Review of Budgie

Budgie (1971–1972)
"You've Stood For It Again, Budge."
21 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
When 'Budgie' was repeated by Channel 4 in the mid-80's, a disgruntled viewer complained: "Blimey! They've copied 'Minder!". He was wrong, of course. 'Minder' debuted on I.T.V. in 1979, a good seven years after 'Budgie' ended. But it was easy to see why he made the mistake, as the two shows are very similar.

'Budgie' tells the story of Ronald 'Budgie' Bird, a small-time Cockney thief who dreams of making easy money without having to do anything drastic - such as working for a living. Most of his 'jobs' take him within the orbit of Charles Endell, a kind of Glaswegian Al Capone, with whom he has an uneasy relationship. Budgie lives with model Hazel Fletcher, and their son Howard. He uses her as a doormat most of the time, but she stands by him no matter what.

Each week, Budgie came up with what he thought was a surefire way of making 'readies', such as acquiring bootleg trading stamps, crates of ballpoint pens, and pornographic books, harbouring illegal immigrants, hijacking delivery vans, and even a prize greyhound called 'Glory Of Fulham'. But his schemes fail - either because he has trusted the wrong people, or not thought things through properly. For instance, his trading stamp scam collapses when Charlie points out a flaw that a twelve year old would have spotted.

Looking at 'Budgie' now its hard not to be reminded of not only 'Minder' but 'Only Fools & Horses'. Like Delboy Trotter, Budgie is an incorrigible rogue. Few people have written for television as well as Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall ( although two episodes were penned by Douglas Livingstone ). Some of the stories may seem a little slow by modern standards, but this was how all shows were made then.

Adam Faith is simply brilliant as 'Budgie', oozing charisma and charm ( who says pop stars can't act? ) as is Iain Cuthbertson as 'Charlie' ( later to acquire a spin-off series of his own ). Lynn Dalby, whilst not the world's greatest actress, nevertheless evokes sympathy as Hazel, and guest-stars included Gordon Jackson, Alfie Bass, Kenneth Cranham, John Rhys-Davies, Jack Shepherd, John Thaw and Derek Jacobi. Georgina Hale is also impressive as Budgie's promiscuous wife Jean.

'Budgie' was a big hit, and could easily have run to another season, but Faith wanted to end it on a high. It did - the final episode is incredibly moving. He later revived the character on stage in the '80's, with Anita Dobson replacing Lynn Dalby as 'Hazel'.

Now that the series is out on D.V.D., I hope it attracts a new audience, if only to see what Britain in the '70's was really like. Forget 'Life On Mars' - this is the real thing.

By turns funny, dramatic, and tragic, 'Budgie' is British television at its best - it set a standard that wouldn't be matched until 1983 and the arrival of 'Auf Wiedershen, Pet'.
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