Sitcom writer Carla Lane dies at 87

Carla Lane - BBC

Screenwriter Carla Lane has died aged 87.

“With heavy hearts we said goodbye to our darling Carla today. But with smiles on our faces we also take this opportunity to reflect on her incredible achievements all of which make us so unbelievably proud to be part of her family. We were very lucky that her quick wit, determination and passion brought Liverpool to life on screen for others to share.” – Family statement

The Merseyside born writer created hit sitcoms including The Liver Birds, Butterflies and Bread for the BBC and had written for popular ITV comedies including Bless This House and Comedy Playhouse.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Carla regularly worked between the BBC and ITV broadcaster, and production company, Thames Television where she wrote episodes of comedy productions such as And Mother Makes Three starring Wendy Craig and Sid James series Bless This House. It was however her work for the BBC which is best remembered by viewers.

The Liver Birds original

The Liver Birds

The Liver Birds; top: Nerys Hughes and Polly James, and bottom; Nerys Hughes and Elizabeth Estensen

In 1969 the beeb launched The Liver Birds, created by Lane and her pal Myra Taylor. Set in Liverpool, the situation comedy followed the every day lives of two young women who shared a flat. The first series saw Polly James as Beryl and Pauline Collins as Dawn.

“The Liver Birds’ share a flat in Liverpool. In fact they share everything; clothes, food, drink, coat-hangers. They’re great friends. Except when it comes to sharing boyfriends …” – Radio Times TV Guide

By the time the second series went into production in 1971 Pauline Collins had joined LWT’s period drama Upstairs, Downstairs and so a new character of Sandra, played by Nerys Hughes, was introduced. It was these early 1970s episodes which became the best remembered of the run, although the series would air for ten series until 1979 with Polly James departing in 1974 to be replaced by current Emmerdale actress Elizabeth Estensen as Carol.

The Liver Birds returned briefly in 1996 with Beryl (Polly James) and Sandra (Nerys Hughes) reunited. It however failed to live up to the original and ended after one series.

There were plenty of other successes however; including in 1978 the domestic, far-from-bliss, story of hopeless southern housewife Ria, played by Wendy Craig, in Butterflies. Frustrated with her mundane everyday life, including disastrous cooking attempts. Ria dreamed of something better, if never really sure what to do about improving her lot. She pondered having an affair with a willing businessman, escaping the house to the excitement of the park to meet the could-be saviour of her sanity. The series also starred Geoffrey Palmer as her dreary husband Ben and Andrew Hall and Nicholas Lyndhurst as their sons Russell and Adam.

Butterflies ran for four series, departing screens in 1983.

Bread Series 2 cast

1990 - BBC Bread

Bread: top, the original cast in 1986, bottom the 1990 cast

Her next big hit came in 1986 and a return to Liverpool for working class sitcom Bread which revolved around the Boswell family and their dubious ways of making money. The show was also about family loyalty and romantic turmoil. With most of the family struggling to find ‘a proper job’ during 1980s unemployment highs the episodes followed money making plots to bring home the bread. Lead by family matriarch Nellie Boswell, actress Jean Boht, the comedy also starred Ronald Forfar as her wayward husband Freddie with Eileen Pollock as his mistress Lilo Lill, of which Nellie often shouted “She is a tart!”. The show left BBC One screens in 1991.

Between these huge hits were other series, some mildly successful others not so well remembered, including No Strings starring Keith Barron, Luv with Julie Peasgood and Searching starring Prunella Scales.

Carla Lane was bestowed with an OBE for services to writing in 1989 but returned it in 2002 in protest at someone involved in what she perceived as ‘animal cruelty’ being given a gong. The protection of animals was something she actively promoted including the founding of the Carla Lane Animals in Need Sanctuary.

In 1995, Lane was given a Royal Television Society award for her Outstanding Contribution to British Television. Lane died at Stapely Care Home on Tuesday May 31st her family confirmed. Bread is currently repeating on UKTV channel Drama.


1978: The BBC launch Butterflies at the TV Centre, Wood Lane, with Andrew Hall, Wendy Craig, Geoffrey Palmer and Nicholas Lyndhurst