Byker Grove was one of the best shows around during the 90’s. It followed Newsround and began with an unforgettable theme tune which massively overused the synthesiser and had characters leaping enthusiastically on to the screen and freezing mid-air in strange positions, before disappearing to make way for others to follow them. The drama that followed centred around the ups and downs of the teenagers attending a youth club in Tyneside, and included dramatic storylines focusing on issues such as drug abuse, homosexuality and death.
Set in a suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne, Byker Grove first appeared on our screens in the late 80’s, but by 1990 it was a firm favourite with audiences and actually lasted the whole decade, its final show airing in 2006. Hard-hitting, and unafraid to deal with ‘big’ issues, the television drama took a fairly ‘moral’ stance and always tried to demonstrate the consequences of characters’ actions, such as the time Ant McPartlin’s character PJ was blinded during a paintballing session because he took off his protective goggles, despite being advised not to. The programme was a fantastic blend of irresistible characters, engaging scripts and just the right amount of drama to keep audiences coming back week after week.
Yes. You remember it: the inimitable Byker Grove.
Ant and Dec
Byker Grove launched the careers of a number of today’s stars, most notably the irrepressible Ant and Dec. Beginning as actors on the teen drama, the duo forayed into pop, released a couple of songs they would probably rather forget (anybody ready to ‘rhumble’?), before becoming the hugely popular tv presenters they are today. Never attempting to go it alone, the two have become massively successful as a pair, most notably presenting ‘I’m a Celebrity: Get Me Out Of Here’ and their very own ‘Saturday Night Takeaway’. They never forget their roots however, and were happily photographed attending a Byker Grove reunion in 2014 to celebrate the 25 year anniversary of the drama.
Another notable Byker star is Jill Halfpenny, who has gone on to a successful adult acting career and won series two of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ in 2004. Donna Air began her career on Byker Grove aged just ten and has since become a successful tv presenter of shows like The Big Breakfast, TFI Friday and PopStars: the Rivals Extra. Actor Charlie Hunnam also appeared as a teenager on the Grove before moving to the US in 2000 to act in dramas such as Pacific Rim and Sons of Anarchy and even accepting (and then turning down) the role of Christian Grey in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. But the tv show will perhaps be remembered more for its characters than the stars which it produced.
And who could forget some of those iconic characters? There was the terrible twosome that was PJ and Duncan, cheeky chappies who were always playing tricks on their fellow ‘Grovers’, or plotting revenge on the rival youth club, Denton Burn. The super-bitch Donna, always desperate to get one over on everyone else, even long-suffering friend Nicola, and retain her role as queen of The Grove. And finally the annoying ‘little sister’ figure Spuggy, a halo of static-filled red frizz surrounding her head, always sticking her nose into everyone else’s business and telling Geoff about the Grovers who were up to no good.
The storylines were equally enthralling. Byker Grove included incredibly dramatic moments, such as the tragic death of much-loved youth club manager Geoff Keegan in an accidental gas explosion at the club and the ground breaking moment where character Noddy Fishwick revealed he was gay in 1994. (Byker Grove was one of the earliest dramas to tackle the topic of homosexuality.) Even the more everyday topics, the ever-changing teenage friendships, fallouts and romances engaged audiences and had them glued to their television sets every week. The fact that the show focused on young adults away from school and a number of children coping with living in a foster home made the drama different, and its enduring popularity is clearly demonstrated in its lengthy 17-year run.
Despite its focus on often shocking storylines, the drama still retains some naivete, and the absence of mobile phones and the internet (certainly in the early days) will forever guarantee it a fond place in its teenage audience’s heart.