Suburban housewife faces mid-life crisis by having an affair.
1978 - 80. 1983
From the prolifically successful creative comedy pen of Liverpool born scriptwriter, and co-creator of the 70's sitcom classic 'The Liver Birds', Carla Lane, 'Butterflies' was a gently thoughtful, amusing and well observed eighties situation comedy sensation for the BBC.
The series starred accomplished and versatile comedy actress, Wendy Craig as Ria Parkinson, a seemingly ordinary, contented, middle class suburban housewife who had been married for 19 years to dentist and manic depressive Ben (the excellently droll Geoffrey Palmer), only to suddenly find herself plunged into the middle of a disorienting, emotionally tumultuous, mid-life crisis. At that sensitively vulnerable point in her life, Ria found herself embarking on a touchingly platonic, but still guilt-laden affair with the rich, urbane, recently divorced businessman, Leonard Dunn.
The series' title was derived from Ben's near-obsessional hobby of Butterfly collecting, and it was the fact that he was so enwrapped, so taken with it, almost to the point of oblivion to the goings on with the rest of the family, that provided the catalyst for the series main narrative thrust. Apart from Ria and Ben, the family included sons Adam and Russell. Wendy Craig had previously appeared in 'Not In Front of the Children' and 'And Mother Makes Three'; while Geoffrey Palmer went on to appear in 'The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin', 'Executive Stress' and 'As Time Goes By'. And of course, the young Nicholas Lyndhurst, who had been a child star and presenter on 'Our Show', had already begun to secure his lasting claim to television immortality by appearing in 'Only Fools and Horses' (the two shows overlapped by a year). Completing the Parkinson quartet was Andrew Hall as Ria and Ben's other son, Russell. The regular cast was rounded out by the characters of Ruby (Joyce Windsor), who was the Parkinson's cleaning lady and Hammer horror veteran Michael Ripper appeared as Thomas, Dunn's Chauffeur.
Another interesting aspect which set the series apart from the more traditional sitcoms of the time was the inclusion of an edge-of-surrealism, achieved by the use of dream sequences and voice-overs, a then still very much experimental narrative device, which had previously only been employed by the earlier ITV sitcom adaptation of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall's classic, 'Billy Liar', and years later exploited to its fullest by the top rated US show, 'Ally McBeal'. The title theme was a re-arrangement of Dolly Parton's "Love is Like a Butterfly", and the series, which had begun in 1978, eventually reached its end in 1982.
However, eighteen years on, on the evening of Friday November 17th 2000, writer and cast were triumphantly reunited for a special one-off reunion episode produced especially for the BBC charity telethon, Children In Need. The short 15-minute episode, which revisited the Parkinson family on the occasion of Ria's 60th birthday, was so well received by the public, and so enjoyed by its cast, that it was briefly suggested that a new series could follow. Sadly, it never transpired.
Gentle, knowingly written and sharply performed, 'Butterflies' remains a classic example of the very best of the BBC's successfully popular situation comedy output of the early part of the nineteen-eighties.
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