Billy Liar

Billy Liar

infobox Book |
name = Billy Liar
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author = Keith Waterhouse
illustrator =
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country = United Kingdom
language = English
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media_type = Print ()
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isbn = ISBN 978-0140017830
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"Billy Liar" (1959) is a novel by Keith Waterhouse that was later adapted into a play, film, musical and TV series.

The semi-comical story is about Billy Fisher, a working-class 19-year-old living with his parents in the fictional town of Stradhoughton in Yorkshire. Bored by his job as a lowly clerk for an undertaker, Billy spends his time indulging in Walter Mitty-like fantasies and dreams of life in the big city as a comedy writer. However, with three girlfriends on the go, his tendency to overimagination comes at a cost.Billy is a young man in post-war Britain who has his family’s accent and their mannerisms. Throughout the play we see into Billy’s mind through his fantasies. This helps us to understand why Billy makes the decisions he does. Billy is 19, and living with his parents Alice and Geoffrey, and his grandmother, Florence. Billy lies to everyone he comes across, for example he said his father was a writer who locked all his novels in the sideboard cupboard or telling his parents that Arthur’s mother is pregnant. He is engaged to three girlfriends in the play, and is always talking about a job offer writing scripts in London for "Danny Boon", a comedian.


William "Billy" Fisher - Billy is 19, and living with parents Alice and Geoffrey, and his grandmother, Florence Boothroyd. Billy lies compulsively to everyone he comes across, whether it's the claim that his father was a troubled writer who locked all his novels in the sideboard cupboard or telling his parents that arthur's mother is pregnant. Billy works as a clerk for undertakers Shadrack & Duxbury. He is engaged to three girlfriends in the play, and is always talking about a job offer writing scripts in London for "Danny Boon", a comedian.

Alice Fisher - Billy's mother. She rarely sits down in the play, constantly working hard to keep the house tidy and look after her husband, her mother and Billy.

Geoffrey Fisher - Billy's father. Geoffrey uses the word "bloody" in his sentences so often it has lost all meaning. Geoffrey has been a successful garage owner and a man who works in the removal business so his family live middle class lives despite his working class background. Geoffrey has a short temper, but otherwise rarely shows emotion.

Florence Boothroyd - Billy's grandmother. Florence talks to the sideboard more than her own family, and is always drinking tea out of a pint-pot. She keeps pots of condensed milk upstairs. Florence falls ill in Act 2 and is taken upstairs. By Act 3 she has died.

Arthur Crabtree - Billy's best friend. Arthur works at Shadrack & Duxbury's with Billy. When we first see Arthur and Billy together in Act 1, they adopt thick northern accents and engage in buffoonery, imitating their elders. Despite this tomfoolery, Arthur's mood towards Billy changes in Act 3. He does not appear in Act 2.

Barbara - One of Billy's fiancees. Barbara is prudish, always eating oranges and harbours dreams of living with Billy in a cottage in Devon, with "little Billy and little Barbara".

Rita - Rita is 17, is short, but comes across as a "hard lass". She is engaged to Billy, and has a habit of mimicking Billy every time he offers an excuse for her missing engagement ring. Unbeknown to her, it is on Barbara's finger. She appears in Acts 2 and 3.

Liz - A scruffy girl in need of a new skirt, she is nevertheless the one who truly understands Billy, and the only one he really has a genuine interest in. Before her appearance, Billy pretends he doesn't have much interest in her, but it is clear when she appears that he is still smitten with her.



In 1960, the novel's author, journalist Waterhouse, co-wrote a three-act stage version with Willis Hall. The action took place on a single set combining the living room, hallway and porch of the Fisher household. The first production opened in the West End of London with Albert Finney in the title role, and more recently by Nicholas D. Cooper. It has since been produced all over the world, and has become a favourite with amateur groups.

The play is set in one Saturday: Act 1 in the morning, Act 2 in the early evening and Act 3 at night.


The 1963 film was directed by John Schlesinger and featured Tom Courtenay (who had understudied Albert Finney in the West End play) as Billy and Julie Christie as Liz, one of his three girlfriends. Mona Washbourne played Mrs Fisher, and Wilfred Pickles played Mr Fisher. Rodney Bewes, Finlay Currie and Leonard Rossiter also had roles.

TV series

The novel was also used as the basis for a sitcom made by London Weekend Television in 1973-74, and starring Jeff Rawle as Billy. It has never been rerun, although the first series was released on Region 2 DVD in August 2006. The second series was released in March 2007.

The series was scripted by the play's writers, Waterhouse and Hall, and the action was updated to the 1970s. George A. Cooper reprised his West End role as Billy's father. Other regular cast members included Pamela Veazey as Alice, Colin Jeavons as Shadrack, May Warden as Billy's grandmother and Sally Watts as Barbara. Several new girlfriends were also introduced.

An American adaptation entitled "Billy" and starring Steve Guttenberg, Peggy Pope, and James Gallery aired briefly on CBS in 1979.


A successful West End musical (entitled simply "Billy") starred Michael Crawford and, in her West End debut, Elaine Paige. The book was by well-known British sitcom writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, where music and lyrics were by film composer John Barry and Don Black respectively.


Waterhouse later wrote a sequel called "Billy Liar on the Moon".

"Billy Liar" is also the title of the second track of "Her Majesty The Decemberists" by The Decemberists and the first track of a CD single of the same name.

Morrissey was heavily influenced by the novel, borrowing many lines from it, in particular for The Smiths song "William, It Was Really Nothing".

"Billy Liar" is also the name of a character that appears on Nottingham Hospitals' Radio's "Something for the Weekend" show. This Billy is a bit of a namedropper and claims to know a number of celebrities - mostly Z-list and has a brother called Liam and another relative called Ernest.

Billy Liar is also the likely inspiration for the "Billy Dreamer" character from the "Kids In The Hall" television series. Billy Dreamer, played by Kevin McDonald, is an unambitious office worker with equally mediocre day dreams, such as owning a bean-bag chair and being ranked mid-pack in satisfaction among his office mates.

The music video for the song "The Importance of Being Idle" by Oasis contains scenes based on scenes from Billy Liar.

External links

* [ Billy!] the Musical ("" article)

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