Children's Ward

Children's Ward

1989 - United Kingdom

This teenage drama series produced by Granada Television, which is set in the children's ward of a bustling metropolitan hospital in Manchester (the fictitious South Park Hospital - known as Sparky's), offers viewers a unique perspective into the challenging world of paediatric care. The show expertly portrays the ups and downs of life in an environment filled with illness and uncertainty. It delicately addresses medical conditions that affect children and tackles difficult topics such as disability, terminal illnesses, and the struggles faced by those children’s families.

Starting life in 1988 as a contribution to the Dramarama anthology strand, "Blackbird Singing In The Dead of Night", it was first broadcast as a series in 1989 and continued until 2000. Co-written by award-winning writers Paul Abbott (Coronation Street, Shameless) and Kay Mellor (Band of Gold, The Syndicate), the series pulled no punches and was loved by adults and children alike for its realistic portrayal of mature themes in a sensitive manner.

Children's Ward
Elspeth Charlton, Bruno Brookes and Rebecca Callard

One of the show's greatest strengths lies in its ability to authentically portray the resilience of children facing adversity. Their innocence and vulnerability are juxtaposed with their unwavering determination to overcome their illnesses. The young actors portraying these characters deserve tremendous praise for their exceptional talent and ability to tug at our heartstrings. Throughout the series, viewers become emotionally invested in their journeys, experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions along the way. Keely Johnson (Jennifer Luckcraft – Jossy’s Giants) and Billy Ryan (Tim Vincent - Emmerdale) are two of the main patients who often clash because they have different personalities. How they grow and learn from their experiences is one of the main themes of the series, as they face the unknown outcomes of their conditions.

Children's Ward
Andrew Hall and Tim Vincent

The heart of Children's Ward lies in its remarkable ensemble cast, led by Janette Beverley as the caring and empathetic nurse, Sister Diane Meadows. Her unwavering dedication to the well-being of the children is both inspiring and heartwarming. Nina Baden-Semper (Love Thy Neighbour) appears in 9 episodes as the character Jan Stevens, and the series introduces us to a multitude of dynamic characters, played by talented actors such as Carol Harvey (Dr. Charlotte Woods), Tim Stanley (Nurse Gary Miller), and Tom Higgins (Dr. Kieran Gallagher). And along the way, we get our first glimpse at future stars such as Rebecca Callard (Detectorists), Will Mellor (Broadchurch, Coronation Street), Maxine Peake (dinnerladies, Silk), Stephen Graham (Boardwalk Empire, Line of Duty), Jane Danson and Tina O'Brien (Coronation Street's Leanne Battersby and Sarah Platt, respectively), Ralf Little (The Royle Family, Death in Paradise), Danny Dyer (EastEnders) and Gary Crystal (now a multi-award-winning director).

Children's Ward
Will Mellor

Children’s Ward was filmed at Bolton General Hospital (now called Royal Bolton Hospital) although some exterior shots (such as the entrance) were filmed outside the now demolished Maternity Hospital entrance at the former Withington Hospital, South Manchester. The series went on to win a number of awards, including a BAFTA Children's Award for Best Drama in 1997. Prolific Welsh television writer/producer Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk, Doctor Who, Years and Years) was the show's producer and writer of several episodes, from 1992 to 1995.

Children's Ward won many plaudits for covering difficult issues such as cancer, alcoholism, drug addiction and child abuse in a sensitive manner. It accomplished the rare feat of consistently tackling such serious topics while maintaining a sense of hope and lightness. It brought laughter and tears to households across the nation, leaving a lasting impression on the hearts of all those who watched it.

Children's Ward
Tina O’Brien

Not only is Children’s Ward able to entertain but in its desire to educate and enlighten, medical storylines are meticulously researched, presenting a realistic portrayal of various illnesses and therapies. The show provides a platform for viewers to learn about medical conditions in an accessible and relatable manner, making it particularly impactful for younger audiences. By combining entertainment with education, Children's Ward stands out as a rare gem in the world of children’s television. So impactful was the series, not just on its intended teenage audience but also on the adult audience that tuned in, the ‘children’s part of the title was dropped and the series was simply retitled The Ward from 1995 to 1998, although the full title was reinstated for the last two years. Perhaps the was some confusion by Granada at just who the show was aimed at?

Children's Ward
Stephen Graham

Children's Ward is an exceptional television series that showcases the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. It sheds light on the challenges faced by children in hospitals while beautifully capturing the compassion and dedication of the medical staff. From the remarkable performances of the cast to the engaging storytelling, Children's Ward remains a timeless masterpiece that deserves to be celebrated. With its ability to evoke a broad range of emotions, Children's Ward leaves an indelible impression on its viewers and will forever be remembered as a powerful and heartwarming television series.

Published on September 6th, 2023. Written by Marc Saul for Television Heaven.

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