Twenty-year-old Nicky Hutchinson returns to Newcastle in 1964 after several months working in the southern United States, where he participated in the emerging Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans. He first visits his girlfriend, Mary Soulsby, who is living with her parents and her disabled brother Patrick. He later has a small birthday gathering with Mary, his parents, Felix and Florrie, best friend George 'Geordie' Peacock and local councillor Eddie Wells, a friend of Felix's. After arguing with Felix about his past involving the Jarrow March, Nicky begins to campaign for the Labour Party in the upcoming election, much to the annoyance of Felix. Geordie introduces Mary to his friend Terry 'Tosker' Cox, who immediately begins to make romantic gestures towards her despite the presence of Nicky. Eventually, after feeling that Nicky is spending too much time with the Labour Party and no longer has time for her, Mary has sex with Tosker, which leads to her getting pregnant. Geordie, disheartened when Tosker and Nicky make it clear that they are no longer interested in forming a band, leaves Newcastle without warning and hitches down to London to get away from his forthcoming marriage to a girl he has made pregnant and from his drunken, abusive father. He quickly gets a job working in a cafė, where he encounters a former police constable, Berger, who claims to him that the Metropolitan Police is massively corrupt. He gives Geordie a letter to post to the Commissioner, outlining these allegations, before promptly being arrested. Following Labour's victory in the general election Nicky is offered a job by Austin Donohue, the Leader of Newcastle City Council, who outlines a series of large architectural reforms he wishes to bring in across the North of England. Despite protests from Felix that he should go to Manchester University, where he has been offered a place, Nicky accepts Donohue's offer.
Berger has been placed in a mental institution, where he is visited by Chief Inspector Roy Johnson and continues to proclaim that the Met is corrupt. After Johnson tells him that he is not senior enough to start an investigation into the allegations, Berger hangs himself. Mary has married Tosker and is bringing up their one-year-old son in a newly built high-rise council flat on Willow Lane that was pushed for by Austin Donohue, together with the construction developer John Edwards. The cafe Geordie worked in has been shut down, leading him to seek work with a Soho porn baron, Benny Barratt. It soon becomes clear that Barratt is in collusion with the police, using Geordie to bribe Detective Chief Inspector John Salway and Commander Harold Chapple. Nicky is continuing as an assistant to Donohue, but has grown disillusioned with his work and is suspicious of Donohue's deals with John Edwards. He is also finding it very difficult to remain friends with Mary, whose marriage to Tosker is collapsing under the strain of Tosker's one-night stands and his suspicion of Nicky. Despite this, Mary soon falls pregnant again. Geordie is introduced to Julia, Benny Barratt's mistress, and immediately falls in love with her. Nicky finally walks out on Donohue, chastising him for failing to fulfil his promises and for accepting bribes from John Edwards to build high-rise housing of very poor quality. Nicky takes with him incriminating information which details Donohue's corrupt dealings with Edwards.
Despite having their second child, Mary and Tosker's marriage continues to fall apart, as does their Willow Lane flat. Geordie has become a close confidante of Benny Barratt's, enabling him to live a very comfortable existence, although he has been pursuing an affair with Julia. Barratt quickly discovers the affair, but remains silent about it. Nicky, completely disillusioned with the Labour Party, has begun to turn to the anarchist movement and is in a relationship with a radical, middle-class anarchist. The pair have a disastrous dinner with Mary and Tosker, who find they now have nothing in common with Nicky's attitudes or politics, and view his girlfriend as being condescending. Eddie Wells discovers that Nicky has documents that prove that Donohue and Edwards acted illegally, he asks him to make them public, but Nicky refuses and instead leaves immediately to go to London. Edwards has abandoned Donohue and is instead expanding his affairs overseas with the help of corrupt Conservative MP Claude Seabrook. Tosker loses his job at a factory when the company have to halt their illegal exports to Rhodesia at a time when the UK were pursuing sanctions against the country. Depressed, he travels to London to visit Geordie, who takes him out in Soho and introduces him to Barratt. The porn baron takes a shine to Tosker, giving him gifts of money and ensuring he is well-entertained. Shortly after this, Barratt asks Geordie if he is having an affair with Julia, and rather than lie Geordie confesses. Barratt states that for being honest with him, he will continue to work with Geordie, but takes him to see Julia having sex with a man for money to show that she was lying to him about being in love with him. This leaves Geordie completely devastated.
