1 9 7 3 – 1 9 7 6 (UK)
39 x 60 minute episodes
This 39-part saga from Granada told the story of Sam Wilson – a boy growing to manhood in the grim and impoverished Yorkshire mining village of Skellerton.
The first series opened in 1934 when Sam was a 10-year-old fatherless schoolboy in the poor Yorkshire village and traced his inevitable descent to the pit in 1938, at the age of 14.
Hundreds of Yorkshire schoolboys were interviewed before 14-year-old Kevin Moreton from Pontefract (pictured) was chosen to play the lead in the first 13 episodes as the young Sam.
The second series ranged from 1947 to 1952 with Sam now in his 20s (now played by Mark McManus), rebelling against the mines and escaping to the sea – and then returning to inherit property, sow his wild oats and go to work in an engineering factory.
As a young man, Sam had a reputation for sheer bloody-mindedness and antagonism towards authority in any form. His consequent reputation raised eyebrows in the community, and his grandfather, Jack Barraclough (Michael Goodliffe), viewed it all with disgust and foreboding.
Sam lived with Alan and Eileen Dakin (John Price and Dorothy White), sharing a bedroom with his illegitimate 13-year-old half-brother Leslie (Peter Brown), Alan’s son.
Eileen was jilted when Alan left her to live with Sam’s mother, Dora (Barbara Ewing). And when Alan disappeared from Skellerton after Dora died in childbirth, it was Eileen who looked after their son.
Alan returned to marry Eileen and hoped to shake off the memory of Dora. It proved impossible, and Alan became extremely morose, conscious that Eileen had given her life to a relationship from which she got little.
Hostility between Alan and Sam increased and frequently erupted viciously between them. Alan resented Sam’s closeness to the boy Leslie. For Sam, the relationship with his half-brother became one of the most important in his life. He saw in Leslie all the conflicts of his own childhood and sympathised with the boy’s subconscious reaction to illegitimacy, which made him withdrawn and isolated.
The other child growing up in the Barraclough circle was Pat (Jan Harvey), George and Ethel’s daughter, also 13.
A new breed of women emerged in Skellerton during the war, who dazzled and intimidated Sam: young, independent, self-assured girls who worked in factories or drove ambulances. They went into pubs with the boys, smoked cigarettes and drank gin and tonic.
There was also another sort of woman, uncharitably labelled “tarts”. And it was with one of these that George Barraclough (Ray Smith) became involved, launching into an affair that scandalised the community.
Her name was Jean Tufton (June Ritchie), and her story was typical of many women aged about 30, for whom life was little short of misery towards the end of the war. She was a war widow whose chances of remarriage, even at that age, were remote.
The third series began in 1960, with Sam, aged 36 and now married to the middle-class Sarah Corby (Jennifer Hilary), acquiring a 12-year-old son from her previous marriage and fathering two children of his own.
Facing the problems of their schooling and experiencing the itches of middle age, Sam now had a management role at the engineering works, a new Hillman Minx and some extra-marital interest in the shape of secretary Liz (Carol Drinkwater).
Finally, the series jumped seven years from 1963 to 1970.
The series won the TV Critics’ Award for the best series of 1973 and an award from Mary Whitehouse‘s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association as the year’s “outstanding family entertainment”.
Creator John Finch won the Writers’ Guild award for the best series writer of 1974.
Written and acted with conviction, it made glum viewing, especially when the action shifted from the adult Sam – played by Mark McManus (later to become Taggart), and Barbara Ewing and Ray Smith as his parents – to the grim-faced stoical grandfather Jack, the sharp-tongued, embittered, unbending ex-miner played by Michael Goodliffe.
This was certainly trooble-at-t’mill territory . . .
Kevin Moreton (1)
Mark McManus (2)
Sarah Wilson (nee Corby)