The Lad and the Loser: Budgie (1971-72)

NIGEL SARRASSA-DYER

Twenty-six episodes. Writers: Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall, Douglas Livingstone, Jack Trevor Story; Producer: Verity Lambert; Directors: Moira Armstrong, Alan Gibson, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Mike Newell, Herbert Wise

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Budgie, the story of small time Soho criminal Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird, was produced by London Weekend Television and ran over two series, each of thirteen episodes, between 1971 and 1972.1 Both series explored the liminal world of pornography, police corruption, criminal scams, violence and petty crime, and Budgie’s place within it. While Budgie has come to be affectionately remembered as a cockney comedy-drama with a charming, irrepressible lead character set in 1970s Soho, and as a series which launched an ‘entire fashion craze’, and is indeed all of these things, it would do the series a huge disservice to ignore its other dimensions, in particular those concerned with gender and masculinity identity.2

As social, economic and cultural changes of the 1970s impacted upon gender relations, a significant number of programmes were able to explore multiple and competing constructions of masculinity. Issues around gender and masculine anxieties featured across a variety of television genres: routinely in sitcoms such as Rising Damp and Man about the House;3 as small parts of wider discourses in dramas like The Knowledge and Comedians;4 and in both the documentary The Family and the science fiction series Survivors.5 With Budgie, however, it is the detailed examination of a particular masculinity at a particular time which is central to the narrative as it is played out in the trajectory of Budgie’s decline and fall.