Nicky is now living in a squat in London with a group of armed anarchist extremists, intent on bringing down Edward Heath and his government by force. Geordie, through his connections with the Met, manages to track Nicky down and takes him for a night out in Soho, which proves disastrous as the two men have so little in common anymore. Geordie's position is suddenly threatened when a police officer names him as colluding with other officers, and an investigation into corruption in the police is instigated. Roy Johnson, who has been promoted, is asked to lead it, although Salway and Chapple lean on as many officers as they can to not comply with the investigation. The anarchists, shaken by Geordie finding them so easily, ask Nicky to leave them for their own protection. Shortly after he leaves, they begin attempting minor terrorist attacks on government buildings and bomb the house of a senior police officer. Back in Newcastle, Nicky meets up with Mary and Tosker, who have finally moved out of the Willow Lane flats. Tosker now runs a successful fruit and vegetable business from a van, bought with money given to him by Benny Barratt, and he has plans to buy his own shop with a flat above it. Mary is pursuing a law degree and has gone into local politics, although she and Tosker continue to grow apart, with only have the past to connect them. Roy Johnson makes a breakthrough in his investigation, which he discovers leads all the way to Claude Seabrook, who has become the Home Secretary. His investigation is stopped shortly afterwards by the Commissioner, Colin Blamire, who is not colluding in the corruption but does rather fears the embarrassment of media publicity. Blamire promotes Salway and Johnson's report is returned to him without being read. In despair, he retires to Newcastle. Geordie leaves London on business for Barratt, ending up at a seaside boarding house where he meets and falls in love with a woman. He leaves and promises to return to her, however upon his arrival back in London he discovers that Barratt has planted incriminating evidence in his flat in revenge for his earlier affair with Julia, and Geordie is arrested by Salway. Nicky's anarchist colleagues, including his girlfriend, are later raided and arrested by an anti-terror squad. At the same time, Nicky's family are horrified to discover that he has hidden a machine gun under his bed, and together Felix and Eddie Wells berate Nicky about his politics and his attitude to armed violence. Felix orders him out of his house and he and Eddie dispose of the gun by burying it out at the allotments. In despair, Nicky seeks comfort from Mary when Tosker is doing a delivery. When Tosker returns, he reveals to Mary that her disabled brother Patrick has died. Nicky, Tosker, Mary and all of their families and friends attend the funeral.
Under the new leadership of Commissioner Jellicoe, the Met are finally beginning to crack down on the Soho porn industry, as well as their own internal corruption. Chapple announces his intention to retire, aiming to escape discovery. Meanwhile, the police have begun to quietly investigate the activities of Austin Donohue, interviewing a now bankrupt John Edwards in the process. Edwards gives the police Nicky's name in relation to a missing folder of Donohue's that they believe would prove incriminating. Nicky has remained in Newcastle, now living in the decrepit high-rise flat that he first found for Tosker and Mary in 1966. He runs a radical magazine alongside his factory job, and is now a keen photographer. He has also reconciled with his family, as they together experience the Three-Day Week enforcement. Geordie is released from jail and is bent on seeking revenge on Benny Barratt, whom he discovers has fled Soho for Spain. He seeks comfort with Julia, telling her that not one person visited him during his three years in jail. Eddie Wells asks Felix to run his campaign to become the new MP for their local constituency at the upcoming election; despite losing selection as the Labour candidate to a wealthy businessman, Eddie runs as an independent Labour candidate regardless. Nicky offers his support but Eddie, not forgetting Nicky's personal politics, tells him he does not want his help. During the election campaign, Nicky slowly begins to rekindle his relationship with Mary, who has become a councillor, whilst Tosker's business and other interests are pulling him away from his family. When Geordie discovers that Barratt has temporarily returned to Soho, he procures a gun in an attempt to murder him. Before he is able to, Barratt is arrested by the police, who procures tapes from him that are instrumental in revealing all about the corruption and alliance between the police and pornographers. Before either of them are able to successfully retire, both Salway and Chapple are arrested, along with many other officers. Austin Donohue and John Edwards are also arrested, the separate investigation having finally proven their criminality. Despite a smear campaign against him by the local Labour Party, Eddie wins the election by a tiny margin. Geordie returns to Newcastle completely unaware of the election and by chance finds his way into Eddie's victory party, where Nicky, Mary and Tosker are all in attendance. For the first time in a decade, the four friends are together again.
