Set in Northeast England, humour was based on the tension between Terry's firmly working-class outlook and Bob's aspirations to join the middle class, through his new white-collar job, suburban home, and impending marriage to prissy librarian Thelma Chambers (Brigit Forsyth).
Since the ending of the original series, in 1966, Bob has left factory life behind for an office job with his future father-in-law's building firm (something which leaves Bob even more desperate to retain favour with Thelma and her family). But what Bob does for a living is not a major factor in the show; more important is the fact that he is now a white-collar worker, and (at Thelma's urging) is joining badminton clubs, attending dinner parties, and — in all sorts of ways — appearing to Terry as aspiring to join the middle class.
Terry thus sees his own army experience and solid working class ethos as giving him moral superiority over Bob. But he finds it hard to adjust to all the changes which have occurred in the five years he's been away. As implied in the lyrics to the programme's theme song, the 1970s series plays on both lads' feelings of nostalgia for the lost days of their innocent and reckless youth. Both characters are depressed by the demolition being carried out on the landmarks of their youth, but Bob, who works for a development agency, puts forward that it can be seen as progress. Bob also lives in his own semi-detached house on a recently-built estate, whereas Terry lives with his mother in a 19th century house, which he claims has far more charm than the one owned by Bob, where "The only thing that tells you apart from your neighbours is the colour of your curtains." Indeed, in the opening credits shots of Terry show him along with the older and more industrial buildings of the city, with Bob displayed along with modern, less attractive development.
The word "likely" in the title referred, in the 1960s series, to those showing promise, but also those likely to get up to well-meaning mischief; but, as the 1970s title implied, the mischief days were (or at least, perhaps, should have been) behind them now. Yet, in reality, life was still seen by both Bob and Terry as something in which the only things that really mattered were beer, football and sex — though not necessarily in that order. As Terry says at one point, in disbelief, "After all, there are some people who don't like football!"
The conflict between what Bob had become, and what he saw himself as, led him to be impulsively inclined to follow the lead set by the more headstrong Terry (especially after a heavy drinking session), who led them recklessly into one scrape after another. And Terry frequently behaved badly, his working class instincts dominating Bob's better judgement. But whatever the plan, they rarely got away with it. Nemesis, in the shape of Thelma (and, to a lesser extent, Terry's sister Audrey) was usually waiting just around the corner. Indeed the battle of the sexes was a frequent theme of the series. Bob usually blamed his drinking, heavy smoking, poor diet and reckless behaviour on Terry: a view which Audrey and Thelma only too willingly agreed with. This may have been true in part, but actually Bob needed little persuasion to stay out drinking with Terry, or to behave accordingly.
The show was firmly based in the tradition of Northern comedy, in that much of the humour arose from the fact that Bob and Terry were living in a strongly matriarchal society. They were, in point of fact, surrounded by a sea of women. Bob was henpecked alternately by Thelma and by Thelma's mother; and Terry was henpecked by his own mother and his sister Audrey, and by the various women he dated. There were no strong male influences in either Bob or Terry's life: neither Bob's father nor Terry's ever appeared, and on the few occasions that we saw Thelma's father he was usually being henpecked by either Thelma or her mother.
The thirteen episodes of Series 1, aired in 1973, were all self-contained. But nonetheless they were loosely linked together by two common threads: the earliest ones feature Terry's attempts to settle down again, following his discharge from the Army; and the subsequent episodes revolve around the preparations for the wedding of Bob and Thelma.
In contrast, the Series 2 episodes the following year were not entirely self-contained: many of them formed parts of related storylines. For instance, the series opens with a two-part story concerning Terry's romance with Thelma's younger sister. There are several two-part stories; and in one instance a single storyline is developed over four episodes (beginning in "Affairs and Relations"). This is never taken so far that it's necessary to the comedy to have seen the previous episodes; but, if you have, there's a stronger unity to this series than in the previous one. Terry and Bob are arrested in One for the Road.The show's catchy theme song, "Whatever Happened to You", was written by Mike Hugg (of Manfred Mann) and La Frenais, and performed by Hugg's session band under the name Highly Likely. It made the lower reaches of the UK Top 40 in 1973. Mike Hugg also wrote the theme tune to the spin-off 1976 feature film, entitled "Remember When".
The complete first and second series of the 1970s show (including the Christmas special) are now available in the UK on Region 2 DVD, as two BBC releases: "Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?: Series 1" (Catalogue No. BBCDVD1957) and "Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?: Series 2" (Cat. No. BBCDVD1991).
