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Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?

Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? was a hit British sitcom broadcast between January 1973 and April 1974, as the colour sequel to the mid-1960s hit The Likely Lads. It was created and written, as was its predecessor, by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. There were 26 television episodes over two series; and a subsequent 45-minute Christmas special was aired in December 1974.

The cast were reunited in 1975 for a BBC radio adaptation of series 1, transmitted on Radio 4 from July to October that year.

In 1976 a feature film spin-off was made. Around the time of its release, however, Rodney Bewes and James Bolam fell out over a misunderstanding involving the press (Bewes apparently leaked a story that Bolam's wife was pregnant;see page on James Bolam),and have not spoken since. This long-suspected situation was finally confirmed by Bewes while promoting his autobiography in 2005. Unlike Bewes, Bolam is consistently reluctant to talk of it, and has vetoed any attempt to revive his character.

The series

The show followed the friendship, resumed after five years apart, of two working-class young men, Bob Ferris (Bewes) and Terry Collier (Bolam).

Set in the North East of England, and assumed to be set on Tyneside (although this was never explicitly confirmed on screen), the humour was based on the tension between Terry's firmly working-class outlook and Bob's aspirations to join the middle class, through his new white-collar job, suburban home, and impending marriage to prissy librarian Thelma (Brigit Forsyth).

Since the ending of the original series, The Likely Lads, in 1966, Bob had left factory life behind for an office job with his future father-in-law's building firm (a device that leaves Bob even more desperate to retain favour with Thelma and her family). What Bob did for a living was not a major factor in the show; more important was the fact that he was now a white-collar worker, and (at Thelma's urging) was joining badminton clubs, attending dinner parties, and - in all sorts of other ways - generally appearing to Terry as aspiring to join the middle class.

Terry accordingly saw his own Army experiences and solid working class ethos as giving him moral superiority over Bob. But he found it hard to adjust to all the changes which had occurred in the five years that he'd been away. As implied by the title of the Seventies show, the later series played on both lads' feelings of nostalgia for the lost days of their innocent and reckless youth.

The word "likely" in the title referred, in the Sixties series, to those likely to get up to well-meaning mischief; but, as the rest of the Seventies title implied, those days were (or at least, perhaps, should have been) behind them now. Yet, in reality, life was still seen by both Bob and Terry as something in which the only things that really mattered were beer, football and sex - though not necessarily in that order. As Terry said at one point, in disbelief, "After all, there are some people who don't ‘‘like’’ football!"

The conflict between what Bob had become, and what he saw himself as, led him to be impulsively inclined to follow the lead set by the more headstrong Terry (especially after a heavy drinking session), who led them recklessly into one scrape after another. Terry frequently behaved badly, his working class instincts dominating Bob's better judgement. But whatever the plan, they rarely got away with it. Nemesis, in the shape of Thelma (and to a lesser extent, Terry's sister Audrey), was usually waiting just around the corner. Indeed, the battle of the sexes was a frequent theme of the series. Bob usually blamed his drinking, heavy smoking, poor diet and reckless behaviour on Terry, a view that Audrey and Thelma only too willingly agreed with. This may have been true in part, however Bob needed little persuasion to stay out drinking and behave accordingly.

The show's catchy theme song, What Happened to You?, was written by Mike Hugg (of Manfred Mann) and La Frenais, and was performed by Hugg's session band under the name Highly Likely. It made the lower reaches of the UK Top 40 in 1974. Mike Hugg also wrote the theme tune to the spin-off 1976 feature film, entitled Remember When.

The complete first and second series of the Seventies show (including the Christmas special) are now available in the UK on Region 2 DVD, as two releases: "Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? - Series 1" (Catalogue No. BBCDVD1957) and "Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? - Series 2" (Cat. No. BBCDVD1991).

The 2006 BBC release, The Likely Lads Collection (a 5 disc box set: Cat. No. BBCDVD2110), contrary to certain reports, does include both the final episode of series 2 entitled The Shape of Things to Come, plus the 1974 Christmas Special (as an extra feature).

Regular cast

Episode guide

Series 1

1. Strangers on a Train - The lads are reunited by chance, after five years, aboard a homeward-bound train.

2. Home Is The Hero - Terry, newly demobbed from the Army, finds it hard to adjust to all the changes which have occurred in his home town during the five years he's been away.

