Revisiting One Half of a British Comedy Bromance.
Rodney Bewes as remembered in his most famous role as one of the Likely Lads.
The Likely Lads Film Trailer, CarryOnTrailers, http://www.youtube.com,
I recently heard of the sad passing of Rodney Bewes, a Yorkshire actor that many will remember for his role as Bob Ferris. Ferris was one of the Likely Lads in two British comedy series from the sixties and seventies. These named The Likely Lads (1964-66) and its sequel follow-up, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads (1973-74) and the latter which I remember watching in the mid nineties. As those who know me will confirm with the first of these shows, I hadn’t been born yet and in the case of the second series was really young when these series were first shown on the telly.
Sadly, its only now that I’ve discovered a later seventies movie also starring our intrepid heroes, confusingly named The Likely Lads (1976). This a film I’m sure my dad – as a fan of this series – would have definitely enjoyed. The 1976 film which reunited the on-screen – and off-screen pair with a few significant others from the television series.
On reading more on Bewes, I noted he also starred in the film, Billy Liar (1963) as Arthur Crabtree, the best friend of the man from the title, Billy Liar. This a film adaptation of the 1959 Keith Waterhouse novel. I have fond memories of this work, this time in its play form as I studied it during English lessons at secondary school. This was one play, I particularly loved with the titular role being a bit of a day dreamer with a vivid imagination, like my then teenage self. However unlike me, Liar imagined himself as a ruler of an imaginary country, was a bit of a fibber and had girl trouble! And it then on watching it as a teen, I enjoyed this British kitchen sink dramatic comedy movie.
Then I wasn’t as familiar with Bewes as an actor, but new more his co-stars of then big British names. The cast included 1965’s Dr Zhivago‘s Julie Christie, Tom Courtenay (in the leading role) and Leonard Rossiter. Rossiter was then a familiar face as he appeared with Joan Collins in those comic 80s British Ads for a certain alcoholic beverage. (And these reviewed here)
I now believe this on-screen friendship between those Northern English lads in Billy Liar, Crabtree and Liar – with Bewes’ role in perfect casting as Liar’s best friend – would stand him in good stead for his future role as a best friend in the Likely Lads productions. I was happy to hear this film part was observed by the writers of the Likely Lads. And this performance helped Bewes secure this his most well-known part.
In the Likely Lads series, Bewes starred with James Bolam – as the other half of this double act – as Terry. The first series, The Likely Lads, was set in sixties Newcastle (England) and introduced us to Bob and Terry who were best friends from school and beyond including the worlds of scouting and work. The Northern English working class pair were 20-year-old lads into football and girls. And in both were working together in the same factory, with Bob as the more ambitious and sensible one, and Terry often leading him astray.
However my first proper introduction to Bewes was in this series sequel Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads and set five years later. This unlike its predecessor was filmed in colour and had a catchy theme tune and same wonderful on-screen camaraderie. And in this seventies follow-up Bewes’ Bob still aspires to be middle class and getting into scrapes with his childhood best friend, Terry (again). I loved these men’s Northern accents, in the seventies these made their characters more credible than some of the clipped posh BBC English accents at the time.
In this series however Bob was seen to be in a relationship with Thelma (Brigit Forsythe). Leading him to become a married man later in the series, with Terry having numerous on-screen flings. And although loved up Bob is often torn between his love for Thelma and his friendship with Terry. Other familiar names in the cast included Joan Hickson, later remembered as Miss Marple (1986-92) playing Thelma’s mother. And Bill Owen, always synonymous as Compo in Last of the Summer Wine (1973-) as her father.
The series also had a familiar jaunty theme tune. And was also written by the seventies double act writing talent of Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais. With the opening credits showing shots of Newcastle and Bolam and Bewes alternately heading the credits. And Bewes sporting an 1970s Bobby Ewing haircut. It’s probably one of those theme tunes and credits more easily remembered with shots of Newcastle and the leading men.
In this series set five years after the initial one, Thelma and Terry were almost sparring partners both hoping to be more influential on Bob’. With Terry inadvertently hoping to recapture their earlier more fun and carefree days. In turn, Thelma was the more practical one wanting him to settle down away from Terry’s antics. With poor Bob in the middle trying to make both of them happy, with inevitable comic results. I remember feeling quite sorry for poor Bob in those situations on debating on whether it would be bros over hoes (so to speak). To me he seemed the most vulnerable one of the characters. As usually as to me as a kid, Bob getting the wrath of an upset, Thelma seemed a more scary option to me than that of his best friend. The gap between the men was made more apparent in this series and even emphasised more subtly in the credits.
I learnt only recently of The Likely Lads movie, which like another sit-com I remember of around this time Are You Being Served (1977) took the leading characters on holiday to Costa Plonka. Albeit in the Likely Lads comedy, sunny Northumberland. As we follows the pair’s fun and frolics as they go on holiday with Thelma and Terry’s latest girlfriend. This movie, judging from the trailer alone follows the pair in many comic story plots and even had a x rating. And some now controversial moments. But happily the three leads from the sequel to return for this their last outing as Terry, Bob and Thelma.
But as to whatever happened to the likely lads after this, it should only be conjured up in your imagination but only as Bewes and Bolam, as Bob and Terry. This one of the best-loved of all British sit-com bromances and possibly inspiring the Liver Birds and many more. Do try not to recalling this famous comedy double on-screen act as portrayed by Ant and Dec. Yes, you did read that. As in they made a 2002 film tribute to the Likely Lads. And one which I will be avoiding at all costs due to an aversion of this particular British double act. Ant and Dec’s (or is it Ant or Dec?) finest hour was in that heartwarming British comedy, as they play themselves meeting Bill Nighy’s character ageing rocker Billy Mack in Love Actually (2003). And with a dislike of most remakes for me, it can only be Bewes and Bolam (actually).