1 9 7 3 – 1 9 7 4 (UK)
26 x 30 minute episodes
1 x 45 minute special Christmas edition
Best mates, Bob Ferris (serious and sensible with flared lapels and fat ties) and Terry Collier (wild and wayward Labour supporter content with a few pints and an occasional leg-over) had embarked on an orgy of birds and booze around the north-east of England in the sixties in The Likely Lads.
Terry – an ex-electrician whose obsessions are “sex and football . . . depending on which day of the week it is” – then spent five years alone in the Army. Bob had been discharged for having flat feet.
Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? took up their story with Terry’s return to Britain, winning the Best Situation Comedy award for 1973 in the process.
Terry found his north-east hometown much changed and despised Bob’s social climbing, his new Vauxhall Viva and his newly built house.
“There’s something depressing about these estates”, he sneered. “It’s the thought of you all – all getting up at the same time, all eating the same sort of low-calorie breakfast cereal, all coming home at half-past six, switching on the same programme at the same time and having it off on the same two nights of the week”. In Bob’s case with his prissy librarian fiancée (and his bosses daughter), Thelma Chambers.
While their years apart have seen Bob change beyond recognition – he belongs to a badminton club, wears a suit and tie, lives in a semi-detached house and holidays on the Costa Brava – Terry is exactly the same as he ever was; Lazy, arrogant, bigoted (not racially, but by area and class), a gambler, a heavy drinker and virtually unemployable.
But despite his resistance, Bob soon finds himself once again falling under Terry’s influence.
Appalled at Bob’s forthcoming wedding, Terry tries his best to undermine the relationship, considering it his duty to remind his mate of the real necessities of life – birds, booze and football.
But Terry’s attempts are to no avail, and at the end of the first series Bob and Thelma marry – with Terry as best man.
The second series is mainly concerned with the early days of Bob and Thelma’s marriage and all of their problems – once more, caused mainly by Terry. In one episode, while Bob and Thelma go skiing, Terry looks after their house and causes Bob to injure his leg – falling through the ceiling where Terry has ripped up the floorboards – and to be punched by a neighbour whose wife had been seduced by Terry while minding Bob’s house.
The theme tune What Happened To You? was co-written by Ian La Frenais and Mike Hugg (ex-Manfred Mann). The latter had a minor hit in the UK in 1974 when he released a recording of it with a pop group he called The Highly Likely.
In 1976 the cast and writers reunited for a feature film version of the series titled simply The Likely Lads. The movie touched upon some of the themes of change and alienation covered in the series before following a more traditional sitcom spin-off route by taking the protagonists on holiday, away from their environment.
It wasn’t a patch on the TV episodes, some of which rang amongst the greatest half-hours of TV comedy ever.
The Likely Lads series’ could be seen as paving the way for future shows such as Men Behaving Badly and certainly preceded the nineties “laddism” by at least twenty years.
Like it’s predecessor, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? also spawned a radio series. 12 episodes aired from 30 July to 15 October 1975, featuring the TV cast.
A US TV comedy called Steubenville attempted to combine aspects of both The Likely Lads and Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?. It was produced and written by Clement and La Frenais and featured two brothers (one hard-working, one lazy) working in a steel mill. It also featured their father, an opinionated widower.
A pilot episode was made but never transmitted.