Feathered friends back for more fun

Birds of a Feather - Linda Robson as Tracey, Pauline Quirke as Sharon
Birds of a Feather - Linda Robson as Tracey, Pauline Quirke as Sharon
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BIRDS Of A Feather was a ratings winner for the BBC in the ‘90s. The sitcom’s taken flight to the stage and is currently at the Lyceum.

LIFE as a prisoner’s wife worked wonders for Pauline Quirke’s career.

Birds of a Feather - Pauline Quirke as Sharon, Lesley Joseph as Dorien

Birds of a Feather - Pauline Quirke as Sharon, Lesley Joseph as Dorien

The chirpy actress went on to chalk up plenty of drama successes and one shift readily springs to mind – when she starred as a child killer in The Bill.

“That was my angry lesbian period,” she recalls, in the week she revives Birds’s Sharon Theodopolopoudos for Sheffield audiences.

“I’ve been very lucky in the sense I’ve had the opportunity to do both sides of the coin.”

One role, significant with Meadowhall bosses at least, slipped her mind until her other half reminded her.

“I went shopping there one day and I said to my husband we’d been in this nice shopping centre... and he said ‘you opened it you silly cow’.

“Look that up in case I’m lying, but he says we did some kind of unveiling. If I’m wrong excuse me as I’m old and losing the plot a bit.”

Actually, Pauline and Birds co-stars Linda Robson (Tracy Stubbs) and Lesley Joseph (man mad Dorien Green) once turned on the Christmas lights.

Now Birds has thrown up another opportunity in that it has provided Pauline with her first experience of touring theatre.

“Being back with the girls...it’s been like we never stopped. And we are referred to as ‘the girls’, which is bizarre as we’re all in our 80s.

“I haven’t done theatre for 20-odd years and I’ve never done a tour, so it’s certainly been an education.”

Not least with 17 weeks of it. But a prerequisite of revisiting the hit title 14 years after it finished on TV, having screened 102 episodes over 10 years, was that the script should match the legacy, as well as all three actresses being available.

“We made the decision to stop the series because we’d gone as far with that as we possibly could, and I think we were right to stop when we did rather than carry on and fall out of love with it.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to know when to quit and we knew better than anyone else it had run its course at that time.

“But what is interesting about the tour is the story has been brought up to date; the women are 14 years on in their lives. There’s a murder and all sorts of things going on, so it’s brought it back to life.

“The other girls have been busy doing loads of stuff so it just never really worked until now. It just turned out this year it did. I finished Emmerdale at Christmas, the others had finished tours, so we had this time free. There’s been no approaches from the BBC as I recall over the years and I think that’s probably a good thing because now the time is right.”

It so happened Classic Comedy Company, which previously revived Dinner Ladies and Keeping Up Appearances for live tours, had conspired a stage revival.

“They’ve got a track record and this is probably the first one where you’ve got all the original cast back.

“Getting the script right was very important and it’s a good story. We had the two creators from Birds and also two of the top writers from the series have written the tour script. It wasn’t a case of just wheel us three out and put any old thing together.

“The seats aren’t cheap and the three of us are back together, you can’t expect it to be any old tosh and that be enough for people. It’s actually a really good story and very funny. There’s some quieter moments and nice big arguments.

“The chemistry between Linda, Lesley and myself can’t be underestimated - it’s either there or it’s not - and that’s what people are saying to us now; it’s still there and the audience can see that.

“But at the end of the day you’re only as good as the scripts and we had some really good episodes on TV.

“It was basically a series about three women sitting round a kitchen table. At that time there weren’t many female-driven comedy shows and it was a series men enjoyed as well. Now we’ve also got youngsters coming to see the shows, along with mums and grans. It’s nice there’s a whole new audience out there who never knew what Birds was about.”

There are also a couple of young ones on the stage: Pauline’s 17-year-old son Charlie and Linda’s lad Louis, aged 20, share the new role of Tracey’s son Travis.

“They’re both trained. My lad has just finished his A levels so he’s been dipping in and it looks like it’s the path Charlie is taking. It’s been lovely having our boys with us. We were nervous for them both, as mums, but that didn’t last long as they’re more than capable.”

Quirke of fate brings for versatile talent

ONE of the perils of doing 10 years with a successful show is, of course, being typecast.

But for Pauline Quirke this was never a problem.

Prior to landing the job she had appeared in the likes of Dixon Of Dock Green, aged eight, and during Birds starred in powerful drama The Sculptress.

In the past she’s played detectives in Missing and Maisie (pictured above) and an obsessive office worker in Murder In Mind, starred in Down To Earth, Carrie’s War and Office Gossip, as well as Emmerdale as Hazel Rhodes - some other Emmerdale ‘residents’ are coming to see Pauline’s Lyceum stint.

Prior to her Birds break she appeared in The Elephant Man and Shine On Harvey Moon and, as a teenager in the ‘70s, hosted three kids TV shows, including Pauline’s People which featured childhood pal Linda Robson.

With such a varied CV you’d think she’d tire of playing the same show each night. “I really thought it would feel like that, but because the audience is different it’s like a different show every night. You never quite know what will get the laughs, what reactions you’ll get so it does keep it fresh. I’ve never felt ‘here we go again’. And the feedback we’re getting is people aren’t disappointed, it’s exactly how they remembered it.”

Whether Birds will be revisited following the run is not for certain. Pauline is back on TV in a “very dark drama” called Broadchurch, with David Tennant.

“We don’t know. We never got as far as Scotland and there’s interest in Australia. People want to see the show and we’ve been selling out a lot of places so if we can do it again we’d love to. Probably not as long a tour – 17 weeks was a bit ambitious.”