This post was originally an article for my 60s fanzine that existed in the mid-nineties. There has been some mild editing for corrections and to remove outdated information.
The world (or the UK at least) first met Terry Collier and Bob Ferris on 16th December 1964, but the history of these two characters went back further than that. The series’ writers, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, first put words into the mouths of Bob and Terry in a sketch they wrote for the Ariel Players in 1961. Dick Clement resurrected this sketch during a director’s course at the BBC and from there, interest was sparked enough for a series to be proposed. (The original sketch formed the basis of the second episode of the debut series, “Double Date”)
The basis of the series was the gritty Northern dramas that could be seen in cinemas during the early 60s. These films were often serious but had moments of genuine humour. The Likely Lads was to be a series that, although billed as a comedy, wouldn’t contain jokes as such. All the humour was generated from the dialogue and situations rather than set-ups and punchlines. This was considered quite unusual at the time but it obviously worked as the Likely Lads were soon taken into the lives of the nation.
Setting the series in the North East was another bold move, but still in keeping with the film roots of the project – for some time movies had been moving out of the South as working-class chic drove them North.
The premise of the show revolved around two factory maintenance shop workers named Bob and Terry. They were typical of young men of the time. This was the era of the Swinging Sixties, men’s trendy fashions, Carnaby Street, free love and empowerment of youth, but only if you were one of the media darlings that got to live the dream in London. The Lads spent their Saturday nights in the pub waxing lyrical about over various debates of the day, drinking pints of beer and – if they were lucky – pulling a couple of birds. The youth revolution, in the main, passes them by and though they have adventures they are not those of the swingers in the capital. That’s not to imply that life for the Lads was dull, far from it, but it was based on the reality of everyday folk.
It’s hard to imagine any other actors playing Bob and Terry other than Rodney Bewes and James Bolam. Others were considered, but the chemistry between the two actors is obvious. That chemistry was important when the relationship of the lead characters is built on an ironclad friendship. Bob and Terry may have held differing views and ideals but they were inseparable friends. No matter what either of them did the friendship was sustained in the end.
The show originally ran for three series plus a sketch on Christmas Night With The Stars in 1964. The final episode saw Bob go to join the army after growing tired of his hometown. Unable to sway his decision, Terry can’t bear the thought of the friendship ending that way and signs up himself. What he doesn’t realise is that Bob has been rejected due to flat feet, so they get separated after all.
The story of the Likely Lads doesn’t end there, as unusually for the time, a sequel was commissioned in the 1970s and on 9th January 1973 audiences were given a chance to reacquaint themselves with the lives of Bob and Terry when a chance meeting on a train reunited our protagonists and we were treated to two series and a Christmas special of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads. Featuring a catchy theme tune penned by Mike Hugg (of Manfred Mann fame) these episodes saw the Lads in a reflective mood as they moved on from the carefree youths they were and settled into suburban life and relationships.