Tosker and Mary's marriage has disintegrated to the point where it is completely over but, for the sake of their children Anthony and Bernadette, they stay together. Depressed and worried about the loss of his hair, Tosker frequents local nightclubs with Geordie and together they have continual one-night stands. Nicky has returned to more conventional politics and wins selection as the Labour Party candidate in the constituency next door to Eddie Wells MP, who has since rejoined the Labour Party himself. His Conservative opponent Claudia Seabrook, the daughter of the now disgraced former Home Secretary Claude Seabrook, is given Colin Butler as an agent by the regional office, and he begins to run an extreme smear campaign against Nicky. Geordie, now living next door to Nicky, has been making a living selling drugs for corrupt Newcastle policemen. Shortly before his flat is raided by the police, he discovers that Julia has committed suicide and is convinced that Benny Barratt was responsible. He travels to London, leaving his flat empty for a disillusioned and depressed Anthony to enter. The police find Anthony in Geordie's flat hours later, drunk and waving a gun around. In London, Geordie confronts Barratt, who has recently been released from prison, although Barratt denies anything to do with Julia's death. The now retired Roy Johnson, who has become a neighbour and friend of Felix, requests a meeting with Commissioner Jellicoe to vent his frustration about the brutality of the police force and how his report was never read years ago, but he is called away to deal with an attack on his allotment. The culprit is Anthony, who having escaped from the police has angrily vandalised the allotment, but on Mary's insistence he later apologises to Johnson, forming a tentative friendship with him. Horrified at the smear campaign he has run and his extreme beliefs, Claudia sacks Butler as her agent, but the damage to Nicky's campaign is irreversible. Felix, meanwhile, begins to show early signs of memory loss. At a disco, Tosker meets a woman named Elaine and completely falls in love with her. He finally asks Mary for a divorce, but he cannot bring himself to tell Anthony and Bernadette, who have grown to heavily dislike him. Returning to Newcastle to find his flat raided and the police looking for him, Geordie goes on the run again, bidding farewell and good luck to Nicky. It is announced that the Willow Lane flats that Nicky worked with Donohue to build and whose existence he had campaigned against ever since are to be demolished. Nicky is unable to find happiness in this long-desired goal being fulfilled as he is certain to lose the election, despite bringing Mary onboard to help him at the last moment. After the election, which Nicky appears to have come to terms with, he watches the demolition of the flats with Mary. Despite their feelings for each other being evident, and with Tosker now engaged to Elaine, Mary tells Nicky that she must put the needs of her children first and leaves him.
