Budgie

1971 | United Kingdom

Adam Faith had over twenty top-forty records to his name when he turned his back on the music industry in the late 1960s, deciding to branch off full time into acting, which he'd already experienced both in the movies and on stage. It was a move that led to him landing one of the best remembered roles on British television in the early 1970s -that of cheeky cockney and loveable rogue Ronald 'Budgie' Bird. Budgie was a small time crook, a petty thief, a chancer who always dreamed of getting rich but mainly had to content himself with the slimmest of pickings. Even his most ambitious schemes wouldn't have put him on Scotland Yard's 'most wanted' list and they all- without exception, had an unerring habit of going completely wrong. His ill-fated schemes included him buying 24,000 stolen ball-point pens, hoping to turn a quick profit - only to find that they had "Government Property" stamped on them; trying to arrange a pornographic film show in a hotel only to discover he had been sold a Laurel and Hardy movie, and being paid to house some smuggled illegal immigrants, whose upkeep ended up costing him more than he was ever going to make out of the deal...and even then the immigrants fled before he got paid! 

The location for many of these doomed schemes was London's Soho area surrounded by seedy strip joints and dirty book shops-hardly a place for a small time crook to build an empire, especially when the area already had an emperor in office. Local gangster Charlie Endell (Iain Cuthbertson) seemed to rule the roost here and Budgie would invariably end up running Endell's errands. Endell seemed to be the only person who was willing to give Budgie any work safe in the knowledge that he had, in Budgie, a ready made sap to take the rap. Budgie was, what you would call a born looser. He couldn't even be faithful to his own girlfriend, Hazel (Lynn Dalby), who had patiently and loyally waited for him to finish his prison sentence-only to find that whenever the chance presented itself Budgie would rush off to be with his estranged wife Jean (Georgina Hale) the Soho tart without a heart. 

Yet in spite of his apparent lack of worthy qualities Budgie had a certain charm about him and his naturally optimistic disposition won him a legion of fans. This was due, in no small part to the irresistible performance of Adam Faith and the knowledge the viewer had that Budgie would never willingly hurt anyone, because beneath the surface here was a crook who retained a few morals...even when it ended up costing him. Faith's portrayal of the irrepressible modern day Artful Dodger made Budgie the first TV criminal with the audience on his side. 

Created by Keith Waterhouse, and written by Waterhouse, Willis Hall and Douglas Livingstone, the series was produced by Rex Firkin and Verity Lambert and ran for two series before a serious accident to Adam Faith precluded any chance of a third. Seven years after the series finished Cuthbertson re-created his role in Charles Endell Esquire, however, after only two episodes were shown an ITV strike put it off the air never to return. Budgie was intended to be made fully in colour but yet another strike by technicians at London Weekend Television meant that the first four episodes were only made in monochrome. Viewers last saw Budgie going back to prison-this time for an offence that he didn't commit. Ever the loser...we still loved him. 

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

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