Developed from a 1969 Comedy Playhouse episode The Liver Birds (the female equivalent of The Likely Lads), originally featured the excellent and rather under appreciated Polly James as the perky Beryl Hennessey and Pauline Collins as the prim and prissy Dawn, sharing a pokey bedsit in Liverpool 8's (perhaps now better known as Toxteth) Huskisson Street.
However, it became quickly apparent that the two female co-stars were not gelling and after just three episodes the BBC took the decision to remove the show from its schedule. It returned in 1971 sans the Collins character, and in her place was the naive and socially aspiring character of Sandra, as played by Nerys Hughes (who would later in the series have the considerable benefit of the incomparable Mollie Sugden's talents as her snobbish, middle-class mother). Although the name of Carla Lane is now most closely associated with the series she did not, in fact, create it on her own but with co-writers Myra Taylor and Lew Schwarz, and it wasn't until series four that Lane went solo with former 'Monty Python' Eric Idle brought in as script editor. As the series progressed so the two girls began to grow apart, Sandra began a steady relationship with Paul (future Bergerac star John Nettles) and finally, in 1974, (on the same day that Princess Anne got married), Beryl tied the knot with fiance Robert (Jonathan Lynn who would go on to co-create the excellent Yes, Minister) before leaving the series. Beryl's replacement was Carol Boswell (Elizabeth Estensen) whose loud voice was matched by her equally loud clothes and shock red hair.
Along with Carol came a whole new set of characters, including her morose, philosophical, rabbit loving brother, Lucien (Michael Angelis), and their gin-swilling mother, a character who proved to be the model (even down to the same surname) for Nellie Boswell in the later Lane created comedy Bread. The lively theme song by popular Liverpool group The Scaffold (who featured Mike McGear, Paul McCartney's brother), was indicative of youthful ambition, and by now The Liver Birds were adults. The series finally ended in 1978 after Sandra married her boss, Derek, and became pregnant, and Carol moved in as their lodger. We caught up with Beryl and Sandra again in 1996, but this new series only emphasised the fact that you can never fully recreate the joy of lost youth and this return visit was one strictly for the nostalgia fans. Whilst genuinely funny, The Liver Birds was very much a product of its time, and as so often proves the case, less than accurate in its depiction of the city in which it was set. Although to be fair, Lane was entirely successful in capturing the dry, wry, machine-gun blackness of the humour for which Liverpudlians are world-renowned.
Published on December 31st, 2018. Written by SRH for Television Heaven.