Bread (TV series)
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Elswick Street: Where the exterior shots were filmed.
|Created by||Carla Lane|
|Written by||Carla Lane|
|Directed by||Susan Belbin (1986-1988)
Robin Nash (1987–89)
John B. Hobbs (1990–91)
J. G. Devlin
|Opening theme||David Mackay|
|Country of origin||England|
|No. of series||7|
|No. of episodes||74|
|Executive producer(s)||Robin Nash (1986–91)|
|Producer(s)||Robin Nash (1986–91)
John B. Hobbs (1990–91)
|Location(s)||Dingle, Liverpool, England|
|Editor(s)||John Dunstan (1986–91)
Chris Wadsworth (1987)
|Running time||30 mins|
|Original release||1 May 1986
3 November 1991
The series focused on the devoutly-Catholic and extended Boswell family of Liverpool, in the district of Dingle, led by its matriarch Nellie (Jean Boht) through a number of ups and downs as they tried to make their way through life in Thatcher's Britain with no visible means of support. The street shown at the start of each programme is Elswick Street. A family called Boswell had also featured in Lane's earlier sitcom The Liver Birds and Lane said in interviews that the two families were probably related.
Nellie's feckless and estranged husband, Freddie (Ronald Forfar), left her for another woman known as 'Lilo Lill' (Eileen Pollock). Her children Joey, Jack, Adrian, Aveline and Billy continued to live in the family home in Kelsall Street and contributed money to the central family fund, largely through benefit fraud and the sale of stolen goods.
In a 2004 poll to find Britain's Best Sitcom, Bread came 39th.
- Mrs Nellie Boswell (Jean Boht) – the matriarch of the Boswell family, the character is always credited as "Mrs Boswell" and rarely referred to by her first name on-screen. Once a young girl who dreamed of romance (even having a holiday fling in Italy as a teenager), Nellie quickly devoted herself to her family after marrying Freddie. Although a very loving mother and wife, she is at times overbearing and controlling; something which leads to "free spirit" Freddie leaving her for Lilo Lil around three years prior to the beginning of the series. After her marriage breakdown Nellie becomes determined to keep her family together, with all her children continuing to live at home despite being adults. Although a devout Catholic, Nellie turns a blind eye to the less than legal means Joey uses to bring money to the family pot, and increasingly relies on him as the man of the house. Nellie never entirely gives up on Freddie and he frequently reappears at the family home; however, she knows deep down her marriage is over, even admitting to Lilo Lil that "he needs both of us now and then – and he wants neither of us permanently". Because of the energy she puts into her family, Nellie rarely has time for herself, but this changes somewhat later in the series when a man called Derek (see below) shows an interest in her.
- Freddie Boswell (Ronald Forfar) (Series 1–6) was Nellie's estranged husband, who walked out on the family three years prior to the beginning of the series with his new girlfriend, Lilo Lill. He used colourful metaphors and allegories, and was always cheerful in his attempts to reconcile with Nellie. He always promised his wife that he had given up Lilo Lill but she would return from Ireland and away he went. After going through jobs as a council dustman and a hot-dog vendor, he was diagnosed with a heart condition in Series 4, and was told not to take things to strenuously. He bought an allotment with a shed, which he converted into a home-away-from-home, with a bed, television and table. This doubled as a retreat for him and Lilo Lill, and the two used it as a sexual retreat. Freddie later opened a shop to sell the produce of his allotment, which received good attention. He knew of Nellie's affair with Derek, much to her shame.
- Joey Boswell (Peter Howitt until the 1988 Christmas special Graham Bickley up to series 7) was the eldest of the offspring, dressed in head-to-toe smart leather clothing, using the earliest mobile phone and drove a classic Jaguar. He was the most enigmatic of the Boswells, not revealing his suspicious night-time job for which he was often seen donning a tuxedo (although it was subtly suggested to the viewer that he was a male escort), and often the most sensible and calm of the Boswell siblings, with the catchphrase "Greetings!". He contributed large sums to the family kitty and was often his mother's favourite son and spokesman. Despite his slightly flirtatious behaviour towards Martina, the DHSS Clerk, in the earlier seasons and sometimes in the later series, in series 3 he began an on/off relationship with a woman and past girlfriend named Roxy (Joanna Phillips-Lane) of whom his mother disapproved because Roxy had a child and had broken Joey's heart in the past. When Howitt left the role and Bickley took it, the character didn't retain its popularity, with fans disappointed at the change. In the later seasons, with Bickley playing the part, Joey's character gradually changed; he became a vegetarian and animal rights activist, and gave up his mysterious work for growing and selling organic produce, though his earlier character would have preferred different work and cheating the DHSS. At the end of the show, it is revealed Joey has married Roxy in Scotland, despite his mother's misgivings.