As the miners' strike is dominates all political life across the country, Mary has become Leader of Newcastle City Council and is actively supporting the miners, but her son Anthony finds himself on the frontline of the conflict having become a policeman. Nicky, whose career as a photographer has begun to take off, works with Eddie Wells to investigate the involvement of local businesses in breaking the strike at the same time as a now heavily balding Tosker is doing deals with these men. At first the relationship between the miners and the local police is friendly, but when large numbers of police from the London Met are sent in as reinforcements and there is an attempt by scab workers to enter the pit, a riot ensues in the village. Anthony is incredibly disturbed by the violence he witnesses, in particular the brutality of the London police officers. Feeling conflicted loyalties, he requests to be taken off policing the strikers, in spite of the threatened damage to his career prospects. Mary tends to the wounds of Nicky, who was injured by a policeman whilst taking photos of the riot on the picket line, and they end up sleeping together. Mary offers to defend two miners charged with rioting in court for no charge and pressures Anthony to testify against the police and on behalf of the miners, knowing that that would swing the verdict. His decision to testify at the court leads to a decision by the prosecution to largely lessen the charges against the miners so that he does not have to testify. This is seen as a victory for the two miners, but Anthony is warned that he has destroyed any chances he had of advancement in the police. Florrie and Felix have become in increasing danger of being attacked and are frequently pestered and berated by local youths, including young Christopher Collins. When he goes to complain to Collins' family, Felix is viciously attacked by his stepfather and his Rottweiler, ending up in hospital. Nicky arranges for his mother to move to a bungalow to make things easier for the two of them, but when Felix comes out of hospital it becomes clear that the attack has only worsened his mental deterioration. Tosker, happy in his new life with Elaine, has begun to become a wealthy man through his acquaintances with members of the business community, including Alan Roe. He eventually decides to join the Freemasons. Nicky and Mary, at the behest of her children, propose to one another and agree to marry. Geordie's fate remains unknown, as he does not appear in this episode at all.
Nicky and Mary have been married for two years, and Mary has just become a grandmother. Nicky has become a very successful photographer who has had many books of his work published. As Leader of the Council, Mary is faced with hard decisions involving making cuts in services and being restricted from all she would like to do by new government regulations. Felix has become very senile due to the onset of Alzheimer's disease and Florrie, realising she can no longer cope, puts him into a home. Christopher Collins, who used to torment Felix and Florrie as a youth, is involved in a siege on his estate and ends up being shot and injured by a police marksman. Whilst on a book-signing trip to London, Nicky encounters student Alice McDonald who is writing a dissertation on his work, and he begins having an affair with her. After a few occasions together, however, Alice suddenly ends the relationship. Tosker is still married to Elaine and has become a slum landlord. Elaine dislikes this and is worried by the influence that Alan Roe has over him. Tosker then sells his properties, planning to set up a lucrative mortgage lending scheme for council tenants wanting to buy their houses. After Mary points out to Elaine that this is little more than a scam to either get high interest payments from people or gain repossessed properties at rock bottom prices, Elaine is livid. She physically attacks Tosker, throwing ornaments at him, after which the two sit down and seriously talk. Elaine firmly tells him to put their money in stocks and shares whilst they take time to think things through and sort out their relationship. Whilst taking photographs of down and outs in London, Nicky is horrified to discover Geordie amongst them. Geordie has become an unkempt, mentally unstable alcoholic who does not even recognise Nicky. Despite returning several times to where he first saw Geordie, Nicky is unable to find him again and feels guilty. Eddie Wells, still a Labour MP, has become frustrated at how the country has changed, and is now a heavy drinker and bitter. He begins investigating the role of PR firms illegal "payments for questions", particularly the firm run by Colin Butler, the man responsible for the smear campaign against Nicky in the 1979 election. Having had a falling out, Nicky later discovers that Eddie's researcher Francine is in fact a plant by Colin Butler, who has leaked false information to Eddie. Nicky manages to inform Eddie of this set up right before he is due to start questioning Butler in a Select Committee, and embarrassingly Eddie has to give up his