The Comedy Vault – Butterflies.

Butterflies (BBC2, 1978-1983, BBC1, 1979, 1982, 2000)

This is another of those sitcoms that was well received at the time, and has been repeated long after coming to an end. Butterflies is notable for being the work of Carla Lane, who was also behind other successful sitcoms including The Liver Birds and Bread. And this is another sitcom that seemed to be a rather straightforward idea about a family’s life, but went into darker areas than most domestic comedies did.

Butterflies featured the Parkinson family, consisting of husband and wife Ben and Ria, and their late-teenage sons Russell and Adam (great name). Ria has been married for about 20 years, and this has started to become stale. Her husband is a hard-working dentist and amateur butterfly collector. He is professional and sensible, but ultimately also rather dull.

The boys often bicker with each other, and soon start to discover women. Some of the lighter amusing moments came from Ria being rather useless in the kitchen, and her work is usually greeted with crestfallen expressions at her latest culinary mishap. Ria decides that she needs an injection of excitement in her life, it might be time to do something a little different, and soon becomes close to Leonard, who helps out when middle-age begins to creep up on her.

What made Butterflies really work well though was the cast. Wendy Craig was Ria, and Geoffrey Palmer was Ben. And well, you can’t go wrong if he is on board, he is someone who always portrayed the grumpy father figure well. And we also had some of the earliest TV appearances by Nicholas Lyndhurst who was Adam, perfecting his style in time for when he went on to Only Fools And Horses.

Again, this was a sitcom that I saw for the first time when there was a repeat run on BBC1 on Sunday evenings in the early-90s. This seemed to be from during the period when the BBC had no money for anything daft like making shows, so they filled the gap with some decade-old sitcoms (Citizen Smith and The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin were among the others).

There were four series of Butterflies, that have all been released on DVD. And many years after the original run ended, the main cast were persuaded to get back together one final time for a short special that was shown as part of Children In Need. Ria has now become a grandmother, but in some ways her life remains the same, she still has to get along with her family, and wants more.


One thought on “The Comedy Vault – Butterflies.

  1. George Kaplan says:

    Butterflies was and is a great sitcom (certainly the first two series and the Christmas special), wonderful in its mixture of comedy and drama. It’s probably Carla Lane’s best most whole work (although the final two series become rather too depressing as Ria and Leonard’s relationship falls apart) and at its best it is perfect. I find it fascinating that while Victoria Wood is venerated despite her later work being spotty, Carla Lane is mostly unremarked upon even though her better work should be inspiring for women (and men). It’s probably silly to expect too much of people though.


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