the BBC's second television channel began in 1964 it was generally
intended to provide the sort of minority interest factual and cultural
programming which was being marginalised by the struggle for popularity
against the commercial channel, ITV. It was also intended to advance
the technology of television by transmitting on the new 625-line
standard which would pave the way for the introduction of colour.
To receive it, viewers needed to buy a new television set--and to
sell the new sets in large enough numbers, the new channel needed
some popular programming.
In the field of comedy, The Likely Lads provided the perfect
vehicle, being both innovative yet within the tradition of popular
entertainment. It launched the comedy career of the writing team
of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and proved one of the infant
channel's most enduring successes.
protagonists are two young friends, Terry Collier and Bob Ferris,
recently out of school and starting out in their first jobs. Their
interests are predictable--girls, drinking, football and fun. However,
they are a new breed of working class heroes. They have some money
in their pockets and the "swinging sixties" are getting underway.
The very first scene of the very first episode, "Entente Cordiale"
sees them coming home from a holiday in Spain--the sort of thing
that had been unavailable to their kind in earlier years but which
was to come to be taken for granted by their generation.
setting, the Northeast of England was also fairly new--to television,
anyway. In many ways, The Likely Lads was television's response
to the portrayal of north country youth in such films of the early
1960s as A Kind of Loving and Billy Liar. Indeed the
two young actors chosen for the lead roles--James Bolam as Terry
and Rodney Bewes as Bob--had begun their careers in minor roles
in these films.
the series progressed the two characters emerged and their differences
were to form the basis for the comedy and the development of the
show. Both the lads have a sharp intelligence but use it differently
and reach different conclusions about what they want out of life.
Terry is a cynic. He knows his class and his place in society and
his sole aim is to get what he can, when he can. Bob has ambitions.
He thinks he can make a better life for himself but lacks confidence.
Terry's crazy schemes scare him, but it is usually his friend who
comes off worse.
were three series of The Likely Lads between 1964 and 1966,
a total of 20 episodes. In the final episode, "Good-bye to all that",
Bob decides to join the army. Missing his friend, Terry signs up
too, only to find that Bob has been discharged for having flat feet
and that he, Terry, is committed for five years.
the likely lads went their own ways and the actors into different
projects with varying success. But, with the spread of colour television
in the early seventies, the BBC instituted a policy of reviving
its biggest comedy successes of the 1960s. Following Steptoe
and Son and Till Death Us Do Part, the decision was taken
to bring back The Likely Lads. However, unlike the other
two sitcoms, The Likely Lads was not the same as it had been.
The new title, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, reflected
the fact that seven years had passed since they last appeared. The
actors were older and the characters had aged with them. Terry had
seen the world (Germany and Cyprus) with the army. Bob had been
successful at work and, as the series opened in 1973 he is buying
a new house and is about to marry his childhood sweetheart Thelma
(Bridgit Forsyth) and settle down to a respectable middle-class
return, and his withering contempt for what he sees as Bob's betrayal
of his working class roots, threatens to spoil Bob's plans and ruin
his marriage, which takes place as the series progresses. At the
same time, the shifting economic circumstances of the Northeast
are reflected in Terry's feeble attempts to find employment or any
sort of a role in a place which has changed so much in his absence.
Happened to the Likely Lads? provided, amongst all the laughs,
a social commentary equal to anything found in the serious drama
of the time. Two series were made 1n 1973 and 1974, a total of 26
shows. The actors, particularly James Bolam, tried subsequently
to shake off their roles, but there are still many in Britain who
wonder what Terry and Bob are up to now.
The Likely Lads
Photo courtesy of BBC
Collier............................................. James Bolam
Bob Ferris............................................. Rodney
Dick Clement, James Gilbert, Bernard Thompson
The Likely Lads
20 25-minute episodes Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?
1964-January 1965 6
Episodes June 1965-July 1965 6
Episodes June 1966-July 1966 8
HAPPENED TO THE LIKELY LADS?
1973-April 1973 13
Episodes January 1974-April 1974
13 Episodes 24 December 1974 Christmas
Grant, Linda. "The Lad Most Likely to..." The Guardian (London),
12 August 1995.
Deborah. "What Really Happened to the Likely Lad?" Daily Mail
(London), 17 July 1993.
See also British
Programming; La Frenaise,