3. Cold Feet - Due to a misunderstanding, Terry causes havoc between Bob and Thelma, leading Bob to get cold feet about the wedding.

4. Moving On - A depressed Terry decides to go round the world with his old army friend, Hughie McClaren.

5. I'll Never Forget Whatshername - Terry, now back home again, looks up some of his old flames. His lack of success with them makes him self-pitying, and Bob smug, until suspicion arises that Terry may once have had a drunken fling with Thelma.

6. Birthday Boy - Terry becomes depressed when he thinks everyone has forgotten his birthday, but a surprise party organised by Bob goes wrong when someone else is accidentally invited to it instead of him.

7. No Hiding Place - The lads try to avoid learning the result of an England football match before the TV highlights are shown that evening. Flint (Brian Glover) tries to spoil it for them, having bet them £10 that they won't get through the day without learning the result. They get to the TV highlights none the wiser about the score, except for Terry seeing a newspaper headline that says "England F...". When Flint tracks them down to Bob's new house, an angry Terry pays him off with £10 (borrowed from Bob). But after all that, the match turns out to have been postponed because of a waterlogged pitch. "England - flooded out..."

This episode was remade by Ant & Dec for ITV in 2002, featuring a cameo appearance by Rodney Bewes as the old newspaper vendor.

8. Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? - Terry joins Bob and Thelma at a posh dinner party, and causes havoc.

9. Storm In A Tea Chest - Thelma hypocritically forces Bob to throw out all his childhood junk, while keeping all of hers.

10. The Old Magic - At a fancy restaurant, the lads test out whether they can still 'pull' the birds or not... And end up with a date with a girl who they certainly didn't expect.

11. Countdown - The lads get set for Bob's wedding, and we meet Thelma's dad George (played by Bill Owen, better known as "Compo" in Last of the Summer Wine), a staunchly working-class builder.

12. Boys Night In - The night before the wedding. Bob refuses to have an old-fashioned stag night, preferring a quiet night in with a cup of cocoa and a game of Ludo. Terry tries to get him in the party mood nonetheless: and they end up in a police cell.

13. End Of An Era - Bob and Thelma are finally married. Things will never be the same again: old ways, old days, gone for ever. Or are they?

Series 2

14. Absent Friends - Terry looks after Bob's new house while he's on honeymoon, and romances Thelma's younger sister, Susan. This picks up some of the threads from the episode "The Old Magic".

15. Heart to Heart - Bob and Thelma return home, and Susan decides to leave Terry and to return to Canada.

16. The Ant and the Grasshopper - A run-down Bob grows increasingly tired of funding Terry's lazy lifestyle. There's no dialogue in this episode for the first three minutes, which is unusual. A Slade song is heard over this montage, the only occasion an original song was used in the show.

17. One for the Road - Bob is caught drink-driving. Terry, in the same cell for football hooliganism, attempts to help him out.

18. The Great Race - The lads relive their active youth with a bicycle race to Berwick-on-Tweed, but cheat each other to a standstill.

19. Some Day We'll Laugh About This - Terry romances Bob's bored neighbour, when supposedly doing some building work at Bob's new house, while Bob and Thelma are away skiing. The episode features a cheeky milkman called Les (played by Tony Haygarth), and sight-gags of people falling through floors as a result of Terry's oversight, in laying the blonde instead of the floorboards.

20. In Harm's Way - Terry reluctantly takes a job as a hospital porter, and causes a series of disasters, the victim of every one of which is Bob. This picks up from the previous episode, with the injured leg that Bob sustained in falling through a floor putting him into hospital and into the path of nemesis...

21. Affairs And Relations - Our heroes, gone fishing, catch Thelma's dad 'playing away' with his blonde secretary in a country hotel. Then Thelma turns up unexpectedly and thinks the blonde is with Bob.

22. The Expert - The follow-up to "Affairs And Relations", which sees Thelma leave Bob as a result of his supposed infidelity. Terry offers himself as an expert on marriage guidance, despite the disaster that was his own marriage.

23. Between Ourselves - Terry moves in with a depressed Bob and amusingly plays housewife in Thelma's absence, while Bob tries unsuccessfully to conceal from their friends and neighbours that Thelma has left him.

24. The Go-Between - Terry tries to fix things up between Bob and Thelma, but Bob ends up with his head in a gas oven. This episode brings to a conclusion the 'on/off' storyline between Bob and Thelma which began in "Affairs and Relations".

