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A Family At War - Series 1 [DVD]

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Manchester’s Central station, long closed by the time the series was made, was brought to life again with set decoration, smoke and sound effects – but no trains. The producer, the series planner and the designer needed all this knowledge in advance to organise their work.

A point which was brought out (I wish I could remember the title of the book) is that British and American troops related far better to the defeated Germans, and fraternised more with them, than they related to the vast numbers of bedraggled, starving released Jews, slave labourers, Russian prisoners-of-war and other displaced persons. The cast also included Barbara Flynn as the marginally less morose Freda Ashton, a hotel receptionist; Colin Campbell as eldest child David Ashton; and Coral Atkins as Sheila Ashton, David’s sad deserted wife always trying to do her best for her two children, Peter and Janet. My mode of viewing the programme swung between the ‘bingeing’ often seen as characteristic of contemporary TV-on-DVD viewing practices, with several episodes watched in one sitting, and an alternative way of consuming the series that came closer to replicating its original weekly pacing, engendering a far slower rate of progression which actually seemed more appropriate for its subject matter, the duration of the Second World War from the fears of 1938 right through to V. This is the story of the Ashton family from Liverpool and their experiences just before, during and just after WW2.The situation is interesting: a large family – we’re almost in Victorian novel territory – but the setting is Liverpool, which I think was then perhaps unfamiliar to many television audiences. Critics at the time sometimes complained of ‘women’s magazine atmospherics’ (Daily Mail, 21 January 1971), or that the show’s appeal replicated that of ‘the women’s magazines my mother used to read’ (Daily Express, 12 November 1970) or even that its narrative catalysts were nothing more than ‘the puny domestic bombshells that trigger off all soap opera, in fact. Meanwhile, brother Charlie, who took over the family business, was in a reserved occupation, but his wild activities and photographic records bring a new perspective of wartime Lerwick, the town's key part in the war, and the lives of these remarkable young men and women.

However, among the impressive line-up of prestige drama production that was cited in the programme, including Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown and Prime Suspect, no mention at all was made of one of Granada’s biggest hits of its formative years: the epic series A Family at War (1970 to 1972) . It’s unusual in many ways, identifying the German point of view … you’d have to wait for The Book Thief to find similar. Coral Atkins, who played Sheila (terrified of her kids being evacuated in the series) was an unhappy evacuee herself in the war.

To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. We’d been wondering where Philip had gone … there are many reasons why characters get written out of long term series, and plot is only one of them.

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