Little Ironies 1

The Likely Lads, circa 1964

Though it may spoil my reputation as a connoisseur of only the finest entertainment, I do have a soft spot for the BBC’s long-running but not very well regarded comedy drama series New Tricks. For those unfamiliar with the programme, it’s a crime series featuring Amanda Redman as DCI Sandra Pullman, in charge of UCOS (Unsolved Crimes and Open Cases Squad). The unit is staffed by three retired Detectives, each with decades of experience, investigating unsolved cases in which some form of new evidence has come up, combining experience with the new technology now available.

The show is in its tenth series and is in the process of being deserted by 75% of its long-serving cast. James Bolam (Jack Halford) left the programme at the beginning of series 9 and this week saw the final appearance of Alun Armstrong (Brian Lane), with Redman herself due to depart the squad in next week’s episode, thus leaving only Dennis Waterman (Gerry Standing) of the original cast.

With Armstrong goes veteran actress Susan Jameson, who has played throughout the character of Esther Lane, long-suffering wife of Brian. There’s always been something of an irony to Jameson playing Armstrong’s wife, given that she’s the wife of James Bolam.

What’s brought this post on is that I’ve finally got round to watching the Likely Lads DVD boxset, which includes the only surviving episodes of the original B&W mid-Sixties series (8 out of 20), in addition to the complete run of the ground-breaking sequel, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? James Bolam first came to prominence in this series, as Terry Collier, alongside his mate, Bob Ferris, played by Rodney Bewes.

The second of these preserved episodes, Double Date, is a funny and clever episode which deals with the lads picking up two attractive, unattached girls in a coffee shop and taking them out for a drink and a chinese. What’s especially clever is that creators and writers Dick Clement and Ian La Fresnais chose to play both sides of the story: the thread keeps flipping backwards and forwards from Terry and Bob, their expectations, anticipations and nervousness, to the two girls, Dierdre and Pat, and what they hope, expect and anticipate.

The two couples save themselves a bit of trouble (and a few comedy cliches) when it turns out they have the same ideas over who they prefer, with Terry copping off with the blonde Dierdre, played by Coral Atkins, and Bob taking up with the dark-haired Pat, even though it’s the fact that Terry knows Pat through her friendship with his sister, Audrey, that gets them the introduction in the first place.

But what amused me into writing this little post, given that she spent all those years in New Tricks playing someone else’s wife, was that Pat was played by Susan Jameson, and she ended up with Rodney Bewes’ character instead of Bolam’s.

Given that Bolam and Jameson also appeared together in the popular Seventies series, When the Boat Comes In, in which they were briefly engaged in the early episodes only for Bolam’s character to get someone else up the spout and have to marry her instead, they seem to have spent their career not getting together on screen!


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