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Thursday, 10 October, 2002, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Brookside's two decades of trauma
Anna Friel shot to stardom in Brookside

The announcement that Channel 4's ground-breaking soap Brookside is to be moved from its prime-time slot marks the end of an era for many fans.

The first episode helped launch Channel 4 on the broadcaster's first day, 2 November 1982, and soon became the channel's most popular show.

It was a springboard for the careers of many stars including Anna Friel, Sue Johnston, Ricky Tomlinson and Amanda Burton.

And its treatment of such hard-hitting storylines as murder, rape, domestic violence, drug addiction and lesbian relationships paved the way for future soaps, including EastEnders, to tackle similar subject matter.

But just as it helped launch Channel 4 in the early years, its current crisis mirrors the fortunes of the broadcaster, which is losing viewers.

In recent months, Brookside has slumped to a new low with just one million viewers - down from a high of more than eight million when it was a must-see show in the early 1990s.
Brookside creator Phil Redmond
Phil Redmond created Brookside in 1982

There is little doubt that the show changed the UK television landscape.

Before it started, creator Phil Redmond built a real cul-de-sac in a Liverpool suburb as a base for the show - an approach that was seen as revolutionary at the time, but is now standard.

When it first hit screens, its strong language proved too much for the tabloids, whose headlines denounced "Channel Swore".


But the show quickly became a flagship for the broadcaster, tackling social and political problems on a low-key scale.

In the early years of Thatcher, the show was filled with issues that mirrored those in much of the country - factory strikes, redundancy and burglary.

One year in, it tackled the soap taboo of suicide, and the first major dramatic storyline arrived in the form of a fatal seige in 1985.

About seven million people were tuning in at that time and saw another taboo confronted when Sheila Grant, played by Johnston, was raped in 1986.

With a directness never before thought acceptable, the realism of such plots had viewers hooked and rolled back the boundaries for other shows.


The cul-de-sac was given its own parade of shops in a 1991 expansion, when the show went three nights a week.

The move set the show up for its most successful spell.
The show has always had hard-hitting storylines

The storylines got more and more ambitious - a religious cult, drug addiction, numerous killings, prostitution - but viewing figures kept rising, peaking at more than eight million in the early 1990s.

It was at this time that the most infamous storylines became national talking points.

First, Mandy Jordache and her daughter Beth (played by Friel) killed abusive father Trevor and buried him under the patio.

The plot inspired debates about domestic violence and the resulting trial prompted placard-waving protestors to gather outside the offices of producers Mersey Television demanding justice for the Jordaches.


There was also the incident known simply as "the kiss" - a lesbian embrace between Beth Jordache and her best friend Margaret Clemence that caused an outcry at the time.

But it broke down the barriers for future shows like the BBC's lesbian drama Tipping the Velvet.

The relationship between brother and sister Nat and Georgia Simpson caused similar controversy when it was broadcast in 1996.
Brookside Corkhils
The Corkhills have been one of the most popular families

Since then, the show has continued with its diet of big bangs and neighbourly trauma, and continued to attract up to five million viewers into the new decade.

But the last two years have seen ratings slump alarmingly, and its place as the jewel in Channel 4's crown has been taken by younger, lighter drama Hollyoaks.

Even the prospect of another relaunch, timed to coincide with its 20th birthday, was not enough to persuade Channel 4 executives that it could be revived as a vital part of the prime-time schedule.

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