Born in Ruislip, Clare Barker is a social worker at the Sparrowhawk Family Centre. She is too over-enthralled and devoted to her work and thinks herself the ultimate professional. She also believes that she is the backbone of her 10 year relationship with her boyfriend, Brian.
Clare finds it difficult, personally and professionally, to receive criticism but she is more than prepared to criticise others. She uses strict politically correct vocabulary, to the point where her argument or advice often becomes too in-depth and confusing for anyone else to understand.
Clare doesn't like to be reminded that she is white and heterosexual and reminds her colleagues that she hates being referred to as middle class. Instead she wants to be known as a successful person with a successful career from a working class background, claiming her grandfather to be Geordie coalminer.
She lives in a flat with Brian in Alice Close, and while it is clear that they both love each other deeply within their relationship, every situation seems to provoke arguments. Clare won't put any of them to rest until Brian admits it is his fault.
When it comes to her career, Clare always puts colleagues and clients before herself. In her relationship she constantly tries to strengthen the bond between her and Brian and improve their lifestyle, when leaving things as they are would be the easier and more sensible choice.
Brian met Clare during his years at university while he was studying English. He is now an English school teacher and takes an interest in organising and creating school theatre productions. On one occasion he tries to get into the acting business, desperately wanting a career change.
Brian enjoys his traditional pint down the local pub (the Unicorn) with his best friend Simon (another fellow school teacher) and has a strong love of watching football. In his relationship with Clare he wants to keep things simple, but he also wants to experiment, hoping that they will find some shared interests (the lack of which is currently the main problem in their relationship).
For a while Brian was a member of a local men's group where they would discuss their feelings and emotions to each other. Brian tries to find some tips on how to tighten the relationship between him and Clare, but no expertise ever seems to arise during these meetings.
Brian has a strong liking for Megan and on one occasion wrote a play revealing his emotions. He often feels bogged down with Clare and tries to experiment with holidays and nights out when Clare would rather stick to a routine.
At the start of the series, Megan is Clare's trainee social worker, following Clare to her client's houses for experience. She soon makes a friend in Clare. Megan later qualifies to take the job professionally but is still looked down upon as the newest of the professional social workers and therefore is seen as the more amateurish. She is still taught from time to time by Clare and she still considers Clare to be her mentor.
Megan was born in Scotland and is occasionally an outcast of conversations and made a mockery of (usually by Helen) because of this.
Later, Megan becomes a mother of one daughter, Brenda. She doesn't choose to reveal the identity of the father, though there are many rumours spread around in the office as to who the dad might be. Clare has been made the godmother of Brenda.
Ray is the only main male character working at the family centre. He is gay and is usually happy with who he is, apart from times when he has heartbreaks and isn't afraid to express his emotions, often crying and needing a hug for reassurance. Ray's biggest heartbreak was a holiday abroad where he met a waiter called Carlos and their relationship didn't work out. He later meets a bodybuilder called Troy who he plans to marry.
Ray enjoys the company of his colleagues and is just as involved in staff arguments and dilemmas. His favourite hobby is military modelling (known as the War Game Society). He creates miniature versions of famous battles in his flat, such as the Battle of Waterloo in his living room and Borodino upstairs. He did this after he left the army (after just three months in service). We are told Ray doesn't have a television or any furniture in his flat but he leads a simple and pleasant life.
After Ray asked Irene if she could be his gay best friend after his break-up with Carlos, he has been accepted into Irene's family. Her family actually seem to talk and feel more comfortable with Ray rather than Irene, with the younger members of the family calling him 'Uncle Ray', something to which he has warmed to.
Fellow social worker Helen likes nothing more than to be regularly angry, and if a lot of smoking can't relax her, she will be deliberately annoying just to get her kicks, because she enjoys seeing other people's misfortunes and hardship.
Helen hates being told what to do and would rather be in control of others and take over from Clare as the team leader of the department.
Helen has one son, a teenager called Gareth who she loves and still worries about, especially after Gareth's "gap year" away in deepest Borneo.
In later series Helen is portrayed as being very lazy. It's possible she hasn't done any work for a number of years now.
Libby (Series 6-10)
Australian, lesbian and proud of both, Libby has stepped in after Irene has job-swapped with her. Libby is very open minded and is often making brash jokes at the wrong time and doesn't think about the consequences of what she is saying until it's too late.
Clare thought that, with Irene out the picture, it would be a one horse race to the finish for the position for team leader. However, Libby liked the sound of a higher wage job and is now the boss of the other social workers. She can be quite the taskmaster.
Simon (Series 1-5 & 7-10)
A Geography teacher at the same school as Brian, Simon enjoys break duty as he is allowed to shout at kids. It is here where most of the conversations with his best friend Brian take place, usually focusing on any current news in their lives and relationships.
Simon, like Brian, enjoys his football and drink down the Unicorn. He's also a womaniser, and has had more girlfriends that it is possible to count.
Nali (Series 5-10)
Introduced after the birth of Clare's and Brian's firstborn (Thomas), Nali has been employed to care for Thomas while Clare and Brian are at work. In her time off she does the washing and gardening too (or at least Clare tries to make her).
From Eastern Europe, Nali is a young woman working in the UK and has no significant family relations. She has many anecdotes about life in her country and back in her village and also has several odd phrases and sayings, many involving cabbages. She sings torture/death war chants as lullabies to Thomas in her language so one can understand.
Nali is a liar, nosy, loves to gossip and cheats but as long as she is willing to stay on, Clare will keep her employed as she wants practically 24 hour supervision around Thomas. Nali is with Thomas for so long during the day, many people mistake her for being Thomas' mother.
Joan (Series 9)
Joan is the newest member of the social work team. She is timid and hardworking, but clearly has a lot of underlying mental problems that will need dealing with at some point.
Irene (Series 1-5)
Irene thought of herself as a more suitable and all-round better team leader than Clare. On more than one occasion she tried to overrule Clare and take control of the department and develop more of a boss status over the others.
Irene believed herself to be better, as she has been a social worker for longer than Clare. She is not as full of jargon-filled vocabulary as Clare is, but she still contributes to problems in the workplace with equal expertise.
Irene, who is black, reveals late in the series that she is secretly a lesbian. She breaks up with her husband Stanley, leaving him depressed and lonely.
She leaves at the end of Series 5 in a job swap with Libby.