Remembering 2016 No 5
Returning to a Lane full of memories
As a wee girl in the 1970s and 80s, the writer Carla Lane was synonymous with Britsh comedy with strong female characters.
The author was Carla Lane and I was saddened to hear of her recent death. She wrote many familiar comedies featuring strong female characters and her writing style was much-loved by women everywhere. Reflecting on her work, Darlin’ Husband and I noted both our mothers – and therefore mothers in law – enjoyed her comedy series. We were both brought up on a Carla Lane TV diet of watching Butterflies, Bread and The Liver Birds. Here are 4 of her comedies I remembered her with the most affection, along with a wee mention of her reunion shows such as British Comic Relief.
1. Bless this House (1971-76)
Bless this house – Opening titles, ScallywagsTV1’s channel, http://www.youtube.com
It was with surprise that I learnt that Lane also co-wrote Bless this House, a British comedy series starring Sid James, a favourite comedy actor of my dad’s. This actor starred in most of the more famous Carry on British cinema days from the 50s. Lane was a co-writer for Bless This House, and I’d always associated my parents with diverse humour with my mum liking Carla Lane comedies, and him the more bawdy and double entendre type humour from this film series. However this TV series tells about the comic lives of Sid Abbott and his family. Sid Abbott could almost be a character in the Carry on film series as he is a much put upon father and husband whose schemes to avoid situations always backfire with comic results similar to more than a few of his Carry on roles. His wife often sees through these schemes, similar to the many exasperated wife roles played by James’s oft cast wife Joan Sims in many a Carry on film. Although I don’t remember this series that well, I remember watching the spin-off film with my father which also introduced their neighbours played by James’s Carry on co-stars, Terry Scott and June Whitfield.
2. Bread (1986-91)
Tv Theme Bread, tvtestcard, http://www.youtube.com
This comedy focussed on the Liverpudlian Boswells, headed by the devoutly Catholic matriarch Nellie (Jean Boht) and her husband Freddie (Ronald Forfar). The couple are separated, and he has taken up with a younger woman known as Lilo Lil. Between them they have 5 adult children, who all live at her home, 4 boys and a girl. I remember I had a five-minute crush on their son Adrian (Jonathon Morris, not to be confused with the Childrens TV Star from Animal Magic (1962-84)’s Johnny Morris (Zoo Keeper extraordinaire), the quiet poetic one despite the shows more obvious heart-throb in Peter Howitt’s Joey. Joey who dressed completely in leather, was more charming and charismatic of the sons and kept the family together and out of trouble. The story again told the story of this family and their adventures in attempts to find love, happiness and to scam the DHSS. The family was encouraged to provide for their upkeep and do so through various unofficial money-making schemes, of which Nellie pretends to be unaware of. This programme like Butterflies, also had a future soap star in the form of their cousin Shifty (Bryan Murray). Later Murray became the wife and child abuser, Trevor Jordache who was murdered by his wife and daughter in the famous body under the patio storyline in Brookside, a Liverpudlian based British TV soap opera (1982-2003).
3. The Liver Birds (1969-96)
Tv Theme Liver Birds (Full Theme), tvtestcard, http://www.youtube.com
This comedy – also set in Liverpool – was co written by Lane and I remember it was one my mother particularly enjoyed and tuned into regularly. I remember this series when the lead characters were played by Nerys Hughes – as Sandra – and Polly James as her flatmate Beryl. In this comedy it focussed on the more middle class Sandra and her friendship with her flatmate, working class Beryl. It told the comic adventures of these women in life and love, and could be described as a female version of The Likely Lads (1964-66) (a comedy of the same premise but focussing on the bromance between Terry (James Bolam) and Bob (Rodney Bewes). Sandra’s mother was played by British comedy legend Mollie Sugden. I was interested to learn Paul McCartney’s brother was in the pop group who sang the theme tune.
4. Butterflies (1978- 83)
Tv Theme Butterflies, tvtestcard, www.youtube.com
This series tells about the Parkinson family headed by the middle-aged dentist Ben (Geoffrey Palmer) and his often underappreciated wife, Ria (Wendy Craig). It is also famous as introduced us to their work shy sons. The elder Russell (Andrew Hall, later Brookside) and the younger Adam (Nicholas Lyndhurst, Rodney in Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003)). Dissatisfied in her lot and craving more to her life looking after her menfolk, Ria considers having an affair with a man she meets regularly in the park, Leonard (Bruce Montague). Ria’s character is probably one of the most remembered of Lane’s creations by myself and my husband. He comically refers to this character, known for her poor cooking skills when I have a cooking disaster which 10/10 times it leads to laughter. The theme tune is a song which was written and sung by the country singer and actress, Dolly Parton.
Combining comedy and charity, Lane also penned two reunion shows for Children in Need (Butterflies) and Comic Relief (Bread) reuniting the cast from both comedies. The Butterflies story continues the series thirteen years later showing life has not changed for Ria who is now approaching her 60th Birthday. This was a lovely tribute to both that show and Carla Lane herself, a passionate charity worker.