A Sharply scripted comedy of character and wryly observed social change, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais' immensely popular BBC sitcom The Likely Lads and it's even more polished sequel, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads' held a perceptively laughter gilded mirror to the changing face of the work-deprived industrial North East and of British society during the middle nineteen-sixties and early seventies.
Chronicling the lives of two disparate young men from Newcastle, who had nevertheless been friends since childhood, the original series of 'The Likely Lads' ran from 1964 to 1966, and even though broadcast in black and white, on the minority BBC 2, became a surprise hit. The series starred the perfectly case duo of James Bolam as the feckless, work-shy, opinionated and trouble prone Terry Collier, and Rodney Bewes as Terry's best friend, the gentler, more conformist, yet loyal, Bob Ferris. The success of the series lay in its successfully evocative and generally accurate depiction of the everyday lives Bob and Terry, which consisted mainly of work during the day, and evenings spent downing pints and attempting to "pull birds". In the character's of the "lads" and the matter-of-fact depiction of the very ordinariness of their lives, Clement and La Frenais struck a cord of deep familiarity and identification with legions of working class young people across the country.
The series' genesis arose out of a sketch that Dick Clement wrote with his friend Ian La Frenais for his BBC director's course. Realising the potential in the concept, it was given the go-ahead for development and went on to form the foundation of the writing team's impressive future careers.
Between 1973 to 1976 Bob and Terry were reunited, this time in colour, by their creators in the superior sequel, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, wherein the older, but not necessarily wiser duo, attempted to come to terms with both the growing social gap between them caused by Bob's hard work and diligence, which saw him ascending the managerial ladder to middle-class status, and on the point of marriage to Thelma, the bosses daughter (seen at the end of The Likely Lads), whilst Terry had spent the last four years in the army and had recently escaped from a disastrous marriage.
In the lads somewhat altered relationship, Clement and La Frenais managed to perfectly reflect the changing fortunes of the city of Bob and Terry's birth, and British society in general. A feature film was released in 1976. Although a further series has been mooted over the decades since the series end in 1976, the prospect appears unlikely due mainly to James Bolam's oft stated reluctance to reassume the embittered, hang-dog mantle of the Terry Collier character. A remake of sorts - billed as 'A Tribute To The Likely Lads', with popular children's TV presenters Ant and Deck in the roles of Terry and Bob, appeared on British TV screens in 2002 but was met with only lukewarm reception. Rodney Bewes made a cameo appearance.
Wonderfully written, beautifully played and now a valuable social document to a way of life which has in the main been lost forever, the two incarnations of 'The Likely Lads' stand as an important and consistently funny reminder of the thin line between great situation comedy and the socially aware bleakness of the sixties born genre of the "Kitchen Sink" drama.
TV Times article on Ian La Frenais (1973)
Published on December 31st, 2018. SRH (2000).