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The end of an era

GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN: (L-R) Kira, Karen, Jaqueline and Adelle from the Powell/St. Rose family

THERE HAVE been many occasions when we in L&S have covered the fictional black families on TV and looked at the impact they have made to popular culture. From the Ambroses in Desmond’s to the Crouches, black families on our screens have been both proudly defining moments in black British history and stereotypical clichés.

But one black family that usually falls under the television radar are the Powells. Not the family from the 1983 Channel 4 sitcom No Problem but the Powells of the Chatsworth Estate, depicted in the iconic Channel 4 show Shameless.

While it may not be the most inventive surname, the programmes writers (headed by creator Paul Abbott) have managed to succeed in producing what could be considered a first in mainstream television history. - they have brought to life a family that is not seen as merely black.

Since moving onto the Chatsworth Estate at the beginning of series eight in 2011, Avril Powell, (played by Karen Bryson), Jackson Powell, (Emmanuel Ighodaro) and their daughter Letitia Powell (Kira Martin) have been a strong family unit. Still, keeping true to the Shameless way of life they are not without their faults – having been introduced to the popular show as a nymphomaniac couple, with a pretty, if not slightly dim daughter. Jackson Powell first started out as the snob of the estate was a law-abiding teacher, married to nurse Avril. Making an instant impact the outrageously satirical and critically-acclaimed soap, the family slotted in nicely into the show.
Three years later and Shameless is now in its final series, but it is safe to say that the show has saved the best to last. Joining the Powell family will be Avril’s sister Patreesha St. Rose (played by Jaqueline Boatswain) and her niece Mary Mae St. Rose (Adelle Leonce). According to Bryson and Boatswain, the Powell family is about to get much more outlandish.

“The thing I love about the dynamic of the Powell family is that there is a real sense of what a family is like, as in we love hard, play hard and argue hard. But the audience also gets to see black people in a way that is human first, regardless of the colour of our skin,” explained Bryson.

“You see that I have been married to this man since school days and we are a black man and woman, so loved up that we are trying to get ‘at it’ at every opportunity. And have been married for 17 years so it’s all positive stuff. And it’s a similar dynamic with what we’ve got now with the addition of Jaqueline and Adelle.”

Chiming in, newcomer to the cast, Jaqueline Boatswain, said that joining Shameless has put a new found spin on her career. After constantly being type casted as the ‘sensible black woman’ Boatswain is ready to bring havoc to the show.

ON SET: (L-R) Jacqueline Boatswain and Karon Bryson

“I normally get cast as a police officer, scientists or head teachers,” said the actress. “Sensible high status people but my new character Patreesha is anything but. She is not sensible or high status, even though she thinks she is glamorous. She is so over-the-top and very full on.”

Since its beginning in 2003 Shameless has been an unapologetic and hilarious glimpse into the real side of Manchester and as a result it has won 30 major television awards and spawned a US remake. On announcing the end of the show late last year, creator Paul Abbott said that Shameless often “got away with murder,” and if you watch the programme at any given time, you may be inclined to agree. Each episode includes profanity, tongue in cheek satire and some defiantly dysfunctional characters. But according to Bryson, it is not getting away with murder; it is just life.

“I don’t think Paul has been able to get away with murder, I just think he has been unafraid to show what society is like, or what certain people are like. It just happens that this society is set on the Chatsworth Estate and it takes all sorts to make an estate. If you were to pick an isolated road on London, in each and every house there is a different story, and Paul has been unafraid to show us what is behind those doors,” she said.

Boatswain, who has just joined the cast has been included into what is known as the Shameless family, and although she will only be in the programme for one season, she hopes to reflect the less gritty side of reality.

“When I joined I didn’t know it was going to be the last series, nobody knew and that was kind of disappointing, but it is still brilliant to be a part of an iconic .V series. It’s going out with a bang and it will be a hard gig to follow.”

“But it’s great to be part of a good functioning family, which we were, although in this series its all gone pear shaped because we are both husband-less with our daughters and we move in together,” laughed the former Grange Hill actress.

YOUNG STARS: (L-R) Adelle Leonce and Kira Martin

She added: “We are just a northern family. The thing with black families on television is that there are good dramas out there, but it is all about drugs and guns, nothing very positive and black people are just normal people.”

But sadly, all good things must come to an end, an inevitable fact. But still, a hard pill to swallow for Bryson.

“I absolutely love doing the show. In the back of my mind, as a working actor, there is always the possibility that something ends, unless you’re in a major soap. With something like Shameless, I always knew it would end; I’m gutted, because I love playing Avril. But we have a real opportunity to make this a generational iconic series, which it is.”

Describing the end of Shameless like a family break-up, Bryson at least hopes that the show will continue to live on in the hearts of its viewers.

“There is a Shameless community for us here behind the scenes, from the camera guys to make up and set guys. I hope that it has been cutting edge, iconic and a damn good laugh and a cry all in the same episode.”

The final series of Shameless is on Channel 4 every Tuesday at 10pm. Series nine is out on DVD now.


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