Monday, November 27, 2017

A Time When Time Didn't Matter - Remembering The Likely Lads

The Likely Lads, Rodney Bewes, James Bolam, BBC Seventies Comedy

                                                       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.
                                                       It's the only thing to look forward to - the past.
In these very trying times the attraction of literally disappearing into a retrospective
counter-millennial Sixties and Seventies Anglo-American socio-cultural safe space has such a fundamental and logical appeal. However a permanent return to the world of hard rock albums, Vesta prawn curry and and beef risotto, Sven Hassel and Ed McBain pulp, dimpled pint glasses, Hai Karate aftershave, Walls' Count Dracula ice lollies, Triumph Stags, Rancheros, Commando comics, Afghan Hounds and Fiesta Summer Specials may well be a celestial joy reserved for the other side of this life. Let's frigging hope and pray so.
An earlier blog has went into considerable detail about the utterly wonderful football culture of that period - days of real renegade talent where goalkeeper John Osborne of West Bromwich Albion was once pictured smoking a fag during a match itself while Georgie Best played one game intoxicated in Scotland.

Yet another blog post touched upon the female British  and Irish solo singers of the Sixties and Seventies and how well their material has dated. Actually to go completely off-message it is a moot point to say that some of our national artistes of that period were as beautiful and talented as any performing across the world at that point. I think off the top of my head here of Anita Harris, Linda Thorson, Suzy Kendall, Petula Clark, Caroline Munro, Susan George, Sandie Shaw and the Geeson sisters. Even in the world of situation comedy both Nerys Hughes and Paula Wilcox were stunningly attractive women.

This week has seen the passing of  two major stars from the Seventies in David Cassidy and Rodney Bewes. I know little of Cassidy's music though am aware of where he sat in the narrative of teen pop stardom and the world of  revolutionary Jackie magazine mass marketing. As for Bewes, I am too young to remember the Sixties BBC black and white episodes of The Likely Lads but of course clearly recall watching the colour Seventies sequel as a kid.

I was reminded too this week in the obituaries for Bewes that he was of course the first human assistant to Basil Brush who tweeted his own sad farewell to Mr Rodney this week. Once again I am not old enough to really place the two together as opposed to clearly remembering Derek Foulds and Roy North as the now 54-year old gentleman fox's fall guys. What I will never forget in turn however is Mr Roy's own ITV Granada pop programme in the late Seventies and its extraordinarily grating theme tune - Get It Together.

The two series of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads (1973-74) were set in North East England and guaged around the tensions between Terry Collier's instinctual working class drives and his friend Bob Ferris' middle class aspirations.  Since the time of the three original 1964-66 series Bob had moved into white collar office work while Terry was readjusting to life after Army service - in fact he may even have been one of the brave squaddies on the streets of the Belfast I grew up in. Both characters however relate to the social changes they see around them in a changing Britain and their own lost youth. A feature film was released in 1976.

The music that was played over the opening and end credits of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads seems to this day to still resonate hugely with thousands of people all over the country. The song was written by Mike Hugg of the Manfred Mann group and series writer Ian Le Frenais. Performed by Hugg's session band under the name Highly Likely - and sung by Tony Rivers - it reached number 35 on the British music charts in 1973 and spent a total of four weeks in the Top Fifty.

Even though the chorus of the track effectively underscores the sadness that any disconnectivity with the past brings it is interesting that both the verses too strike very similar chords. These of loss, longing and a surety that fundamental life security lies a long way from the present day's travails and rank awfulness:

                                There was a time when time didn't matter - only the time of day.
                                And living was living in hope which would never pass away.
                                Well it was a Monday morning when weekend was done -
                                fear was the fear of being what we had become.

                                You say I'm a fool in a fools paradise - let my life slip away.
                                Waiting with my head in the clouds - lookin for a sunny day.
                                Never go back you tell me - it's the worst thing you can do.
                                But I must go there till I find out where it is I'm going to.

A brief survey of public commentary left on Youtube uploads of the track from BBC Records (b-side God Bless Everyone by Hugg and Bewes) brings up the following incisive observations in turn:

"Most evocative tv theme of the seventies..."

"Always bittersweet as the opening titles are the Newcastle I remember aged about 9 or 10 when the old city was being cleared and all the soulless concrete going in. Plus look at all the fishing boats then! What a difference now."

"Beer, loneliness and drugs brought me here..."

"Now I'm a forty-something I've become "stuck in the mud" Terry not yet Victor Meldrew! I really quite disliked Terry's character because he was deliberately trying to hold Bob back. In my 20's & 30's I considered myself as "progressive" fellow but you hit an age then deep down the emotions kick-in & realise this old soul hankers for the old days. Perhaps cherishing the past is what maturity is about....& they say it is better to not look back, but I don't see an improvement with present."

"It's basically Let it Be, but it's brilliant...."

"... with a smidge of "Mighty Quinn" thron in for good measure."

"Guaranteed to make the hairs rise on the back of the neck for any Geordie over 50 - this was our time. Expats all over the world, look back with pride, but don't come back, you'll just trash your memories. There's no smoke any more over Geordieland, but there ain't no soul either."

" I didn't understand the series or the song's lyrics when I first saw it as a teenager in the 70's. Now I do. I know lots of Bobs, but I have to admit I am definitely Terry."

"I've always loved the intro and outro song of this series. The strings make the song sound so tragic. Like recalling a time in which one can never return. Longing to be back there but knowing you can never return. It makes your heart race but then tears it down...."

There is truly little more to elaborate upon here about what would appear in  hindsight to be a much more important piece of art than the creators could ever have imagined it to be at the time. This as tieing in 44 years later with what British people think today of the state of the nation, the reward for our labours, the sum of our lives' worth and the likelihood of a better tomorrow - both individually and collectively.

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