James Bolan

About James Bolan

As one half of the Likely Lads, James Bolam’s deadpan delivery marked him out as British comedy star. Read on to find out more about his heavyweight acting career.

Background info

Born on 16 June 1938, Bolam initially trained not as an actor but a chartered accountant. Yet the young man was not to follow this eminently sensible career, choosing instead to try his luck in the acting world. He moved to London and found that the late 50s/early 60s vogue for realistic regional dramas meant that his Northern accent opened a few doors.

The big break

Two years before ‘The Likely Lads’ propelled him to fame, Bolam was one of several rising stars (including a young John Thaw) to appear in ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’. This 1962 drama is still regarded as a seminal piece of British cinema, and, while his role was small, it would prove a big boost to his career.

Career highs

It was in 1964 that Bolam finally landed the role that would make him a star: Terry Collier in ‘The Likely Lads’. But an even greater triumph was the follow-up series ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?’, which saw Bolam play an older, more cynical Collier to poignant perfection. Another comedy high was 70s hospital sitcom ‘Only When I Laugh’, in which he was marvellously paired with the debonair Peter Bowles.

Career lows

Any career as long as Bolam’s will register as many misses as hits, and 1971’s ‘Crucible of Terror’ (a British horror about a psychotic sculptor, if you’re interested) isn’t quite up there with ‘The Likely Lads’. Another failure was ‘Andy Capp’, a short-lived 1988 sitcom based on the famous comic character. Bolam should have been a hit as the chauvinistic pub-dweller, but only six episodes were ever made.

Did you know?

We know Bolam the actor, but in 2001 he chose to make his directorial debut at the helm of an outrageous play called ‘Sick Dictators’. Staged in London, it was a crazed, satirical farce inspired by General Pinochet’s visit to Britain. Who’d have guessed Bolam could be so subversive?

The final word

While some actors can be crushingly pretentious when it comes to their ‘craft’, Bolam is always reliably down-to-earth about it all. When asked why he thought one of his series was such a success, he simply replied: ‘Good sets, locations and surroundings’. Well said!