Oh Do Come in Budgie!

‘Please let me stay up and watch it dad, ah go on mate’

‘No, bit strong for you boy’

‘Oh go on, everyone is talking about it at school, I’ll be left out I will…’

‘Oh, alright then, but if it’s got strippers in it, you’re off to bed…’

And so went the conversation, or something like it, between me and my dad in the early 70s when the TV series ‘Budgie’ was all the rage in the UK. It was a massive hit and my memory is of it being originally shown on a Friday evening.  I was on 8/9 at the time hence my old man wary of me seeing the stray nipple, which to be fair looking back on the show as I do on a regular basis, popped up in more than one or two episodes.

This show was so big – only three channels then remember – that the fashions worn by Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird, played by singer, actor and entrepreneur Adam Faith soon became seen on many a high street. His hair for a start was a feather cut, very much along the lines of Rod and The Faces. He also wore a jacket that quickly became known simply as a Budgie jacket (that’s fame that is) and then there was him wearing clogs. They proved to be inconvenient for when he was running away from the police, which like the appearances of nipples, happened on a fairly regular basis. Even as a rascal thief, fashions came first to Budgie.

Ok, to the nuts and bolts of it. It was all the idea of writers Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, who had a fine pedigree with films like ‘Billy Liar ‘ from 1963.

‘Budgie’ ran for two series and they were shown on ITV between April 1971 and July 72. Each series of 13 shows had a different theme tune, both great and both fondly remembered.  First up was the ‘The Loner’ performed by The Milton Hunter Orchestra and then ‘Nobody’s Fool’ written by Ray Davies of The Kinks and sung by brother Dave, both performing under the name of Cold Turkey.

The plot of each show showed Budgie, a small time petty thief, mainly operating around the ‘alleyways of old Soho’ trying to pull a stroke or two, whilst all the time in the ‘now and then’ employ of one Charles ‘Charlie’ Endell, porn baron and serious Glaswegian hard man, played by Iain Cuthbertson, who had previously appeared as ‘Daddy, my Daddy’ in the film The Railway Children from 1970.

‘You sticky fingered toe rag Budgie!’

Charlie’s wife, only ever addressed as Mrs Endell, never says a word in any of the programmes.

‘Another Strawberry tart Mrs Endell?’

Budgie’s home life in series two shows him fresh out of the nick, living with girlfriend Hazel and their son Howard. Despite having certain responsibilities, Budgie continues to get in scrape after scrape eventually annoying Charlie Endell so much by the end of the series, that he sets his henchmen on him, including one called ‘Laughing Spam Fritter’ played by John Rhys Davies. Hazel, played by Lynn Dalby had by this stage informed ‘Budge’ as she called him, that she was ‘up the stick’ again, so he had another baby coming.

‘Oh do leave off ‘Azel’

Needless to say, our boy scarpers from all of that, never to be seen on TV again. There were rumours of a planned third series, but Faith was involved in a serious traffic accident soon after filming had ended and he temporarily, as it turned out, retired from acting at the time.

He would later make a comeback and appeared in the films such as ‘Stardust’ in 1974 and ‘McVicar’ in 1980 and managed singer Leo Sayer in his early career. Not one to stay still old Adam.

I distinctly remember the beating Budgie received from the programme the first time round and I was left wanting more. That memory never left me, so I was delighted to see repeats of the show in the 1980s on the then new Channel Four. I set about taping all the programmes I could and watched them endlessly after. The whole set up, the acting, writing, and plot lines for me, had stood the test of time.

Fair to say I was bitten by the Budgie bug. So much so, that I ended up seeing a musical based on the show, not once but twice at The Cambridge Theatre in 1988. Faith played Budgie, with Anita Dobson then of ‘ Ange from Eastenders’ fame playing Hazel. The music was by Mort Schuman with lyrics from the pen of Don Black. Despite all that talent, the show never really took off and ended after a three month run.

You can buy the two series of ‘Budgie’ now on DVD and I often dip in and refresh my memory of how good it was. If you haven’t got it, I urge you to purchase.

Trust me, its good and still stands up.  I mean, as the man himself would have said ‘Would I put you on a dodgy one?’

The Mumper of SE5