Once Upon A Time In The North was a series from 1994 that got very little attention
at the time. It was written by Tim Firth and defies easy classification as a comedy or
drama in a similar manner to much of the rest of Firth's work such as
Although shown in 30 minute episode and often very funny, it is certainly not
a sitcom, and indeed it was spared the indignity of canned laughter.
The premise of the series is very simple, concerning the exploits of a working class
family who live in Cheshire in northern England. Len Tollit is a man determined
to provide for his family. Despite being made redundant he has dreams of success,
and is undeterred by the failure that inevitably dogs him. As a result, Len tends
to resent those who have had success, in particular Bob Carling, an old schoolfriend
with a successful business.
Len is married to Pat, a realist who attempts to keep Len in reality while trying to
hold the family together. They have two children - Siobahn, a 16 year old with a sarcastic
sense of humour and boyfriend problems, and Sean, who is younger and has learning
difficulties, but has some apptitude for football which Len tries to build up.
Other characters are Morris, Len's hippy brother. Morris is a lorry driver who has
a "spirit guide" in the form of a Native American called Geronimo. The family is completed
by Mr Bebbington, a Yorkshireman who was the boyfriend of Pat's Mother who is still
living in the granny flat six months after her death. Pat resents this, and in particular
dislikes the presence of Pavlo, Mr Bebbington's smelly bulldog. However, Mr Bebbington often
proves to be the source of unexpected gems of philosophy.
Len was played by Bernard Hill, an actor previously best known for more gritty fare,
principally Boys From The Blackstuff and has since appeared in a number of high profile
movies such as Titanic and The Two Towers.
Most of the rest of the cast were little known.
However, the star of the show was undoubtedly Tim Firth's script, which managed to be
often moving and very funny.
Only a single season of 6 episodes was produced. However, one particular character did live
on in other work by Tim Firth. Morris Tollit was referred to in an episode of Preston Front
when he gave a character an off-screen lift in his lorry. He then actually
appeared in an episode of Firth's most recent television series, Border Cafe, albeit played
by a different actor.