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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 Britains Best Sitcom.

The Likely Lads contains examples of:

  • Audio Adaptation: Sixteen of the episodes were adapted for radio and broadcast over two series in 1967 and 1968, with (most of) the original television cast reprising their roles.
  • British Brevity: Two series of six episodes (in 1964 and 1965) and one of eight (in 1966), giving us a total of 20 episodes over the course of three years.
  • Love Triangle: A type 1 example occurs in "Brief Encounter", when Bob and Terry unknowingly date the same girl.
  • Oop North: It's about two young working-class men in the industrial North East of England (specifically, Newcastle-upon-Tyne), although filming took place in the very Geordie location of East London.

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.
  • Auto Erotica. Attempted by Bob ... with someone other than Thelma.
  • Awful Wedded Life: 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, only for them to separate again in the film, and they 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. Terry's marriage to Jutta, whom he met while serving with the British Army in West Germany, did not last beyond England's ill-fated match against West Germany in the 1970 World Cup note , although it took several years for the divorce to go through.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Happens a few times.
    • We first see the newly-demobbed Terry on a train playing with two children. Since we have just heard Bob saying he's not heard from Terry for five years, one might assume that he now has a family of his own, but it is quickly revealed they are not his — he's just been keeping them occupied while their mother, who is in the same carriage as Terry, went to the toilet.
    • The Christmas episode opens with Thelma hastily writing out a list of Christmas presents that she and Bob need to buy, in addition to fretting over their Christmas card list and worrying about which parties they're going to attend. Then Bob points out that it's September.
  • Basement-Dweller: Initially, 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. With Terry, it's justifiable in the first series as he's just come home after leaving the Army. He moves into Bob and Thelma's place when they're on their honeymoon, and later shares the place with Bob for a while when Thelma goes back to live with her mother.
  • Bedmate Reveal: Thelma is shocked to wake up in bed with Terry (whom she had mistaken for Bob) in "Home Is the Hero".
  • The Blind Leading the Blind: Bob takes relationship advice from Terry, whose romantic history is somewhat unsuccessful.
  • 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 change his mind and end up ashore, while Bob goes to sea.
    • Also, The Movie — which concluded the saga of Bob and Terry — was simply called The Likely Lads, just like the original black and white show.
  • Bottle Episode: "Boys' Night In" is the closest to this; in addition to Bob and Terry, the only other characters to feature in the episode are two police officers.
  • British Brevity: Somewhat averted by British standards, as the show ran to two series of 13 episodes plus a Christmas special, giving us 27 episodes over two years.
  • 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. They form part of the photo album that Terry gives to Bob and Thelma on their wedding day in "End of an Era".
  • 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.
  • Continuity Snarl: A minor case — it is often stated that Terry was in the Army for five years, even though there was actually a seven-year gap between 1966 (the last episode of the black and white series, in which he joined the Army) and 1973 (the first episode of the colour revival, in which he returned to civilian life). A possible work-around comes in the form of the radio series, which aired from 1967 to 1968 and also concluded with Terry joining the Army, which gives a five-year gap. Another example is Terry's marriage to Jutta, which he says lasted for two years even though he also says that they got married in 1969 and the marriage more or less ended the following summer as a result of England being defeated by West Germany in the 1970 World Cup (although it took a while for the divorce to go through).
  • 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 on posters for The Movie — and the DVD cover which can be seen at the top of this page.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Both lads fall afoul of this trope in "The Great Race" when they challenge each other to a bicycle race to Berwick-upon-Tweed (which is just over sixty miles from Newcastle), only to find that neither of them are as fit as they thought they were, leading to both of them going to great lengths to cheat their way to victory.
  • 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".
  • Friendship Moment: Terry and Thelma have a few of these, especially in the second series.
  • The Ghost: Lots of characters. In particular, there was Deirdre Birchwood, a former girlfriend of Bob's who was often mentioned, but never seen — although there mere mention of her always annoyed Thelma. 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 friend of Terry's who frequently had a racing tip for him), Terry's sister Linda, his estranged wife Jutta (she was to have appeared in "End of an Era" but the scenes with her in were cut after being filmed, although she is credited as being played by April Walker in the credits), and the Lawsons and the Jeffcotes, Bob and Thelma's next-door neighbours on 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 original series, but even more so here.
  • Homage: in the episode where Bob is driving newly-returned Terry around Newcastle to show him how things have changed in the last five years, they stop outside a multi-storey car park which remains in the centre of shot for a long time. This is a key location in the Newcastle-set gangster movie Get Carter note , which had been released in cinemas two years earlier.
