I was very young when I watched Prospects and I must admit it was the first (adult) TV series that I really loved. I remember telling all my friends at school to watch it.
It was like Minder which my Dad always watched (and I liked) but it was aimed at a younger audience.
I was only eleven or twelve when I started watching it, but it definitely spoke to me at the time.
Only one series was made apparently and then it disappeared. It was never repeated as far as I can tell, even in the age of satellite TV (which feasted on Minder repeats).
It fits in with other 80s series like the aforementioned Minder and Only Fools and Horses. The 80s where the time when you had to go out and make some money yourself. The dreaded Thatcher was in charge and the age of ‘Greed is good’ was beginning. It was, looking back, the best and the worst of times.
Of course, we’re all suffering now from where those policies eventually lead the country to. But, politics aside, Prospects was funny, warm and optimistic. And it was, very anti-racist. Which was good. It was the very early days of Channel Four, and they examined real issues around discrimination.
Prospects starred a young Gary Olsen who later became a much loved sitcom star, but passed away very young. Olsen’s co-star was a young black actor called Brian Bovell. Brian went onto to be an award winning character actor, adept at playing comedy and drama and generally adored by everyone in the British TV industry.
In 2006/2007 I worked on revamping the Channel Four soap Hollyoaks. My job was writing some of the storylines. One day, I was told that Brian Bovell had been cast in the soap. I went to see the producer and asked if this was true. The producer confirmed that Brian was going to be in the show, I remember saying to the producer at the time – “Do you know how good an actor he is?”
Weeks passed, then one day I was having a smoke outside one of the sets, minding my own business and thinking about the storyline I was working on. As I recall, I was sitting on a bench, which was often used as a prop, and when it wasn’t being used was left for smokers in the production office to sit on. It was a sunny day, and some of the crew and actors popped out into the sunshine for a smoke from time to time. Next thing I knew, Brian Bovell, my childhood hero (from Prospects) was sitting next to me.
I turned to Brian, and (not knowing how this would go down) offered him my hand, and proceeded to do the ‘Prospects’ handshake (in the series Brian and Gary’s characters had a special handshake). Brian, followed the hand movements and then looked at me.
“How the hell do you remember that?” he said.
I went onto tell him about how much I loved Prospects. And the smoke break, turned into a three hour conversation (with Brian occasionally disappearing to act in the scene that was being shot – he kept telling me to wait and he’d be back five minutes later… and he usually was)
We talked about Prospects, Channel Four, my career and his career – he told me there was very nearly a film spin-off from Prospects, but it never came off. He talked sadly about Gary’s early death and how talented his co-star was. We also covered other topics from music to books.
I told Brian I was working on the storylines, and from time to time thereafter, Brian would, when he was in the production offices come to the storyline office to chat to me and other members of the team. He was funny, larger than life. I got to write some storylines for him too (and would try to crowbar him into as many episodes as I could manage – the actors got paid per episode and I wanted to keep him in the cash…).
He was funny, a great character, a great actor and an absolute pleasure to be around. No wonder he was so well respected in the industry.
Finally Prospects was eventually released on DVD a few years ago, and episodes have ended up on YouTube (see below – the handshake is in the title sequence). I’ve met some great ‘showbiz’ type people over the years, but getting to meet my childhood hero cannot be topped. Full stop.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org or hire him on Peopleperhour