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Last Updated: Friday, 30 December 2005, 09:25 GMT
End of the Affairs for Five soap
By Tom Bishop
BBC News entertainment reporter

Family Affairs
Family Affairs was set in fictional west London suburb Charnham
The final episode of Family Affairs is being broadcast on Five, as fictional suburb Charnham disappears after more than eight years of drama.

The channel axed its five-day-a-week soap in August in order to invest its 10m budget in new primetime drama and comedy.

But had the soap's "natural lifespan" come to an end, as Five's director of programmes Dan Chambers stated?

Family Affairs was the first show broadcast on Five when it launched in March 1997, based around the middle class Hart family living somewhere in Maidenhead.

Loyal viewers

A ratings-chasing revamp saw most of that family perish in a boat accident before Charnham was relocated to west London.

Soon the villainy of pub landlord Pete Callan (played by David Easter), the relationship trauma of Yasmin Green (Ebony Thomas) and the gossip of Sadie Hargreaves Lloyd (Barbara Young) took centre stage.

Compared to rival soaps the show's ratings remained low but consistent, attracting about one million viewers per episode.

Family Affairs
Long-term characters such as villain Pete Callan helped retain viewers
"Out of all the soaps, viewers remained incredibly loyal to Family Affairs," says Dominic Treadwell-Collins, who worked as story producer on the show.

"They related to the characters and cared a great deal about them."

Young, who played Sadie for nearly seven years, agrees.

"I still get stopped in the street and lifted off my feet by very large ladies," she says.

"I suppose they saw Sadie as this lovable auntie figure. She was nosey, but nice with it."

The pace of production at Family Affairs - which shared its studio in Merton, south London, with police drama The Bill - was frenetic.

"I was filming in Sheffield when I found out I had the part," says Young.

Family Affairs
They saw Sadie as this lovable auntie figure - she was nosey, but nice with it
Barbara Young, who played Sadie Hargreaves Lloyd
"I was driven down to London that night, had my hair dyed bright red at 10am the next morning and was on set that afternoon."

Ex-Family Affairs producer Johann Knobel says writers used the show's format of five weekly episodes to create longer "slow-burning" storylines.

"As the show was 'under the radar' in many respects, we did not feel we were driven by ratings," Mr Knobel says.

"This enabled us to take more risks with stories, developing plots with more depth and interest."

He cites a storyline in which Karen Webb, played by Tanya Franks, fell in love with the surrogate mother of her baby.

"We told that story in a mature way, looking at issues of sexuality without making them sensational," he says.

Extra competition

Mr Knobel says he was adamant that Family Affairs characters would never be changed merely to serve a twist in the plot.

"This gave characters an integrity that viewers could believe in," he says.

A Family Affairs storyline, in which a couple learned that a family friend had abused their daughter, earned the show two British Soap Awards in May.

But since 1997, rival soaps EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale added extra weekly episodes and all terrestrial TV shows faced increased multi-channel competition.

Family Affairs
Karen Webb (left) fell in love with the surrogate mother of her baby
The cancellation of the revived Crossroads, ITV's Night and Day and Channel 4's long-running Brookside in 2003 confirmed that soap opera longevity was no longer assured.

"With the awards under our belt we thought Family Affairs would be extended for longer than the usual year," says Mr Treadwell-Collins. "Instead it was axed."

Now a series story editor on EastEnders, he is convinced the soap would have thrived on another channel.

"There is a stigma attached to Five - some viewers still think it just shows boobs and Keith Chegwin," he says.

"We also wanted the channel to publicise Family Affairs more."

Now a producer on Holby City, Mr Knobel said Five's investment in the soap was "a huge amount of money" for the channel. "It was purely an economic decision to cancel it."

The final episode will see the entire cast assemble on Stanley Street for a final time, with a few potential surprises.

"We did not tie everything up, so some characters can have a life outside Charnham," says Mr Treadwell-Collins.

"Family Affairs was a warm show so we wanted to give it a positive send-off."

Five broadcasts the final episode of Family Affairs on 30 December.

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