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Early Doors
Early Doors.jpg
Written byCraig Cash
Phil Mealey
StarringCraig Cash
Phil Mealey
John Henshaw
Susan Cookson
Rita May
Mark Benton
James McAvoy
Rodney Litchfield
Maxine Peake
Theme music composerRoddy Frame
Opening theme"Small World"
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series2
No. of episodes12
Running time30 minutes
Production companyPhil McIntyre Television
Original networkBBC Two
Original release12 May 2003 (2003-05-12) –
18 October 2004 (2004-10-18)
External links

Early Doors is a BBC sitcom written by Craig Cash and Phil Mealey, who also appear in the series playing best friends Joe and Duffy. The setting is The Grapes, a small public house in Stockport where daily life revolves around the issues of love, loneliness and blocked urinals.


The show centres on pub landlord Ken (John Henshaw), especially his preoccupation with his step-daughter Melanie (Christine Bottomley), who is preparing to meet her real father, and his nervous relationship with barmaid Tanya (Susan Cookson). Ken's wife left him for his best friend.

The series reflects more than a little of the Northern humour displayed in The Royle Family (co-written by Cash). In a similar style to The Royle Family, every scene unfolds within the spatial context of The Grapes, and it is also set in Greater Manchester. Two series of the show were produced in 2003 and 2004.

The series refers to Stockport landmarks, including Houldsworth Square and the McVitie's factory.

Etymology of show's title

The title is a British slang phrase meaning those who arrive earlier than is customary, and was often associated with pub customers who wait for or arrive soon after evening opening, around 5:30 pm. Until the law was changed in 1988, pubs in England closed in the afternoon. Most are now open all day. It is also widely heard in British football circles, and was resuscitated in comments about football. The phrase originates in the practice of British theatres from around 1870 of allowing customers who paid a little extra to enter the theatre early and choose their own seats to beat the rush just before the performance started.[1]

