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Series / The Likely Lads

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The Likely Lads was a black and white Britcom that ran from 1964 to 1966 on The BBC. It followed the escapades of two young working-class men Oop North, Terry Collier (who was proud of his roots) and Bob Ferris (who wanted to better himself and become middle-class). It was created by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, and starred James Bolam as Terry and Rodney Bewes as Bob.

However, what most people remember now is Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, a colour revival that ran from 1973 to 1974, still written by Clement and La Frenais. In this show, Bob had succeeded in becoming middle-class and was engaged to the very middle-class Thelma, when Terry suddenly reappeared (he'd joined the army at the end of the original series), throwing his life into confusion. As was common practice for many British sitcoms of the time, a spin-off movie followed in 1976.

In 2004, it came 23rd in Britain's Best Sitcom.


Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? contains examples of:

  • Appointment Television: "No Hiding Place", where Bob and Terry desperately try to avoid Spoilers for an international football match which took place the previous night but is not being shown on TV until the following evening. Their efforts are eventually revealed to have been All for Nothing, as the match was called off due to a flooded pitch.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Bob implies this about Terry in "No Hiding Place".
    Bob: Well known fact: anyone who's always putting queers down and being aggressively masculine all the time - like you - is only masking their own latent tendencies.
  • Ascended Extra: Thelma appeared in one episode of The Likely Lads in which she was one of two young ladies who went on a double date with Bob and Terry. For Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, she was retconned as having been Bob's childhood sweetheart and was now a regular character; she and Bob were by now engaged, and their wedding happened at the end of the first series.
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  • Awful Wedded Life: Played with, as Bob and Thelma's marriage is rarely a happy one, with him often being Mistaken for Cheating (and justifiably so at times — although he never actually commits adultery, it's not for want of trying). They separate during the second series (but are reconciled) but then separate again in the film, and are not reconciled by the time it ends, with Bob inadvertently sailing to the Middle East. As there were no follow-ups due to Rodney Bewes and James Bolam having fallen out, we'll never know what happened after that.
  • Basement-Dweller: Both lads live with their parents; in Bob's case, this ends when he and Thelma get married, with it being stated that the only reason they don't move into their new house together beforehand is out of fear for what the neighbours might think about an unmarried couple living together, although both characters make it clear that they have an active sex life prior to the wedding.
  • Bedmate Reveal: Thelma is shocked to wake up next to Terry (whom she had mistaken for Bob) in "Home Is the Hero".
  • Bookends: The original series ended with Bob joining the Army, and Terry joining up to keep him company — only for Bob to fail the medical, leaving Terry to embark on a military career alone. The Movie ends with Terry signing up for the Merchant Navy, and Bob coming on board for a last drink together before his ship sets sail — only for Terry to end up ashore while Bob goes to sea.
  • Call-Back: The black-and-white photos used in the opening credits of both series of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? were stills from the original series.
  • Christmas Episode: The last-ever TV episode, entitled The Likely Lads: A Special Christmas Edition and broadcast in 1974 — in which Terry, having passed his driving test and got a job as a minicab driver, drives Bob and Thelma to a fancy-dress party. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Contrived Coincidence: At play in "One for the Road", in which Bob and Terry are both arrested for completely different offences (respectively, drink-driving and football hooliganism) and end up in the same police cell.
  • Courtroom Episode: "Conduct Unbecoming".
  • Diagonal Billing: A variation — to avoid animosity 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. A more straightforward example can be found in posters for The Movie.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Both lads fall afoul of this trope in "The Great Race".
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Bob's full name is revealed as Robert Andrew Scarborough Ferris — which is at least less embarrassing than Terry's guesses at what the S might stand for (Stalin, Sarajevo, Sands-of-Iwo-Jima...) It's still pretty embarrassing to explain; it's because he was conceived there note .
  • Football Hooligan: Terry is arrested for being one of these in "One for the Road".
