Open main menu

Bread (TV series)

Bread is a British television sitcom, written by Carla Lane, about a close-knit, working-class family in Liverpool, England. It was produced by the BBC and screened on BBC1 from 1 May 1986 to 3 November 1991. In 1988, the ratings for the series peaked at 21 million viewers.[1] Bread is frequently repeated on digital television, and most recently aired on Drama between January and April 2019.

Elswick Street: Where the exterior shots were filmed.
Created byCarla Lane
Written byCarla Lane
Directed bySusan Belbin (1986–1988)
Robin Nash (1987–89)
John B. Hobbs (1990–91)
StarringJean Boht
Peter Howitt
Nick Conway
Victor McGuire
Jonathon Morris
Gilly Coman
Kenneth Waller
Ronald Forfar
Bryan Murray
J. G. Devlin
Graham Bickley
Melanie Hill
Pamela Power
Opening themeDavid Mackay
Country of originEngland
No. of series7
No. of episodes74
Executive producer(s)Robin Nash (1986–91)
Producer(s)Robin Nash (1986–91)
John B. Hobbs (1990–91)
Production location(s)Dingle, Liverpool, England
Editor(s)John Dunstan (1986–91)
Chris Wadsworth (1987)
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time30 mins
Production company(s)BBC
DistributorBBC Worldwide
Universal Pictures
ABC (Australia, home video)
Original networkBBC1
Original release1 May 1986 (1986-05-01) –

3 November 1991 (1991-11-03)

Plot summaryEdit

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 the acid-tongued matriarch Nellie Boswell (Jean Boht) who ruled over her family with an iron fist. Early series focused on her children attempting to make enough money (in English slang, "bread") to support the family through various illicit means.[2][3][4] Later series saw less emphasis on making money schemes, and more storylines focusing on the characters' love lives and marriages.


The Boswell family consisted of Nellie's philandering, free-spirited husband Freddie (Ronald Forfar) who spent most of the series with one foot in the family household, and the other with his mistress, the red-haired, Irish siren Lilo-Lil (Eileen Pollock) - this union led to one of the series most famous catchphrases, which Nellie frequently declared about Lilo-Lil in a storm of rage; "She is a Tart!".

Eldest child Joey (Peter Howitt/Graham Bickley) was essentially the level-headed head of the household, with his leather trousers, classic Jaguar, and charming demeanour ("Greetings!" was his catchphrase), Joey was involved in tax fraud after making a fortune selling personalised number plates and not declaring this to the taxman. Throughout the series, Joey was in love with dour and demanding divorcee Roxy (Joanna Phillips-Lane), and he finally married her in the final series. The character was extremely popular for the first four series, with Peter Howitt considered the series' heart-throb and breakout star. However, following Howitt's decision to leave Bread to concentrate on directing and other acting opportunities, his replacement was not as popular with viewers, so the character was not used as prominently in the later series.

Second eldest child, Jack, was the thoughtful, sensitive type who ran an antique dealing business, often with disastrous results. Actor Victor McGuire was absent in series 4, and Jack went to America for a year. He returned in series 5 and eventually fell in love with an older woman, Leonora (Deborah Grant), who moved in across the road. Adrian (Jonathon Morris) was the theatrical poet, who had his poetry published ('My Granny's Bucket'). His real name was Jimmy, but he changed his name to Adrian which he considered "less common". He endured relationships with several highly-sexed women and is frequently seen emerging red-faced from the bushes. The youngest Boswell son, Billy (Nick Conway), is loud-mouthed, annoying and immature. He somehow manages to father Francesca with his miserable mistress Julie (Caroline Milmoe/Hilary Crowson) who lived across the road. Billy married Julie in series 3, but they were divorced by series 5, and Julie moved to Sefton Park (and left the series), leaving Billy devastated. Billy drove an old Volkswagen Beetle which constantly back-fired when driven, as well as a van from the back of which he sold sandwiches.

The only Boswell daughter is Aveline (Gilly Coman/Melanie Hill), a colourful and enduring model who eventually married Oswald Carter (Giles Watling) at the end of series 4. He is a protestant vicar, which provides much outrage for the staunch catholic Nellie, and after trying to conceive throughout series 5, Aveline eventually gives birth to Ursula in series 6.

Next door is grumpy and permanently hungry Grandad (Kenneth Waller). It is not made explicitly clear in the series whether he is Nellie's or Freddie's father as he is only ever referred to as Grandad. However, in a fleeting sequence in an episode from series 4, Freddie is arrested for stealing his rubbish cart. When the family arrive at the Police Station to collect him, Nellie refers to Freddie as Grandad's son-in-law, the only time she ever says this, which confirms that Grandad was in fact Nellie's father. He appeared in all seven series, and was in the last episode's final scene, alongside Jean Boht. Grandad was frequently seen telling people to "Piss off!", and reminiscing about his childhood sweetheart Edie Matteson.

There are also several notable supporting characters seen throughout the series; the deadpan Department of Health and Social Security clerk Martina (Pamela Power) spent all seven series enduring the various tales spun by the Boswell's to get more dole money. She perfected her catchphrase "Next!" but ultimately failed to snare her favourite Boswell, 'Shifty' (Bryan Murray), after several attempts at a relationship with him. Shifty arrived in series 4, ostensibly to cover Jack's absence in the series. However, Shifty stayed on in Bread after Jack's return and lived next door with Grandad until the end of the sixth series.

