“I was a woman, I was Liverpudlian and I could write… ” Carla Lane said that. It was 2008 and Liverpool was in the middle of its year as European Capital Of Culture. But Carla didn’t need a panel in Brussels to tell her that. She was a Scouser through and through, you see.
How can I be so definitive? Because she upset as many Scousers as she appealed to… and that’s the mark of a great Liverpudlian: we upset each other. “This is my truth, tell me yours” is what we ask those we share an accent with. Go on, admit it: you hated ‘Bread’, didn’t you? Well, I didn’t… because it rang true. It rang true for every one of us who have watched their loved ones fiddle the ‘leccy. It rang true for every one of us who have been involved in tragic comedies in dole offices that Shakespeare could only dream of. It rang true for every one of us who have owned something beyond our so-called ‘means’. And it rang true for everyone of us who have walked by that chocolate river and felt different to all the rest.
‘Bread’. ‘Butterflies’. ‘The Liver Birds’. ‘The Mistress’. Women… strong women. Strange women. Funny women. Real women: that’s where the essence of Carla Lane’s writing could be found. You can see it in the face of Kitty Wilkinson, hear it in the voice of Connie Lush and feel it in the determination of Sheila Coleman. Contrary women, too… like the rest of us. Here’s an artist who accepted an OBE, returned it to Tony Blair and asked for it back from Gordon Brown! Find fault with all of that if you must, but she was real. She was honest. She was true to the moment… and never left an ounce of herself anywhere but on the page. A writer’s writer, Carla had that oft-taken for granted knack of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary: think of the Boswells spreading their Uncle Cyrille’s ashes on the Mersey from a ferry and the heartbreak and hilarity that ensued… there’s a reason the BBC don’t repeat her series’: they’re too real, too raw, too funny and too true.
Too true, that’s Carla Lane. At any moment she could have said the easy things, hid behind PR or her unarguable success and retreated from her innermost truths. She never did, though. People mocked her for her love of animals and the time and money she spent on sanctuaries and refuges etc. But her eccentricities, if that’s what we’re choosing to call ‘caring’ in 2016, are what made her one of a kind.
When she brought ‘The Liver Birds’ back in 1996 it wasn’t funny… but it just didn’t matter. Paul McCartney’s last record was shit, too, but it doesn’t stop us from loving ‘Let It Be’. My point? Rich, powerful and ‘normal’ men get away with it… Carla Lane was on the outside looking in from the start. But she busted the boys’ club at the BBC and brought houses down across the country. She took on the straights at their own game – the evening sitcom – and brought an edge, twitch and colour to mainstream TV that no man or woman before her had managed to get past BBC2 on a Thursday night. Have you seen ‘Butterflies’ recently? What a genuinely subversive piece of outsider art…
She was startlingly original and a writer of depth and subtlety – qualities we shall all miss in this nostalgic, shallow and sledgehammer world she leaves behind.
Carla Lane (1928-2016)
Pic courtesy AP Images