Ever recalled something so fleeting from your childhood that years later you wondered if you had imagined it?
Well for a while I did wonder if I had dreamt up Streets Apart before realising that it did in fact exist! This BBC sitcom, written by Adrienne Conway, was first shown in 1988, starring the late James Hazeldine and a virtually unrecogniseable Amanda Redman, as childhood sweethearts, Bernie and Sylvia, who reunite twenty years later only to discover that their lives have taken completely different paths: Bernie is now a black cab driver and widowed father of two, while Sylvia, having worked hard to escape her East End roots, works as a successful literary agent and has a plush central London home. So I set about watching all twelve episodes of Streets Apart again – and I’m so glad I did.
Only two series of this superb comedy were made and I don’t believe they were ever repeated again on BBC1 (who says the Beeb are famous for a never ending string of repeats?) despite, from what I understand, the show pulling in between ten to twelve million viewers per week. Streets Apart used to be shown on Wednesday nights (I think!) and although my memories of the show were quite hazy, I’m amazed now by how many OMG!-I remember-that moments I encountered while watching the show again. I even had flashbacks to my mum and aunt commenting on Sylvia’s hair and wardrobe virtually every episode. Oh the eighties!
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Streets Apart again twenty five years later and laughed out loud at some extremely hilarious moments: Bernie picking up a fare who wanted to go to Torquay but pronounced it ‘Turkey’; Sylvia talking seductively over the phone to her bewildered assistant Tiffany in an attempt to make Bernie jealous; Cliff’s sister making a play for Bernie – who only had eyes for Sylvia. The first time i watched the show, I felt quite sympathetic towards Bernie’s daughter, Mandy, even thought she came across as quite bratty. Watching for the second time as Mandy conspired to keep Bernie away from a-far-from-maternal and seemingly stuck -up Sylvia, I still sympathised with Mandy as I watched her determination to hang on to family life as she knew it.
Spoilt and snooty some of the characters may have appeared but all the characters are likeable in their own way and there is something quite touching in the close bonds that are formed between Bernie and Sylvia and their respective best friends Cliff and Jenny as the latter two provide the necessary support and encouragement that their friends need in order to resume their relationship.
Watching Streets Apart again and feeling that connection to my childhood and the 1980s struck such a chord with me. I could also relate to Sylvia’s desire to make something of herself and of her love of the literary world. There was so much that was familiar to me that I actually wanted to climb inside my TV set and be transported back to the 1980s. If only it were that simple.
It’s such as shame that only two series of Streets Apart were made before the show was cancelled. There was so much that could have been done in in terms of storyline and character development. Viewers were left hanging after watching the penultimate show; deliberately intended, I’m sure, just in case a third series should be commissioned. However, I’m optimistic enough to think that Bernie and Sylvia did make it work despite their differences. It would have been worth commissioning another series if only to hear that bittersweet theme tune sung beautifully by Neil Lockwood.
Despite being moving, funny and very well written by the very talented Conway, with stars Hazeldine, Redman and Desmond MacNamara all achieving a great level of fame, Streets Apart never reached the same iconic comedy status as Only Fools and Horses or the equally short lived but extremely popular Fawlty Towers and I cannot understand why as more than two decades later it’s still very watchable and nowhere near as dated as you may think. I’d like to think that it’s streets ahead of a lot of the drivel that passes for comedy today. They certainly don’t make them like that anymore.
Photo courtesy of Adrienne Conway