Children's Ward Series One Review
Running for an unprecedented twelve seasons, Children's Ward was one of the most successful children's dramas of the 90s. It began life in 1988 as a single play entitled Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night in the Dramarama anthology series. This and the subsequent series were created for Granada by Kay Mellor and Paul Abbott who have both gone on to have significant careers as writer-producers in British telly. Mellor has specialised in issue-driven family dramas, usually starring her daughter Gaynor Faye, Abbott is best known these days for creating Shameless. The first series proper of Children's Ward aired in Spring 1989 and ran to thirteen 25-minute episodes. This 2-disc set also includes the original single play Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night . The premise is simple - take a slice of life in one children's ward in a hospital in the North of England. Aimed at older children, the series wasn't just an involving drama but was also issue-driven examining topics that affected children in the UK at the time. The first series includes themes of teen alcoholism, anorexia and parental abandonment.
As is the case with all hospital dramas, it brings together a disparate bunch of strangers from all walks of life all with ready-made dramatic storylines attached. Their interactions and growing friendships and rivalries form the core of the action. The children's medical problems take a back seat except when they erupt to the fore as Dark Secrets are revealed in the later episodes. As a counterpoint we have the soapier storylines of the permanent adult staff who tend to bicker a lot and fancy each other, much like in any workplace. As this series was aimed at a teen audience the core cast of child characters tend to be early-to-mid teens with a few young uns chucked in for added cuteness. Older kids also allows storylines that wouldn't be appropriate for a younger audience such as drug addiction, alcoholism, pregnancy etc.
As with any drama with a large child cast you aren't going to find the highest standards of acting. Most of the young cast range from adequate to not-too-bad. They are led by a young Tim Vincent as the truculent alcoholic Billy, Jennifer Luckraft as the scarily upbeat Keely (who has a Dark Secret) and a mostly-comatose Rebecca Callard (billed as Rebecca Sowden). There is, however, one young actor whose cheeky charisma and talent blaze out from the rest and that's an 11-year-old William Ash who has since gone on to have a very successful career as an adult actor. Rebecca Callard, daughter of Beverley Callard aka Liz-from-Corrie, had other significant roles as a child actor and is soon to join the cast of Corrie. Strangely enough though, there is no sign of Gaynor Faye who seems to be contractually obliged to appear in all of her mother's TV works. Of the adult cast, Andrew Hall (recently Corrie's cross-dresser Marc/Marcia) holds everything together as the permanently harassed Nurse Dave who also carries a torch for Dr Charlotte (Carol Harvey). She is unfortunately engaged to another man and, although a compassionate doctor, is astonishingly bad-tempered with the kids which 'would never be allowed now'. Bridging the gap between the adults-in-charge and the kids is Tim Stanley as the teenage Nurse Gary who is a bit of an idiot but has the empathy with the children that the older adults lack.
Speaking of 'would never be allowed now', it's quite amusing to a 21st century adult's eyes to see how the kids in Children's Ward are treated compared to our modern high-parental-intervention world. Their parents seem happy to hand them over to the hospital for weeks on end with only sporadic visits and they seem to have no say in their children's treatment. Dr Charlotte regularly shouts at them like a bad-tempered teacher. One little abandoned boy, whose wayward father turns up out of the blue to take him home, is handed over without the father being asked for any proof of identity and without the slightest hint of Social Services or even any paperwork being involved. But this is a children's drama after all and these things make no difference to the target audience, as long as a good story is told. As far as the storylines are concerned each one is resolved satisfactorily and one in particular has a most unexpected bittersweet outcome.
Transfer and Sound
Most of the episodes are shot entirely in the studio on tape. There are also occasional forays onto location on film. The master tapes are in excellent shape and picture quality is as good as you could want for a late-80s show. The dialogue is clear and comprehensible and is helped by the kids' tendency to shout all their lines.
You could consider the inclusion of the original one-off play as an extra.
I watched this out of sheer curiosity having never seen it but being aware of its reputation. After an indifferent start, it becomes curiously involving and I felt really drawn into the lives and fates of the characters. I can't say how relevant this would be to modern teenagers, but to me it became a compulsive and very entertaining light drama. I recommend it highly.