When The A Word first arrived on our screens, the young boy at the centre of the story – Joe Hughes – was just five years old; now he’s ten. And in that time, so much has happened! So much has changed!
As we move into series three, here’s a recap of the main storylines so you can refresh your memory…
What’s happened to the Hughes family so far? Why did Joe’s parents divorce?
We first met young Joe (Max Vento) and his parents Paul Hughes (Lee Ingleby) and Alison Hughes (Morven Christie) in series one, along with Alison’s teenage daughter Rebecca (Molly Wright).
At the time, Paul and Alison were in denial about his behaviour and his struggles to deal with everyday life; here was a boy who became overwhelmed unless he could wear headphones and play his favourite music non-stop, a boy who didn’t play with the other kids, a boy who had serious communication problems.
But after he started school and stopped being invited to birthday parties, they took him to the professionals and he was finally diagnosed with autism.
The diagnosis was tough for Paul and Alison as they watched the life they’d imagined for their son disappear, and as they struggled to get through to him. They tried homeschooling, but that wasn’t a huge success (to put it mildly). Paul was attempting to build and open a gastropub, and that was a struggle too – especially with all the added financial and emotional stress of caring for a child with special needs.
When we caught up with the Hughes family in series two, Joe was now seven years old and starting to realise he was “different” and had this thing called “autism”. We saw Paul and Alison struggle to decide what was best for the next stage of his education: staying in a mainstream school, or joining a school for children with special needs. Ultimately, they found a school which catered to Joe’s needs – but there was a catch: the school was in Manchester.
Cracks widened in Paul and Alison’s marriage as they struggled to juggle different commitments and help Joe get the education he needed. Things got worse when Paul admitted to his wife that he was attracted to Sophie, a worker at his gastropub with an autistic teenage son.
Ultimately the couple decided to divorce.
Two years later, “Joe now lives with Alison in Manchester during the week – where he attends his specialist school – and spends weekends and holidays in the Lake District with Paul. Paul is renovating a small run-down house that he’s bought, but in the meantime he and Joe are lodging at Maurice’s.”
Meanwhile, Sophie’s son Mark (Travis Smith) now works at the gastropub himself, where he’s a successful waiter.
What’s happened between Maurice and Louise so far?
Maurice Scott (Christopher Eccleston) is a widower with two grown-up children, Alison and Eddie – and he’s had a long-running romance storyline with local music teacher Louise Wilson (Pooky Quesnel) which continues into series three.
In series one, at the end of a singing lesson, Louise sat him down for a cup of tea and an interesting proposition. She was a single mother to Ralph (Leon Harrop), a young man with Down’s Syndrome; he was a recent widower with a hectic home life. Would he be interested in no-string-attached casual sex?
After his initial reluctance, Maurice warmed to the idea. But things soon became complicated, and eventually came to an abrupt end when Maurice unfairly blamed Ralph for letting Joe go missing.
In series two, Maurice got back in touch with Louise and decided he would win her back – but she didn’t really want him in her life any more, partly because he was so disruptive the last time around. Her other reasons for sidelining her love life also became clear when she revealed she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer.
However, Louise and Maurice did start things up again – and in series three they’re still in this ambiguous relationship, two years after Louise finished chemotherapy. As ITV puts it, “She and Maurice are still in a relationship of sorts, but they’re both being quietly careful not to cross any lines. Maurice stays over at Louise’s from time to time but there’s been no talk of moving in.”
Meanwhile, Ralph has been dating his girlfriend Katie (Sarah Gordy) for two years and is now set to “make some big changes to his life”.
What happened to Eddie and Nicola’s marriage?
When the series began, Alison’s brother Eddie (Greg McHugh) and his wife Nicola (Vinette Robinson) had just moved back from the city to live in Eddie’s hometown. They were hoping to repair their marriage after Nicola’s affair with her co-worker.
But things didn’t go smoothly. Nicola struggled to fit in to this close-knit Cumbrian community, while Eddie didn’t find it easy to forgive his wife for her infidelity. He also clashed with his father, Maurice, who couldn’t seem to step away from the family brewery business and let Eddie run the place.
Eddie and Nicola finally split up at the end of the first series. But, surprise – Nicola turned out to be pregnant! In series two, she remained living next door to Alison and Paul; she was working a full-time job at the doctor’s surgery while juggling single parenthood.
Eddie, meanwhile, had moved to Manchester and was trying (and failing) to build a life for himself.
When we pick things up two years later for series three, Eddie and Nicola remain split up – but things have changed. Nicola decided to move back to London with their daughter, Emily, but Eddie now lives back at home under his dad’s roof. Maurice has finally officially retired, and Eddie has ploughed all his energy into building up the family business from a small local brewery into an award-winning and fast-growing brand.
What’s happened so far with Joe’s sister Rebecca?
In the aftermath of Joe’s diagnosis and a difficult few years for the Hughes family, Rebecca – Alison’s daughter from her first marriage – was unfortunately sidelined. But she’s been a rock for Joe from the beginning, accepting him as he is and quietly spending time with him.
In series one, she dated a boy called Luke and went through her first big breakup; by series two, she’d finished school and gone travelling and met a guy called James. That was also a bit of a disaster. And when series three begins, she’s just “returned home from University with a secret that will change everything further”.
The A Word airs on Tuesday at 9pm on BBC One. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide.