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Bolam, James (1938-)


Main image of Bolam, James (1938-)

Private and reticent, James Bolam has enjoyed a career that encompasses television, film and theatre. Even though he is chiefly associated with comic roles, notably the roguish but lovable, quick-witted Terry Collier, he has developed into a multifaceted actor of the highest order.

Trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama, Bolam made his professional stage debut at the Royal Court in 1959. At a time when the Northern working-class was, finally, a fashionable subject for drama on stage and screen, Bolam's Geordie accent was a valuable asset. His first television appearance came in an episode of the Granada detective series The Odd Man (ITV, 1963). Roles followed in Ted Willis' Four Seasons of Rosie Carr (1964) and Nöel Coward's Present Laughter (tx. 10/8/1964), a part of Granada's A Choice of Coward (ITV, 1964).

Bolam's television career took off in Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais' landmark working-class comedy The Likely Lads (BBC, 1964-66). The ambitious Bob Ferris (Rodney Bewes) and Bolam's cynical Terry Collier were forever trying to 'pull birds' and put the world to rights over pints of beer. Seven years after the demise of the series, we caught up with their lives in the superior sequel Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads (BBC, 1973-74). They were last seen in the inevitable cinema spin off The Likely Lads (d. Michael Tuchner, 1976).

Between the two series, Bolam appeared in a variety of dramas, including Thirty Minute Theatre's The Sufferings of Peter Obiznov (BBC, tx. 17/5/1967) and two plays by Charlotte Bingham and Terence Brady; One, Two Sky's Blue (1969) and the Play for Today (BBC, 1970-84) drama Making the Play (tx. 2/7/1973).

In James Mitchell's successful between-the-wars series When the Boat Comes In (BBC, 1976) he showed his versatility as shipyard union official Jack Ford. He enjoyed further popularity as malingering patient Roy Figgis in Eric Chappell's hospital based situation comedy Only When I Laugh (ITV, 1979-82). Other sitcoms were to follow, with more limited success: Room at the Bottom (ITV, 1986-88), Father Matthew's Daughter (BBC, 1987), Andy Capp (ITV, 1988), Second Thoughts (ITV, 1991-94) and Pay and Display (ITV, 2000).

His comedy acting skills were put to good use in two BBC Shakespeare plays; as Touchstone in As You Like It (tx. 17/12/1978) and the Porter in Macbeth (17/10/1983). As mystery solving, jazz-loving woodwork teacher, he teamed up with Barbara Flynn for another television triumph in Alan Plater's jazz-orientated Beiderbecke trilogy: Affair (ITV, 1984), Tapes (ITV, 1987) and Connection (ITV, 1988).

He has made occasional forays into cinema, most notably in A Kind of Loving (d. John Schlesinger, 1962), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (d. Tony Richardson, 1962), the Miss Marple thriller Murder Most Foul (d. 1964), La Frenais and Clement's Otley (1968) and O Lucky Man! (d. Lindsey Anderson, 1973). Later films include Clockwork Mice (d. Vadim Jean, 1995), a memorably seedy pimp in Stella Does Tricks (d. Coky Giedroyc, 1996), The End of the Affair (US/Germany, d. Neil Jordan, 1999) and To Kill a King (UK/Germany, d. Mike Barker, 2003).

Notable one-off television dramas include Eleven Men Against Eleven (Channel 4, tx. 31/8/1995) and cast against type as serial killers in The Stalker's Apprentice (ITV, tx. 25/5/1998) and Shipman (ITV, tx. 9/7/2002).

Bolam continues to take on diverse roles: a 1950s village doctor in Born and Bred (BBC, 2002-); one of a trio of detectives brought out of retirement to reinvestigate unsolved crimes in New Tricks (ITV, 2003); and Mr Crump in Andrew Davies' adaptation of Anthony Trollope's He Knew He Was Right (BBC, 2004).

Graham Rinaldi

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Kind of Loving, A (1962)Kind of Loving, A (1962)

New Wave film about a man torn between desire and responsibility

Thumbnail image of Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)

A borstal boy turns marathon runner in this adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's novel

Thumbnail image of Stella Does Tricks (1996)Stella Does Tricks (1996)

Uncompromising drama starring Kelly Macdonald as a teenage prostitute

Thumbnail image of Beiderbecke Tapes, The (1987)Beiderbecke Tapes, The (1987)

Alan Plater-scripted comedy thriller about two school teachers

Thumbnail image of Macbeth (1983)Macbeth (1983)

BBC TV Shakespeare version with Nicol Williamson and Jane Lapotaire

Thumbnail image of Shipman (2002)Shipman (2002)

Provocative drama reconstructing the story of the monstrous mass killer

Thumbnail image of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? (1973-74)Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? (1973-74)

James Bolam and Rodney Bewes return as Geordies Terry and Bob

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Thumbnail image of Bewes, Rodney (1937-)Bewes, Rodney (1937-)


Thumbnail image of Clement, Dick (1937-) and La Frenais, Ian (1936-)Clement, Dick (1937-) and La Frenais, Ian (1936-)

Writer, Director, Producer

Thumbnail image of La Frenais, Ian (1936-) and Clement, Dick (1937-)La Frenais, Ian (1936-) and Clement, Dick (1937-)

Writer, Producer, Director