Remember Children’s Ward TV Series? That tea time telly treat for all 90s teens?
Lasting for eleven years, the series spanned the entire 90s, running from 1989 through to its final episode in the year 2000. Clearly it couldn’t survive into the new millennium, but looking back it was the epitome of the decade’s classic young adult telly. In a similar vein to Byker Grove on BBC1, Children’s Ward offered viewers a multitude of tormented youths, all with typical teen problems, but was set on the busy children’s ward of the fictional South Park hospital. This gave the characters the added dimension of dealing with an illness or injury as well as struggling with peer pressure, puberty and parents.
Paul Abbott and Kay Mellor
The original idea for Children’s Ward TV Series came from Paul Abbott and Kay Mellor, both experienced writers who had worked on Coronation Street together and have since gone on to produce successful adult dramas such as Shameless, The Chase and The Syndicate. It worked because it appealed to a wide age range and contained characters who were as old as sixteen and as young as nine or ten. The series was praised as it focused episodes on difficult issues such as drug and alcohol addiction, teenage pregnancy and child abuse. It was among the first programmes to focus on the issue of criminals gaining access to vulnerable children via the internet and in fact won a BAFTA for this particular episode in 1997.
The opening episode set the scene for drama and tragedy as Fiona, a rebellious teen, defied her mother and sneaked out of the house to go to a forbidden concert with her friends. Her massive 90s perm bounced around her head as she shot out of the house, only to be knocked flying by a car during her escape. Cue a blaring ambulance siren and shots of the ‘race against time’ to get Fiona to South Park hospital before it was too late. The repercussions of Fiona’s accident echoed throughout series one, as relatives cried over her comatose figure. By the time she woke from her coma in episode ten, viewers were totally hooked.
But there was humour too. In the day to day running of the ward there were less serious cases with amusing outcomes, friendships, romances and many incidences of the patients playing tricks on each other. The balance was just right, and kept thousands of viewers tuning in each week. A sort of young adult version of Casualty, the series focused on a number of patients who were more long term, as well as featuring patients who featured for a single episode, and the staff of the ward were ever present and grew to be loved by patients and viewers alike.
Tough teenage issues
The characters were extremely memorable. Who could forget Tim Vincent as Billy, a boy who seemed to live in his striped pyjamas, on the ward with his leg in traction but actually concealing an alcohol addiction which he had yet to face up to. Or Keely, a bubbly young woman initially suffering from anorexia. Viewers adored watching their relationship develop as they helped each other through some extremely tough teenage issues. Eventually their friendship blossomed into romance and the couple went on to become pregnant at sixteen. Keely was so attached to the ward that she later returned as a nurse who had plenty of advice for the ward’s troubled teens, having been one herself. Billy and Keely were firm favourites with viewers, and helped to form the loyal fan base for all the different characters and relationships which were to follow.
The patients in the series often came and went, but the staff were the ones who remained constant, returning week after week with their own lives the focus of the storylines too. There was everyone’s favourite, the lovely nurse Mags, who mothered any worried young patients and was the longest serving member of the cast. Others included Sister Diane Meadows, who kept everyone in check and whose own love life dominated many a plot line, the initially hopeless student nurse Gary and of course, Doctor Gallagher, the fallible doctor who captured the hearts of many a young girl.
Future Coronation Street stars
Many tv stars started their careers on Children’s Ward. The most popular adult destination for these teenage patients was Coronation Street, with Tina O’Brien, Samia Ghadie, Vicky Binns, Chris Bisson, Steven Arnold, Alan Halsall and Jane Danson all starting out with Children’s Ward roles. There was also the aforementioned Tim Vincent, who went on to present Blue Peter, comedy actor Ralf Little, Eastender Danny Dyer and actress Nicola Stevenson. Love it or hate it, the show certainly proved a jumping off point for some of today’s most popular soap actors.
Renamed simply ‘The Ward’ in 1995, the series seemed a little confused about its target audience, and the removal of the word ‘children’ excluded some of its younger viewers. Most of its fans will fondly remember it with its original name, and its soundtrack, set against a background of sirens and life support-machine bleeps, will live on in our memories forever.