25. Conduct Unbecoming - Both the lads end up in court on separate assault charges, involving the same local ruffian, Duggie Scafe (played by Alun Armstrong). Armstrong also played Terry's milkman in the 1976 feature film spin-off, "The Likely Lads", although it's unclear whether that character is supposed to be Scafe.

26. The Shape Of Things To Come - Bob, worried that Terry is ruining his life, just as Terry's recently-deceased Uncle Jacob did to his own best friend, decides to sever their ties. As ever though, he finds he can't escape, with Terry emerging triumphant as always; and we see in Uncle Jacob and his mate a picture of how Bob and Terry will be in forty years time, bringing the second series to a humorous conclusion.

In 1974, all 26 episodes from series 1 and 2 were repeated on BBC 1 in a continuous 26 week run leading up to Christmas, culminating in a new Christmas Special.

27. Christmas Special 1974 - Amongst other adventures (including Terry passing his driving test and Bob growing a scary beard), Terry drives Bob and Thelma to a Christmas party as their minicab driver, and waits for them outside; leading to further misunderstandings, and more accusations from Thelma. (First broadcast on Christmas Eve 1974)

The Radio Series

The 13 episodes of series 1 were adapted for radio, using the original television cast, and broadcast in 1975 from 30th July to 22nd October. This series is periodically re-broadcast in the "classic comedy" hour on digital radio channel BBC 7.

Feature film

In 1976 a feature-length movie was released, written by Clement and La Frenais, which was directed by Michael Tuchner. By this time both lads had moved house (Bob and Thelma to a detached house, and Terry to a high-rise with his parents) and Terry now has a Finnish girlfriend called Christina ("Chris"), played by Mary Tamm.

The movie saw the lads lamenting the demolition of their favourite pub, The Fat Ox. It then did what so many film spin-offs in the Seventies did, taking the regulars out of their normal environment and sending them off on holiday. The result is a caravanning holiday for Bob and Terry, accompanied by Thelma and Chris. The complications resulting from the trip lead to Terry and Chris splitting up, as a result of which Terry decides to go away, signing on as a crewman on a cargo ship.

Bob and Terry sneak one last late-night drink together aboard Terry's ship, anchored in the docks; but Terry has second thoughts the morning after, and elects to stay at home. Bob, however, awakes - hung over - aboard the ship, as it sails for Bahrain. This was an ironic reversal of the ending of the original series (where Terry, missing Bob - who had joined the Army - joined up too, only to discover Bob has been discharged with flat feet).

Ian McDiarmid, who went on to play the Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious in four Star Wars movies, made his film debut here, playing a vicar. Future 1980s sitcom icons Vicki Michelle and Linda Robson also make cameo appearances. Michelle had already appeared, as a different character, in the second series of the Seventies show.

Any future plans for the lads were never announced; but if they existed they were scuppered by Bewes and Bolam falling out.

Trivia

The opening section of the title credits, at the start of each episode of the 1970s colour series, includes a short montage of black-and-white stills photos of Bob and Terry in scenes from the original 1960s series, presented as if in a photograph album.

To avoid bad feeling over billing, Rodney Bewes and James Bolam were alternated in the show's opening credits, so that one week Bewes would be billed first, and the following week Bolam would be. On the closing credits the names are reversed with whoever's name came second in the opening credits coming first in the closing credits.

At recordings of the show, Bolam was clearly irritated at times by the fact that Bewes did not always know his lines, and he did not trouble to conceal this irritation from the studio audience. This problem may have arisen because the lads always drank real beer in the pub scenes; and frequent re-takes meant they would sometimes have downed eight pints by the end of a recording.

Bewes maintained his connections with "The Likely Lads" when he appeared in a cameo role as the old newspaper seller in a 2002 ITV re-make of the series' most popular episode, "No Hiding Place", starring Tyneside presenter/actor/entertainers Ant and Dec, which aired under the title "A Tribute to the Likely Lads".

Rodney Bewes wrote an autobiography, "A Likely Story", in 2005. He is currently touring in his one-man theatre show, based on the works of Jerome K Jerome.

In 1995 and 1996 the series was repeated in its entirety on BBC 2. It went on to become a short-term staple of cable channels, but has not featured on terrestrial TV in the UK since 2000. The movie spin-off usually appears at least once a year on TV, routinely around Christmas.

