Nerys Hughes

Exclusive interview with star of The Liver Birds Nerys Hughes

by Karen Shaw

Nerys Hughes

Hot on the heels of Beatlemania, Liverpool was the place to hail from and The Liver Birds was a groundbreaking sitcom, in the tradition of the The Likely Lads that showed life in the famous city from a woman’s perspective. Starring Nerys Hughes and Polly James as two feisty female flatmates, The Liver Birds first appeared on our TV screens in the 1970s. Penned by the comedic talents of Carla Lane (Solo, Bread, Butterflies) and Myra Taylor this classic sitcom makes its DVD debut thanks to Acorn Media.

“I recognise that accent,” is Nerys’ opening sentence. She’s just finished filming a sketch for Comic Relief with fellow northerner Peter Kay. “I love the Lancastrian accent”, she says. At this point I don’t have the heart to tell her I’m from Yorkshire, but also being from Yorkshire, I feel led to tell her the truth. “I know you’ll think I’m awful but I get a bit mixed up between Lancashire and Yorkshire accents,” she laughs. On listening to Nerys, her accent is ever so English, with soft Welsh undertones.

“I left Wales a long time ago, she explains. “I’m from Rhyl and as a child the nearest big city was Liverpool. We always went there for a day out. It was a fantastic city and it’s weird, I’ve always had a connection with it. I love the sense of humour, I like everything about Liverpool. I think it’s a special city. In Rhyl, many speak with a Welsh accent with a Liverpool twang. My Welsh is terrible now. I don’t think in Welsh any more because I haven’t lived there in a long time but that was my first language. I didn’t begin to speak English until I was six.”

It’s at this point that I decide to ‘wow’ her with my knowledge of Welsh and greet her in her native tongue – ‘Bore da, ach a fi person cymraeg’ I proudly say. “Good morning you disgusting person
,” that’s a unique greeting,” she laughs.

Thank goodness she’s got a sense of humour. Well I suppose she’s bound to have, after spending 11 years playing Sandra Hutchinson in the hit sitcom The Liver Birds, working with an all-star cast including comedy legend and Keighley lass Mollie Sugden, who played Mrs Hutchinson, Sandra’s mum. I was curious to discover what their relationship was like behind the cameras
“I absolutely adored her,” she says. “She was so special and when she died, I really did feel like my mum had died, we were very close, very good friends. She was very special.”

I wasn’t born when The Liver Birds first graced our screens but surely it must have been quite ground breaking for its era…

“That’s what was so smashing about it. A hell of a lot of people reacted to it because we were going out with guys and things. After watching it many girls said how they had always wanted to share a flat when they saw what fun it was. It was the start of girls being independent. It wasn’t done at all in a feminist way, it was something special. It was the first time two girls had starred in a show together and it was the first time you had that sort of angle on it really, not somebody’s wife and not somebody’s girlfriend but we were the ones that shared a flat. “I look back at the seventies, and it was a golden time. I was so lucky that I started my career at a time when theatre and television was changing. It was becoming more real, it was becoming more close to you, you actually didn’t have to project you were real.”

Nerys’ career began at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the first drama she did was by Ken Loach, a far cry from her humble beginnings, she sighs when she recalls her childhood.

“I had a wonderful childhood based in the chapel but not in a repressive way. Much of our socialising was done in there. There was no history of acting in our family, although us Welsh do like to show off! I come from a long line of ministers and musicians. My father played the chapel organ, my nephew is a preacher in Wrexham, and my sister married a preacher.”

When the chapel got deconsecrated, she managed to salvage the hymn board and to this day it hangs in her kitchen with her father Edward’s favourite hymn numbers still there.

“My father was an ironmonger and I was brought up in the most happy, wonderful house. I sound a bit gushy but we lived near the sea and in the summer we were on the beach all day and we had relatives who lived on farms. It was the best.”

When it comes to family, it’s clear to see that Nerys holds them very dear. Married to film cameraman Patrick they have two children Ben and Marie-Claire; Ben has followed in his father’s footsteps, while her daughter is a personal trainer and more recently Nerys became a grandma to Sophie.

“I’m one of these lucky people who’ve hipped and hopped my way through life as an actress and had such fun and done so many different things. I love seeing friends and I love being sociable. My family are the most important things in my life.”

The Liver Birds is available on DVD from the 8th April.