Carla Lane’s sitcom Bread and its legacy in Liverpool – BBC News
Carla Lane, who has died aged 87, was perhaps best known for creating the popular 1980s sitcom Bread, set in her home city of Liverpool. But while for many viewers the trials and tribulations of the Boswell family were simply a slice of early evening entertainment, Liverpudlians had a far more complex relationship with the show.
Its depiction of the working-class Boswells struggling to make their way in Thatcher’s Britain was pilloried for stereotyping Scousers as much as it was praised for its humorous portrayal of life in Liverpool.
There’s no doubt that 1980s Merseyside was blighted by deprivation, high unemployment and poor prospects, with the docking industry in decline and dole queues out the door.
Bread captured that troubled period through the Boswells’ daily grind to fill the family kitty – and reached huge audiences, with more than 21m viewers tuning in to watch Aveline marry Protestant vicar Oswald in 1988.
But at the same time it painted the city in the national imagination as home to workshy, benefit-cheating dossers.
A TV critic for The Times picked up on this, writing in 1986 that Bread “reinforces the cultural stereotype of the inhabitants of that self-destructive city as a bunch of spongers abusing the welfare state”.
The Liverpool Echo’s former TV editor Peter Grant agrees that Bread “didn’t do the city any great favours”.
He said the characters were “cartoon-esque” and could have survived “without that backdrop of being scroungers” but that “if people took it too seriously, they were missing the point” as humour was at the heart of the show.
Ultimately, though, Grant believes Bread “didn’t do any long-lasting damage” to the city. And he remembers fondly the thrill he got at the time from “seeing the River Mersey”, nudging his dad to say: “We’re on the telly!”.
“It was like a postcard to the rest of the country from Liverpool,” Grant says.
Peter Howitt, who played leather-clad Joey, the oldest of the Boswell children, has an even more positive take on the programme, remembering his time in Bread with happiness.
He said: “It was a joy to be in Liverpool” and “to be appreciated by the local community”, who “loved” the show.
Howitt’s view is that Lane had an “incredible take on human nature” and her writing “was geared to make you think about where you are and where you’d like to be”.
All of the Bread family, he argues, “wanted to be somewhere they weren’t quite yet – so how are they going to get there?”
Nick Conway, who played youngest son Billy, said Lane “just used to be able to encapsulate Scouse humour” and “there was an honesty behind her portrayal of families and their relationships with each other”.
For Merseyside author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce, many shows – often made in the city – have contributed to a negative image of Liverpool, but he thinks Bread was “warm-hearted”.
“A lot of comedy now is quite cold but Bread was funny and quick and still had a heart.”
He said Lane gave “lots of opportunities to Liverpool actors and writers” and “left a legacy of talent,” adding that “she was not a spokesperson for the city… that was “not her responsibility”.
And the stereotyping of Liverpool that some see in Bread was hardly unique to the show.
From a city crippled by unemployment in Boys from the Blackstuff, to a crime-ridden drug-den in BBC documentary Mersey Blues, you would think there was no aspiration or opportunity in Liverpool.
But what did Lane herself make of the impact of her creation?
Speaking years after the show – which ran from 1986 to 1991 – had come to an end, she said she felt its critics had misunderstood Bread.
“I just didn’t take any notice because you can’t… there were enough people loving it,” she said.
“Everything I wrote was what I knew.
“The whole of this country was talking about Liverpool and I didn’t do any disfavours to Liverpool.
“I mean, the Bread family were a good family. They didn’t do anything terrible at all.”