It’s hard to believe that half a century has passed since the much-loved series Family at War first appeared on our TV screens.
The ITV drama, charting the troubled lives of the middle-class Ashton family in Liverpool throughout World War II, ran for 52 episodes from 1970 to 1972.
Even though it was set in Merseyside, Family at War was produced by Granada Television in Manchester – and it was not alone.
The popular Liverpool sitcom Watching, starring Merseyside actresses Emma Wray and Lisa Tarbuck, also came out of Granada studios from 1987 to 1993.
In addition, a whole posse of Merseyside performers featured in Manchester-produced programmes in the 1970s and 80s, ranging from Craig Charles in the sci-fi series Red Dwarf to Tony Booth in the short-lived soap Albion Market.
Margi Clarke starred as Queenie in the 1989 factory drama Making Out, and Toxteth actress Jean Alexander played the irrepressible Hilda Ogden in perennial favourite Coronation Street.
Wallasey actor Geoffrey Hughes was Hilda’s lovable but accident-prone lodger Eddie Yeats and Sue Jenkins played barmaid Gloria Todd in 238 episodes from 1985 to 1988.
Just for good measure, Merseyside funnymen Stan Boardman, George Roper, Tom O’Connor, Jim Bowen, Mick Miller, Jackie Hamilton and Brookside’s Vince Earl all appeared on the Granada TV show The Comedians which ran from 1971 to 1992.
Back in 1970, the opening titles of Family at War showed a sandcastle slowly being washed away on a beach, signifying Britain standing alone during the Second World War.
The plot revolved around three Merseyside families. Principal character Edwin Ashton, played by Colin Douglas, worked for a printing company owned by his wife’s brother. Edwin’s wife Jean was portrayed by Shelagh Fraser.
There were five Ashton children. One fought for the Left in the Spanish Civil while another joined the RAF, bringing a wide mix of political viewpoints to the family’s daily life.
All but seven episodes of Family at War were shot in the early days of colour TV. The black and white episodes were the result of technicians refusing to handle new colour equipment.
The sitcom Watching started life as a sketch about a shy birdwatcher and a streetwise girl written by Jim Hitchmough at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre. Granada commissioned a seven-part series to be broadcast at 10.00pm on Sundays.
The lead role of Malcolm was played by Paul Bown while Emma Wray, born in Birkenhead, portrayed Liverpool girl Brenda. She and her sister Pamela (Lisa Tarbuck) loved people watching – hence the sitcom’s title.
Malcolm’s home at Meols on the Wirral was shared with his domineering mother played by Patsy Byrne – later to appear as Nursey in Blackadder II.
Perry Fenwick, who found national fame as Billy Mitchell on EastEnders, portrayed Malcolm’s colleague Terry Milton.
After a series of comic mishaps, including Malcolm actually marrying another woman, Brenda and Malcolm eventually get married in the final episode entitled ‘Knotting’.
Watching moved from its late-night Sunday slot to 8.00pm on Friday nights and regularly drew an audience of more than 13 million viewers.
The theme tune What Does He See in Me, written by Charles Hart, was sung by Wray.
Long-running sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, produced in Manchester, first aired on BBC Two in 1988 with Liverpool actor and presenter Craig Charles as principal character Dave Lister.
The low-ranking technician woke up after three million years in suspended animation aboard the mining spacecraft Red Dwarf to find he was the only living human.
Charles, who grew up on the Cantril Farm housing estate, also portrayed Lloyd Mullaney on Coronation Street from 2005 to 2011.
Liverpool actor Tony Booth had already played Malcolm Wilkinson in Coronation Street when he was whisked into Granada’s ailing soap Albion Market in 1986.
Along with singer Helen Shapiro, it was hoped Booth would bring some zest into the drama, but it proved not to be. Albion Market was cancelled after just 100 episodes.
Kirby actress Margi Clarke was compelling as Queenie, the straight-talking leader of the factory women in the BBC Manchester comedy-drama Making Out. It was broadcast from 1989 to 1991.
Some of the scrapes and adventures she encountered with her petty criminal husband Chunky, played by Brian Hibbard of pop band the Flying Pickets, were TV poetry.
One memorable episode saw the pair in a local Latin-American dance competition which featured a cameo appearance by football manager Tommy Docherty.
*Fascinating wartime images of Merseyside feature in Clive Hardy’s latest hardback book, The Home Front – Britain 1939-45.
It’s now on sale for £14.99 plus UK postage and packing. Just go to inostalgia.co.uk/shop to order or call the order hotline on 01928 503777. And remember – buy three books and get 25 per cent off!