On this day (9th January)

Strangers on a Train, the first episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1973.

There might be previous examples which have slipped my mind, but WHTTLL has to be one of the first sitcoms which allowed its characters to grow and develop. Most sitcoms prior to this (Steptoe & Son or Dad’s Army, say) existed in a kind of stasis, but the Bob and Terry of 1973 were certainly different from the young lads we first met in the early sixties.

Given Bolam and Bewes’ later estrangement, it’s hard not to rewatch the series without pondering how far real life mirrored fiction. Graham McCann’s summation of their relationship (click here) might be a little waspish towards Bewes, but it does help to redress the balance previously painted (largely by Bewes as a victim, it must be said).

Throughout WHTTLL it becomes obvious that Bob and Terry have little now in common and it’s mainly the ties of childhood friendship which still keep them together. For Bolam and Bewes during the 1970’s, it was only the work that kept them together – like Bob and Terry they were totally different people with few shared interests.

Mind you, I don’t have a problem with discovering this and am always surprised when someone states that they find it difficult to now watch the series after learning that the stars weren’t the best of friends. For me, they’re simply giving an acting performance – and if they convince, then they’re very good actors.

The Grand Design, the first episode of Yes Prime Minister, was broadcast on BBC2 in 1986.

I think that the first series of YPM has to be my favourite run of episodes (Yes Minister was always consistent, but these eight episodes just have the edge). By now the formula was well established, the three regulars were totally comfortable with their characters and the elevation of Jim Hacker to the PM’s chair gave the series a little extra spice.

Sitcom fans were well catered for this evening, as you could then switch over to BBC1 to catch the first episode of Blackadder IIBells.

Sirens, the first episode of Rockliffe’s Babies, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1987.

For the best part of thirty years the BBC pumped out a series of top-rated police series – Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and its various sequels and Juliet Bravo. After Juliet Bravo came to an end in 1985, they struggled to find a long-running replacement.

Rockliffe’s Babies briefly looked like it might have the legs, but in the end it only ran for two series. Oh, plus there was the faintly bizarre spin-off in which Rockliffe became a country copper (which was almost as jarring as seeing DI Maggie Forbes in the C.A.T.S. Eyes environment).

Reviewing it now, Rockliffe’s Babies is patchier than I remember, but there are some strong episodes and it has the same urban feel of The Bill from this period (like its Thames counterpart, the show was shot entirely on VT).

Ian Hogg’s always good to watch (although in this one he’s only called upon to utter a few words) and maybe casting seven relatively unknown young actors was done in the hope that one or two stars might emerge who could then be given their own series (as had happened with the likes of Auf Wiedersehen Pet). Most are still acting today, although Susanna Shelling’s post Rockliffe career was fairly brief (her last television credit was in 2007).

6 thoughts on “On this day (9th January)

  1. Rockliffe’s Babies was one of those TV series I remember most due to it’s catchy TV theme and the closing credits over London’s Westway.

    The first episode was a really odd series opener for a new TV programme as Ian Hogg’s central (and title) character is absent until the very last scene.

    Maybe having DS Alan Rockcliffe absent for one of the later episodes would have been acceptable, but not the first one.

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  2. In the last episode of the original Likely Lads Bob wanted to join the army and Terry went with him, and Bob got rejected because he had flat feet while Terry ended up in the army. And then in the first episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? they’re on a train and the lights have gone out, and Terry says he’s just come out of the army, and Bob says that he nearly joined the army once, but he got rejected because he had flat feet while his friend ended up in the army. And then the lights come on and Terry says “You bastard!”

    The last time James Bolam and Rodney Bewes played the Likely Lads was in the film version. At the end of the film Terry is planning to go abroad, but he oversleeps and misses the boat, while Bob fell asleep on the boat which is now heading for Bahrain.

    If they did a third run of The Likely Lads it should have started with Bob and Terry on a train and the lights have gone out, and Bob says he just come back from Bahrain where he’s spent several years in prison for trying to get into the country without a passport. And Terry says that funnilly enough he was once planning to go to Bahrain but he missed the boat, but his friend ended up on the boat to Bahrain by mistake, and then his wife divorced him for desertion, and then she married him. And then the lights come on and Bob says “You bastard!”.

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  3. Blackadder II was a surprise as the first (and best) series ended with most of the characters, apart from Percy and Baldrick, getting poisoned. The connection between the medieval Black Adder and the Elizabethan Blackadder was only explained in the song at the end of the episode Head. “His great-grandfather was the King. But that was just for thirty seconds.”

    In fact Head was meant to be the first episode and Bells was supposed to be the second, but they got shown the other way round. In Head Percy has a beard which he shaves off during Bells, and he’s clean-shaven for the rest of the series. So the BBC created a continuity error by showing the first two episodes out of sequence.

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  4. When you did your look back at Christmas 1985 you downloaded the tv listing pages from Radio and TV Times, and the last page of the tv listings of Radio Times includes a preview of programmes for the New Year. Yes Prime Minister was on the cover, and they also mention Black Adder, Lovejoy and Alice in Wonderland

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