3 items from 2016
Just as Lane was one of the few women to crack the male-dominated world of 70s comedy, so Butterflies gave rare subversive voice to a mature suburban woman
News of screenwriter Carla Lane’s death this week sent TV viewers of a certain age scurrying to the sitcom queen’s back catalogue: The Liver Birds, Bless This House, Bread and especially Butterflies – not just Lane’s masterpiece, but the work which has aged best by far.
Butterflies mined rare subject matter for primetime comedy: a middle-aged woman, trapped in a stale marriage, daydreaming about adultery and a more fulfilling life. Unlike its scouse creator’s other hits, it wasn’t set in gritty Liverpool, but suburban Cheltenham. It took Lane three years to convince the BBC that this unpromising “sit” could be played for laughs. Eventually she did and a winningly wistful “com” was fashioned.
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- Michael Hogan
In the world of 1980s television, female characters and writers were everywhere. What’s gone wrong?
The first thing you think of in Carla Lane’s work? The characters. Beryl and Sandra in The Liver Birds with their massive, thatched-roof fringes and false eyelashes and puffy baker boy hats (Polly James and Nerys Hughes). Ma Nellie Boswell (Jean Boht) and our Aveline (Melanie Hill) in Bread, with voices that could strip paint and withering looks that could castrate a man at 20 paces. Wendy Craig as the stifled housewife Ria in Butterflies, simmering underneath a page-boy haircut that was so smooth it looked as if it had been polished like a billiard ball. These characters all happen to be women. All Carla Lane’s comedies put the women at the centre of things, and no one particularly mentioned it, or not that you’d notice. Quite right, too.
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- Viv Groskop
One day Carla Lane saw her cleaner run the Hoover over a wasp that was crawling across the carpet of her Liverpool home. She was scandalised. “How could you?” she exploded. In her 2006 autobiography, Someday I’ll Find Me, Lane recounted what happened next.
She emptied the vacuum cleaner bag on to some newspaper. “And there it was, alive and well – a little blob of dust with legs. I brushed it down and set it on the floor and let it go into a dark corner to recover.” She was so moved by the episode that she wrote an article for the local radio station called Love Me, Love My Wasp. It was one of her first published works. Lane, who has died aged 87, went on to become one »
- Stuart Jeffries
3 items from 2016
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