CLASSIC.. James Bolam and Rodney Bewes in Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?
But even after six decades of success on both sides of the Atlantic, this dynamic pair have no plans to retire. Now in their 80s, the veteran scriptwriters are surging with ideas and thrilled to be putting on a new show in London. Their latest project evolved after a challenge set by theatre producer Sally Wood, wife of Rolling Stone Ronnie “Woody” Wood, over a cup of tea after a Stones’ concert.
“My wife and I went to see the Stones in Paris,” recalls Ian, 82. “We’re old friends of Woody’s. And we were sitting with Sally having tea and she said ‘I’ve got a theatre booked, I need a play… have you got one? You must have something in a drawer?’
“Then my wife said, ‘Why don’t you go upstairs and start writing?'”
Not long afterwards Ian fished out some notes and teamed up with Dick to write their new stage show, Chasing Bono.
It follows on from the film they made in 2011 based on the memoirs of a rock writer who grew up with the future U2 frontman and pursued the same dream to become a rock star.
Ian La Frenais, Sally Wood and Dick Clement launch Chasing Bono at Soho Theatre
It is directed by Gordon Anderson whose TV credits include The Inbetweeners and The Catherine Tate Show.
“It’s been very quick and it’s very liberating,” says Ian. “We wrote one Likely Lads episode in two days,” chips in Dick, 81. “What I found is that if you write quickly, it’s usually because it’s good and not the other way around.”
The first series of Clement and La Frenais’s BBC Two sitcom The Likely Lads aired in 1964. it starred unknown actors James Bolam and the late Rodney Bewes yet it was watched by millions and is still considered a sitcom classic.
When they revisited the characters the following decade with Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, the show attracted 27 million viewers.
Porridge (1974-77) and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983-86, revived 2002-04) were equally successful.
More recent British TV shows include their 2013 historical drama miniseries Spies Of Warsaw starring David Tennant.
It’s still common for them to hear people reference some of their vintage gags. Dick says that the episode that seemed to resonate the most with viewers was No Hiding Place from Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? (remade by Ant & Dec in 2002).
“That’s the one where Bob and Terry try not to hear the results of a football match. I’ve heard people refer to similar situations as ‘a Likely Lads moment’ which is great.
“I was actually sitting in the airport lounge waiting to go back to LA, having breakfast, and two couples at the next table were talking about that episode. One of the wives was American and had never seen it and they started describing it at length.
“Eventually I couldn’t resist and I said, ‘Actually I wrote that, with a little help from him over there’ – because Ian was at the buffet getting smoked salmon or whatever. It was one of those irresistible moments and I couldn’t shut up.”
However life hasn’t always been a barrel of laughs. Over the years, friends and colleagues have died and the death of Porridge star Richard Beckinsale at only 31 in 1979 hit them very hard.
“Richard was the biggest blow because he died way too young,” sighs Dick.
Ronnie Barker, Richard Beckinsale and Fulton MacKay in Porridge
“The whole Porridge cast has gone now.” Injecting some levity back into the conversation, they attribute their own survival to timing, pointing out that their collection of awards could have wiped them out. If the last big earthquake in Los Angeles had been at another time [of day], Ian might be dead,” says Dick.
“My Baftas sit on top of the shelf and last time we had an earthquake, a couple of them fell down. If Ian had been sitting in his normal chair, a Bafta would have landed on his head.”
Essex-born Dick and Northumberlandborn Ian moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s. Every day they meet to write, amassing drawers full of scripts and ideas for potential new TV shows, films and musicals.
“We are very aware that anyone over about 65 is marginalised, certainly in LA. What is astonishing is we are writing a pilot for YouTube which is so youth orientated, no one could believe it! They say ‘What?’.”
They recently met a gang of equally energetic octo- and nonagenarians, including 92-year-old film maker Mel Brooks.
“We got asked to have lunch with older Hollywood guys,” says Dick. “Someone rang me up and said, ‘Do you want to go?’ I said ‘Who died?’
“But no one had, they just wanted us to come. The eldest was Mel Brooks and an agent who is 86 and three producers and it was inspiring to know they were all talking about new ventures.”
With a constant stream of new ideas, it’s hardly surprising that there is great interest in their autobiography that is due to be published next year.
Ronnie Barker, right, one of Britain’s most popular comedy actors, and Richard Beckinsale
Their chance first meeting in London’s Notting Hill is something that they now enjoy being vague about.
“We were in a pub having dinner,” says Ian. “It was a really banal meeting so in the book we’ve invented two other ways to meet that are just more interesting.”
They have worked with some of the biggest names of stage and screen. They wrote the screenplay for 1991’s The Commitments.
“The celebrity names are for the publisher – Sean Connery, Marlon Brando, Michael Caine and people like that – but it’s really a memoir with each of us writing a chapter. We are still searching for a title, but we’ve got a few months to decide,” says Ian.
The book is not planned as any type of farewell. Says Dick with a sparkle in his eye: “We have this film script about a woman who fights tiger poachers. We’d like to work with Charlize Theron. Can you let her know please?”
Chasing Bono is at the Soho Theatre (sohotheatre.com) until January 19.
Source : EXPRESS