WHEN Brookside featured a character with literacy problems, it struck a chord with thousands of Channel 4 viewers.
The programme then told people who wanted help with literacy to ring a helpline called Learning Direct and ask for "Brookie Basics". Thousands called the helpline and 11,000 were referred to taster courses.
When the BBC ran its Webwise campaign last month, 13,000 people phoned Learning Direct to find out about the Internet.
The helpline, part of the University for Industry, is already meeting hidden needs, stimulating demand, widening access and increasing participation - a vital plank in Government plans to promote lifelong learning.
The university, with its network of centres and new learning products, is due to launch nationally in autumn 2000.
Learning Direct went live last February. Demand is already outstripping expectations: nearly a quarter of a million calls have been taken.
Independent evaluation shows the service is already getting results. Six months after calling Learning Direct, 57 per cent of callers were on a course; 97 per cent of those interviewed four weeks after calling said the staff dispensing information and advice were friendly, easy to listen to and helpful.