- Jack Boswell (Victor McGuire) had no aspirations to have a glamorous job but just wanted to make a reasonable living. Mainly, he dealt in anything that would fit into the battered van he drove. He left the family home to visit the United States in series 4 (McGuire took a break from the show) and came back wiser but still not rich. He had little luck with women until the older Leonora Campbell (Deborah Grant) moved in further down Kelsall Street and the two had a relationship that his mother disapproved of due to the age gap. At the end of the show, Jack is taking a shower, when Leonora walks in and tells him she's pregnant.
- Adrian Boswell (Jonathon Morris) was baptised James and called Jimmy as a child but decided the name was too common and changed it. He was the artistic, idealistic one of the family and continually pointed out that he was the only one with a proper, honest job (in an estate agency) until he was made redundant. He became a published poet and artist and also worked as a model, but his successes were tempered by his extraordinary inferiority complex, especially around women. He had a relationship with a nymphomaniac called Carmen who broke his heart. He frequently emphasised his panicky outlook on life with the phrase "Hanging by a thread!". Eventually, he found happiness with a woman called Irenee (Sharon Byatt), whom he married in Scotland in a secret double wedding with Joey and Roxy.
- Aveline Carter (née Boswell) (Gilly Coman until the 1988 Christmas special Melanie Hill up to series 7) was the only daughter and was therefore overprotected by her mother and brothers, who vetted all her boyfriends and made her wear a whistle around her neck at all times in case of attack. She had aspired to be a model and had a bit of success, but she temporarily gave up her ambitions when she married Oswald (Giles Watling). Oswald was a local Protestant vicar, which stirred up his new mother-in-law's religious prejudices, but his new brothers-in-law liked him. After the birth of their first daughter, Tracy Ursula, Aveline became pregnant again and had problems in the late stages of the pregnancy, but didn't lose the baby.
- Billy Boswell (Nick Conway) was the youngest and daftest of the quintet. He had a variety of jobs, including running his own sandwich-delivery business. Despite his youth and immaturity, he was the first Boswell to marry, leave home, and reproduce, thanks to a fiery on/off relationship with the astute and cynical Julie (who lived across the road during the first five series). Billy moved in with Julie and they had daughter Francesca, but the proximity to his mother's home made it tough for him to escape her apron strings; Julie regularly kicked him out. Billy drove a Volkswagen Beetle which frequently emitted loud bangs from the exhaust system as he drove across the road to visit his wife and daughter. His wedding to Julie reveals his full name to be William Thomas Boswell.
- Nellie and her children all took turns visiting and delivering meals to Grandad (Kenneth Waller) who lived next door in a house that used to belong to the Boswells. Grandad and the Boswells swapped houses so each could charge the other rent and then claim it back from the DHSS. He was Nellie's father (Series 1, episode 5, when Joey comes to tell him that Freddie's brother Cyril has died: "I know you never cared much about Dad's side of the family"); however even Nellie and Freddie called him Grandad. He was referred to by non-family members as Mr Boswell, therefore it could be assumed he was Freddie's father. However, in an episode from series 3, Grandad's name is revealed as William Thomas Duvall. Nellie once refers to Freddie as Grandad's only son-in-law, which would mean that Grandad was in fact her father and, in the companion book to the series, Mrs Boswell's Slice of Bread, her maiden name is confirmed as Duvall and she refers to Grandad as 'my father.' He was a cantankerous and obnoxious man at times, never appearing grateful for the way the family kept him, but they all doted on him and he was always willing to hand out serious advice. His wife, referred to by everyone as Granny, had long since died and Grandad mourned her although he had always reserved love for another woman (the dead but once seen in a dream – Edie Mathieson (Played by Susanna Page, credited as Suzanna Page)). He did not speak with a 'Scouse' accent, indicating that he was probably from elsewhere in the north of England – possibly Yorkshire. He may have been married to Emily, whose grave Jack used to bury some stolen goods in. He was often seen exclaiming "Where's me pudding!" as it appears he would often have to wait far longer than is necessary for his dessert course to his evening meal.
