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Bob Ferris and his best friend, Terry Collier, are still living in the North East, still wasting as much time as possible in pubs drinking and chatting up women. But things are a bit different now; Bob is married to Thelma and she has him on a short leash, although Bob tries to break free as often as possible. Meanwhile, Terry, who still hasn't managed to hold down a full time job is working his way through a series of women, including, for a short while, Thelma's engaged sister. Then Thelma becomes sick of Terry's influence on Bob and Bob tires of Thelma's lack of trust, which culminates in Thelma moving back in with her mother. Even worse, Terry ends up housekeeping for Bob. Can Terry persuade the pair to get back together? And will he ever settle down?
The wonderful James Bolam plays Terry Collier, in what I think is his greatest role. Looking incredibly young (especially compared to Bolam's role in New Tricks), Terry has a charm that even transcends his philandering - there is always a twinkle in his eye that makes everyone forgive him for his faults - and that even includes the long-suffering Thelma at times. His comic timing is spot on and he delivers his lines completely naturally. However, some of the funniest moments involve his facial expressions - he has a great way of expressing shiftiness and guilt without uttering a word. Terry is one of those characters who will always fall on their feet, despite their faults, and James Bolam helps turn him into a classic character.
Rodney Bewes plays Bob Ferris and although he doesn't stand out quite as much as James Bolam, he still gives a great performance. Bob is a real old woman at times, is much straighter than Terry and would probably be completely respectable if it wasn't for Terry's influence. Yet somehow, Terry's influence always wins through, and Bob finds himself in all sorts of trouble. The chemistry between the two actors is superb - it is honestly difficult to imagine that they aren't anything but the best of friends. I was gutted, then, to find out that after the follow-on film made in 1976, the pair fell out and have never spoken since. This is thought to be one of the reasons that another series was not made. As a comic duo, these two are pure class - thank goodness their performances are recorded for posterity.
Brigit Forsyth plays Thelma, Bob's prissy, feisty wife, who always likes to get her own way, but constantly finds that she comes up against Terry. Nevertheless, in this series, she shows that she has a soft spot for Terry, realising that he is a good man underneath all the show. Forsyth really makes her mark on the series. The highlight of the show is always Bob and Terry, but Forsyth makes Thelma a close third, and her relationship with Terry brings some of the show's funniest moments. Her sarcasm cuts through Bob's procrastinating and Terry's silver tongue - fantastic.
Other characters that deserve a mention are Terry's sister, Audrey (Sheila Fearn) and Thelma's father George (the late, great Bill Owen - think Last of the Summer Wine. Sheila Fearn is looking quite drawn and tired in this series - strange when she looks so much fresher in the later televised George and Mildred, but perhaps it was deliberate. I didn't actually realise that Thelma's father was played by Bill Owen until very recently - he is completely different from his role as Compo. Disappointingly, Thelma's mother, played by the fabulous Joan Hickson in the first series, is now played by an actress called Noel Dyson - and she is nowhere near as good.
This series, televised in 1974, consists of a super 13 episodes (how's that for good value?), plus a Christmas special as the special feature over 2 discs. To an extent, much as I love the show, I think it is a good thing that the series ended after this one (apart from a follow-on film). The comedy is still there in this one, but I think that in another series, the premise would have been wearing a little thin - there are only so many times that Bob and Thelma can split up, with Terry being at least partially responsible. As it is, the series has gone down in comedy history - and if you haven't seen it yet, you really should.
The script is written by Dick Clement and Ian la Frenais, who have proved their worth again and again, with shows like Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Porridge, as well as the 60s forerunner to this one, The Likely Lads. And the comedy does shine through in the script, allowing for plenty of Northern humour. However, it really is Bolam and Bewes' adaptation of the script that makes it so funny. There is the occasional slapstick, but on the whole, it is much more subtle, 'aren't we all lads together' type humour, with a strong reluctance to lose touch with the past. That isn't to say it didn't provoke the odd belly laugh however. In my favourite episode, Bob and Terry go on a competitive bike ride, sabotaging each other's bikes on the way - Terry's face as he realises that his brakes don't work while going down a never-ending hill is a real picture. They must have had such fun filming it.
The only special feature is the Christmas special, but what a feature that is. At 45 minutes long, it is a superb way to finish off the show for good (apart from the film) and is worth every minute. Bob does manage to misbehave quite badly though - one thing that I think highlights the social background of the time. Men were still very much the head of the household and able to get away with most things, while women were expected to toe the line. Thelma may have been strong-willed, but at the end of the day, she still gives in to Bob, which can be a little hard for a woman of the noughties to take. And of course the fashion and decor give the era away - lots of orange, bright yellow and mauve - lovely.
One thing that does stand out for me and anyone who has regularly seen the show is the theme tune. Called Whatever Happened to You? it was written by Mike Hugg and Ian la Frenais - Mike Hugg was a member of the 60s pop group, Manfred Mann. The title to this review is taken from the song:
Oh, what happened to you, whatever happened to me?
What became of the people we used to be?
Tomorrow's almost over, today went by so fast,
The only thing to look forward to's the past...
This sums up the lads' reluctance to say goodbye to their boyhood and finally face the fact that they are grown up and have responsibilities.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching this series, all 420 minutes of it. Initially, I didn't think it was as good as the first series, but having watched it for a second time, and picked up on all the nuances, I think it is every bit as good. And while I am sad that there is no third series, at least they ended on a fabulous high. At least there is still plenty of James Bolam on our screens these days, even if Rodney Bewes is now mainly on the stage. If you haven't yet seen this superb series, you really should. They don't often make comedy like this any more. Highly recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com for £6.99.
Running time: 420 minutes