Back in the 70s, this television programme broadcast on ITV was a popular one in my family. It tells the story of one extended family at the start of the Second World War and follows them through the war years to peacetime, with the inevitable loss of family members on the way.
My young self was most interested in the idea of war and it was hard, back then, to see that the title was a metaphor and a pun and that the home front was very different from the war films of my youth. However, the story of one family was compelling. Britain is obsessed with class and, while the distinctions may be disappearing, they were quite clear back then.
The Ashton family live in Liverpool. Edwin, the father, has moved up the social ladder, mostly because of his marriage to Jean whose brother owns a business. Promotion at the factory seems assured but it is his nephew who is brought in above him, putting him firmly in his place. Interestingly, his nephew is closer to his uncle than to his own single father and the two households are often shown in contrast to each other; the wealthy Briggs family has little of the heart shown in the Ashton household where four sons and daughters fill the house.
The accents of the four younger Ashtons vary but the sense of upwardly mobile people in a world where barriers have been shaken by the war is a strong element.
Ultimately, the programme’s strength is showing family dynamics when under pressure. Jon Finch wrote the series. His later television series ‘Sam’ set in an earlier time also showed families fracturing under difficult circumstances. As with most dramas made back in the 70s, it was mostly studio based so the sense of it being a city as large as Liverpool was minimised.
‘A Family at War’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?