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Following the huge success of Keith Waterhouse's 'Billy Liar' as a novel, stage play and film, it was inevitable that this 'oop North' Walter Mitty character would star in a television series. I saw 'Billy Liar' when it was originally transmitted. While never quite attaining 'Fawlty Towers' heights of hilarity, this programme was consistently funny, with at least two or three solid belly-laughs per episode. To the best of my knowledge, 'Billy Liar' has never been repeated in Britain, nor shown in America. If the original tapes still exist, I can't imagine why they're being suppressed ... unless perhaps Keith Waterhouse has some legal reason for suppressing them. However, as he was head writer for this sitcom, I can't guess what his objections might be.
Newcomer Jeff Rawle was perfectly cast as callow Billy Fisher, whose imagination far outstrips his achievements. Much of the substantial humour in this sitcom sprung from the interaction between Billy and his sarcastic father Geoffrey, or between Billy and his long-suffering employer, Mr Shadrack the undertaker.
Perhaps what's discouraged programmers from repeating this sitcom is the extreme 1970s look of the series. Waterhouse created Billy Liar in the 1950s and saw him through the swinging Sixties, yet Jeff Rawle's interpretation of Billy Liar is firmly trapped in the 1970s, and that naff decade's definition of manliness. Rawle is emaciated, clean-shaven, wistful, with flares and longish hair ... looking almost like a girl, in other words. Not effeminate, yet somehow almost feminine. By way of contrast, Billy's father Geoffrey is played by George Cooper with absolutely no hair at all. It may well be that slap-headed Geoffrey Fisher's resentment of his son is down to his own baldness versus his son's excess of hair. On the vocal front, Rawle's accent was just a shade too Brum for this North Country character, but Cooper's broad Northern vowels were spot-on.
I never identified with Billy Liar, me -- my own lies were of a different sort, told for a different reason -- but this series aired during a troublesome time in my own life ... and I'd be delighted to see these episodes again, partly on their own merit but largely because of the memories they would summon regarding my own troubles at this time. I'll rate 'Billy Liar' 7 out of 10.
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