The Liver Birds (TV Series 1969–1996) Poster

(1969–1996)

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Glamorous, amorous, female and free
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre3 October 2002
"The Liver Birds", which ran on BBC1 from 1969 to 1996, is one of Britain's most popular sitcoms. Firstly, that title: the second word is pronounced "LY-vah", and "Lyvah birds" are young women (birds) who live in Liverpool.

The programme's first series is set in Liverpool during the period when Beatlemania was over but the city still retained a few bits of its Mersey Beat glamour. To emphasise the programme's Liverpudlian flavour, the theme song was sung by Scaffold, a Mersey band fronted by Mike McGear ... who was known to be Paul McCartney's brother, trying for a rock-music career on his own merits. The timing of this programme was also significant for another reason: in the late sixties, due to the convergence of several social factors, women in Britain were experiencing true independence - sexually, socially, economically - for the very first time, and 'The Liver Birds' triumphantly documented this new freedom.

The programme follows the adventures of two young unmarried working women ('Liver birds') who share a flat in Huskisson Street while they contend with the problems of careers, parents, money (and lack of same) and boyfriends (definitely no lack of same). 'Liver Birds' was far more realistic than most sitcoms, and this was definitely a strong part of its appeal: many young working-class British women could identify with the heroines of this show... and so could many other viewers who were not young, or not women.

Due to frequent cast turnover, several actresses came and went as the two roommates. Originally the 'birds' were Dawn and Beryl, but Dawn moved out (and Pauline Collins went on to a successful career as a dramatic actress) to be replaced by Sandra. The Beryl/Sandra episodes are the most popular period for this long-running programme. Eventually Beryl left too, and Carol became Sandra's new roommate. Each of the 'birds' had her own distinctive personality.

Over its long run, 'The Liver Birds' developed a large supporting cast ... notably Sandra's mum, Mrs Hutchinson, played by Mollie Sugden before she became famous as Mrs Slocombe from 'Are You Being Served?' Jonathan Lynn, later to create 'Yes, Minister' had a long-running role as one of the boyfriends.

The series was created by two Liverpool housewives: Myra Taylor and Carla Lane, who based the early scripts on their own lives. Because they had no previous writing experience, the BBC required them to work with script editor Eric Idle (just before he went on to fame as one component of Monty Python). Both women went on to write scripts for other series, and Carla Lane is now one of the most respected and prolific series creators in English television.
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10/10
the younger generation do appreciate this too you know!
texxas-113 March 2015
It was summer 2008, I was 15 years old and while flicking through the cable TV I came across this on uktv gold. I thought it was amazing. So for my 16th birthday I ask for series 2 of this. And I loved it, I must have watched each episode about 100 times. This show took care of me all through the cold dark winter of 09. You don't see many light hearted comedy's about 2 young women just being women and having fun. There's quite a lot of rude jokes and references to sex, but I suppose it was because it was the 70s. They'd never get away with it today. Amazing show! Its not very fast pace, but its the type of program you can watch in your pyjamas and drinking cocoa in bed.
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8/10
"You dancing?", "You asking?", "I'm asking!", "I'm dancing!"
ShadeGrenade27 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Carla Lane and Myra Taylor's 'The Liver Birds' concerned the exploits of flat-sharing Liverpudllian girls - prim and proper Sandra Hutchinson ( Nerys Hughes ) and shrill extrovert Beryl Hennessey ( Polly James ). It grew out of a 'Comedy Playhouse' episode broadcast on 14/4/69, alongside James initially was Pauline Collins as 'Dawn'. Rare in those days for a sitcom to focus so strongly on young people, and rarer still for them to be girls. B.B.C.-1 Head of Comedy Michael Mills suggested the title, probably picturing the show as a female 'Likely Lads'. With Lane and Taylor's lack of television experience a concern, he appointed Eric Idle as script editor, but the future 'Monty Python' star soon left, sensing he was not really needed.

The first season had to be abandoned after only four shows, due to James' theatre commitments. It returned - in colour - in 1971, and without Collins ( who had moved onto I.T.V.'s hit costume drama 'Upstairs, Downstairs' ). Replacing her was Welsh actress Hughes, one of the hottest women on television at that time. She gelled with James, and - with its catchy theme by 'The Scaffold' - the 'Liver Birds' took flight. Each week, as well as problems with men and money, they would try their hands at something new, such as working in stables, beauty contests or protest marches, only for things to go horribly wrong. Mollie Sugden was hilarious as Sandra's snobbish mother, while Sheila Fay ( wife of Ken Jones from 'Porridge' ) was funny as Beryl's more down-to-earth parent. Due to the conventions of the time, the girls were not allowed to discuss intimate female subjects; instead of saying "I had great sex last night!", one would say "He didn't go home until half-past ten!", making the show suitable family viewing. When Taylor left to return to her family, other writers, such as Lew Schwarz and David Pursall and Jack Seddon, were brought in, but did not have the feel for the characters. Lane eventually took over the writing duties.

After Season 4, James departed, and was replaced by Elisabeth Estensen as kooky, curly-headed 'Carol Boswell'. This was, for me, the show's best period. Carol's brother, Lucien ( Michael Angelis ), was a hippie-type always blathering on about rabbits, and acquired a following of his own ( there was later an attempt to give him his own show ). It carried on much as before, but in 1977 critics ( such as Brian Lawrence of 'The News Of The World' ) began grumbling that the girls were looking a little long in the tooth to be playing young women. Two years later, Sandra married vet Derek Paynton ( Tom Chadbon ) and, after discovering she was pregnant, it finally came to an end, notching up a total of nine seasons ( almost spanning the whole of the '70's ). Surprisingly, it did not make the jump to the big screen like so many other shows of that era.