The 2006 BBC release, The Likely Lads Collection (a 5 disc box set: cat. no. BBCDVD2110), contrary to certain reports, does include both the final episode of series 2, entitled "The Shape of Things to Come", and the 1974 Christmas Special (as an extra feature).
- James Bolam (Terence Daniel Collier, a.k.a. Terry Collier)
- Rodney Bewes (Robert Andrew Scarborough Ferris, a.k.a. Bob Ferris)
- Brigit Forsyth (Thelma Chambers, later Ferris, Bob's fiancée in series 1, and his wife in series 2)
- Sheila Fearn (Audrey Collier, married name not known, Terry's slightly older sister)
- Bill Owen (George Chambers: Thelma's dad)
- Noel Dyson (Mrs Chambers: Thelma's mother) (Series 2)
- Anita Carey (Susan Chambers: Thelma's sister, who lives in Toronto, Canada with her accountant fiancé Peter)
- Olive Milbourn (Mrs Collier: Terry and Audrey's mother)
- Barbara Ogilvie (Mrs Ferris: Bob's mother)
- Ronald Lacey (Ernie: Audrey's husband)
- Elizabeth Lax (Wendy: Bob's secretary at work)
- Christopher Biggins (Podge Rowley: Bob and Terry's friend)
- Julian Holloway (Alan Boyle: Bob's friend from Surrey)
- Cyril Collier (Terry and Audrey's dad)
- Leslie Ferris (Bob's dad) (Note: It was established in the 1960s series that Bob's father was in fact deceased)
- Linda Collier (Terry and Audrey's sister)
- Frank Clark (Bob's original choice for best man)
- Nigel "Little Hutch" Hutchinson (a sex-mad pal who always has a racing tip ready for Terry)
- Hugh and Janey (Bob and Thelma's new middle-class friends)
- Mr Clough (Cloughy to the Lads, played by Barlett Mullins; he was their workmate in the original 1960s series, and now runs a newsagents)
- Jutta Baumgarten (Terry's German wife, from whom he's separated)
- Maurice 'Memphis' Hardaker (a member of a skiffle group called Rob Ferris And The Wildcats, he was also mentioned in the original 60s series as work colleague Morrie Hardaker)
- Deirdre Birchwood, an ex-girlfriend of Bob's, frequent references to her became a running gag in the first series
- Wendy Thwaite, another ex-girlfriend of Bob's with whom he had his first sexual experience.
The 13 episodes of Series 1 were adapted for radio, with the original television cast, and broadcast on Radio 4 in 1975, from 30 July to 22 October. This series is periodically re-broadcast in the "classic comedy" hour on digital radio channel BBC Radio 7.
Before the Seventies series was made, the cast had already been re-united twice, in 1967 and 1968, to record sixteen of the original television scripts for two series (of eight episodes each) on BBC radio, the scripts for which were adapted for radio by James Bolam.
To emphasise continuity, the opening section of the title credits at the start of each Seventies episode includes a short montage of black-and-white stills photos of Bob and Terry in scenes from the 1960s series, presented as if in a photograph album. The leather-bound photo album which Bob gives Terry before the wedding, in the episode "End Of An Era", is also the one seen in the opening credits.
To avoid bad feeling over billing, Rodney Bewes and James Bolam were alternated in the opening credits, so that one week Bewes was billed first and the following week Bolam was. In the closing credits the billing was reversed, with whoever had been billed second in the opening credits being billed first.
At recordings of the show Bolam was clearly irritated at times by the fact that Bewes did not always know his lines, and he did not trouble to conceal this irritation from the studio audience. The problem may have arisen because the lads always drank real beer in the pub scenes. Frequent re-takes meant they would sometimes have downed eight pints by the end of a recording.
Bewes maintained his connections with The Likely Lads, appearing in a cameo role as the old newspaper seller in a 2002 ITV re-make of the series' most popular episode, "No Hiding Place", starring Tyneside presenters/actors/entertainers Ant and Dec, which aired under the title "A Tribute to the Likely Lads".
Bewes wrote an autobiography, "A Likely Story", which was published in 2005. He is currently touring in his various one-man theatre shows, one of which is based upon the works of Jerome K Jerome.
In 1995 and 1996 the series was repeated in its entirety on BBC 2. It went on to become a short-term staple of cable channels, and was again shown on satellite and cable tv in 2008/9, but has not featured on terrestrial TV in the UK since 2000. It has, however, been released on DVD. And the movie spin-off usually appears at least once a year on TV, around Christmas.
