They were the best of friends – on screen at least. But now a feud that has simmered between the estranged stars of the BBC sitcom The Likely Lads for almost 35 years has erupted. Rodney Bewes, who played Bob Ferris in the series, has accused his former co-star James Bolam of condemning fellow cast members to poverty through his refusal to grant permission for the series to be repeated on network television.
"Jimmy Bolam's killed it, which is such a pity," he said: "I'm very poor so I have to tour one-man shows because Jimmy has buried The Likely Lads. You have to sign a waiver for them to repeat it and he stopped it while he did New Tricks. Well, New Tricks has been on so long, and is so repeated, that he must be very wealthy; me, I've just got an overdraft and a mortgage."
Bewes added: "He should let it be repeated on BBC2 or BBC1; to stop other people earning money is cruel."
Watched by some 27 million people – half the population of Britain at the time – the 1960s sitcom made the pair household names, giving them a level of success they have not matched since. Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, The Likely Lads was about two best mates from the North-east. It spawned a second series in the 1970s and even a feature film. But its stars have not spoken since they made the film in 1976.
It was not always that way, according to Bewes: "We were great friends. When my babies were born, his was the first house I went to. I had a daughter first, Daisy, and then we had three boys who were triplets."
When asked why the pair haven't spoken since 1976, he said: "It's this actor's ego thing: he thinks he is important. Actors aren't important. I'm not important; I have fun. I think Jimmy takes himself very seriously as an 'actor'."
Bolam did not respond to requests to comment on his former colleague's remarks. However, in an interview to promote a children's TV series called Grandpa in My Pocket, he said: "It's irksome that people like you bang on about it as if it's the only thing I've ever done in my life.... When the series is over it's over and you move on to other things. You see, because one played great friends it doesn't mean that you are great friends."
What happened next?
James Bolam went from playing Terry Collier to a series of top TV roles, from When the Boat Comes In to New Tricks. He is an MBE.
Sheila Fearn played Terry's sister, Audrey. Also in George and Mildred, Sorry! on TV and Terry Gilliam's film Time Bandits.
Rodney Bewes had his own sitcom Dear Mother... Love Albert. Now, 72, he still takes his acclaimed one-man shows on tour.
Brigit Forsyth played Bob's wife, Thelma. TV roles span Boon and The Bill to Dr Who and Calendar Girls on stage. She is 69.