#210 Billy Liar (1963)


My second bucket pick was Billy Liar aka #210 on the list. This is a film I watched before, about six years ago, as part of my English Degree. I remembered it being funny, so was hoping that my sense off humour hadn’t changed too much.

IMDb Score: 7.4/10

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

I wasn’t surprised by the film getting high scores, as I knew that it was a good film already. I was also happy that the second stick on chose was a film I knew this time round.

Before I continue I just have to put it out there truly and clearly, BILLY IS GREAT. He is probably one of the greatest characters in the history of film, BILLY IS REALLY GREAT. This film makes me want to watch more Tom Courtenay films.

There will be SPOILERS AHEAD!


                             (Image credit: Geograph, house from film)

Trailer Thoughts

So this time is was hard to judge the trailer fairly because of my prior knowledge of the film. But I do think it shows off the film well, and if I was knew to it then I think the trailer would have won me over.

Facts Before Film

Director: John Schlesinger (Academy Award Winning, Midnight Cowboy ‘1965’)

Screenplay By: Keith Waterhouse & Willis Hall

Production Company: Vic Film Productions & Waterfall Productions

Released By: Anglo-Amalgomated & Warner-Pathé

Length: 1hr38

Origins: Novel of the same name by Keith Waterhouse

Style: ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’, black and white film.

Review By ‘C’

This film of course, centres around its protagonist Billy (Tom Courtenay) who escapes him mundane Yorkshire life, through his imagination and lies. I found the film simple (in a good way) and genuinely funny. We live the day in the life of Billy Fisher, none of us realising that by the end of the film we will have learnt something new.

To me the film is obvious of its time with its opening line “Good morning Housewives” (1:05) The implication is already there, that the women are at home listening to the radio, while the men are presumably at work. Of course, it is a ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’ so it can only be expected.

The opening sequence was also one of my favourite parts of the film cinematically. The radio plays over the top of a quick speed pan of houses and flats, in different towns and cities. Each new exterior shows another excited housewife running into her house, or screaming with joy as her song is played on the radio. The last town shown is Billy’s, a place where many of the buildings are being knocked down.

In the first five minutes of the film, we experience Billy’s first day dream of the day as he lays in bed and, imagines his made-up world of Ambrosia. Billy imagines himself as all the most important in Ambrosia; a President, leader of the marching band, military hero, to name just a few of his characters.

After being called for multiple times by his Mother (Mona Washbourne) and Father (Wilfred Pickles), he eventually goes down, he walks to the kitchen table as a posh Englishman, with an eye class. A running theme throughout the film, is that Billy rarely plays himself. At different points in the film I found myself sympathising with Billy, and others I found him funny but I never disliked him, how about the rest of you?

At breakfast it is obvious that Billy’s parents and Grandma (Ethel Griffies) appear to find him immature, strange and often annoying. Most specifically his Father who wants him to start acting like a grown up, and more like a proper man. When Billy tells his family, he is going to be a script writer for; TV Comedian Danny Boon (Leslie Randall), they disbelieve him, and tell him to go to work (which he is already late for). When he’s frustrated Billy imagines himself as a soldier, with a machine gun and shoots those who have annoyed him.

Before Billy can make it to work the first running joke of the film; the calendars. Billy, who works for Shadrack and Duxbury Undertakers was entrusted to post the calendars, but instead chose to keep the money, and the calendars, which he keeps locked in his wardrobe. Something that causes his Mother to become rather suspicious of what he is hiding. Of course, he can’t tell her there are 300 calendars in his wardrobe.

The fear that he might be caught out, leads Billy to have daydream. This time he imagines that his failure to deliver the calendars will lead him to be arrested, tried and convicted. But this is a comedy, so of course, while he’s imprisoned Billy writes non-stop. He’s released after the success of the book, and everyone loves him. I mean if you’re going to dream, you’re going to dream of success, love and happiness.

Billy at this point has still not even left the house to go to work. “You’ll set off one of these days and meet yourself coming back” (15:00) his Mother tells him, but Billy is not less motivated to leave.

Another running joke in the film (and perhaps my favourite) is Billy’s walks. No matter where he goes or what he’s doing he has a walk to go with it. He leaves the house in a sort of march like walk, but by the next scene he is walking around with his eyes closed. Setting himself goals of where he believes he can walk to. Haven’t we all tried to walk around with our eyes closed at one point in our lives? I know I have.

