THE GOLDEN AGE OF CHILDREN'S DRAMA
THE BBC BRINGS BACK BREAK IN THE SUN
BBC Store is making available again the children's drama Break in the Sun, based on Bernard's best-selling book which was first published in 1980. This is what the BBC says about it:
Break in the Sun is one of the best remembered serials for a particular generation of children. This tough, heart-rending story of Patsy (Nicola Cowper), who dreams of escaping her spiteful, workshy stepfather and the London Docklands and returning to her idyllic past in Margate is children's storytelling of the highest order. In fact, it might not be going too far to call it a minor masterpiece.
Break in the Sun was written by award-winning writer and teacher Bernard Ashley, whose work is typified by a commitment to telling tough, realistic and fiercely moral stories of working class children in crisis. At its centre is a female character who is not a victim but a fighter, and one who became a hero for both boys and girls at that time.
Bernard says: 'When I started writing I wanted to depict something different from what had gone before in children's books. My first book The Trouble with Donovan Croft (Oxford) was one of the first children's books to be set in a state school. I wanted to tell stories about the world I was living in. This story was inspired by a visit I made to Drew School in Silvertown where, because ground space was precious in Docklands, the playground was on the roof. Up there I noticed this girl, whose task it was to check the weather station. I saw her take the readings, write them down - and then stand and look out down the river, rather wistfully. What was going on in her mind? And that's where Patsy Bligh came from, thinking of her past life in Margate.'
Bernard continues: 'The serial won a staggering seven million viewers, many of them adults - including local dockers who told me they tried to finish early on Wednesdays to get home for the next episode. And I received letters from parents of children who were bed-wetters like Patsy; one said 'God bless the BBC for not pulling back from that.' And the opening music, "Reflections" by John Renbourne, was absolutely right. It grips you instantly, it's so haunting.'
Break in the Sun was adapted for TV by Alan England, but Bernard went on to write his own scripts for Anna Home, head of BBC Children's TV - Running Scared, The Country Boy and Dodgem, which won the Royal Television Society award for best children's entertainment in its year.
'The great sadness at the moment,' Bernard says, 'is that these days there isn't an outlet for those kinds of dramas for older primary school or younger secondary school children. And they really do need to see their own lives reflected. It's a huge comfort to know that "you're not the only one..."
(The above is an edited version of the BBC Store 'Golden Age of Children's Drama' promotion)