TRACEY Stubbs, Sharon Theodopolopodos and Dorien Green last graced our TV screens 15 years ago - we’re not counting repeats here.
Tonight, they’re reunited at the King’s Theatre, where Linda Robson, Pauline Quirke and Lesley Joseph will once again prove that Birds Of A Feather do indeed flock together, especially when it comes to making sure the stage-show of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s long-running sitcom lives up to viewers’ memories of the series.
Their much-anticipated return finds the ‘girls’ 14 years older, if not wiser. Getting it right, however, wasn’t simple, reveals Robson.
“We had such a battle. When the producers came to us originally we said we were all interested but wanted to see a script.
“The first script that came was absolutely terrible. The person who had written it had obviously sat and watched all 103 episodes of Birds of A Feather, taken lots of funny lines out of them, and just thrown them together.
“We read it and said, ‘No. There’s no way, after all those years, that we are going to come back with that.’ So we put our diva hats on and said we wanted our original writers back - they knew the history and the characters really well.”
Getting their way, the next script was a vast improvement.
“We knew it was the right thing to do. I got really excited reading it, couldn’t wait to find out how it ended. It is so cleverly written and such a good story - there’s a murder in it and lots of twists and a real big moment just before the interval.”
Updating such a loved series, however, is not without its risks and Robson admits, “It had been away a long time, so obviously we weren’t sure that people would come and see it, but when we set out with it last year, it sold out everywhere we went. Then the producers asked us about doing it again this year.
“There were a lot of places we hadn’t been. In particular, Scotland seemed to take offence that we didn’t go there last time, so we’re delighted to be coming to Edinburgh this time.”
As audiences at the King’s will discover this week, Marks and Gran’s new script waves farewell to some old faces while introducing some new ones.
“It’s a fantastic script,” enthuses the bubbly star of ITV’s Loose Women. “It is 14 years later, the sisters are still living together and haven’t heard from Dorien in years.
“Tracey has a teenage son, Travis, who is in the house causing a commotion as teenage boys do, and Sharon’s still the same, still getting fired from every job for skiving.
“Tracey and Darryl are no longer together. Garth is living in Australia and, without giving too much away, a letter arrives from Dorien, who is in an old folks’ home. Obviously Sharon and Tracey assume she is going to be in a wheelchair so go along to see her... and she’s not!”
That’s all she’s saying, but it’s clear that Robson is overjoyed to have the “three old birds” back together. Not that they haven’t kept in touch over the intervening years. “Lesley and I have done loads of stuff, like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, together over the years,” she says. “Pauline’s not too keen on those sort of things, but we never lost touch. I was with her the day she found out she had got the part of Hazel Rhodes in Emmerdale. We were having lunch at the time.
“But she lives in Buckinghamshire and I live in Islington, we both work and we’ve both got kids and everything, so we don’t see each other every week, but we’re still in regular contract.”
Robson and Quirke famously met at primary school and their friendship has now seen them through drama school as well as series such as Shine On Harvey Moon and Pauline’s People.
“We both came from the same sort of background, big Irish families,” explains Robson.
“Pauline lived in the next street to my nan, so we’d play out on Sundays and here we are, all these years later, still best friends.”
The pair even share a dressing room on the current tour.
“We choose to share a dressing room but she’s the tidy one and I’m the untidy one,” she laughs. “When I get in it’s all spick and span and then I deconstruct it. Although I’ve got OCD in cleanliness I’m really untidy. So while my floors are always spotless, there’s stuff everywhere.”
Unlike most actresses, Robson has scarcely been off TV screens since making her small screen debut in a non-speaking role in the BBC drama Survivors back in 1976.
“I go from one thing to another. Some things I do because the money is nice, other just because I want to do them,” she says.
A case in point was last year’s I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here.
“I did I’m A Celebrity because I’ve watched it for the last 12 years and I love it,” she says. “I got there a week before, and obviously you’re not allowed to speak to anybody. That was the hardest thing. They take your mobile phone away and you are locked-down in a hotel with a minder who follows you everywhere. Then for the first couple of days in the jungle you are completely shell-shocked.
“It’s the biggest, scariest thing you can imagine, especially as I had a phobia about rats. I had to be hypnotised before going in and it seems to have helped. I’m never going to be best friends with them but I’m not so petrified now. I don’t go hysterical and have to be slapped anymore,” she laughs, just a bit too nervously.
“You also have to keep remembering that they are filming you 24 hours a day. So for the first two days I was petrified and tired. On the third day I woke up and thought ‘This is all right. I can handle this.’ My only regret now is that I can’t do it again.”
One thing she might find herself doing again is Birds Of A Feather on TV, she reveals. “We should find out this week if there will be a new TV series. The script is with the BBC and they’re about to make a decision whether or not to bring it back - we’d all love to do it. The script is great, Travis, is in it and then Garthy comes back from Australia with a wife and kids... so it’s like a madhouse.”
A bit like the King’s this week.
Birds of A Feather, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, tonight-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £14-£29.50, 0131-529 6000