With a number of sitcom revivals taking place in the '90's - 'Agony Again', 'Doctor At The Top', and 'The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin' - the B.B.C. commissioned Lane to write a tenth series of 'Birds' in '96. It was an unqualified disaster - Sandra and Beryl had changed from a pair of chirpy young girls into two frumpy, middle-aged women ( the first episode ended with Beryl crying uncontrollably, mourning her lost youth ). Worse, Sugden looked unrecognisable due to medication she was taking. Lucien, Carol's brother, was now Beryl's brother, thereby contradicting the earlier series. Lane's heart simply was not in it. The melancholic humour of 'The Last Song' and 'The Mistress' was all wrong for this show.

'The Liver Birds' was not, in my view, a great sitcom but it was hugely successful, and its influence on later shows ( particularly 'Birds Of A Feather' ) cannot be ignored. Carol's surname 'Boswell' was later given to the family in Lane's next smash-hit 'Bread'.
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8/10
''What's got four arms, loves to grab ya? Answer is two Liver birds!''
RaspberryLucozade28 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
This long running sitcom written by Carla Lane is hardly remembered now but in its time was one of most watched and most talked about shows on the box. It was almost like a '70's version of 'Men Behaving Badly', except here the leads were two women instead of men.

'The Liver Birds' arrived on our screens in 1969 as a 'Comedy Playhouse' pilot. Pauline Collins and sexy Polly James played flat-sharing Liverpudlian girls Dawn and Beryl. Though it was a ratings success, James' theatre commitments meant the show had to be aborted after only four episodes. However, in 1971, it appeared for a second series, with the stunningly beautiful Nerys Hughes stepping in to replace Pauline Collins ( who had left to appear in ITV's long running drama 'Upstairs, Downstairs' ). Hughes played posh-spoken Sandra Hutchinson, a striking contrast to the loud and fiery Beryl.

Future 'Monty Python' star Eric Idle initially worked on the show as script editor but left when he realised Carla Lane and Myra Taylor did not require his services.

And so within a short space of time, 'The Liver Birds' began pulling in audiences in their millions. People from all walks of life could be heard singing the show's catchy theme tune ( supplied by The Scaffold ). As its popularity increased, Lane eventually decided to write the show alone. Both James and Hughes were excellent and the chemistry the two had together was powerful. Mollie Sugden was hilarious as Sandra's snobbish mother, as was Sheila Fay as Beryl's common-as-muck mother.

After series four, Polly James left when Beryl got married and left Huskisson Street for pastures new. This set the scene for the arrival of Elizabeth Estensen as feisty Carol Boswell, Sandra's new flatmate. Though not as good as her predecessor, Estensen nevertheless proved a popular edition to the show. Also popular were Carol's eccentric mother Mrs. Boswell ( Eileen Kennally first, then Carmel McSharry ) and rabbit-mad brother Lucien ( Michael Angelis ). By 1978, after nine series, Lane felt it was time to stop and so ended the show on a high note with Sandra marrying vet Derek Paynton ( Tom Chadbon ) and giving birth.

Unfortunately, in 1996, the BBC, who at this time were trying dismally to breathe new life into old sitcoms such as 'The Fall & Rise Of Reginald Perrin' ( remade as 'The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin' ), commissioned a tenth series, which saw Beryl reunited with Sandra. Terrible continuity errors abounded. Beryl's surname was changed from Hennesey to Boswell and Lucien was now Beryl's brother instead of Carol's. Mollie Sugden was ill during filming, and it showed. The revival was not popular and no further episodes were made.

All in all, 'The Liver Birds', while nothing outstanding was nevertheless enjoyable to watch and in my view is the best of all Carla Lane's sitcoms. Incidentally, the name 'Boswell' was the same surname to be used in her next hit - the long running 'Bread'.
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8/10
Dated but often hilarious in places
glenn-aylett19 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I have been watching clips of The Liver Birds, one of the most successful sitcoms of the seventies, but anyone wishing to watch episodes now would be better trying the first seven series, which were very amusing at times and were like a female Likely Lads, than the last two regular series. These are probably better remembered ,with Our Lucien and his rabbits, but the last two series of the show became a bit slow if still watchable. Also do avoid the terrible 1996 remake which was full of continuity errors and was completely unfunny.

Bear in mind some episodes are 45 years old now and were mostly filmed on VT in a studio, which dates it badly, and while no one now would be shocked by a pair of unmarried women having numerous boyfriends, this still was rather daring for 1971. Also the fashions from the era come across as rather garish, such as bright green hotpants and red plastic macs. However, you can overlook this as the comedy in the early series is good if not totally laugh out loaud

The Liver Birds does have that cracking theme tune by The Scaffold that everyone over 40 remembers, Molly Sugden is hilarious as Sandra's snobbish mother and the classic, stand out episode for me is Beryl's wedding where the wedding car breaks down and she has to go to the wedding in her wedding dress on the bus.

Unfortunately the scriptwriter of this sitcom, Carla Lane, who also had massive success with Butterflies and Bread, died last week aged 87.
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