodes.

Recurring characters appeared throughout the run of the series, including characters played by Lennie James, Mel Martin and Ben Miles. Doreen Keogh played Pete's mum Audrey in a first series episode and was brought back three more times based on the successful on-screen chemistry between her and Thomson. During production of the fourth series Ripley announced she was quitting to pursue other projects, so a replacement actress was found by Spencer Campbell, who travelled to Los Angeles to audition Australia-based actress Kimberley Joseph. Joseph was hired to play Jo Ellison, the new love interest for Pete.


An inexperienced screenwriter, Bullen was aided by several script editors during the first series. He based the characters and situations on experiences from his own life; Pete was based on a friend he had known since childhood, and Karen and David on a couple he knew. Rachel was written as a combination of the qualities Bullen saw in a "fantasy girlfriend" while Adam was based on how Bullen himself behaved in his twenties. Storylines were also drawn from the lives of the production crew; the midlife crisis experienced by David in the second series was inspired by an unnamed crew member and the ICSI storyline in the third series was inspired by a similar process that Harries and his wife went through.

By the time pre-production on the third series began, Bullen had grown tired of writing the series single-handedly and believed all the stories that could be told had been told. ITV were keen to increase the number of episodes per series to 15 but Granada refused, though did agree to add two more, bringing the total to eight. A writing team of five was assembled, overseen by Bullen. Four of the scriptwriters were deemed not good enough and they parted company with Granada. David Nicholls remained, scripting four of the eight third series episodes (Bullen wrote the other four, his interest in the series revived). Nicholls did not return for the fourth and fifth series and was replaced by Mark Chappell and Matt Greenhalgh, who each co-wrote an episode with Bullen.


Filming took place at Granada's Manchester studios and on location around the city for five months a year. Standing sets were constructed in a large warehouse and were designed by Chris Truelove to reflect the characters; Karen and David's home was designed as a spacious detached house intended to be located in Bowdon, Greater Manchester, while Pete and Jenny, and Adam and Rachel had smaller middle-class abodes intended to be located in the fictional "Clough End" suburb of Manchester. Langan was keen to avoid a generic sitcom style of filming, citing the formulae of such programmes as "tired and dreary" and lacking emotional depth. To achieve this goal, she and Harries recruited directors with little background in television. These included Nigel Cole, who came from an advertising background and was keen to use the two episodes of the first series he was alloted to "make his mark" and establish himself as a serious director. Cole won an audience award at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival for his work on Saving Grace. Other directors included Tom Hooper, who won an Emmy Award in 2006 for his direction of Elizabeth I, and Ciaran Donnelly who won an Irish Film and Television Award in 2007 for his serial Stardust.

Exterior location filming in Manchester city centre incorporated many modern buildings and settings as a backdrop, taking advantage of the economic boom the city went through in the 1990s. A successful location shoot on Lindisfarne for the final episode of the second series lead to the producers agreeing to film away from Manchester at least once a series. This lead to a stag weekend storyline being filmed in Portrush for the third series, a location suggested by James Nesbitt, who spent his childhood summers there. Between the third and fourth series, Bullen and Harries did a speaking tour in the Far East and Australia. As a result, they decided to work a trip to Sydney into the storyline of the fourth series because Australia was "a nice place to go". The main cast and a skeleton production crew were flown out to Sydney to film on location in 2001.


Space's single "Female of the Species" continued to be used as the theme tune after it was used in the pilot. Langan selected the track after hearing it on The Chart Show and remained in overall charge of music featured in the series during her time as producer. Mark Russell scored incidental music and an alternative main theme, which was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Original Television Music in 1999.

Plot summary

The first series opens with the characters addressing the viewer, recapping the events of the pilot episode and aided by clips from it. A continuing plot of the first series depicts Adam and Rachel settling down together as they move into their first home. Pete and Jenny bring up Baby Adam, born in the first episode, and Karen and David hit a rocky patch in their marriage when each almost commits adultery. A brief romantic moment is established between Jenny and Adam in the final episode when they kiss. Rachel discovers that she is pregnant and leaves Manchester and Adam. The second series, broadcast a year later, establishes that nine months have passed on screen. Rachel returns to Manchester and tells Adam she had an abortion, apparently ending their relationship for good. The two reconcile in the fifth episode. Pete has an affair with a colleague after Jenny tells him she no longer loves him, and Karen and David cope following his redundancy.

