The Saturday Movie Club: The Likely Lads – Nowhere To Hide
The idea of watching the entirety of a World Cup finals live on the television is a relatively recent phenomenon. For many years a lot of matches were played simultaneously, and even if they weren’t, then broadcasters didn’t even always take up all the live matches that they could. We were left with highlights, edited down to remove the boring bits and served up several hours after matches had finished for the day. These were often more comprehensive than we see these days. Whereas a highlights show such as, say, the Championship on Five has to rush through something like nine games in an hour and feature at least the goals from all of them on top of analysis, the first few years of Match Of The Day featured forty-odd minutes of highlights of one game only, topped and tailed by introductions and a quick glance at the league table.
But what of the television viewers? Some would simply watch them, having devoured the football during the afternoon. Others, however, would hide away from the media – not difficult, with only newspapers, television and the radio giving anything much away – in order to watch that afternoon’s action without already knowing the score. This episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads from 1972 takes this to its logical conclusion. A little back story for the unfamiliar. The Likely Lads was set in Newcastle in the 1960s, following Bob (played by the late Rodney Bewes) and Terry (played by James Bolam) as young men about town in a part of the world to which the “swinging sixties” is something that’s primarily happening to other people.
When it ended its run in 1966 Terry had joined the army, and the return of the programme six years later saw him returning from service only to find that Bob has turned upwardly mobile and is now shedding his working class background in favour of the pretensions of a middle-class lifestyle. The Newcastle of T Dan Smith, with slums being cleared and high rise flats springing up all over the place, couldn’t have been a more appropriate backdrop for this melancholy comedy series, which seemed to reflect the tensions and anxieties of breaking away from an old world and into a new one into which some people might not have felt as though they belonged.
In this particular episode – quite possibly the most famous of all – Bob and Terry are watching highlight of an England match in Eastern Europe tonight and are desperate not to learn the score. However, they run into Flint (played with wonderful mischief by the great Bryan Glover), who bets them that they can’t go the remainder of the day up to the start of the show without finding out the score first. There follows a game of cat and mouse, as Bob and Terry seek to avoid the unwelcome advances of Flint, who’s desperate to tell them the score. These are first rate comedy performances all round, and one doesn’t even have to be particularly interested in football in order to get a lot out of it.