It's 1950, and when Laura and Billy Hopkins return to Manchester from their honeymoon, they're in seventh heaven. But the euphoria gradually evaporates and they settle into a penny-pinching existence. When Billy spots an advertisement for education officers in Kenya, it sounds like the answer to a prayer, despite worries about the Mau Mau rebellion and dangerous creatures. After much debate, the Hopkins set off to Nairobi and start on the biggest adventure of their lives.
Tommy Hopkins' early years aren't very promising. Born at the end of the 19th century in a slum district of Manchester, he's blessed with a loving mam and dad, but they don't have two ha'pennies to rub together. But Tommy is a survivor. At school he quickly makes lots of friends, and together they plot money-making schemes and play football.
It's December 1963 when Billy Hopkins and his wife, Laura, arrive home after five years in Africa. The world they left behind has changed beyond recognition: now, it's the swinging 60s. But Billy's less concerned about the impact of modern society on his family than about the welfare of his increasingly forgetful father and about the daily (and sometimes exquisitely humorous) challenges he faces as a college lecturer.
It's 1945 and Billy Hopkins is off to London to train as a teacher. Billy survives two years in the Big City, and returns to take up a teaching job in Manchester on £300 a year! The catch is his first class, Senior Four, who bitterly resent the raising of the school-leaving age and are all set to take it out on their teacher. Luckily, Billy has some tricks of his own up his sleeve. And he's about to fall in love with the beautiful Laura. But is she, as his dad says, "too good for the likes of us"?
"Gentle, Nostalgic and a bit too trite for me"
Billy Hopkins is thrilled to be released from the trials and tribulations of teaching when he takes early retirement. He's just buzzing with ideas for filling his time and making a spare buck - whether it's investing in apparently fail-safe business enterprises, starting up himself as an entrepreneur specialising in doll's houses or writing up the story of his life.
It's June 1897, and Kate is celebrating her 11th birthday on the day of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Kate's joy is short-lived, as tragedy strikes, threatening her family with the loss of all they hold dear. Before long, they are evicted from their home in Ancoats, Manchester, and with no wages coming in and a mother unable to cope, Kate has to grow up fast. Her deepest desire is to keep her brothers and sisters together.