Birds Of A Feather

1989 | United Kingdom

A rare treat on British television - a sitcom centred round three female characters who were the only regulars in a comedy that concentrated on sibling rivalry, class distinction and a very annoying next-door neighbour. Birds of a Feather became an almost overnight success and stayed on primetime television for 9 years. The two main leads, Pauline Quirk and Linda Robson had been real-life friends since primary school, attended theatre school together and made their professional debuts in the 1970 movie Junket 89. As a teenager Quirk hosted three children's TV series: You Must Be Joking (1975), Pauline's Quirkes (1976) and Pauline's People (1978-79), the latter of which also featured Linda Robson. In 1982, the friends found themselves cast Shine on Harvey Moon, a successful comedy-drama series on the trials and tribulations of a London family in the immediate post-war years. Written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, it was the writers first significant hit, and eventually led to them forming their own company, Alomo Productions. Birds of a Feather was the first series to appear under Alomo's banner.

Sharon Theodopolopoudos (Quirk) and her sister Tracey Stubbs (Robson) have taken different life paths. Sharon lives in a dilapidated Edmonton council flat in a high rise block with her shiftless waster of a husband Chris. The only time they communicate is when they hurl insults at each other, and this is almost constantly. Tracey, on the other hand, is married to successful business man Darryl and appears to have an idealic lifestyle. Together, Shaz and Daz have a son, Garth, who goes to public school, while they enjoy living in a house which they have named Dalentrace, complete with indoor sauna and swimming pool in the real-life Essex suburb of Chigwell, the 'millionaire row' for footballers, business men and the nouveau riche. However, the two sisters are suddenly and unexpectedly thrown together when their spouses are arrested for pulling an armed robbery together. For Sharon, Chris's part in the heist comes as no surprise. But for Tracey, the shock leaves her (in her own words) "totally gob-smacked!" Seeing an opportunity to move decidedly upmarket by moving in to Dalentrace, Sharon graciously puts aside her differences with Tracey, in order to offer support in her sister's hour of need. The move is expected to be temporary, whilst Daryll's lawyer goes to work on getting the case against the two villians dropped, but becomes permanent when each of them are sent down for 12 years. In the midst of Sharon and Tracey's new sibling relationship, enters Tracey's nosey next door neighbour, Dorien. Aware of what has happened to Daryll, and always on the look-out for a juicy bit of gossip, Dorien, a snobbish, middle-aged, sex-obsessed (as long as it's not with her husband, Marcus), social climber, breezes in and out of Dalentrace as if it was her second home, and mocks Sharon about her weight and lack of social graces, whilst Sharon teases Dorien about her lifestyle and age. This relationship gradually gives way to a begrudging friendship. While the early episodes concerned itself more with the plight of the two sisters and how they deal with their husbands' misdemeanours as well as their new, manless enforced lifestyle, the later seasons are more about the relationship of the three women. 

Although the series was written for Quirk and Robson, Lesley Joseph, playing up her character's stereotypical Jewishness, became a surprise star in her own right, putting in some cracking performances as the sex-starved, self-obsessed, cheating, manipulating, Dorien. A classic British sitcom character in every sense. Sharon and Tracey (even down to their names) came to symbolise the pejorative stereotype, labelled somewhat harshly at times as 'Essex girl:' Brash, uninhibited women who had escaped working class backgrounds and were driven by materialistic possessions. A profile that became the source of numerous crude jokes in the so-called politically correct late 1980s and mid 1990s. Nonetheless, Birds of a Feather proved to be a huge success for all concerned and although the series finished in 1998 after eight seasons and numerous specials, Linda Robson confirmed in 2010 that a script has been written for a stage show, which all three actresses are keen to be involved with, but that this would depend on the availability of Pauline Quirke, who had just been contracted to Emmerdale for 6 months. Quirke herself announced that a touring version of Birds of a Feather would start in spring 2012.

Following a successful tour the scripts for a new series was delivered to the BBC but they were only interested in making a one-off special. The producers turned them down and took the scripts to ITV and fifteen years after the original series finished the original cast returned with eight new episodes being broadcast from 2 January 2014. Pauline Quirke said that although the intention was to do only one series, she would not rule out doing further episodes if the scripts were right and the fans and viewers wanted more of the series. The opening episode attracted nearly eight million viewers, giving ITV its highest rated comedy since Barbara in 2000 and as a result three series were made as well as a Christmas Special in 2017.

Published on November 30th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

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