- In series 4, Cousin Shifty (Bryan Murray) turned up after leaving prison and moved into Grandad's house while occupying Jack's seat at mealtimes. Initially this was to compensate for Jack's absence, but the character was retained after Jack's return. He was apparently Grandad's favourite grandchild (although he was referred to several times as Shifty Boswell, which would have made them unrelated), despite being a career criminal (hence the nickname). He combined dead-end jobs and failed business interests (including running a mobile green-grocery from the back of a hearse) with more petty crime. His ex-girlfriend Celia turned up briefly, before he began a relationship with Boswell nemesis DHSS clerk Martina (Pamela Power), who had spent the previous series fending off attempts by various Boswell members to get more financial aid from the Government. His actual given name is never revealed.
- Martina (Pamela Power), a popular character, was first seen beyond her working environment when she entered into a relationship with Cousin Shifty. However, Shifty used Martina and was only after her body and her devotion to him. He was going to move into her apartment but Joey, knowing that he was going to use her, persuaded him not to, telling him that Martina was a "Good one". Shifty then lied to Martina and told her that he couldn't move into her apartment because Grandad had been injured. When a distraught Martina asked Joey on one of his frequent visits to the DHSS, he told her that his Grandad was fine, unbeknown to Shifty's lie. He could see that Martina was upset, and then slightly comforted her and opened up to her, telling her about Roxy and revealing more than he had previously revealed to anyone else. His silly, irrational claims slightly cheered Martina after that and it was clear that she may not have hated the Boswells as much as she let on. After that, she became strong again and rejected Shifty, returning the brooch he gave to symbolise their love and treating him indifferently to – if not worse than – any other client in the DHSS. Shifty later got back together with Martina after trying to prove to her that he could change and hold down a job, though she hinted in later conversations she was still disappointed with him. She once told Billy about her worn-down mother, her gambling father and her alcoholic brother.
- Freddie's girlfriend, Lilo Lill (Eileen Pollock), was an Irish woman of a similar age to the Boswell parents, but with a more flamboyant sense of style and a self-confessed desire for passion in her relationships, which she claimed in her frequent confrontations with Nellie (who called her a "tart" to her face, and to others) was the main reason Freddie preferred her. That said, Freddie often tried to return to his wife before finding Lilo Lill too tempting. She was often heard to scream publicly: "I love you, Freddie Boswell!" Her name has been given as both Lillian Whittaker and Lillian O'Leary.
- Julie Jefferson (Caroline Milmoe for Series 1 & 2, Hilary Crowson until Series 5) was Billy's girlfriend, and later wife. She wasn't willing to follow in what Billy asked her to do; she thought of him as a plaything, and used this to her advantage. She hated most of the Boswell family with passion, refusing to go to tea with them on the numerous occasions that Nellie asked her. She did however get on very well with Freddie Boswell, who understood her frustrations, especially those concerning Nellie's overbearing nature. After her marriage, Julie wanted a divorce fairly quickly. They divorced and, although Julie tried to seduce Billy every now and then, it didn't work. Julie moved house early one morning with baby Francesca, leaving a note under the windscreen wiper of Billy's van. Her wedding to Billy reveals her full name to be Julie Brenda Paula Sharon Jefferson.
- Reverend Oswald Carter (Giles Watling) was a love interest for Aveline and late her husband. He was not easily accepted by Nellie, who constantly referred to him as a 'Proddy vicar', much to Aveline's annoyance. The couple were not without their marital struggles; Aveline wanted to continue modelling after the birth of her baby, but Oswald wanted her to settle down and play more to the part of vicar's wife. Aveline then moved back into the family home with their baby, despite Oswald caring for her for most of the time. Oswald, depressed, took to drink. The two later patched their differences, despite Aveline remaining at Nellie's.
- Celia Higgins (Rita Tushingham) was a divorcée who moved in next door to the Boswell family. She was Shifty Boswell's ex-girlfriend, and enjoyed torturing him by becoming Grandad's housekeeper, which proved difficult for him as he lodged there. She had written a book on sexual frustration, which was apparently inspired by her husband. She used environmentally-friendly cooking products and was intent on saving the planet. She went with the Boswells on a trip to Italy, where she and Shifty agreed to give it another go on his rebound from Martina. Celia, who only moved in at the beginning of Series 4, was not heard from or mentioned again after the Series 4 finale.
