UK, BBC, Sitcom, Colour, 1986
Starring: Jean Boht, Jonathon Morris, Ronald Forfar
Carla Lane seemed to be set inexorably upon a path taking her deeper and deeper into the realms of tragi-comedy when she confounded her critics and spellbound viewers with Bread, a colourful, multi-layered slice of Liverpool life. Following closely on from I Woke Up One Morning her sobering look at alcoholism, Bread found her firmly back in the mainstream waters into which she had first waded with The Liver Birds. The Boswells (a familiar name to followers of that earlier series) were a sprawling, larger-than-life Catholic family, ducking and diving through life, often exploiting the system to survive. At the centre of the storm stood matriarch Nellie Boswell, a robust and capable woman using her sheer force of personality to keep the family on her version of the straight and narrow. Nellie's husband was the unfaithful Freddie, an unreliable but likeable sort, and they had five grown-up children: boys Adrian, Joey, Jack and Billy, and their sister Aveline. Completing the immediate family was Grandad, who lived next door. Then there were various wives and girlfriends of the lads (Julie for Billy, Carmen for Jack, Irenee for Adrian) and Aveline's beau (later husband) Oswald. To round off the set was Lilo Lil, Freddie's 'bit on the side', a sharp-tongued DHSS official named Martina, Shifty (who was, by name and nature), his ex-girlfriend Celia and a whole gang of memorable irregulars. (Celia, played by Rita Tushingham, was a successful writer who returned to Liverpool following a period living and hobnobbing in London. Some of the inspiration for the Boswells derived from Carla Lane's own family and her recollections of Liverpool and it is plausible that this character was based on Lane herself.)
Initially, response to the series was poor. Critics, who had often attacked Lane's shows, took a predictable stance, labelling it 'stale' and 'crummy' and utilising other bread-pun insults. More damning was the response from Lane's beloved Liverpool, where local reviewers accused her of enforcing the clichéd stereotype of the Scouse scrounger. This controversy abated, however, when the show fell into its stride and the audience figures picked up.
The series had respectable ratings right from the start but by the fourth series its popularity was gigantic: one episode (Oswald and Aveline's wedding on 11 December 1988) attracted more than 21 million viewers. This size of British TV audience is more common for soap operas than for sitcoms, and herein lies a possible clue to the series' success. Bread featured many soap elements: a dominating female central character; constantly changing states of relationships; earthy, recognisably realistic dialogue; prevailing accent and speech patterns; a strong sense of location; and a large number of regular and occasional identifiable characters. With all these elements and Lane's pungently funny dialogue, Bread couldn't lose.
The struggles of this family to 'make bread out of nothing at all' gave rise to many notable moments. The 30 October 1988 episode had cameo appearances from Lane's friends Paul and Linda McCartney; a scripted mini-episode in the 1988 Royal Variety Show (televised on 26 November by BBC1); and a 1991 stage production based on the series, performed at Dominion Theatre in London. Linda McCartney made a second appearance with Jean Boht in The Last Waltz, a specially scripted production featuring characters from Carla Lane's Bread, Butterflies, Solo and The Liver Birds, aired by BBC1 on 10 March 1989 as part of Comic Relief.
Researched and written by Mark Lewisohn.
Number of episodes: 74
Length: 71 x 30 mins · 2 x 50 mins · 1 x 70 mins