Long runners: No 29: Brookside

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The Independent Culture
Age: 111 2 . The first episode went out on the opening night of Channel 4 - 2 November 1982.

Formula: soap. Set on a 1980s private- housing development on the outskirts of Liverpool. Scousers trading up from inner-city roots meet the down-at-heel middle classes in an action-packed agenda of rape, murder, house sieges, child and drug abuse.

Frequency: three times a week, plus an omnibus on Saturday (Brookside pioneered the weekend omnibus). From this week, the Monday episode is moving to Tuesday because of competition from EastEnders' new third episode.

Whose idea was it? Independent producer Phil Redmond (creator of Grange Hill) approached Channel 4 with the idea of a hard-hitting soap that would be almost drama-documentary.

Initial public reaction: to switch off. This was pre-EastEnders, and soap- watchers weren't used to the sort of issue-driven 'realism' we take for granted now.

Might also have been called: Meadowcroft. Name changed to Brookside at the last minute.

Ratings: averages 5.6 to 6 million. Peaked at 8.25 million last November, possibly because coke-fiend Jimmy Corkhill ran down Tony Rodgers in his car - although equally possibly, as producer Mal Young ruefully admits, because there wasn't much else on that night. 'It has a lot to do with what's on the other side,' he says.

Where's it filmed? Makers Mersey TV bought 13 houses on an estate in Croxteth Park, West Derby, about five miles from the centre of Liverpool - the idea being that if the new soap failed, houses would be easier to sell than a disused film lot. The 12 other houses on the estate are lived in by real families. A Brookside postal address actually exists, as does a real brook, bubbling away behind the cul-de-sac.

What about the shops? A shopping parade, incorporating a nightclub, La Luce, was opened 18 months ago in an attempt to 'open out' the soap. In Brookside, the shops are just around the corner from the close. In reality, they are five miles away, in an old teacher-training college in Childwall.

Longest running character: Barry Grant (played by Paul Usher) has been there since the beginning, metamorphosing from mean-bastard scally to mean-bastard entrepreneur ('he represents 10 years of Thatcher's Britain,' says Mal Young). In second place is Terry Sullivan (played by Brian Regan), currently under the influence of Christian cultists and sporting an alarming Old Testament beard.

Guest celebrities: telly people Paula Yates and Russell Grant, goalie Bruce Grobbelaar, singer Gerry Marsden and Pete Best, the former Beatles drummer.

Most famous alumni: Sue Johnstone, recently a hospital administrator in Medics, and Amanda Burton, currently wowing the punters in Peak Practice.

Current status: has had something of a renaissance, starting last summer with the arrival of the Jordache family (child-abuser and wife-beater Trevor Jordache was soon dispatched to a shallow grave beneath the patio), continuing with Beth Jordache's discovery of lesbianism, and Jimmy Corkhill's discovery of cocaine.

Anything make you want to kick the set in? Its middle-class characters, who are not written with the same knowledge and conviction as the working- class ones, and so seem somewhat one- dimensional. David Crosbie in particular is a suspiciously top-hole cove, along the lines of Peter Sellers' bogus wing-commander in Dr Strangelove.

Social function: Mal Young claims that Brookside is the modern equivalent of Play for Today. Furthermore, it has followed the depoliticisation of Britain. 'We're known for being a political soap, but we've deliberately become unpolitical to reflect society.'

The bottom line - is it any good? It's much better at specific storylines than on everyday matters, which Coronation Street, for example, excels at. Also much more recognisably Liverpudlian than that other great, but outdated Scouse programme, Carla Lane's Bread. Above all, though, Brookside is a pioneering soap, which has gleefully broken all the rules. Without it there probably wouldn't, or couldn't, have been an EastEnders.

(Photograph omitted)