1 9 8 9 (UK)
6 x 25 minute episodes
Barbara Windsor, Sheila Steafel and Lance Percival led this short BBC2 children’s comedy-drama about a motley gang of women and adolescents who join forces to try and make their housing estate a better place to live.
Bent council officials and hard-nosed criminals challenge them but armed with a weird selection of skills, they win through.
The tone of the six-part series was set in the opening episode as pensioners Ivy Longford (Pauline Delaney) and Annie Shreiber (Sheila Steafel) – in a granny-kit powdered wig – shuffle home from bingo through the dimly lit alleyways of a council estate.
Suddenly a gang of miniature muggers in animal masks leap, like the denizens of West Side Story, from the shadows. “Wot’s this then, the cast of Jungle Book?”, comes the familiar Cockney cackle as retired chorus girl Mabel Fletcher (Barbara Windsor) bustles on with a group of like-minded matriarchs determined to stem the tide of juvenile delinquency on their estate.
So the ‘Bluebirds’ are born, decked out in Guardian Angels’ berets and bomber jackets.
The youngsters’ zeal for mischief is turned to do-gooding and the basis of the action is set. Belief is suspended in the most delightful way as the kids tackle litter, graffiti and corruption in high places.
Mr Proudfoot (Lance Percival in a fine portrait of a crooked council official) is tied up in his own red tape while Annie (Steafel) hangs on to her wig and becomes a one-woman commando unit, ambushing miscreants with the ease with which she once cried “Housey!”.
Best of all though, is the relationship between Mabel, for whom the whole world is a stage, and Bluebirds co-founder Gertrude Landing (Isabelle Lucas), who occupies the moral high ground.
Mabel bursts into show songs, Gertrude spouts the bible. “Let the punishment fit the crime”, trills Mabel from The Mikado. “I think you’ll find the Good Lord coined that phrase before Gilbert and Sullivan”, says Gertrude drily.
They are as one
Mark De Couteau