Bread

The Boswell families of Liverpool, like many other families in the 80s, are surviving on government handouts but they try and do so with pride. They knew the system inside out and exploited all the loopholes. The head of the household is Nellie Boswell (Jean Boht) and as a devout Catholic demands her family are present at mealtimes. Husband Freddie was a waster who spent most of his time at his allotment and they had four sons and one badly dressed daughter Aveline who wanted to be a model but ended up marrying a vicar.

Bread is a British television sitcom, written by Carla Lane, about a struggling Catholic, working-class family in Liverpool, England. It was produced by the BBC and screened on BBC One from 1 May 1986 to 3 November 1991.

The series focused on the extended Boswell family of Liverpool, in the district of Dingle. The family were Catholic and working class, and led by matriarch Nellie (Jean Boht). Each episode was centred around her children attempting to make enough money to support the family through various means.

The show’s title is a reference to “bread” meaning “money”; though this is not a Liverpudlian Scouse expression but 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.

Characters

Regular characters

ActorRoleEpisodesDurationYears
Jean BohtNellie Boswell741–71986–91
Ronald ForfarFreddie Boswell621–61986–90
Peter HowittJoey Boswell391–1988 Christmas Special1986–88
Graham Bickley355–71989–91
Victor McGuireJack Boswell611–3, 5–71986–87, 1989–91
Jonathon MorrisAdrian Boswell741–71986–91
Gilly ComanAveline Boswell391–1988 Christmas Special1986–88
Melanie Hill355–71989–91
Nick ConwayBilly Boswell741–71986–91
Kenneth WallerGrandad731–71986–91
Bryan MurrayCousin Shifty494–61988–91
Pamela PowerMartina371–71986–91
Eileen PollockLilo Lil433–71987–91
Joanna Phillips-LaneRoxy193-71987-91
Caroline MilmoeJulie Jefferson121–21986–87
Hilary Crowson413–51987–89
Giles WatlingOswald Carter494–71988–91
Rita TushinghamCelia Higgins1141988
Deborah GrantLeonora Campbell196–71990–91

Cameo appearances

 

  • Linda McCartney was friends with Lane and had a guest appearance in one episode of series 4. Her husband, Paul, appeared briefly at the end of the episode, offering Linda a lift home.

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 – and also to allow Graham Bickley and Melanie Hill, who joined the cast in Series 5 replacing the original Joey and Aveline respectively, to replace the originals in the vocals.

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.

In 2017, it was reported that the BBC was considering reviving the series with much of the surviving cast, with Graham Bickley returning as Joey Boswell, now effectively head of the household, and Jean Boht playing the now elderly Nellie Boswell (“Gran”), in essence serving as a vaguely more mild-mannered version of Grandad from the original series. The series was set to revive the tale of the Boswell clan 25 years later, with several of their family’s offspring born since the end of the original series, to feature as regular characters. However, the proposal was eventually dropped when the rights couldn’t be settled with Carla Lane‘s estate, and the BBC later confirmed that they would not be proceeding with the project.

Though the show was popular, and received audiences over 21 million, Bread was criticised for mocking Liverpudlian culture and people, who had suffered significant economic downturn and unemployment in the 1980s. Lane countered these criticisms saying that her characters were cartoonish and one-dimensional, and were not intended to be a serious social comment on the state of Liverpool. The series was also criticised several times in both the Radio Times and on Points of View for its bad language before the 9 p.m. watershed.

 

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