One of the most notable continuity points about the show is that Terry has been away in the Army for "five years". However, there was a real-life gap of seven years between the end of the original series in 1966 and the sequel in 1973. Also, there are numerous references in the Seventies show to the Lads' shared adventures in 1967, plus citations of that year as the time when Terry was last in town. And, from the audience's point of view, Terry was last seen in the radio series which was broadcast during 1967 and 1968. Taken all together, it suggests Terry's army service lasted for the five years from 1968 (i.e. the end of the radio series) to 1973.
Terry's full name is Terence Daniel Collier, born 29 February 1944. Bob's full name is Robert Andrew Scarborough Ferris, born a week earlier. These dates can be worked out from dialogue in the episode "Birthday Boy". The 'Scarborough' in Bob's name comes from the fact that he was allegedly conceived there, but this is contradicted in the opening flashback sequence in the 1976 feature film. Terry's 'silver tankard' joke in his best man's speech at the end of Season 1 (in the episode "End Of An Era") also seems to imply that he, not Bob, turned 21 first.
Terry is younger than his sisters Audrey (Sheila Fearn) and Linda (who is never seen). Their parents are Edith and Cyril Collier. Terry's father is not featured in either series of this show; neither is Bob's father, Leslie. Bob's mother, Alice, occasionally appears. Bob's father had died 12 years previously (as established in the Sixties episode "Friends and Neighbours"), so wasn't around when Bob - an only child - was growing up. Terry's dad is neither dead nor absent: he is continually referred to in the Seventies series, and also in the feature film, but is never actually seen (although, in the opening flash-back in the film, a back view of him is briefly visible, which is clearly James Bolam; and Bolam also provides the voice-over dialogue in that scene).
Thelma's full maiden name is Thelma Ingrid Chambers. Thelma's father, played by Bill Owen, is George Chambers. Her younger sister is Susan, who lives in Toronto, Canada with her accountant fiancé Peter.
The lads attended Park Infants School, Park Junior School, and Park Secondary Modern. Thelma was with them for infants and juniors, but then went to the grammar school. Notable school romances for the Lads included the revered (but sadly never seen) Deirdre Birchwood, who was the basis of a running joke in Series 1, where any mention of her (or of any other former girlfriend of Bob's) was guaranteed to upset Thelma. (A Deidre Birchwood actually appears in an episode of the Bewes vehicle, Dear Mother, Love Albert. She is referred to in many episodes of that programme. Her name derives from a real-life person Bewes knew - according to his memoir.) The lads also were in the Scouts together.
Bob lost his virginity to Wendy Thwaite, according to the Series 1 episode "I'll Never Forget Whatshername", who scored 8 stars (out of 7!) on his scoring system.
Terry's never-seen German wife is called Jutta (pronounced Uta) Baumgarten. They married in November 1969, but split up seven months later, in June 1970, when West Germany defeated England in the 1970 FIFA World Cup. Confusingly, Terry later says they were married for two years "on and off", which further clouds the continuity issue of Terry's time away. She was due to appear in the episode "End Of An Era", played by April Walker, but the scenes featuring her were omitted from the broadcast version.
Terry's address is given in the dialogue as 127 Inkerman Terrace ("No Hiding Place"); but external shots (in "The Ant and the Grasshopper") clearly show a different house number. Bob and Thelma live at Number 8 of an unspecified avenue on the Elm Lodge Housing Estate.
Bob's immediate neighbours at his new house are the Lawsons and the Jeffcotes, again never actually seen in the show. A couple called the Nortons are also later referred to as living next door.
It is revealed (in the episode "Storm in a Tea Chest") that the boys used to be in a skiffle group called Rob Ferris And The Wildcats. Other group members included Maurice 'Memphis' Hardaker, named after a real-life friend of the show's co-creator and co-writer Ian La Frenais.
The Lads' workmate from the 1960s series, Cloughie (originally played by Bartlett Mullins), does not feature, other than a passing mention in the first episode that he now runs a newsagents.
Two running jokes in the show are never fully explained: Terry's supposedly injured leg, which he claims to have injured in the Army ("I never talk about it"), and his aggressive preoccupation with being referred to as 'wiry' rather than as 'thin' or 'slim'. The latter is, in fact, a continuation of a running gag in the original 1960s series, in which Terry was paranoid about being thought weedy.