Regular characters

  • Ken Dixon (John Henshaw) - Landlord of The Grapes, son of Jean, and the stepfather of Melanie. Ken is usually sarcastic and has been shown at times to be slightly crooked, once looking at the results for the football cards, taking forged money from his police friends, and putting a very small amount of charity money into his till, but despite these attributes he is consistently shown to be kind-hearted and sensitive. He lives above The Grapes with his mother and stepdaughter.
  • Joe (Craig Cash) and Duffy (Phil Mealey), real name Nigel - "The Lads" of the pub. Best mates Joe and Duffy's friendship goes back to their childhood. Duffy has children, and has been in trouble with his wife for sleeping with other women.
  • Janice (Maxine Peake) (Series 1 only) - Janice is the single mother of a newborn baby, Calvin, who she brings into the pub in the first episode and asks Joe and Duffy to mind while she goes to Melanie's aerobics class upstairs. It is suggested that Calvin is the result of a one night stand with Duffy in Ladbrokes doorway. Joe often teases Duffy about this but Duffy says he took precautions - "I told her I'd had the snip".
  • Eddie and Joan Bell (Mark Benton and Lorraine Cheshire) - A boring, simple minded - but well-meaning - couple. Eddie's conversations with Ken are usually one-sided and often revolve around temporary traffic lights nearby - a topic that he is obsessed with, but no one else takes any interest in. Joan's mother is very old and owns several pets including six cats, a dog and a tortoise. Joan and Eddie are both quite intellectually challenged and they often make pointless conversation. They still seem to be madly in love after nineteen years of marriage.
  • Tommy (Rodney Litchfield) - A character that is often seen drinking on his own, at a table he says he has been coming to for forty-two years. He is reluctant to accept free drinks or buy rounds as he is too miserly to part with his money. Tommy is a stereotypical old widower: he doesn't like socialising, is often miserable and has no problem expressing his complaints (of which he has many). In series 2, he starts a new job which he tells the other regulars he hates because of the "buggers he works with". As he finishes his drink and prepares to leave, it is revealed he is a lollipop man. However, in the same episode he is shown to be generous when it matters, when he refuses to take his winnings from the football card, instead putting it into a fund to pay off Eddie and Joan's phone bill when it is cut off due to Joan running up a bill through phoning her ill mother.
  • Tanya (Susan Cookson) - Part-time barmaid and love interest of Ken. She is best friends with Debbie. She is good-hearted and down to earth and is known for being attractive, which is why it may be surprising that she clearly has feelings for Ken. Halfway through series 2 she informs Ken that she is leaving the pub but in the last episode he asks her to stay and she accepts his offer.
  • Jean Dixon (Rita May) - Jean is Ken's mother, and is often seen as imposing and manipulative. She seldom leaves her chair, and is usually eating something sweet. She often complains about the greed and laziness of others, despite not being able to work her own kettle. Although she imposes on Ken's life and sometimes twists his words around to make people feel sorry for her, she really does care about her son. She shows disapproval about the mutual attraction that Ken and Tanya share, thinking Tanya isn't good enough for her son, but quickly changes her opinion when she finds out Tanya lives in a large house with a conservatory. She often chats to Winnie. It is stated on the DVD commentary for series 1 that Jean is the first name of Craig Cash's mother.
  • Winnie Cooper (Joan Kempson) - Cleaner of The Grapes and the upstairs flat, friends with Jean, and well liked by the regulars. She often makes comments that she knows will irritate Jean and shares all sorts of gossip with her. She has a son called Darren who has been in trouble several times with the law usually for theft. On the DVD commentary for series 1 it's stated that Winnie is the first name of Phil Mealey's mother.
  • Melanie Dixon (Christine Bottomley) - Ken's stepdaughter and only child. Melanie is doted on by Ken who hopes she won't leave him for her real dad, Keith Braithwaite, who she searched for after learning Ken wasn't her real father. Melanie sees Ken as her real dad, although she does sometimes exploit his "soft" attitude towards her working hours and free drinks. Her biological father, Keith, starts a fight with Eddie at her 21st birthday. She has had two boyfriends in the series
  • Liam (James McAvoy) - a student, Mel's boyfriend in Series 1. Liam is Scottish and is often seen smoking. Several jokes are made about the impressive size of his genitalia.
  • Dean (Lee Ingleby) - Mel's boyfriend in Series 2. Dean seems to be liked by Ken and is a typical jack the lad type who gets on well with most if not all of the regulars. It is loosely implied on some occasions that Joan may have feelings for Dean.
  • Debbie (Lisa Millett) - Pub regular and good friend to Tanya. She often leaves her kids in the car while she goes in for half a cider. She has cheated on her husband, and has "gone with" Duffy rather than walk home. Debbie is possibly not the best mother, behaving neglectfully yet strictly towards her children. She seems to take a liking to Melanie's biological father Keith Braithwate (at least after a few drinks).
  • Phil and Nige (James Quinn and Peter Wight) - Local crooked police officers whom Ken is friendly with. They often come knocking on the back door for a bitter and Diet Coke, to drink in The Grapes' kitchen, though they are partial to the odd cigar or brandy chaser. Phil and Nige often break the law themselves, having stolen from an electrical store that was being robbed and are shown to be recreational drug users. In the second series they seem to lose any faith they had in their work after bungling a raid by falling asleep, and are often smoking marijuana together. In the last episode, they seemed to have turned to drug dealing, while doing the odd bit of police work on the side. Best known for their parting expression: 'Crime can't crack itself'. Whenever Phil and Nige are leaving the pub, their police radios crackle a message in the phonetic alphabet sounding like a random police radio message, but it is usually a profanity or swear word spelled phonetically, 'Foxtrot Uniform Charley Kilo' being one of many examples.
  • Keith Braithwaite (Eamon Boland) - Melanie's biological father. He is discussed several times in both series but does not appear until the final episode of series 2 when it is Melanie's 21st birthday party. Keith has a very brash personality and regularly uses the catch-phrase "Tick, Tock". Jean sings Angels on the karaoke after dedicating it to Ken, "who has been there all Melanie's life, not just one night". He becomes upset by this comment and tries to pick a fight with Eddie in the toilets but Ken intervenes and punches him, knocking him unconscious.

