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Liver Birds, The (1969-79)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Liver Birds, The (1969-79)
BBC1, 25/71969-5/1/1979
82 x 30 min in 9 series plus 5 specials, colour / black & white
ProducersSydney Lotterby
 Douglas Argent
 Roger Race
Writers includeCarla Lane
 Myra Taylor

Cast: Polly James (Beryl Hennessey); Pauline Collins (Dawn); Nerys Hughes (Sandra Hutchinson); Elizabeth Estensen (Carol Boswell); Sheila Fay (Mrs Hennesey); Mollie Sugden (Mrs Hutchinson); Michael Angelis (Lucian)

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The ups and downs of two single women sharing a bedsit in Liverpool.

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Trading on interest in Liverpool generated by the Mersey sound, The Liver Birds was developed in 1969 from a one-off Comedy Playhouse (BBC, 1961-74) script created by Carla Lane and Myra Taylor. The opening titles, accompanied by a signature theme tune sung by comedy songsters The Scaffold (Roger McGough, John Gorman and Paul McCartney's brother Mike McGear) feature many of the iconic sites now associated with the city's world heritage waterfront - the Mersey ferries, the Pier Head, the Three Graces and the mythological Liver bird sculptures adorning the twin towers of the Royal Liver Building from which the series takes its name.

The first comedy series to focus on the lives and loves of young women, the sitcom had a contemporary preoccupation with downtown living, clothes, 'dating' and having a good time. The two 'birds' of the title reflected late 1960s aspirations of a generation of women enjoying financial independence and, in the wake of abortion law reform and the introduction of the contraceptive pill, a newfound confidence in exploring their sexuality. Central to the success of the series was the relationship between Sandra and Beryl (though Beryl's original flatmate was Pauline Collins' Dawn), played to perfection by Nerys Hughes and Polly James. Their partnership endured until 1976, when Beryl left to get married and was replaced by Elizabeth Estensen as Carol Boswell. Hughes stayed with the series until the end of its run in 1979, returning with Polly James for the show's short-lived 1996 revival.

In the initial series, the flat is located in the rundown grandeur of the city's Georgian area, close to the city centre where the girls worked in a variety of jobs including as sales assistants in one of Liverpool's landmark department stores. A focus on trendy clothes and the trials and tribulations of 'dating' mark the sitcom as a Sex and the City for the 1970s, although the scriptwriters preferred insinuation and innuendo rather than more realistic scenarios of sexual relationships, giving each episode something of the air of a 'carry on' film. With Lane and Taylor assisted in their endeavours by experienced TV comedy writers Lew Schwartz (The Army Game, BBC, 1957-61) and Eric Idle (The Frost Report, BBC, 1966; Monty Python's Flying Circus, BBC, 1969-74), perhaps it is unsurprising that smutty jokes and pantomimic escapades were the flavour of the day.

Julia Hallam

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