The pubs frequented by the lads include The Black Horse (which is their most regular 'local', featuring buxom barmaid Gloria), The Fat Ox, The Drift Inn and The Wheatsheaf. Others mentioned in passing include The Swan, The Ship, and the Institute.
Friends of the Lads who are regularly spoken of but never seen include Frank Clark (Bob's original choice for best man, who had the same name as a Newcastle United F.C. player of the time), and Nigel "Little Hutch" Hutchinson (a sex-mad pal, who frequently has a racing tip for Terry). Bob's new middle-class friends who we hear of but don't meet include Hugh and Janey; but a new pal we do meet (in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and "The Ant and the Grasshopper") is affable Londoner Alan Boyle, played by Julian Holloway.
Christopher Biggins makes several appearances as Podge Rowley, a friend of the Lads, including in the episode "Birthday Boy" and as an usher at Bob's wedding in "End Of An Era". He would reappear in the next big television hit for Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, Porridge, as would Brian Glover (Flint in "No Hiding Place").
The episodes "I'll Never Forget Whatshername" and "Storm in a Tea Chest" were based in part on elements in the 1960s episode "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"
The titles for the 1974 Christmas Special call the show simply The Likely Lads. The opening scenes are set in late September, on the day of Terry's successful driving test.
Exterior shots were filmed on Tyneside and around the North East, while interiors were shot at the BBC Television Centre in London.
The genuine affection held by Clement and LaFrenais for the golden age of Hollywood movies is reflected in the show. For instance, nearly all of the episode titles (from "Strangers on a Train" to "The Shape of Things to Come") are based on the titles of Hollywood films; and the script frequently features jokes about popular movies (such as Terry's dig at Bob, on learning that he's becoming middle-class, that his new friends include 'Bob and Carole, and Ted and Alice' - a reference to the 1969 film of that name).
The BBC decided not to commission a third series of the show, partly because Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais had written a pilot script for another 1973 series, entitled Seven of One, in which Ronnie Barker appeared in seven different situations from different writers, each of which was a try-out for a possible series. The BBC decided they liked best the one by Clement and LaFrenais, who found themselves suddenly offered a new series, starring Ronnie Barker, which became the television comedy Porridge.
Writing and production for the new show, which debuted in the autumn of 1974 and ran for three series, made it impossible to schedule a further series of The Likely Lads. Instead, Clement and LaFrenais began to develop a one-off script, which became the Likely Lads feature film, which was eventually made in 1976.
Main article: The Likely Lads (film)In 1976 a feature-length movie was released, written by Clement and La Frenais, which was directed by Michael Tuchner. By this time both lads had moved house (Bob and Thelma to a detached house, and Terry to a high-rise); and Terry now had a Finnish girlfriend called Christina ("Chris"), played by Mary Tamm.
The movie opened with the Lads lamenting the demolition of their favourite pub, The Fat Ox. It then did what so many film spin-offs in the Seventies did, taking the regulars out of their normal environment and sending them off on holiday. The result is a caravanning holiday for Bob and Terry, accompanied by Thelma and Chris. The complications resulting from the trip lead to Terry and Chris splitting up, as a result of which Terry decides to go away, signing on as a crewman on a cargo ship.
Bob and Terry sneak one last late-night drink together aboard Terry's ship, anchored in the docks; but Terry has second thoughts the morning after and elects to stay at home. Bob, however, awakes - hung over - aboard the ship, as it sails for Bahrain. This was an ironic reversal of the ending of the original Sixties show (where Terry, missing Bob - who had joined the Army - joined up too, only to discover that Bob had been discharged with flat feet).
Ian McDiarmid, who went on to play the Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious in four Star Wars movies, made his film debut here, playing a vicar. Future 1980s sitcom icons Vicki Michelle and Linda Robson also made cameo appearances. Vicki Michelle had already appeared, as a different character, in the second series of the Seventies show (in the episode "The Ant and the Grasshopper").
Any future plans for the lads were never announced; but if they existed they were scuppered by Bewes and Bolam falling out.
In 2008, The Gala Theatre in Durham staged the world premiere of "The Likely Lads", adapted for the stage by Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais and directed by Simon Stallworthy. The title roles of Bob and Terry were played by David Nellist and Scott Frazer respectively. In May 2011 The Tynemouth Priory Theatre, in Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear, were granted the rights to become the first non professional company to stage the production. It became one of the theatres most attended productions selling out well in advance for all performances. Terry was played by Brendan Egan and Bob by Stu Bowman. now they back as Ant and Dec