Home Television Drama A Family At War

A Family At War

1 9 7 0 – 1 9 7 2 (UK)
52 x 60 minute episodes

Throughout the 1970s, Granada earned a reputation for doom-laden dramas like Sam and The Stars Look Down, but it all began with John Finch’s A Family At War, a saga which suggested that happiness was something to be swept under the carpet – if you were lucky enough to have a carpet.

Granada’s most expensive-ever serial at the time, A Family At War was a dour series centred around the working class Ashton family of Liverpool, starting in 1938 and following the clan through the harsh realities of war.


The Ashton’s wallowed in worrying, revelled in rationing, and if there wasn’t any hardship one week they’d go down to the corner shop and buy some.

They had no place for namby-pamby emotions like jollity. The Ashton’s were born into misery – and that’s where they intended to stay.

The head of the family was Edwin Ashton, played by Colin Douglas, best remembered from Bonehead. Edwin was beholden at work to his pompous brother-in-law, Sefton Briggs (John McKelvey). Sefton and his sister, Edwin’s wife Jean, had inherited the family printing works.

The cast also included Barbara Flynn as the marginally less morose Freda Ashton, Colin Campbell as eldest child David Ashton and Coral Atkins as Sheila Ashton, a sad deserted wife always trying to do her best for her two children, Peter and Janet. In real-life, Coral Atkins ran a home for emotionally disturbed children.

School teacher Margaret married John Porter, who went missing in action, while 21-year-old Phillip fought in the Spanish Civil War.

Granada appealed to the public to send in their old gas-masks, ration books and identity cards and, for added authenticity, the cast had to have their hair cut to the short back and sides of the period.

A lot of actors refused parts in A Family At War for that very reason, and some extras walked off the set rather than have the snip. Keith Barron bravely took the plunge but confessed: “I can feel people’s eyes on the back of my head. They must think I’ve been inside”.

The series was so popular in Denmark it brought traffic to a standstill. The Ashton’s would have loved traffic jams – they make people so miserable.

Edwin Ashton 
Colin Douglas
Jean Ashton

Shelagh Fraser
Margaret Ashton/Porter

Lesley Nunnerley
Philip Ashton

Keith Drinkel
Sheila Ashton

Coral Atkins
David Ashton

Colin Campbell
Freda Ashton

Barbara Flynn
Robert Ashton

David Dixon
Sefton Briggs

John McKelvey
Tony Briggs
Trevor Bowen
John Porter

Ian Thompson
Celia Porter

Margery Mason
Harry Porter

Patrick Troughton
Ian McKenzie

John Nettles