Other neighbours include Celia Higgins, played by Rita Tushingham, during series 4. And in series 6 and 7, Leonora Campbell (Debra Grant) moved into Julie's old house and eventually began dating Jack.

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"). Liverpudlians at the time largely referred to money as "dough". 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 that would be followed by a series of frantic "Thank You"s when it was Derek (Peter Byrne), Nellie's secret park-bench pal, on the other end; 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.


Regular charactersEdit

Actor Role Episodes Duration Years
Jean Boht Nellie Boswell 74 1–7 1986–91
Ronald Forfar Freddie Boswell 62 1–6 1986–90
Peter Howitt Joey Boswell 39 1–1988 Christmas Special 1986–88
Graham Bickley 35 5–7 1989–91
Victor McGuire Jack Boswell 61 1–3, 5–7 1986–87, 1989–91
Jonathon Morris Adrian Boswell 74 1–7 1986–91
Gilly Coman Aveline Boswell 39 1–1988 Christmas Special 1986–88
Melanie Hill 35 5–7 1989–91
Nick Conway Billy Boswell 74 1–7 1986–91
Kenneth Waller Grandad 73 1–7 1986–91
Bryan Murray Cousin Shifty 49 4–6 1988–91
Pamela Power Martina 37 1–6 1986–90
Eileen Pollock Lilo Lil 43 3–7 1987–91
Joanna Phillips-Lane Roxy 19 3-7 1987-91
Caroline Milmoe Julie Jefferson 12 1–2 1986–87
Hilary Crowson 41 3–5 1987–89
Giles Watling Oswald Carter 49 4–7 1988–91
Rita Tushingham Celia Higgins 11 4 1988
Deborah Grant Leonora Campbell 19 6–7 1990–91

Guest appearancesEdit

  • Linda McCartney was friends with writer Carla Lane and had a guest appearance in series 4, episode 7 (1988). Her husband, Paul, appeared briefly at the end of the episode, offering Linda a lift home.[5]
  • Supporting characters 'Yizzell' and 'Yizzell's mate' were played by Charles Lawson and Simon Rouse from 1986 to 1989. Both went onto greater fame, with Lawson starring in Coronation Street on-and-off for thirty years as Jim McDonald, and Rouse going on to star in The Bill as DCI Jack Meadows from 1990 through to the end of the series in August 2010.


Series Original broadcast date
1 1986
2 1987
3 1987
4 1988
Christmas special 25 December 1988
5 1989
Christmas special 25 December 1989
6 1990
Christmas special 25 December 1990
7 1991



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, and most of the featured stories were of a generic nature, not following the continuity of the television series and mostly just using the characters to tell simple joke stories .

After the series had finished, a stage play of the show entitled "Bread – The Farewell Slice" toured the UK.

Also following the end of the series, Jonathon Morris announced his desire for a follow-up series about his character, theatrical poet Adrian, feeling that the character 'had a lot of potential and a lot of stories yet to tell beyond the Bread setting', and suggested the premise of Adrian moving down to London in hopes of cracking the bigger theatrical scene. He proposed his idea to the BBC and even announced his hopes for the series during an appearance in March 1991 on Saturday morning programme Going Live![7] as filming for the final series of Bread was drawing to a close. The BBC declined on the suggestion; Morris went on to co-write a one-man play based around Adrian which he intended tour with, and also in hope of using it as an example to the BBC of what could be done with the character. The project was eventually dropped, due to ownership rights for the character with Carla Lane. However the effort was not completely detrimental to Morris, as his enthusiasm led to Going Live! host Phillip Schofield recommending Morris for his replacement as presenter for Children's BBC series The Movie Game, a position which Morris went on to fill[8].

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.[2]

In 1989, at the height of Bread's success, the departure of two of the series leading actors, Peter Howitt as Joey, and Gilly Coman as Aveline, led to the characters being re-cast. The replacement actors attracted criticism for not playing the parts as well as their predecessors, and this damaged the programme's ratings[citation needed]. Bread was also criticised several times in both the Radio Times and on Points of View for its bad language before the 9pm watershed - Grandad's catchphrase "Piss off!" was often the cause of complaints.

DVD releasesEdit

All seven series of the sitcom were released onto DVD in 2014.


  1. ^ "BBC – Comedy Guide – Bread". 29 December 2004. Archived from the original on 29 December 2004. Retrieved 8 February 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  2. ^ a b Jones, Bronwyn (3 June 2016). "Carla Lane's sitcom Bread and its legacy in Liverpool". Retrieved 6 February 2017 – via
  3. ^ Newcomb, Horace; Newcomb, Lambdin Kay Distinguished Professor for the Peabody Awards Horace (3 February 2014). Encyclopedia of Television. Routledge. ISBN 9781135194727. Retrieved 6 February 2017 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Huq, Rupa (15 August 2013). Making Sense of Suburbia Through Popular Culture. A&C Black. ISBN 9781780932248. Retrieved 6 February 2017 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Badman, Keith (1999). The Beatles : After the Break Up. Omnibus Press. p. 409. ISBN 978-0-711-97520-0.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "BBC One London, 30 March 1991". 30 March 1991. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  8. ^ "The Movie Game, BBC One London, 3 April 1991". 3 April 1991. Retrieved 14 June 2018.

External linksEdit