15 years have passed, and at long last we are catching up with one of TV’s best-loved comedy trios.
And Chichester’s Lesley Joseph – still known to millions as man-eating Dorien Green – couldn’t possibly be more pleased. As she says, it was vital that the original trio – completed by Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson – should be reunited.
“If it had been just two of the three, it wouldn’t have worked.”
But that’s not a problem they’ve had to contemplate. It has all slipped seamlessly into place for a theatre tour, taking in the Mayflower in Southampton (until May 25) and possibly leading to a new TV series.
“It was quite easy to go back to,” says Lesley, who has long had a house near Chichester. “We just had to have the right script. The first script was just not good enough. It needed putting into our characters and wasn’t written by the original writers. We said ‘You have got to bring the original writers on board’, and then we got a script that we really, really liked!”
One of BBC TV’s most popular and fondly-remembered sitcoms, Birds Of A Feather ran for almost ten years until 1998. Set in Chigwell, it chronicled the misadventures of Sharon and Tracy (Quirke and Robson) and neighbour Dorien: “The old chemistry was there. It was always going to be, and it was definitely time to catch up with the characters.”
Lesley feels she can be perfectly objective now about why it was such a success all those years ago: “It came along at the right time. Writers Laurence (Marks) and Maurice (Gran) were there at the right moment. It was Thatcher’s Britain. It was the time when white van man was around. Essex man was beginning to be recognised.
Laurence and Maurice were writing for Pauline and Linda and wanted me to be the third element, and they put it in a county that everybody has been talking about ever since. We have even got The Only Way Is Essex now.
“And they got this mixture of these two girls that had moved out of the East End, and they have got this snobby neighbour, and the chemistry between them just worked.
You had had The Liver Birds about two girls together, but this was the first sitcom about three girls together. And the great thing was that it wasn’t just line, line, line, gag, line, line, line, gag.
The writers were not afraid to tackle the really poignant things. You saw the soft underbelly of the characters. You cared about the character. They made you laugh, but they were real.”
Lesley admits she didn’t contemplate a possible reunion: “I was just getting on with my own career, but I have always acknowledged that I loved Dorien. She put Lesley Joseph on the acting map. I think of everything that has happened since. I am terribly proud of her. She was certainly not a cardboard cut-out, and that starts with the writing.
“None of the characters were just comic characters. They were characters in real life that were also very funny, and the show was never afraid of going into the real issues. It was never just about getting the gag.”
And Lesley is hopeful that that will all translate very nicely once again to the small screen. She has seen the script for the first episode of a possible new TV series – and she’s hoping it will happen.
Tickets on 023 8071 1811.