One of the most notable continuity points about the show is the idea that Terry has been away in the army for "five years". However, there was a real-life gap of six and a half years between the original series ending in 1966 and this one starting in 1973. Also, there are numerous references to the lads' shared adventures from around 1967, when in 'real life' Terry would not have been around then.

The boys' work mentor from the original 1960s series, Clough, does not feature, other than a mention in the first episode that he now runs a newsagent's shop.

Terry's full name is Terence Daniel Collier, born February 29th, 1944. Bob's full name is Robert Andrew Scarborough Ferris, born a week earlier. These dates can be worked out from dialogue in the episode 'Birthday Boy'. The 'Scarborough' in Bob's name comes from the fact that he was allegedly conceived there, but this is contradicted slightly in the opening flashback sequence of the 1976 movie. Terry's 'silver tankard' joke in his best man's speech at the end of Season 1 also seems to imply that he, not Bob, turned 21 first.

Thelma's full maiden name is Thelma Ingrid Chambers.

The lads attended Park Infant School, Park Junior School and Park Secondary Modern School. Thelma was with them for infants and juniors, and then went to 'the grammar school'. Notable school romances for the boys included the revered Deirdre Birchwood. The lads also were in the Scouts together.

Bob's immediate neighbours at his new home are the Lawsons and the Jefcotes, again never actually seen in the show. A couple called the Nortons are also later referenced as living next door.

Two running jokes throughout the show are never fully explained: Terry's supposedly injured leg and his aggressive preoccupation with being referred to as 'wiry' rather than 'thin' or 'slim'.

Terry's never-seen West German wife was called Ute Baumgarten. They married in November 1969 and split seven months later in June 1970 when West Germany defeated England in the football World Cup. Confusingly, Terry later says they were married for two years, on and off, which further clouds the continuity issue of Terry's time away.

It is revealed that the boys used to be in a skiffle group called Rob Ferris And The Wildcats. Other group members included Maurice 'Memphis' Hardaker, named after a real-life friend of the show's co-creator and co-writer Ian La Frenais.

Thelma's father, played by Bill Owen, is called George Chambers. Her younger sister is Susan, who lives with her accountant fiancé in Toronto, Canada.

Terry is younger than his sisters Audrey (played by Sheila Fearne) and Linda (never seen) and their parents are Edith and Cyril. Terry's father is not featured in either of the two series of this show; neither is Bob's father, Leslie. Bob's mother Alice occasionally appears. It also seems to be implied that Bob's father wasn't around when Bob, an only child, was growing up. Terry's dad is not dead or absent, though: he is continually referred to, but not actually seen, throughout this series and also during the feature film.

Bob lost his virginity to a Wendy Thwaites according to an episode in Season 1 - she scored 8 stars out of 7 on his scoring system.

Pubs frequented by the lads include The Fat Ox and The Wheatsheaf.

The leather-bound photograph album that Bob gives Terry on his wedding day is the same one seen in the show's opening credits.

Terry's address is given as 127 Inkerman Terrace, but external shots clearly show a different house number. Bob lives at Number 8 on an unspecified avenue in the Elm Lodge housing estate.

Friends of the lads who are regularly spoken of but not seen include Frank Clark (Bob's original choice for best man) and Nigel "Little Hutch" Hutchinson, a sex-mad pal who always has a racing tip ready for Terry. Bob's new middle-class friends we hear of but don't meet include Hugh and Janey, but a new pal we do meet is affable Londoner Alan Boyle, played by Julian Holloway.

Christopher Biggins makes several appearances as Podge Rowley, a friend of the boys.

The titles for the Christmas Special call the show simply 'The Likely Lads'. Its opening scenes are set in late September, on the day of Terry's successful driving test.

Exteriors for the show were filmed on Tyneside and around the North East, while interiors were done in London.

In popular culture

  • In 1997, British band Snuff included a cover of the series' theme tune, titled Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? on their fifth album, Potatoes And Melons Wholesale Prices Straight From The Lock Up. It is available for free download at Fat Wreck Chords The band plays the song at most of their gigs.
  • The song It Could Be You by the Britpop band Blur contains a reference to the likely lads at the start of the second verse: "The likely lads are picking up the uglies. Yesterday they were just puppies."
  • The title song "Whatever Happened to Me?" was recorded and released as a single, sung by Highly Unlikely
  • The show is mentioned in The Libertines' song "What Became of the Likely Lads".

See also

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