If your idea of amusement is watching two ‘mowfee caas’ (say it out loud) squawking ‘Oh Shal’ or ‘Give it a rest Trace’ every couple of minutes then Birds of a Feather was probably one of your favourite sitcoms. Similarly, if you enjoy watching a leathery middle-aged woman spewing out sexual innuendos at every opportunity then, again, this one was for you. This hollering and leering was the main plot of a programme that has gone on for ten series (nine in the original run on BBC1, and one in 2014 when the executives at ITV decided that what the world needed right then was another crack at a show that seemed pretty dated even when it was actually right in the present…) with occasional references to fatsos and slappers thrown in on top.
So who were the Birds referred to in the title then? The three title roles were Dorien Green (played by Lesley Joseph), Tracey Stubbs (Linda Robson) and Sharon Theodopolopodos (Pauline Quirke). Oh, if a seven syllable Greek-Cypriot surname isn’t good for hours of mispronunciation fun, then what is I ask you?
Tracey and Sharon were sisters who were both married to fairly inept armed robbers; Darryl Stubbs (played by Alun Lewis, who is also known for his role as Vic Windsor in Emmerdale) was definitely the brains behind the gun-toting shenanigans. He ran a legitimate conservatory company as a front for his more nefarious doings whilst Chris Theododopolodiplodocus (you see? Hilarious) was a waste of space for the most part. Chris was played at first by Peter Polycarpou – a prolific British stage and screen actor who despite this is, sadly, still best known for Birds of a Feather – and in the later years by David Cardy – an actor with one of those faces that has you going ‘Ooh, I recognise him,’ but leaves you unable to name a single thing you’ve seen him in.
So, the scene was set. Darryl and Chris were banged up (I have to say banged up, doin’ time or in the nick as all the characters speak Estuary English that doesn’t lend itself to phrases such as ‘incarcerated’…) and the girls were left behind, shocked and sad (in Tracey’s case as she genuinely loved her husband) and angry (in the case of Sharon, who really didn’t). Sharon was stuck in a pokey and unhygienic flat in Edmonton by herself whilst Tracey rattled around in a huge detached house in Chigwell, Essex, with her son by Darryl, Garth. Or more annoyingly, Garthy, as Tracey always called him.
In order to support each other Sharon moved in with her sister (not too much of a sacrifice for her you would imagine) and they tried to get their lives back on track again; Sharon took over Chris’s family café and then the girls eventually set up a swimming pool business (I can’t remember exactly what this involved – it may have been building them, it may have been simply cleaning them – it doesn’t make much difference to anything either way). This may have been easier without their next door neighbour Dorien, who was forever letting herself in, dumping her problems on them both and insulting Sharon’s weight.
Dorien was middle aged, but desperate to pretend she wasn’t. To propel this allusion she was a great fan of miniskirts, leopard print, teetering heels, big hair and far too much make up as well as seducing men who were half her age. These trysts were done behind the back of husband Marcus (Nikolas Grace, who only appeared in a handful of episodes); a marriage which was also childless, but this time due to Dorien’s horror of ageing through becoming a mother, not to mention a distinct chilliness between her and Marcus in the bedroom arena. Further on down the line he finally decided that he couldn’t put up with Dorien’s adultery any longer and walked out on her; something made slightly hypocritical by the revelation that he was going straight into the arms of his mistress and their secret child. Dorien’s only other long term relationship was subsequent to this, with Richard Summers, a man she genuinely loved. Unfortunately the same feeling wasn’t shared by Richard’s teenage children, and Dorien wasn’t too chuffed with them either.
The scrapes and escapades that Sharon, Tracey and Dorien shared, along with the odd visit to their errant husbands, made up the first six series, but in the seventh season it all changed again with the boys’ release from chokey (I know, that doesn’t sound right coming from me, but I did explain why I have to do it a bit earlier). Tracey was overjoyed to have ‘er Darryl back, whilst Sharon was less so about having Chris sniffing around again, but as is the way in the sitcom world there was to be no happy endings for the foursome. Whilst Chris has made use of the thinking time whilst inside and not only decided to go straight but to make it up to his wife for the way he treated her previously, Darryl chooses the option of money laundering through the girls’ business in order to make some cash with which to treat Tracey.
Obviously he gets caught and obviously he gets sent straight back to the clink (I’m going to run out of these soon) but unfortunately an (this time) innocent Chris gets dragged down with him and gets locked up again. In a reverse of their feelings this time round, it’s Sharon who is sad at their loss, whilst this could be the final nail in the coffin of the Stubbs’ marriage. It wasn’t in the end; Tracey chose not to divorce Darryl, but this wasn’t before a couple of affairs, a ‘who’s the father’ pregnancy scare (it turns out to be Darryl) and a new son, Travis.
So that’s what the Birds got up to from 1989 until 1998. As I mentioned before, in early 2014 the Birds hit our screens again; older, but still mouthy. Life has changed for them; Tracey and Darryl now have divorced, Sharon is back living in filth in Edmonton, having been sent packing from Chigwell after voicing her dislike of Tracey’s new husband Ralph. Because of this, the two sisters haven’t seen or spoken to each other for six months, or at least they hadn’t, until Travis manages to engineer their meeting at a local book signing. They are united by their shock at discovering that the author is none other than Dorien Green (who they haven’t seen for a very long time), pedalling her rip-off novel ‘Fifty Shades of Green’.
Tracey offers Sharon a lift and they talk. It turns out that Tracey has kicked out Ralph because she found him stealing from her and now she’s lonely and she convinces Sharon to move back to live at Dalentrace (oh, haven’t I mentioned the hideous name of her house before? I have now. Try it with your own names. Still awful isn’t it?). Just as she’s settling in, the doorbell goes and guess who it is? Yep, it’s Dorien: she’s being sued for only managing to change one word of the title of her book (presumably she also wrote several hundred pages of appalling ‘racy’ text as well) and all her financial assets have been frozen. Conveniently, she needs a place to stay as well. As do Garth (he had been living in Australia), his girlfriend Marcie and her daughter Poppy who all turn up as well. Birds of a Feather was devised by Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks (the creative duo behind The New Statesman and Shine on Harvey Moon, the latter also starring Quirke and Robson) and as well as being enormously popular in the UK, it was sold to more than 30 countries and developed into a stage play (really?) that toured in 2012. Whilst a lot of the jokes and innuendoes were typical BBC fare (i.e. you could see them coming a mile off) it was the lead characters themselves that made the show as well received as it was. Whilst Shal, Trace and Dor (I know) often bickered, sniped and verbally abused each other there was a definite and genuine affection between them, which led to many occasions of them standing up for each other, never mind what trouble that might get them into.
Anyway, I gotta luv ya and leave ya… No, it’s no use – I really can’t do it.