Imagine what the last three decades would have been like without the hit sitcom, Birds of a Feather on our screens. It almost happened! Concerned that it glorified crime and wasn’t suitable for a pre-watershed audience, the BBC almost cancelled the comedy after it’s very first episode. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and thirty years later the writers of Birds of a Feather, Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks bring us Early Birds, the story behind the sitcom’s conception.
For fans of the show, Early Birds is a fascinating insight to the real-life struggles faced by the cast and production company to get the show to air. From a spot of people watching in a London hotel, to a showdown with the BBC’s Director General, Birds of a Feather didn’t get an easy ride.
It will probably surprise audiences to see how these that people they’ve grown to love struggled in those early days. There’s a particularly poignant scene where Pauline Quirke is at the dole office, despite having already appeared in several TV shows, she was unemployed and in need of help. In a nice twist the dole officer is played by Quirke’s real-life son, Charlie.
Gran and Marks, played by Alastair Natkiel and Nick Howden-Seenstra respectively, are the narrators of the show, it is their story to tell after all. Projections on the rear wall help keep us in pace with times and settings, while the simple staging sees chairs and tables covered in odd pages from scripts.
Several key scenes from Birds of a Feather are replayed which is fun to watch, especially when they take a ‘break in filming’ and the warm up artists does a quick stint. Really though, we can watch those clips anytime and it’s the behind the scenes drama that will really appeal to the audience.
It is the three female leads from Birds of a Feather who are of course most recognisable, while each of the actors bring their own twist to the character they play, the personalities are unmistakable. Harriet Watson, Sue Appleby and Katrina Perrett are perfectly cast as the Chigwell trio.
Birds of a Feather is a beloved comedy institution, and Early Birds is a fitting and sensitive tribute to all the main players in getting it to air. That Gran and Marks wit and sauciness shines through, but so does a far more moving story that is bound to surprise and delight audiences in equal measure.