Back in 1980 ITV decided they needed some new daytime drama to spice up their schedules. The Sullivans, an Australian serial following the lives of an ordinary family during the Second World War, was continuing to pull in good ratings for most regions in the 12.30pm lunchtime slot. ATV’s medical soap General Hospital had been a hit and Granada’s legal drama Crown Court had set the quality bar high.
But something new was needed. Three soap operas were launched that year specifically aimed at the housewives, pensioners, invalids, students and unemployed who were at home during the day. One production, Take the High Road, came courtesy of Scottish Television and followed the folk of the rural highland village of Glendarroch. The show was a hit and would run for twenty three years.
ATV’s offering from the Midlands was a saga called For Maddie with Love, which explored the journey of Maddie (Nyree Dawn Porter) who discovered that she was terminally ill and had no hope of recovery. Although the premise might sound rather dour and was billed as a ‘sob opera’ by some unkind critics, the show proved popular due to its well written scripts and inspirational message that we must make the best of the time we have left. The show ran for two series but obviously had a limited life span given that its lead character had found herself on death row from day one.
The third melodrama to hit the small screen has been largely forgotten by the annals of TV history. The programme was called Together and went to air at one point live from the Southern Television studios in Southampton.
The action revolved around the lives of the troubled characters who resided in Rutherford Court, a modern block of sheltered accommodation flats which were run by a housing association. The warden in charge of the establishment was Lynne Webber (Sheila Fay), her husband Duggie (John Burgess) was the odd-job man about the place, and between them they had countless problems concerning the love life of their teenage daughter Tricia who was played by future Blue Peter presenter Sarah Greene.
Other inmates within the flats were a newlywed couple called Richard and Julie Dunn who began having difficulties after the honeymoon period wore off! Julie would soon find herself considering an abortion due to the dire state of their marriage, these scenes proved extremely realistic because the actors, Richard Everett and Gillian Bailey, were married in real-life.
In another apartment Sarah Cunningham (Delena Kidd) had moved in with her sister following a messy divorce, a nervous breakdown and a battle with the bottle was on the cards. These goings-on provided ample gossip for the other residents including a recently bereaved pensioner, a bossy retired hospital matron and an ex-London cab driver called Harry (Victor Maddern) who had a roving eye.
Newspaper critics have historically been rather snooty about television ‘soap operas,’ mainly because they don’t understand the art form, but in the case of Together they were largely positive about it prior to its launch. This was due to the fact that it was produced by Southern Television who were viewed as one of the more highbrow commercial broadcasters and because writers such as Alfred Shaughnessy and Rosemary Anne Sisson of Upstairs, Downstairs fame were on-board. It should be noted that a young Phil Redmond who went on to create hit series such as Brookside and Hollyoaks was also part of the writing team. Bryan Izzard who was well known as a producer/director of sitcoms such as On the Buses, Not on Your Nellie, and Doctor on the Go, was drafted in to produce the serial so a good dose of humour was hopefully on the cards to lighten the mood of the show.
The series was scheduled to run at 1.30pm every Thursday and Friday, once it had premiered on 24 January 1980 the critics reverted to type with one soon reporting, “two characters have a picnic in the potting shed and Duggie is asked to decorate one of the flats – they are today’s highlights.” Once again the critics proved themselves to be out of step with what the viewer’s actually wanted to watch.
The critics were clearly not watching on a regular basis because things hit fever pitch when the true nature of the relationship between rail steward Trevor Wallace (Paul Hastings) and nursing assistant Peter Hunt (Stephen Churchett) was exposed and some of the residents questioned if two homosexuals sharing a flat should be tolerated! The first series was recorded ‘as live’ near transmission, giving the characters a chance to reference topical issues within the dialogue.
A second series was screened in 1981, which went out live on ITV, with a new title song being sung by Cleo Laine but the writing was on the wall because Southern Television had lost their franchise to service viewers in the South East of England. Together ended production after 50 episodes (two of which are missing, along with an un-aired pilot ‘People Together‘).
No episodes of Together have been released on DVD to date but this brief clip is available on the TV Ark website. (scroll down page)
If you feel like a trip down memory lane other titles mentioned within this article are available for purchase. The complete series of The Sullivans is being made available on DVD in Australia and can be purchased in the UK via Amazon, as can episodes of Take the High Road. The first series of General Hospital and seven DVD volumes of Crown Court can be purchased from Network DVD, who have also included one episode of For Maddie with Love on their Soap Box compilation DVD.
Photo top: Sheila Fay and Sarah Greene in Together, Southern Television. Middle: For Maddie With Love, ATV Network. Bottom: Phil Redmond, on the outdoor location of soap Brookside for The Tube, Tyne Tees Television.
With thanks to David Ganson Steven and Dale Stafford for some material. Southern Television is the trademark of Nic Ayling.