1 9 8 9 – 2 0 0 6 (UK)
The first episode of children’s drama serial Byker Grove was shown on 8 November 1989. It was created by Andrea Wonfor and Adele Rose and written by Rose – an experienced writer on Coronation Street.
When home counties teenager Julie (Lucy Walsh) moved with her family to Newcastle, she immediately hated her new home, until she met new friends at Byker Grove – a youth club run by the extravagantly moustached, no-nonsense Geoff Keegan (Billy Fane).
This was the device used to introduce viewers to a gang of North Eastern youths who dabbled in all the usual vices but enjoyed lasting friendships along the way. The Grove was something of a surrogate family for waifs and strays, several of whose members were fostered by ‘Aunty’ Lou Gallagher (Anne Orwin).
Touchy subjects including death, homosexuality, racism, teenage marriage, divorce, joyriding and homelessness were all tackled during the series’ long run, which put Tyneside – and Geordie accents – firmly on the kids’ TV map.
Predictably the very popular teenage soap also had its pop successes. Characters ‘PJ’ and Duncan (launch-pad characters for children’s TV presenters Ant and Dec) enjoyed an extended run of hit singles and Love Your Sexy . . . !! was a minor hit in 1994 for Byker Grooove! (Vicky Taylor, Jayni Hoy and Donna Air).
PJ (Anthony McPartlin) was accidentally blinded in a paintball fight. This moral stance – stressing the consequences of actions -was a feature of the series: loudmouth Gillespie was killed joyriding while Greg Watson was left in a wheelchair after a fall while evading arrest.
Perhaps saddest of all was the descent of Amanda Bewick (Gemma Graham) into drug addiction, overdose and teenage pregnancy, before being forced to give up her baby for adoption as an unfit mother.
For all the humour and pop music, the show will be remembered for hard-hitting storylines. Noddy’s (Brett Adams) gay kiss on startled friend Gary caused a storm, as did teenager Leanne’s baby and Kylie’s self-harming compulsions.
Other tragedies included Flora’s death from a cancerous brain tumour. The death of Grove leader Geoff in 2000 in an oxygen gas explosion marked the end of an era.
Byker Grove fell victim to a new Children’s BBC edict that programmes were now to be aimed at the under-elevens, and a slick but lightweight final run aired in 2006 on the digital CBBC channel only.
Byker Grove was mainly shot in one building, once a bishop’s palace and later a nightclub, where the sets were permanent.
Peter ‘PJ’ Jenkins
Roger Lloyd Pack
David Oliver (1)
Oliver Stone (2)