3 October 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Glamorous, amorous, female and free
"The Liver Birds", which ran on BBC1 from 1969 to 1996, is one of Britain's most popular sitcoms. Firstly, that title: the second word is pronounced "LY-vah", and "Lyvah birds" are young women (birds) who live in Liverpool.
The programme's first series is set in Liverpool during the period when Beatlemania was over but the city still retained a few bits of its Mersey Beat glamour. To emphasise the programme's Liverpudlian flavour, the theme song was sung by Scaffold, a Mersey band fronted by Mike McGear ... who was known to be Paul McCartney's brother, trying for a rock-music career on his own merits. The timing of this programme was also significant for another reason: in the late sixties, due to the convergence of several social factors, women in Britain were experiencing true independence - sexually, socially, economically - for the very first time, and 'The Liver Birds' triumphantly documented this new freedom.
The programme follows the adventures of two young unmarried working women ('Liver birds') who share a flat in Huskisson Street while they contend with the problems of careers, parents, money (and lack of same) and boyfriends (definitely no lack of same). 'Liver Birds' was far more realistic than most sitcoms, and this was definitely a strong part of its appeal: many young working-class British women could identify with the heroines of this show... and so could many other viewers who were not young, or not women.
Due to frequent cast turnover, several actresses came and went as the two roommates. Originally the 'birds' were Dawn and Beryl, but Dawn moved out (and Pauline Collins went on to a successful career as a dramatic actress) to be replaced by Sandra. The Beryl/Sandra episodes are the most popular period for this long-running programme. Eventually Beryl left too, and Carol became Sandra's new roommate. Each of the 'birds' had her own distinctive personality.
Over its long run, 'The Liver Birds' developed a large supporting cast ... notably Sandra's mum, Mrs Hutchinson, played by Mollie Sugden before she became famous as Mrs Slocombe from 'Are You Being Served?' Jonathan Lynn, later to create 'Yes, Minister' had a long-running role as one of the boyfriends.
The series was created by two Liverpool housewives: Myra Taylor and Carla Lane, who based the early scripts on their own lives. Because they had no previous writing experience, the BBC required them to work with script editor Eric Idle (just before he went on to fame as one component of Monty Python). Both women went on to write scripts for other series, and Carla Lane is now one of the most respected and prolific series creators in English television.