Pete moves out in the third series as he and Jenny go through a trial separation. She starts seeing businessman Robert Brown while Pete goes to Salsa classes with Ramona, the Marsden's nanny. Adam and Rachel decide to get married and he almost gets cold feet when he meets an ex-girlfriend on his stag weekend. David has an affair with political activist Jessica Barnes, which is revealed at Adam and Rachel's wedding reception. The repercussions continue through the fourth series; Karen asks David to move out of the house and turns to alcohol, eventually embarking on an affair with a publisher. Jenny moves away and Pete starts seeing Rachel's friend Jo, who proposes to him in Australia. The two marry in the extended finale and Rachel gives birth in the same episode.

The fourth series was intended to be the last but pressure on Mike Bullen resulted in it coming back for a final series of four episodes in 2003. Adam and Rachel learn parenting skills as they bring up baby Matthew while Pete and Jo's fledgling marriage deteriorates. Karen and David seek a divorce from one another, beginning new lives without each other. Rachel is killed in a car accident in the penultimate episode and each of the characters mourn her. The characters each go their separate ways in the finale, and Jenny returns to be with Pete.


The six core characters were devised to be "regular people, not distinguished by their careers or by crime" and were based on people from Mike Bullen's life. All were introduced in the pilot episode, though the main plot of that focuses mostly on Adam and Rachel, with little screentime given to the other four characters. Occasionally the characters break the fourth wall, addressing the viewers.

  • Adam Williams (played by James Nesbitt) is a womanising "systems analyst" in the pilot, who meets and settles down with Rachel Bradley. Nesbitt was keen to play the role "with no political baggage", believing there to be few Irish characters in contemporary British drama with no connection to The Troubles. Over the run of the series Adam recovers from testicular cancer and commits to Rachel, despite frequent infidelity with ex-girlfriends and women he meets in bars.
  • Rachel Bradley (played by Helen Baxendale) meets Adam after crashing her car into his in a supermarket car park. Baxendale had no experience in comedy and was criticised for her lack of comic range. Rachel works for an advertising company, though this features little in the storylines. Her one-night-stand with her ex-husband in the first series leads to an abortion, which causes friction between her and Adam. She gives birth to her first child in the fourth series and dies in the final series after a car accident.
  • Pete Gifford (played by John Thomson) is a childhood friend of Adam's, who often joins his friend at the pub. Pete has often lived in the shadow of his more popular friend and the two have a brief fall-out in the second series over Adam's attraction to his wife Jenny. His affair with a co-worker in the second series eventually leads to his and Jenny's divorce in the fourth series, though they are reunited in the final episode.
  • Jenny Gifford (played by Fay Ripley) is Pete's unglamorous wife, played by Ripley to be "slightly unlikeable". Jenny gives birth to hers and Pete's first child in the first episode and much of the first series revolves around bringing up the child in his first few months. Following Pete's affair they have a trial separation in the third series, and she starts seeing a dot-com millionaire. Seeing no future in Manchester, she takes a job in New York City in the fourth series, taking her son and leaving Pete. She returns in the final episode after a bad break up. Thomson and Ripley describe the Giffords as "all ego and vanity" in reference to the large amount of personal photographs they keep around their house.
  • David Marsden (played by Robert Bathurst) was undeveloped in the pilot script, with a single character note explaining his "high figure earnings". His relationship with his wife Karen deteriorates in the first series after both consider infidelity but improves in the second series when he is made redundant. Taking up community politics in the third series, he has an affair with a local activist, to the detriment of his marriage. He begins divorce proceedings with Karen in the fifth series, and starts a new relationship with his solicitor.
  • Karen Marsden (played by Hermione Norris) is a housebound mother in the first series, returning to work as a publisher in the fourth episode. Following David's affair, she starts seeing another man in the fourth series, and the two divorce in the fifth series. Due to Baxendale's absence in a fourth series episode, Karen is the only female character to appear in all episodes.
  • Jo Ellison (played by Kimberley Joseph) is introduced in the first episode of the fourth series as one of Rachel's co-workers. She and Karen become friends and she moves in with a single Pete when she is evicted. The two marry in the final episode of the fourth series but he asks for a divorce in the fifth series when she sleeps with a colleague. Jo was originally scripted as a "truck-driving lesbian" type, but the character was toned down when Bullen met Joseph.