  • 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.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: In The Movie, Bob and Thelma have an argument in the back of Terry's employer's van. Unfortunately, the van as a PA system which has been left on, broadcasting their argument across the nightbourhood. Terry loses his job as a result.
  • Men Can't Keep House: Neither Bob nor Terry are much good around the house, although Terry definitely wins the prize here for attempting to use a toaster to defrost pork chops.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Zigzagged. Thelma often thinks that Bob's cheating on her — but it's with some justification, as he clearly intends to commit adultery more than once, but never actually manages to do so (the most notable examples are at the party they go to in the Christmas special, and in The Movie when he gets into bed with a young lady but is interrupted before he can have sex with her). That said, in quite a few cases Bob is actually blameless and is merely a victim of circumstances (as witness the events of "Affairs and Relations" in which Thelma thinks he's having an affair with Beryl, her father's secretary, whereas it is in fact her father who's having an affair with her, or at least trying to). In return, Bob sometimes thinks Thelma's cheating on him.
  • Mistaken for Suicidal: When Thelma goes back to the house to check on Bob (having previously left him over a Mistaken for Cheating incident), she catches him with his head in the oven. Thinking he was trying to kill himself, she's overcome with remorse. Turns out, he was trying to clean it.
  • Mistaken Identity: At play in "Birthday Boy" when Thelma sends two of her friends to collect Terry from the pub to take him to the Surprise Party she and Bob have planned for him. Unfortunately, they've never met him and so end up bringing a complete stranger back instead.
  • 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 Terry and Bob both end up outside the B&B without their trousers on after trying to get it with (respectively) the landlady and her daughter; 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). The image of the pair without trousers can be seen on some of the movie posters.
  • Odd Couple: The two main characters — even more so when Terry moves in with Bob after Thelma leaves him.
  • Oop North: Unlike the original series, this one 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 and used his own accent).
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: The fancy dress party that Bob and Thelma go to in the Christmas episode turns out to be one of these. Bob is more enthusiastic about this than Thelma; he claims that her accusations of him getting a bit too friendly with the woman dressed up as Joan of Arc are a case of Mistaken for Cheating, but it turns out that Thelma's right to be suspicious.
  • The Precious, Precious Car: A Running Gag in The Movie sees Bob's brand-new Vauxhall Chevette being subjected to many indignities — almost as many as Bob and Terry themselves, in fact.
  • Pregnancy Scare: Thelma's sister Susan has one of these in "Heart To Heart":
    Susan: But only on one condition - only if Peter agrees to bring up Terry's baby as his own!
  • Product Placement: Averted, what with this being a BBC show, but the Beeb did sneak in some of its own; as was the case with a few other BBC shows, whenever a character is shown reading a magazine, it's always the Radio Times (the listings guide published by the Beeb).
  • 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.
  • Retcon: In the original series, Bob didn't have a steady girlfriend (although he was constantly seeking one). As of the colour revival, Thelma is stated to have been his childhood sweetheart, although she was only shown once in the original series (as one of the two young ladies Bob and Terry went on a double date with).
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: the wannabe-middle class Bob and the resolutely working class Terry.
  • '70s Hair: Both main characters have noticeably longer hair than in the original series, although in both cases it appears that they've more or less kept the same styles as they had in The '60s and just grown their hair longer. In the Christmas special, Bob's got a beard too — although he's shaved it off by the time of The Movie.
  • 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.
    • There are also lots of references to movies. As well having most episode titles named after movies (see above under Idiosyncratic Episode Naming), the script frequently features jokes about popular films — such as Terry's dig at Bob that his new middle-class friends include "Bob and Carol, and Ted and Alice", a reference to the 1969 film of that name.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: Thelma (middle class) vs. Terry (working class), with Bob caught in the middle. Also at play between Thelma's parents — her mother is a very prim and proper middle-class type while her father, despite the fact that he runs his own company, is proud of his working-class origins.
  • Stag Party: A somewhat downplayed example, as Bob wants to have a quiet night in rather than the usual booze-up — although he still ends up getting arrested for drunken behaviour after foolishly combining whisky and sleeping pills when he goes to the launderette.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Bob seems to take this attitude — although she has a job of her own, Thelma does all of the cooking and housework. When she moves out and Terry moves in, the latter ends up doing all of the domestic tasks. Or trying to, at any rate.
  • 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 and Thelma organises one for Terry in "Birthday Boy", although things do not go according to plan.
  • Third Wheel: Terry. Although an alternative way of looking at it would be to see Thelma as this with regards to Bob and Terry's lifelong friendship.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Terry to Bob, from Thelma's perspective at least. Dialogue indicates that Terry was even seen as being this when he was at school.
  • Women Are Wiser: Most of the time, Thelma lives up to this.

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