I’m a big fan of the 60s movie version of Billy Liar, but the TV series is something that’s passed me by. Too young to catch it first time around, it’s been unavailable on VHS or DVD since the original transmission – until now, with the first series back out in its entirety on DVD.
If you’ve seen the film (or indeed read the book), you’ll hit the ground running with the Billy Liar – TV series. It’s the same scenario of Billy Fisher, smalltown boy with big dreams and a job at Shadrack’s Funeral Parlour. It’s also got the same writing team – Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall (who had recently finished on Budgie), but don’t expect the same cast – Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie and Leonard Rossiter had all moved onwards and upwards by 1973, with Billy played (very well) by Jeff Rawle (known these days for Drop The Dead Donkey) alongside a solid cast of British comedy/drama veterans.
Basically, if you enjoyed the film, you’ll enjoy this – up to a point. And here’s why. Each episode mirrors the movie in some way – Billy’s lies seeing him keeping several women on the go at the same time (but primarily the dull Barbara), stealing from his employer, lying to his family about his work, lying to his work about his family – and generally digging himself into a deep hole week. And of course, you get those flights of fancy, where Billy’s imaginary scenarios are played out in his mind, featuring the people closest to him.
Up to a point? Well, yes. The problem with half hour ITV episodes is about 20 minutes of action. Add to that two main locations (home and work) and a small cast and you’ve not got a lot to work with, top TV writers or not – certainly not the kind of space the team got with Budgie.
That’s not to say it’s a poor series – far from it, it’s actually very entertaining, well written and a TV series that’s lasted the test of time. It just struggles a bit for variation week by week, which is fine if you’re watching an episode per week (as they were in 1973), but try watching the entire double DVD in a short space of time (as I did) and you’ll notice it’s a little limited.
But if you liked the movie, you should give it a try.
Extras on the DVD:
Our Kid – an episode from a "lost" Waterhouse/Hall sitcom from 1973.