George, can you tell us how the Liver Birds Flying Home musical first came into being?
It was a chance remark. My dear friend Barb Jungr and I were walking down Hardman Street in Liverpool with the magnificent Liver Birds atop the Liver Building visible on the skyline. Looking at them Barb said ‘I wonder why no-one has ever done Liver Birds The Musical’. Barb initially thought I was being glib when I replied ‘why don’t you?’ but I really wasn’t. We discussed it at length over lunch and an hour or so later we had an action plan.
The musical comes with the blessing of the creators of the original The Liver Birds TV show, Carla Lane and Myra Taylor. When did you first reach out to them, and were they both enthusiastic from the start?
The first thing we did was approach Carla with a pitch outlining the idea we had developed using the characters she and Myra had created. Carla held the rights to the characters and format on behalf of Myra’s estate as well as herself and I had heard that she had turned down other approaches to revive The Liver Birds in the past so it was a real hold your breath moment when we submitted our pitch. To our joy Carla was delighted with our idea and granted us the exclusive rights to develop a new musical based on the characters and format. Sadly Carla has since passed away but Carl and Nigel, her sons, as well as Lorna, Myra’s daughter, have all been incredibly supportive and their enthusiasm for Liver Birds Flying Home is limitless.
When Carla Lane and Myra Taylor first met at local writers club back in the 1960s in Liverpool, a female comedy writing team must have been quite a rarity within the industry. Do you think they were met with many challenges when they tried to get a sitcom commissioned by the BBC?
Undoubtedly they were trailblazers. I have nothing but respect and admiration for people who break down barriers and Carla and Myra certainly did that. It is well known that both comedy and the BBC were very male dominated at the time. For two Liverpool women (anything northern was also seen as a disadvantage) without any sort of track record to get a pilot and then a full series commissioned which was about two strong independent women was very much a first. Originally Carla and Myra pitched Up, Down, All Around, a sketch show they had written which was rejected with the suggestion they submitted something more ‘understandable’; they came back with The Liver Birds. Legend has it the BBC were not keen on recommissioning The Liver Birds after the first series and Carla’s agent told her she didn’t have any potential as a writer! That alone tells me there must have been untold challenges even after the series had started, they had co-writers and a script editor (Eric Idle no less) forced on them by the BBC for the second series and it wasn’t until the third series that the BBC had enough faith in Carla and the series to let her write unrestricted.
The Liver Birds ran from 1969 to 1979, and obviously its 70’s themes were very much of the time. How do you plan to make those themes relevant to the present day, and in doing so, introduce the characters to a new generation?
Revisiting the series I quickly realised that the way it was made was very much of its time and all of the 1970s trappings make it a perfect time capsule but the writing is timeless. At the heart of the series are underlying universal themes of friendship, love and the hopes we all have for ourselves. I watched a couple of episodes with a friend who said ‘its Sex And The City twenty years before Sex And The City’ which I think sums how sharp and timeless the writing is perfectly; friendship, love and hope will never not be relevant.
How did you manage the fine balance of writing a musical that would appeal to both the original fans of The Liver Birds, whilst at the same time attracting a new audience who may not be familiar with the original show?
Without exception everyone involved with Liver Birds Flying Home wanted to honour Carla and Myra’s characters and writing style. There is nothing post modern or mocking in the script and hopefully fans of The Liver Birds will see their beloved characters in the present day and know that it is a continuation of their story. Equally anyone who doesn’t know The Liver Birds will hopefully engage with a story of friendship, love and hope and relate to the characters without any prior knowledge of them.
Without giving too much away, can you share with us where the two Liverpool friends are now in their lives. It has been 40 years since the TV show ended, but is this same time span reflected in the characters’ lives in the musical?
Indeed it is. Beryl and Sandra meet again by chance after not seeing each other for more than 40 years. What drove them apart all those years ago and despite living separate lives how did their actions back then affect the trajectories of each other’s lives? This is the story of what happened to them, how their past together shaped their futures apart and the secrets they kept from each other for decades.
Did you reach out to any of stars of the TV show, Nerys Hughes, Polly James, or Elizabeth Estensen?
Across the series there were four Liver Birds; Dawn (Pauline Collins), Beryl (Polly James), Sandra (Nerys Hughes) and Carol (Elizabeth Estensen). Sadly apart from the opening titles no footage is known to exist from the original series with Pauline Collins but they are all part of The Liver Birds legend. They only ever appeared in pairs throughout the series and our story features Beryl and Sandra (though I’m hoping Liver Birds devotees will spot our nod to the other two when they see the show) but, speaking personally, I would be delighted if any or all of the original Liver Birds came to our opening night to help celebrate the enduring appeal of Carla and Myra’s work. Ladies, if you’re reading this get in touch!
The musical will showcase 23 brand new songs, with lyrics by Barb Jungr, and music by Mike Lindup from Level 42. How did this collaboration come about?
Barb and Mike have the same music publisher, an immensely likeable an astute man called Stuart Ongley who realised they would be the ideal match. Stuart wasn’t wrong, Barb and Mike have written 23 killer, and I mean killer, songs. Between them they have ensured that all of the songs have their own identity and are part of the fabric of the show, each one helps to drive the story forward and/or expresses the feelings of the person singing it. In addition to this there is all the underscoring which helps ensure that the narrative moves seamlessly between song and speech as well as a number of songs that were cut during rewrites. I’m in awe of Barb and Mike’s combined talent, creativity and dedication and cannot overstate how great the songs and score are.
You, Barb Jungr, and Linda McDermott have also written a book to accompany the musical. Can you tell us a little bit about this.
The book was the first non-musical draft of the script written by Barb, Linda and me. Like many writers I suffer from blank page syndrome, the book got me past that as it gave us a starting point to work from. Since then Barb and I have re-written extensively and the script we have now tells the same story as the book but as a musical and with much more depth to the characters and narrative.
Liver Birds Flying Home will open on 13 April at Liverpool’s Royal Court, are there plans for a national tour following this?
Watch this space!
Liver Birds Flying Home runs from 13 April to 12 May 2018 at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool.
To purchase tickets, please visit: http://www.royalcourtliverpool.co.uk/whats-on/liver-birds-flying-home/