- Leonora Campbell (Deborah Grant) moved into Julie's vacant house. She employed Adrian as a personal assistant, originally working as a chauffeur but later demoted to performing quick shopping trips for her. She later started a relationship with Jack, who moved in with her. At the time she was a widow; her husband, child and dog were all killed in a car crash. She later becomes pregnant with Jack's child.
- Two local businessmen and small-time thugs and crooks were the monosyllabic Yizzel (Charles Lawson) and his partner who, despite being the brains and voice of the duo, was never named in dialogue and was therefore always credited as 'Yizzel's mate' (Simon Rouse). They ran a limousine company called Occasion Cars and were acquaintances of Joey.
- Derek (Peter Byrne) was a widower who befriended Nellie when he met her in a park and tried, unsuccessfully, to forge a relationship with her. Nellie was tempted by him but couldn't bring herself to have another relationship while she was still technically married. If he phoned her at home while she had visitors (she told no one of his existence), she would say "Thank you!" in a comedic high-pitched voice and hang up. However, in the final episode (and final line) of the series, Nellie tells Derek "I'll be there" when he asks her to meet him.
- Eddie Duvall (Ken Sharrock) was a cousin of the Boswells, originally from Liverpool but now living in Los Angeles. He was gay and ran a delicatessen there. He briefly stayed with Granddad during a trip back to the UK. Granddad begrudgingly liked him, even though he would call him a 'devious poof' to his face.
- Father Dooley (J. G. Devlin) was the local Catholic priest to whom Nellie—and, less regularly, other family members – would go to confess or to seek advice. He was later replaced with Father Brennan (Philip O'Brien).
- Mrs Helen Alice Edie Cumberland (Evie Garratt), better known to Jack as Precious, was Jack's employer for a short while. Jack and Mrs Cumberland were close, as they both had similar interests and Jack enjoyed her company. She offered Jack a £100-a-week wage, which she put on the horses; Jack ended up with a wage of £340, which Precious said helped prove a lot about a person's nature. She and Jack enjoyed sitting on the docks; it was there where she died, when Jack went swimming to get her handbag that she threw in the water. Jack was upset about her death and started a relationship with Precious' niece, Rachael (Hilary Welles).
- Mrs Edith Cullen (Sylvia Gatrill) was a nosey neighbour of the Boswell's, who complained to Nellie about their cars, dog and Grandad. She first complained when Mongy was claimed to have bitten her daughter, Amanda. She continued these annoyances until the end of the series.
- Mongy was the family dog (short for "Mongrel"). He was usually seen in outdoor scenes shot on location, seldom in studio scenes (most notably series 2, episode 6, when he was recovering from an operation). He met his end when a storyline required him to be run over and killed, reuniting the Boswells in grief.
The show's title is a reference to the use of 'bread' however, it is not a Liverpudlian Scouse expression but actually a London term for money (Cockney rhyming slang: bread and honey). A regular scenario in each episode was that of Nellie opening a cockerel-fashioned kitchen egg basket prior to the evening meal into which the family would place money for their upkeep. The amount of money placed in the pot by each depended on how successful a day they'd had. The pot would be at the forefront of the screen at the end of each episode as the credits rolled.
Other frequently-seen scenarios included Nellie answering a cordless phone (a newfangled item in the mid-1980s) which she kept in the pocket of her pinny (she always said "Hello yes?" when answering); and ensuring the parking places outside the terraced house were kept free for the family's many vehicles, by putting out some illicitly-acquired police traffic cones.
The show featured soap opera-style cliffhangers. This meant that viewers had to watch each week to see how the previous week's cliffhanger would be resolved. This also meant that each episode was not self-contained, but the plot unfolded as the series progressed. This was very unusual for a comedy at the time, but has been used to great effect by comedies since.
The theme tune was sung by the cast members and was released on BBC Records but failed to make the UK singles chart. The theme was re-recorded for the fifth series of the show, due to BBC1's transition from mono to NICAM stereo sound – the original theme had been recorded in mono.
A comic strip based on the series featured in the BBC's Teen magazine Fast Forward, although the overall tone was altered for the magazines younger readership.
After the series had finished, a stage play of the show entitled "Bread – The Farewell Slice" toured the UK.
All seven series of the sitcom were released onto DVD on Monday 29 September 2014.