Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?

by Harry on October 12, 2007

About a month before their wedding my friends told me they have a region-free DVD player, so I lent them Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? I hope they understood that it was not an attempt to get the wedding cancelled, but rather an expression of confidence that they were doing the right thing. It is hard for me to believe that my parents allowed me to see Whatever Happened when it was first on TV, but they did, and it provided a vision of adult life and, eventually, marriage, that only dissipated when I finally decided to marry myself. The writing and acting are both pitch-perfect in the first series, which narrates the lead up to Bob and Thelma’s wedding. Bob is torn between Thelma, his upwardly gazing (but not necessarily upwardly-mobile) fiancee, and Terry, his laddish, feckless and determinedly working-class (apart from the working bit) childhood friend.

Two things that struck me watching it again, recently, were confirmed by the one member of the couple who watched it religiously (and didn’t, I should add, call off the wedding, which was absolutely lovely!)

One was how much more real the main female characters were than I’d remembered. I remember Thema as a shrew, which she does appear to be in the earliest episodes, but as the story unfolds she emerges as deeply sympathetic. Bob is a weak man, but she loves him and has hitched her future to his, so her anxiety about Terry’s (indisputably bad) influence is completely understandable. She is a snob, but not of the worst kind, and certain displays of superiority trigger her into defences even of Terry, whom she does not despise even though she fears him. Terry’s sister Audrey is similarly realistic; a matriarch-in-the-making saddled with kids, a dolt of a husband, and a loafer of a brother who expects her to support him. She’s witty and frustrated in an environment where she cannot make her own life.

The other striking feature was confirmed when I asked my friend which of Bob and Terry she thought had gone on to be the star of several more series over the subsequent 3 decades. She had a hard time answering, but guessed (wrongly) Rodney Bewes. To say nothing against Bolam, whom I’d probably be willing to watch in a daytime soap, but Bewes has the harder role — he’s genuinely torn between two antagonistic loves, one representing a past that could, in fact, continue for some time, the other a break from the past. Against my expectations I approach my own marriage with none of these doubts, torn not at all, yet Bewes demands sympathy and understanding for Bob. Great stuff.



Dan Simon 10.12.07 at 6:14 pm

it provided a vision of adult life and, eventually, marriage, that only dissipated when I finally decided to marry myself.

….and discovered that it was even more dreary than marrying someone else…


ignobility 10.12.07 at 11:26 pm

You married yourself? Where do you live?


Barry 10.13.07 at 2:47 am

With himself, of course.


craig a 10.13.07 at 4:10 am

Likely Lads is excellent, part of that wonderful stream of bitter sweat comedies that the Brits specialised in during the late 60’s- 70’s. From Liverbirds, Dad’s Army, Rising Damp, Reginald Perrin through to the truly sublime Yes Minister series!


Martin Wisse 10.13.07 at 9:47 am

Besides himself, surely?


ejh 10.13.07 at 12:59 pm

#4 – Dad’s Army and Yes Minister are hardly “bitter sweet”.


engels 10.13.07 at 3:01 pm

YM wasn’t 60s/70s either…


nick s 10.14.07 at 4:31 am

Strange to think that Clement and Le Frenais have spent their lives since then almost entirely in California — they moved in 1975, during the run of Porridge — and as such, their own writing on Britain or British culture often seems stuck in the mid-1970s.

(They’re also often-uncredited rewriters of dodgy scripts, and are responsible for Across The Universe, the previews for which made me squirm.)

I’d like to watch those episodes again — the one always referenced is the football one — not least to see how they look after Our Friends In The North. After all, they were first shown just as T. Dan and Poulson went down.


ejh 10.14.07 at 5:52 pm

I believe that Likely Lads is quite a useful social document simply on the grounds that most of the places where it was shot have been knocked down now. Is this so?


Phil 10.16.07 at 10:37 am

Looking at wikipedia it was et in the North-East but it was not made clear exactly where. The area has changed incredibly since the 70s. Get Carter is also a good record of Newcastle and Tyneside before it’s more recent redevelopment.


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