Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Theme Time : Elizabeth Carling - Border Cafe

Bit of an obscure one this I know, but if you can remember Border Cafe, you're part of a very special select group - a group who hope it'll see the light of day once more on DVD or on some cable channel one day.

Screened just once by the BBC in the summer of 2000, Border Cafe was writer Tim Firth's follow up to his '90s cult favourite (All Quiet On The) Preston Front. It starred Elizabeth Carling, Sean Gallagher, Georgia Mackenzie and Anthony Strachan and was set in the titular American-style diner which resided in a fictional northern town located on the border between England and Wales. 

Carling starred as rock star Charlotte Smith who, at the height of her fame, quits everything to buy a diner on the outskirts of the town she grew up in. There, she settles down with her builder boyfriend David Doyle (Gallagher) and employs David's daft elder brother Kidder as the diner's chef. Along the way, the trio employ a waitress called Ronnie (Mackenzie) who has been 'playing' Charlotte in a copycat band. All walks of life converse upon the Border Cafe and, as it takes off, the notion of whose life depends on whose starts to shift with dramatic consequences.

Firth himself describes the inspirations of Border Cafe as being an attempt to write a setting not always familiar to British TV screens - pubs had always been done, but a cafe and its inherent mix of European and American cultures itself presented something of a border to hook the series upon. It's strange how cafe based programmes don't seem to catch on here; Angelo's, Pilgrim's Rest and The Cafe were all shortlived. Firth also sought inspiration from the news at the time and how Robbie Williams decision to leave Take That in the '90s had, unwittingly, led to making Robbie imitators redundant from several Take That copycat bands. From there he developed the idea of his own copycat (Ronnie) going off in search of the cat (Charlotte) and crossing a personal border in this decision; escaping the person you were for the person you never thought you could be. Free from her copying, Ronnie grows into an affirming, beacon of light for all around her as she finally becomes her true self. 

No repeats, no video, no DVD....which is a real shame as this was a nice warm and funny little programme in the vein of much of Firth's writing. The only commercial release associated with the programme was the soundtrack CD which is no doubt still available on eBay where it's likely to be going very cheap. The show's theme Bringing Out The Best In Me was performed by the star, Elizabeth Carling and I still think is quite catchy


  1. I remember it and watched one or two episodes but I didn't like it very much. I always struggle with dramas that tell you someone is very talented and then don't provide any evidence that they are. Plus the boyfriend was such a miserable self-absorbed loser that it stretched belief that Carling's character would want to be bothered with him. I remember one episode - possibly the first - where all the "humour" seemed to come from the humiliation of a middle aged couple who were dining there and it just came across as really unpleasant in tone.

    1. Each to their own. If you twisted my arm I'd say it was probably the weakest thing Firth has ever written (though, that said when it comes to his film projects, I am mystified by the success Calendar Girls received) but I do think there was potential there and some talented playing. I guess anything that came after Preston Front was always going to be a disappointment.

      I can't really imagine anything Firth has written as being unpleasant in tone though, but I'd have to admit I can't recall that scene. The only unpleasant aspect of Firth's professional work is his partnership with tax dodging scum Gary Barlow for a musical reworking of the aforementioned Calendar Girls!

  2. I remember this and enjoyed it a lot. Been looking for a copy for years. Here's hoping it gets a release