Other characters

  • Nicola (Sue McArdle) - Appears in 3 episodes of series 2. She is Debbie's cousin and has a sexual encounter in the toilets with Joe in the final episode of series 2.
  • Bill Cooper - Winnie's Husband (Johnny Leeze). Bill appears in episode 4 of series 1; he has a minor speaking part when he wins the football card.


Series 1

  • Episode 1 - This episode introduces the main characters.
  • Episode 2 - Joe announces that his wife has left him.
  • Episode 3 - Melanie and Liam's relationship develops.
  • Episode 4 - There is a dispute over the football cards game.
  • Episode 5 - Joan and Eddie celebrate their wedding anniversary.
  • Episode 6 - Melanie meets her real father.

Series 2

  • Episode 1 - Phil and Nige sell Ken some forged banknotes.
  • Episode 2 - The police celebrate a drugs bust in the pub.
  • Episode 3 - The Grapes holds a pub quiz.
  • Episode 4 - There is romance between Ken and Tanya.
  • Episode 5 - Duffy and Joe discuss their personal lives.
  • Episode 6 - It's Mel's 21st birthday party.

Theme music

The theme music for the series is "Small World" by Roddy Frame from the 2002 album Surf.

The 2006 Channel 4 documentary Who Killed the British Sitcom used the closing music from Early Doors over its own end credits.

Live stage show

In June 2018, it was announced that Craig Cash and Phil Mealey had been writing Early Doors Live, a new stage show of the series. The show was due to open at The Lowry, Salford in August 2018, before a UK arena tour.[2]

The new stage show will bring back almost all of the original cast from the TV series including pub landlord Ken played by John Henshaw, 13 years on, reflecting many of the changes in the pub world - most noticeably of course, the smoking ban.[3] Returning cast from the TV series include, John Henshaw as Ken, Phil Mealey as Duffy, Craig Cash as Joe, Susan Cookson as Tanya, Lisa Millett as Debbie, Joan Kempson as Winnie, James Quinn and Peter Wight as policemen Nige and Phil. Also joining the cast are Judith Barker, Vicky Binns, Nick Birkenshaw, Neil Hurst and Laura Woodward.[2]

In January 2019 Early Doors Live won the Manchester Evening News CityLife Award for Best Theatre Production.[4] It was quickly followed by the announcement that the live stage show will be returning to The Lowry in the summer of 2019 [5]

Critical reception

  • "such a slow-burning comedy that you only start to smile during the next programme." - The Guardian[6]
  • "Early Doors, a comedy by Craig Cash averaged only 1.7 million viewers in its first outing, but scored particularly highly on the appreciation indices. Jane Root decided to commission a second series, partly because such a high proportion of viewers enjoyed it." - The Guardian[7]
  • The show was placed at 91 in the 2003/4 BBC's Britain's Best Sitcom poll.

See also


  1. ^ "Early doors". World Wide Words. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Early Doors Live 2018". Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  3. ^ Bourne, Dianne (29 July 2018). "Early Doors stars Craig Cash and Phil Mealey on bringing pub comedy back to life". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  4. ^ "CityLife Awards". 29 January 2019.
  5. ^ "Early Doors returns to Lowry". 29 January 2019.
  6. ^ Nancy Banks-Smith (14 September 2004). "Blue Murder | Coronation Street | Dispatches | Early Doors | Jack Dee Live At the Apollo | Media". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  7. ^ Matt Wells, media correspondent (11 February 2004). "BBC call to end ratings obsession | Media". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 December 2015.

External links

This page was last edited on 2 February 2021, at 12:44
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