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 (Colin Douglas, best remembered from Bonehead).
Edwin was the poorly-paid assistant manager of a small printing works owned by his wife’s family, beholden at work to his pompous widowed brother-in-law, Sefton Briggs (John McKelvey) who inherited the business with his sister, Edwin’s wife Jean (Shelagh Fraser).
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.
Schoolteacher Margaret (Lesley Nunnerley) married John Porter (Ian Thompson), who went missing in action, while 21-year-old Oxford-graduate Phillip (Keith Drinkel) 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.
Coral Atkins witnessed the distress of a young child in foster care while appearing at a charity event one day. Despite furious battles with authorities, and while pursuing her hectic career in Family At War, Atkins went on to revolutionise the fostering system.
Her determination to help children whom the system had failed led her to buy a rambling country house, which she transformed into a home where many children experienced real affection for the first time.