An assortment of recurring characters were established, starting with Ramona, Karen and David's nanny, played by Jacey Salles, in the first series. Ramona is portrayed as unaccustomed to English social functions, spending hours making long-distance phone calls to her mother in Spain and having loud subtitled arguments with her boyfriend Javier. Bathurst and Salles established an upstairs-downstairs relationship between their characters; Bathurst would never look Salles in the eye during a scene in order to maintain an artificial distance between David and Ramona, while the scripts depicted David speaking to Ramona indirectly through other people. A larger storyline was written for Ramona in the third series and Salles was added to the opening credits in the fourth. Ben Miles and Yasmin Bannerman appeared throughout most of the third series as major characters, playing Robert Brown and Jessica Barnes respectively. Sean Pertwee appeared as Mark Cubbit for four fourth series episodes and two fifth series episodes, and Lucy Robinson and Richard Armitage played Robyn Duff and Lee, respectively, in the final series.


Critical reaction

Early reviews of the series were negative; discussing the first episode on The Late Review, Germaine Greer called Nesbitt "especially awful" and Tony Parsons expressed disappointment that Nesbitt had not fallen from a scissor lift, that Adam appeared on in the opening scene, and fallen to his death. Offended by the comments, Nesbitt rebutted in an interview with comments about Parsons' attitude. Nicholas Barber, a writer for The Independent, criticised the characters as smug and suggested that Bullen had no imagination when reviewing the first episode, though praised Ripley's performance in other first series episodes. Reviews picked up in the first year as critics grasped the comedy-drama format; Paul Hoggart in The Times praised the impotence storyline and compared the direction of the episodes to This Life, and previewed the second series with positive remarks about the series trademark fantasy scenes.

The fantasy cutaway scenes, added by Bullen for sophistication and credence, were positively received by critics. In the Journal of British Cinema and Television Greg M. Smith identifies them as having matured considerably by the fourth series and cites (among other examples) David's blind ambition for his family to emigrate to Australia as an example of how the fantasies polarise viewers to ally with a particular character. Smith also describes the fantasies as being less common in serials as they are in soap operas. In a 2007 feature for The Guardian, screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst discussed the impact the series has had on British television, including inspiration for one of his programmes, Talk to Me. He opined that there had not been a significant television series depicting "the wants and needs of ordinary young adults" since the American series Thirtysomething concluded its run in 1991. Brocklehurst developed Talk to Me in the same manner as Bullen developed Cold Feet, namely by basing its characters on his own experiences and friends. Both Brocklehurst and television critic Mark Lawson have discussed similar "copycat" series, including Hearts and Bones, Metropolis, Couples and Wonderful You. Brocklehurst noted that these series "lacked [Cold Feet's] warmth and believability" adding that they were "unrealistic and cynical".

Other critics hailed it as "the British answer to Thirtysomething", precursing Brocklehurst's comments; in 1998, Meg Carter wrote in The Independent, "More than 10 years on, Granada Television has finally produced a modern show that mines the rich seam of a generation that is as confused as it is liberated by increased choice and freedom, and that caters for an audience which has not, traditionally, watched very much ITV". Lawson compared it to the American sitcom Friends, a series that is also based around three men and three women and featured Helen Baxendale in a guest role. When he questioned Bullen on whether Friends influenced Cold Feet, Bullen explained that the connection was made by media as "a useful shorthand", that he was irritated by the characters in Friends and "would liked to have taken a baseball bat to them".


