Let’s be honest, was there a member of Bread’s Boswell clan who you didn’t find intensely annoying? Could you really say that Nellie shouting ‘SHE – IS – A – TART!’ was still funny the second (and the twentieth, and the one hundred and thirty third) time she did it? Was Aveline (who dressed and spoke like a four year old with access to a drag queen’s wardrobe) as hilarious as you first thought when you watched her teeter about ditsily throughout every episode? How much did you want to punch Adrian in the face when he started droning on about being a misunderstood poet? Billy (who whined and stropped like a particularly stupid toddler) needed a good slapping every time he ran back to his mother to escape real life. Joey was meant to be the suave and sophisticated one but, this being the nineteen eighties, meant that he thought all he needed to achieve this was a leather jacket, a mobile phone the size of a microwave and highlighted hair. Not a personality then.
There were three characters in the show that I had time for. Freddie Boswell was one; not because he was interesting, or intelligent or amusing, but simply because he had realised how irritating his entire family were and chose to leave the marital home to escape them. OK, so he had to have an affair with a woman whose hair was the colour of baked beans and the texture of a Brillo Pad to do this, but he still managed to get out. I quite liked Jack; he was down to earth and had a sensible haircut. And how could you dislike Grandad, who at least had the sense to live in a different house, was always rude to everybody and occasionally wore a bowler hat?
The Boswells lived in Kelsall Street, in Liverpool; Nellie (Jean Boht) had very firmly become the strong and shouty head of the household once her hapless husband Freddie (Ronald Forfar) had left (although he was so inept that she probably had been in charge when he was there anyway) and the show followed them (her five adult children still lived at home – I don’t know how Ma Boswell coped with that, my son’s only three but during his tantrum-y moments where I often find myself wondering how long it will be until he moves out) as they tried to stay financially afloat through whatever means necessary. And by that, I mean they obtained cash from sources which featured on a sliding scale from only just legitimate to actually quite dodgy indeed. Which marks Nellie out as a bit of a hypocrite; she was always harping on about being a devout Catholic but she would happily accept (or at least would pretend not to know where it came from) money achieved from less than honest means. Joey (Peter Howitt) brought in the most cash, although nobody knew how he obtained it – he left the house in the evenings wearing a tux but would keep where he was going secret. If I had to guess, based on his wooden countenance, I would say he was taking shifts as a mannequin in a 24hr branch of Moss Bros.
Along with a bit of ducking and diving there were also frequent attempts to swindle money out of the Government, and many scenes took place in the local DHSS office. The same clerk, Martina (a name more glamorous than her actual appearance) would serve them every time, and the fury, and biting sarcasm that she aimed at the family would increase each time she had to listen to another of their inventive claims.
Whilst Freddie no longer lived in Kelsall Street he was a regular visitor to the house; Nellie was not prepared to forgive his infidelity with Lilo Lil (Eileen Pollock) - because ‘SHE-IS-A-TART!’ don’t forget – she never got round to cutting him out of her life forever. And she couldn’t say she was doing it for the kids as they were all adults, so you could conclude that she still had a smidgeon of love for him (must have been his hair, which seemed to have been modelled on Einstein). Freddie didn’t help matters by frequently wavering between the two women; he was torn between the stability of Nellie and being part of the family once again and the free-spiritedness and passion of his flame-coiffured lover. Lil was not adverse to public displays of affection, and many times she was heard to shout ‘I love you Freddie Boswell!’ at his departing figure.
Cousin Shifty (Bryan Murray) turned up to relieve the monotony in series four. Fresh from prison he moved into Grandad’s (Kenneth Waller) house and proceeded to live off a combination of dismal jobs and his acts of petty crime. He actually had more of a personality than all the other Boswells combined, so although the character was only brought in originally to fill a space when Jack (Victor McGuire) went on lengthy trip to the US (read: McGuire decided he could do better), Shifty proved popular and so stayed on as part of the extended Boswell tribe after Jack returned (read: McGuire realised he couldn’t). Rita Tushingham played Celia, his ex-girlfriend for a short while, but his main love interest was Martina, the aforementioned DHSS grump. Shifty didn’t treat her too well however - using her whenever he felt like it and lying to her without blinking to get out of any situation he wasn’t comfortable in – and after much heartache she broke off the relationship. However, Shifty had a twinkly charm all of his own and that, plus his many promises that he would change, encouraged her to change her obviously tiny mind later on.
Bread (the title of the show referred to slang for money - ‘bread and honey’) was yet another ‘tragi-com’ from Carla Lane (Butterflies, The Liver Birds, Bless This House), although with this one she added to the ‘jokes’ with a healthy dose of ‘Scousers are on the rob’ stereotyping as well!
It ran for seven series (74 episodes) on BBC1, from May 1986 until November 1991, and after a dodgy ratings start (probably in part down to a lot of hacked off Liverpudlians) it suddenly went stellar by the third. Vision-in-day-glo Aveline’s unlikely wedding to vicar Oswald in December 1988 was watched by over 21 million people, rivalling the Beeb’s other hit show, Eastenders and actually more than the number of UK football fans watching the World Cup final that year. Music royalty Paul McCartney and his then wife, Linda, also had cameos in one episode. Peter Howitt left after series five, however, and his replacement – Graham Bickley – didn’t go down as well with all the Joey-lovin’ ladies in audience land. From then on the ratings never hit such high heights again.
The final episode ended with a couple of strands of happiness (there may have been more in this one than in the complete story preceding it actually); Jack’s girlfriend discovered she was pregnant and Joey decided to get married.
And then Bread finished. You might describe it now, I suppose, as Toast! (I could write a sitcom. I could.)