Tuesday, 4 August 2009

'Es told 'em down at t'Fish Shop that I've 'ad me leg off!

A Programme coming up on Radio 4 this Thursday has shocked me into realising that Keith Waterhouse's Masterpiece Billy Liar is 50 years old this year.

I'd forgotten what an impact the book had on me when I read it and later saw the wonderful John Schlesinger film in 1963 with Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie. The book caught perfectly the poignant struggle between adolescent brash confidence and vulnerable insecurity and unlike any other fictional work of the period seemed to reach in and touch the inner rebel.

I couldn't get enough of the book, reading and re-reading until my head was full of pieces of the text. I remember Billy Fisher used to make up phrases to take the piss out of older Yorkshire folk such as "I'm reet thraiped lad" or "It's neither mickling nor muckling" and I can even remember the poster on the 'Wayside Pulpit' which read "It is better to cry over spilt milk than to try and put it back in the bottle". I'm certain there aren't any other books that I can quote so freely and verbatim.

Looking back with the benefit of Google I'd forgotten just how good the film was. I'd also forgotten the brilliant performances by Wilfred Pickles as Billy's Dad and Leonard Rossiter as Mr Shadrack the Undertaker (Billy's employer). Even Rodney Bewes as Billy's friend Arthur was a surprise.

Apparently Morrissey was also a fan of the book and Wikipedia assures me that "William, It was Really Nothing" was in there somewhere. I also found this great set of clips from the film edited to the Smiths which makes me want to get straight over to Ebay to find a DVD copy of the film. In fact I'm off there now.


Dave said...

I felt the same about the book and film as you. I also saw the stage (musical) version in London, starring Michael Crawford, who was doing all his own stunts (in a non-air-conditioned theatre on the hottest day in London on record).

I have based my entire life (and blog) on Billy (and Father Ted).

Rog said...

Dave: So you had 3 girlfriends at the same time, lied a lot and lived on Craggy Island? I saw Adam Faith in the play Billy Liar at the little Theatre Bromley - I don't like to speak ill of the departed but he was rubbish.

Dave said...

Not 'had', Rog. Still do.

Vicus Scurra said...

I don't believe you.

Christopher Campbell-Howes said...

Wilfred Pickles! That's going back. He was my godson, you know.

Rog said...

Dave: Cats out of the bag now.

Vicus: Hahaha

Christopher: You must have been familiar with Mabel and her table as well then.

Morton Shadow said...

"...give me the cowing ring!!!"

The end of 'Billy Liar' is perhaps the most brilliant and revealing piece of British cinema ever - a perfect encapsulation of what it meant to be working class and English before the sixties. Other people got on the train and went down south to find their fortunes - you didn't. I always see 'Billy Liar' as a kind of prequel to 'A Hard Day's Night'. A year later, the fab four get on the train that Billy felt he had to er-hem...alight from.

Yes, there are elements of 'Billy' in 'William...', but I think the more obvious Smiths citation is 'Frankly Mr. Shankly' which is basically a rewrite of the exchanges between Fisher and Shadrack. "Shaddy-addy-addy....hope my singing didn't disturb you Mr. Shadrack..."

Check out also, the 'Whatever Happened to..." style sequel, Billy Liar on the Moon. Just as trenchant a view of the post-sixties fallout (from what I can remember - I'll have to give it another go...)


p.s. Blog veterans will recall the song that Billy and his mate (played by Rodney Bewes) wrote the lrics for..."Spinderella" - and its obvious inspiration of one of our finest fallen...

KAZ said...

I loved the book too.
But Julie Christie is just too achingly beautiful to be in the film.
'Achingly' - there's another adjective that only has one job.

Is that Lily Allen on the right of the photo?

Scarlet-Blue said...

Arrrgh... Dave beat me to the musical!! But my snippet of information is that [I think] Elaine Paige played Rita in the musical.

Rog said...

Morton: This is great, it's all flooding back now. "Imagine this salt pot is Danny Boon and this pepper pot is his material..". The Shaddy-addy-addy clip is on youtube with a brilliantly po-faced Rossiter coming in at the end.
I did read "Moon" and it was good but didn't touch the raw nerves quite as perfectly.
Didn't someone write a musical homage to Spinsterella?

Kaz: That's a good point. Someone merely "slighly itchingly" beautiful would have been more believable, relying on the character's far more attractive personality over the other two girlfriends. James Bolam would have made a good Billy as well.
I don't think Lily Allen was old enough in 1963.

Rog said...

Scarlett: Yes you are correct if Wikipedia is. And I didn't realise John Barry (James Bond Theme, Juke Box Jury, Adam Faith's old nonsense etc) wrote the music. I try not to present a strong interest in musical theatre as it gives the wrong impression.

Geoff said...

I remember watching the tv series but I can't remember whether it was any good.

Did they make a musical of Cathy Come Home?

Rog said...

I think the TV series was a poor imitation so not the thing to judge it on.

As for Cathy Come Home, the wife is up north changing nappies so I'm thinking of making that musical myself.

Geoff said...

I'll get the book out of the library. That's if they go up to W.

Rog said...

Excellent Geoff. I look forward to the review if you get past the W librarian assistant.

Betty said...

I've seen Billy Liar a couple of times, and I'm convinced that I've seen it with Geoff, but he denies this.

Mind you, he is living in a twilight world in which he's obsessed with libraries, so his long term memory has gone to pot. As my dad would've said, "it's a shame".

Sarah said...

think I'm a bit late for this post...did Dave say he has 3 girlfriends??

Rog said...

Betty: Perhaps he sees the act of denial as an ironic eyebrow raising post-morden narrative on the very essence of the film. I hope he's not beginning to smell of that library wax that makes the floors squeek.

Sarah: He did say that. But he also admitted to being a Liar. And Father Ted.