The series won over 20 awards, including the British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Drama in 1999, 2000, and 2003. Three of the cast received Best Comedy performance nominations at the 2001 ceremony but did not win, though the series was awarded the AOL People's Choice Award. Mike Bullen was awarded the Writer of the Year award at the 2003 ceremony, and he, Campbell and Harries collected the prestigious British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series in 2002. The Royal Television Society presented the production staff with the award for Best TV Situation Comedy/Drama in 1999 and the prize for Best Sound in a Drama in 2001. The Broadcasting Press Guild presented it with the Best Entertainment gong in 1999 (jointly with the BBC sketch comedy Goodness Gracious Me). The Television and Radio Industries Club named it TV Comedy Programme of the Year in 2000.

International versions

Granada Entertainment USA, the American arm of Granada Productions, tendered the series format to American networks and cable channels from late 1997. The format was sold to NBC, which commissioned 13 60-minute episodes in May 1999 for the fall season, to be produced in association with Kerry Ehrin Productions. The U.S. series starred David Sutcliffe as Adam Williams and Jean Louisa Kelly as Shelley Sullivan (the Rachel role). Low ratings lead to the series being cancelled after four episodes. In 2003 the format was sold to Italian network Mediaset for a 2004 broadcast. In 2008, Polish broadcaster TVN secured the rights to a remake from Granada International.


The first of four tie-in books was released in 1999 by André Deutsch Publishing, under licence from Granada Media. Cold Feet: A Guide to Life (ISBN 0233997326) is "flipbook" format, compiled by Jonathan Rice from Bullen's script and presented as if written by the characters. Rice compiled a similar book, published in 2002, called The Little Book of "Cold Feet": Life Rules (ISBN 0233050884). Geoff Tibballs, who had previously written television tie-in books, compiled Cold Feet: The Best Bits (ISBN 0233999248), featuring behind-the-scenes information from the first two series, and script extracts. Shortly after the series concluded, Granada Media published The Complete Cold Feet Companion (ISBN 023300999X) in hardback, written by Rupert Smith and billed as "Everything you ever wanted to know about Cold Feet!" The book sold 961 copies in the first week of publication, making tenth position on the hardback non-fiction chart.

Four soundtracks have been released, featuring music from and "inspired by" the series; Global TV released Cold Feet: The Official Soundtrack and More Cold Feet in 1999 and 2002 respectively, UMTV released The Very Best of Cold Feet in 2003 and EMI Gold released Cold Feet in 2006. Cheatwell Games issued a licensed board game in 2001, which is no longer produced.

Video Collection International (VCI) released all five series on video and DVD in the UK between 1999 and 2003. A complete series box set was released in two versions in November 2003; one collects the individual DVD releases in a cardboard case and the other is an 11-disc set that was sold exclusively by The bonus disc contains the retrospective documentary Cold Feet: The Final Call as well as new interviews with John Thomson, Andy Harries and Spencer Campbell. A short documentary presented by Thomson provides an overview of the locations used in the series. The 11-disc set was repackaged and put on general release in 2006, published by Granada Ventures Ltd. Another re-release occurred on 1 September 2008 as part of ITV DVD's "ITV Icons" range. The first three series were released in North America by Acorn Media and all series have been released in Australia by Universal.

Series Episodes VHS release date DVD release date
Region 2 Region 1 Region 4
The Pilot and Complete 1st Series 6 15 November 1999 25 September 2000 25 January 2005 4 February 2002
The Complete 2nd Series 6 10 April 2000 16 October 2000 26 April 2005 5 December 2006
The Complete 3rd Series 8 5 November 2001 5 November 2001 26 July 2005 2 February 2007
The Complete 4th Series 8 25 November 2002 25 November 2002 3 April 2007
The Complete 5th Series 4 24 March 2003 24 March 2003 1 June 2007
The Complete Story 33 10 November 2003
26 March 2006 (re-release)


1. James appeared in two episodes of the first series, Martin in three of the third, and Miles in seven of the third.
2. Specifically in Series 1, Episode 1 and Series 3, Episode 6.



  • Smith, Rupert (2003). Cold Feet: The Complete Companion. London: Granada Media.
  • Tibballs, Geoff (2000). Cold Feet: The Best Bits…. London: André Deutsch Publishing Ltd..

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