Andrew Dipper

The Likely Lads turns 50

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Geordie sitcom The Likely Lads turns 50 next month. Ahead of the landmark, the show’s creators Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have been speaking to the Express newspaper about the series’ longevity, the failed 1996 revival of the sitcom, the long-time fued between stars Rodney Bewes and James Bolam and more. Below are some of the highlights.

On how the pair met:

“We first met in the Uxbridge Arms in Notting Hill, through a mutual friend. Dick was at the BBC, and my gap year was extending into its second year. Dick was in an amateur revue, and my friends had been in revue, so Dick invited them to join his revue, leaving me out in the cold. So I told Dick: ‘I’d like to write something for the review. So we wrote something together in another pub in Earls Court.”

On the creation of The Likely Lads:

“[We wrote a] sketch was called Double Date, a postmortem between two guys and two girls who had just been on a double date, hearing the same incidents from the male and female perspective. The BBC called us in and said: ‘Do you see this as a series?’ And we both said: ‘Yes, of course,’ though we’d never had such a thought, and The Likely Lads was born. We were lucky that BBC Two was starting up and needed new programmes, and were prepared to take a chance.”

On how much they were paid by the BBC:

“We were cheap. They paid us £200 for each script split between us. We were thrilled, but it went out on BBC Two, which only about half a dozen people watched. The BBC head of comedy said that when he took over he was given a list of programmes, and right at the bottom of the list was something called The Likely Lads. ‘It won’t do anything, but it’s cheap.’”

On drinking on the job:

“The first time we filmed on location in the Norfolk Broads, I went into a pub with Jimmy [Bolam] and Rodney [Bewes] and ordered a bottle of red wine. The barman filled three glasses, then put the cork in the bottle and said: “I’ll put this on the shelf and you can have it whenever you like through the week.’ We drank four bottles that night. I remember a night shoot, where Rodney and Jimmy had to run up the street. They disappeared around the corner and didn’t come back. We found them in a pub. They’d had enough of filming. Our whole career is traced through pubs.”

Why The Likely Lads was such a success (it drew over 20 million viewers):

The Likely Lads was a working class comedy, and previously on TV you didn’t see characters who worked in factories and lived in houses with no inside loo. Sitcoms before all seemed to be set in drawing rooms in Surrey.”

On the 38-year fued between stars Rodney Bewes and James Bolam:

“Jimmy always had this fear of being stuck as Terry Collier for the rest of his life. But it never affected Jimmy’s career at all. He went into West End theatre, did movies and TV and in the last few years did New Tricks. I don’t know why Jimmy had this problem. We never had a problem on the set. We don’t know if it’s true that Jimmy has vetoed repeats. We never got a definitive answer. But if it is true, we’d be just as pissed off as anyone else.”

On the failed 1996 revival of the series:

“Because of Jimmy’s attitude it wasn’t even worth exploring. [The plot would have been that] Rodney had started a business and gone bankrupt, and Terry had been in a car crash that didn’t really hurt him but got an enormous insurance settlement, so he ended up better off than Bob. And Bob’s two children had let him down: one was a roadie, and the other was in rehab.”

On where The Likely Lads would be now, 50 years on:

“They’d be retired. Terry has his nest egg from the car crash. Bob would have recovered from his bankruptcy and bought a place in Spain, but sold it to a British gangster who paid way less than Bob paid for it. It’s a litany of disaster for Bob.”

You can read the full interview on the Express website.