  • The Ghost: Deirdre Birchwood, a former girlfriend of Bob's who was often mentioned, but never seen. Also falling into this category were Frank Clark (Bob's original choice for best man, until Terry returned), Nigel "Little Hutch" Hutchinson (a sex-mad pal, who frequently had a racing tip for Terry), Terry's sister Linda and the Lawsons and the Jeffcotes, Bob and Thelma's neighbours in either side.
  • Gilligan Cut: In "The Old Magic":
    Terry: ...with me virus and that blow? I can't think of eating. I doubt if my appetite will ever be the same again. [in the restaurant, a few nights later] I'll have the prawn cocktail, fillet steak well-done, chips, onion rings, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and sprouts. And can we have some more bread while you're at it?
  • Henpecked Husband: Bob, who's actually a henpecked fiance before the wedding.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Bob and Terry. Not that they weren't such in the first series, but even more so here.
  • Hypocrite: Thelma in "Storm in a Tea Chest", when she makes Bob throw all of his treasured childhood possessions away, while hanging onto all of her own.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Many episodes have the same title as classic films: Strangers on a Train, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Great Race, The Shape of Things to Come.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Thelma often thinks this of Bob — with some justification as he clearly intends to commit adultery more than once (most notably in The Movie when he gets into bed with a young lady but is interrupted before he can have sex with her). In return, he sometimes thinks she's cheating on him.
  • The Movie: As was common for sitcoms at the time, a movie was made; it was released in cinemas in 1976. Just called The Likely Lads, it also counts as the show's Vacation Episode (they go caravanning), in addition to being the last instalment of the lads' adventures. The page image is the movie DVD cover.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Some scenes appear to be slightly contrived to show Thelma (Brigid Forsyth) undressing, or wearing a very short-cut slip, or on one memorable occasion leaning out of a window in a virtually see-through nightie.
  • My Local: Of all the pubs the lads liked going to, their favourite was the Black Horse. Closely followed by the Fat Ox (which got demolished at the start of The Movie), the Wheatsheaf, etc, etc.
  • Naked People Trapped Outside: Not fully naked, but in the movie Bob and Terry both end up outside the B&B without their trousers on; unable to go back in and get them, they drive back to Newcastle where they are unable to explain their trouserless state to Thelma and Audrey (Terry's sister).
  • Oop North: The series is set in Newcastle, although filming for the original series took place in the very Geordie location of East London. Only the second series was filmed on location in the North-East. The film used a number of locations in and around Newcastle and the surrounding countryside, although some location shots were done in the London area (likely done for expediency as the film was made at EMI's Elstree Studios, located in Borehamwood, just north of London). Only Terry has anything like a realistic Geordie accent, and not nearly as strong as one would expect from his character. James Bolam was actually born in Sunderland, where the accent, though sometimes confused with Geordie, is subtly different. Other characters, including Bob and members of Terry's immediate family, mostly speak in generic Northern accents (a sort of mild Yorkshire; Rodney Bewes, who played Bob, was in fact from Yorkshire).
  • Pregnancy Scare: In "Heart To Heart":
    Susan: But only on one condition - only if Peter agrees to bring up Terry's baby as his own!
  • The Remake: In 2002 Ant and Dec starred in a remake of "No Hiding Place" under the title A Tribute To The Likely Lads. Rodney Bewes made a Remake Cameo as the newspaper vendor.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: the wannabe-middle class Bob and the resolutely working class Terry.
  • Shout-Out: When Bob wakes up befuddled in the police station after his non-stag-party and asks what happened, Terry tells him they had an encounter with a strange doctor in a police box.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: Thelma (middle class) vs. Terry (working class), with Bob caught in the middle.
  • Story Arc: At play in the first series of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, with early episodes focusing on Terry's return to civilian life following his discharge from the Army, and later episodes focusing on the planning for Bob and Thelma's wedding. Partially averted with the second series, in which the episodes are mostly self-contained, although there is a four-episode storyline concerning Bob and Thelma's brief separation.
  • Surprise Party: Bob organises one for Terry in "Birthday Boy", although things do not go according to plan.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Terry, from Thelma's perspective at least.
  • Women Are Wiser: Zigzagged with Thelma.

Oh, what happened to you?
Whatever happened to me?
And what became of the people we used to be?

Alternative Title(s): Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads