For those who spent the 805 glued to the telly, it was the
decade that the glamour of Dallas went head-to-head with
the grit of Brookside.
Words: Ellie Carr
IT WAS A GREAT TIME TO BE A SOAP FAN. CORONATION Street was part of the social fabric. as permanent and reliable as your mum‘s brown swirly carpet. Then into the breach like a delivery of trendy Habitat furniture came an epidemic of new serials (a word used by those in soap denial) that would create a New Soap Order for the 1980s.
By the end of the decade we could follow the daily lives of anyone from Liverpool scallies in daring new Channel 4‘s Brookside. through Aussie surf-gods languishing on the golden sands of Home And Away and Neighbours. to broad- shouldered oil barons on American import Dallas. If C ("we was a nice cup of tea. the New Soaps were the key to a mini—bar of exotic cocktails. intoxicating viewers with issues and lifestyles never before seen on TV. Soap fans suddenly had the world at their feet (or so it seemed) and a lot less time on their hands.
Like all popular dramas. the soaps of the 80s mirrored their times — and none more so than Dallas and Brookside. As similar as Bolinger and Buckfast. they sum up an era as
two-faced as Sue Ellen and Alexis Colby rolled into one. If
LR. Ewing: shooting was headline news
We watched Dallas for the ridiculously high scandal quota of affairs, family feuds, shootings, kidnappings and substance abuse.
these names mean nothing. you‘re too young to be reading this.
With Margaret Thatcher‘s ascent to the parliamentary throne in 1979. came a wave of greed that has come to be associated with yuppies and expensive shoulder-pads. EastEnc/ers’ Ian Beale was to become Britsoap‘s ultimate embodiment of the Thatcherite entrepreneur, but with him still in nappies. what better expression of early-80s values and aspirations than Dallas.
As the Ultimate Dallas Web site so delicately puts it. the Ewings of Southfork were a family more concerned than most with ‘power, ambition. seduction and betrayal‘. Back then there was no irony involved in tuning into a soap about oil-rich Texans for whom the pursuit of dollars. bigger desks and gold-plated bog-brushes were the only reason for living.
We watched it for the ridiculously high scandal quota of affairs. family feuds. shootings. kidnappings and substance abuse. The show had so many cliff—hangers. it was practically airborne. But let‘s face it. we also watched for the mini-mansion luxury of Southfork. the power- dressing and fast cars. It was aspirational viewing at its finest.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the soap that began as a five-episode mini-series in 1978. fizzled out in 1991 as we entered an age where excessive wealth began to look particularly vulgar.
Vulgarity played its part in Brookside too. During its first few episodes in l982. the fledgling soap notched up a record number of swear words. earning its broadcaster the nickname ‘Channel Swore‘. The show‘s creator. Phil Redmond. agreed to tone down the language. but the story. based round a Liverpool cul-de-sac where the residents were never more than a doorstep away from poverty and social problems. remained the same.
This was the other side of the 80s coin. While JR and Sue Ellen battled over the size of her dress allowance. Bronkie‘s Sheila and Bobby Grant fought over the weekly food bill. So big a part did real life play in early Brookside that Ricky Tomlinson. the actor who played Bobby Grant. had been imprisoned for militant trade union activities. This was a soap that lived in a world where mass unemployment, the Miner's Strike and the distant rumbling of the Poll Tax were real events.
Brookside has since mellowed and with rumours that the Dallas team are making a comeback with a new spin- off series. perhaps the soap bubble has come full circle. As the 80s come back into vogue. we may yet see Jimmy and Jackie Corkhill give No 5 Brookside Close a Southfork- style makeover. or even Jacqui Dixon going Stateside to become the new head of Ewing Oil. Stranger things have happened in the land of soap.
Shiela and Bobby Grant: living on the bread-line
Dallas is on UK Gold, weekdays, 11am 8: 2pm; vintage Brookside is on Living, Mon—Thu, 11.30am.