Photograph: Mersey Television
Brookside premiered on the launch night of Channel 4, November 2nd 1982. I remember growing up watching Brookie, as it was affectionately called by its fans, for the sheer audacity of its storylines. Amongst its highlights there was the first on-screen lesbian kiss (featuring a youthful Anna Friel, now making her way in Hollywood, and recently seen in the hit series Pushing Daisies) and a mother murdering her abusive husband, then burying the corpse beneath the garden patio. The Guardian has a good photo-montage with text, remembering key points in the show's history, which you can find here.
While East Enders took the line of glamourized pantomime, with its easily recognisable stereotypes and straightforward plots, Brookside offered a darker more threatening view of the world. For thousands of teenagers, growing up in the Thatcherite recession hit 80s, the programme provided a welcome empathy from a media which at the time addressed the needs and interests of teenagers with particular disdain and patronising disinterest.
With the exception of Channel 4 and a few strands on BBC 2, it was a barren desert for youth programming when I was growing up. Shows aimed at reflecting the interests of youth culture, like The Word (C4) and Rough Guide....(BBC2) made it possible to believe that there were people out there with whom you could connect. Remember, this was a time with no internet, mobile phones, or multi channel TV. Over at BBC 2, Janet Street-Porter, having launched the brilliant teen entertainment news strand Network 7 on Channel 4, launched Def II a self-contained selection of increasingly bizarre shows. Rapido often looked like it might have been a snapshot of a circus for fetishists. But that, of course, was part of its charm. It seemed naughty, without being offensive. Incidentally, Janet Street-Porter was a guest on BBC Radio 4s Desert Island Discs last week. It's a great interview that gives plenty of background about the TV landscape of the last 25 years, and is revealing in terms of the white middle-class bias Janet had to overcome in order to succeed. Sadly, the programme isn't available online due to copyright restrictions, but you can see her song choices here:
Anyway, back to Brookside. Unlike East Enders and Coronation Street, its audience grew up, drifted away, and despite the best efforts of the show's writers, it was finally cancelled in November 2003. The point, I suppose, is that there's no accounting for audience taste in the long-term, and in a multi-channel world, catering for the here, the now, and the near future is a safer bet for many TV channels. Will this mean however, that we won't see any more long running series taking shape? Or will those that survive be the ones designed to have an air of impermanence and metamorphic change about them? I'm thinking of Lost and Heroes.
It does seem like the nature of writing TV drama is changing, and for those of us in our thirties and forties, we can look back through the rose-tinted glasses of hindsight, and relish in the remembrance of a time when choice was small but the content revolutionary.