planned exposé. Utterly humiliated, Eddie decides to retire with as much grace as possible and tries to persuade Mary to stand as candidate in his place. Mary refuses, trying to put her interests first for a change. She also suspects that Nicky has been seeing someone else and after they have a row, Nicky walks out on her. He tries to go out with Alice again, but she is embarrassed by his presence and makes it obvious she is not interested. Whilst at his hotel Mary unexpectedly turns up to try and save their marriage, and learns that part of his self-loathing and behaviour has stemmed from feeling "useless", something which Felix accused him of being. Geordie ends up in a hostel and after seeing Eddie Wells on the television becomes incredibly confused, jumbling up some of the metaphors Eddie used in his announcement to expose corruption in government, and sets fire to his bed. He is tried in court for arson and is unexpectedly and harshly given a sentence of life imprisonment. "Black Monday" occurs, completely wiping out the value of Tosker and Elaine's investments and ruining them. Together, they plan to sell their large house and buy a couple of karaoke pubs with the proceeds to get back on their feet. Mary makes it clear to Nicky that their relationship has failed and that she cannot understand why. The Great Storm of 1987 hits the country, causing the prison van in which Geordie and other prisoners are being transported to be held up. They all escape whilst the officers are trying to clear the road of branches but a frightened Geordie, realising that he cannot fend for himself in the outside world, ends up returning to the van. Eddie's papers are completely scattered by the wind as he tries to walk, and as he gathers them up he suddenly suffers a large heart attack and dies in front of the Houses of Parliament.
Nicky, who has been living in Italy for many years, returns to Newcastle to arrange Florrie's funeral. Felix is now in the full grip of Alzheimer's disease and no longer recognises people around him or what is going on. Reading letters left to him by his mother, Nicky finds out more about his father and learns of his lifetime feeling of failure after the Jarrow March achieved nothing. In an attempt to change this feeling in his father Nicky takes him to see a woman in Yorkshire who remembers the Jarrow Marchers, including Felix, coming through her village and the admiration of the people for them. However Nicky is frustrated as it is impossible for Felix to register what is being said to him. Mary has become a Labour MP and quarrels with her policeman son as they have to deal with unrest on a local estate. Sean Collins, son of Christopher Collins, is being allowed to run wild, neglected by both mother and father and spending his time getting into trouble and joyriding. People on the estate want the family moved, but Anthony sticks up for him. Tosker has become a successful businessman again, and he and Elaine prepare to open their floating nightclub on the River Tyne. Geordie arrives in Newcastle, having escaped from prison, and encounters Sean Collins by the river. He goes to the floating nightclub looking for work and is recognised by Elaine. Tosker is not pleased to see him at first, worried about Geordie's state of mind and prison record for arson. However, he relents and offers Geordie a place to stay at his and Elaine's house, as well as a job playing keyboard with the band who will be playing on the opening night. Despite having a proper bed, Geordie sleeps on the floor of his room and leaves in the morning before Tosker and Elaine can check in on him. Mary is on her way to the opening night when Anthony calls round and announces that he is leaving his wife and children. The two row and Anthony pours out his resentments about her, saying she has been a martyr all her life. Nicky and Geordie meet by chance in a bar and have a drink. Just as they are leaving for Tosker's opening night, Geordie spots Sean who has come to see his father, desperate for some communication and acknowledgement. When Collins is brusque with his son and tries to get rid of him, Geordie is moved to interfere and begs him to talk with his son, only to be head-butted. An angry and upset Sean steals a car and speeds off, subsequently crashing into a wall at high speed and killing himself. Since Geordie fails to turn up, Tosker finally achieves his dream of playing on-stage with a band and he and Elaine are happy at the night's success. At Florrie's funeral, Nicky breaks down in tears and at the wake the four friends are shown alone in the same room for the first time in 31 years. After this brief reunion, Tosker leaves to be with Elaine and their young grandchildren. Just after Mary leaves, Nicky has a revelation and impetuously chases after her car, realising that he wants to renew their relationship and seizing the moment. He catches up to her and asks to spend the day with her in the hope of getting together again, which Mary happily agrees to. Geordie briefly watches Tosker playing with his family on his boat, before walking off along the Tyne Bridge alone.