Back to the calendars; Billy has arrived at work with a couple of the calendars hidden under his tank top. But we’re not left wondering why for long, after a couple of jokes with his two work friends he heads to the bathroom. Where he of course, begins to rip pages out of the calendar and flush them down the toilet. Remember though this is a 1960’s style toilet, with a chain pull flush and not built for thick calendar paper to be flushed through it.  But you learn that this is a very Billy response.

On his lunch break Billy notices Barbara (Helen Fraser), his well-mannered and conservative fiancé waiting outside for him. She is blinded by her love for him, and all he wants is his ring back.  The exchange doesn’t last long, after Billy’s lies fail to get the ring off of her finger. So instead he lies that he has somewhere to be.

Of course, where has to be is at the café where his other fiancé, yes that’s right, his other fiancé works. Rita (Gwendolyn Watts) is rowdier the Barbara, and doesn’t fall for Billy’s lies in the same way, continually questioning him on his lies. In his Billy like manner, he has use one ring to propose to two girls, using his lies to pass it between the two of them. When he can’t answer any more questions, he makes an excuse to leave, but not before imagining himself as the frustrated soldier once more.

Billy friend from the undertakers had been with him this entire time, and seems to share Billy’s silliness as the both dance in union beneath a monument.  Here Billy sees his only girlfriend Liz (Julie Christie) across the road, and tells his friend how she travels a lot and he they haven’t seen each other since she left last time.

Next is my most favourite part of the whole film, one that makes me belly laugh out loud, and I can’t help but watch multiple times. Billy’s Zebra Crossing Walk (26:35) If you don’t love it then this is not the film for you.

30 MINUTE TIME CHECK: Great film very funny. Billy is my spirt animal and the humour of the movie suits my own.

Not all of Billy’s make believe happens in a daydream sequence, some of them happen in reality. Such as when Billy talks to Mr Shadrack’s empty office chair (33:40), Billy wants to hand in his notice to his boss, because as we know, Billy is going to write for Danny Boon. But unlike his dreams that nobody can see, Billy’s antics in the office are eventually caught by Mr Shadrack (35:30).

Whenever Billy has to listen to someone talking seriously, he automatically travels to Ambrosia. Often this means that he doesn’t really know what’s happening in reality, but it always works out because, he’s a master liar.

Billy like a typical man, on has one thing on his mind. It appears that he hopes that an engagement ring with get him closer to that goal. However, with Barbara his plan has not worked. Not only can he not get the ring from her, but he can’t get anything else from her either. Not even a kiss. So, how do you make things romantic? Well you give one of your fiancé’s some foreign pills that are supposed to get her in the mood then take her to a graveyard, right? SPOLIER ALERT: The answer is no.

While in the graveyard, Billy imagines a sexy scene involving Barbra. But, remember this in 1963, so it’s nothing to raunchy (at least these days). My favourite part of the graveyard scene is when Barbra does get a craving, but unfortunately for Billy, her craving is for citrus not sex. So, a frustrated Billy takes her orange and throws it across the graveyard (46:23). Gave me my second out loud belly laugh, and I also replayed that throw.

Rita is the opposite to Billy’s other fiancé, she doesn’t put up with his lies and excuses. Rita is the modern woman of the 60’s, and much more independent then Barbara. When Billy gets caught out on a lie, he simply tells another to cover that lie up.

So, when Rita unexpectedly turns up at Billy’s parent’s house (50:30), after discovering that her engagement ring was not at the jewellers, I was not surprised by Billy’s reaction. His Father becomes his Uncle Ernest, and the ring is with a specific jeweller, so of course, Rita couldn’t locate it. Pure brilliance on Billy’s part, even in moments where he’s clearly being mean, or rude or selfish or bad, I still am on Billy’s side.

Billy shouts at his Grandma once he gets back into the house, he is set to her room to find her tablets but, instead makes faces in the mirror. (Yes, I still find him funny). While his Parents take care of his Grandma, Billy heads out with a stack of calendars wrapped in newspaper.

His next great idea to destroy the calendars is to throw them off the side of a cliff (or possibly empty reservoir?) If you know what it is comment and let me know (1hr02). Unfortunately, before dumping them her runs into Councillor Duxbury (Finlay Currie) of Shadrack and Duxbury.

Billy’s day is still not over, it’s evening and both Rita and Barbara stand outside the local dance hall waiting for Billy to meet them. They stand just a few meters apart, neither of them aware of the other. Billy hides as his friends (who know Rita) take her inside with them. Then, luckily for Billy a ‘biker gang’ arrive and one of them allows Billy to wear his helmet, and sneak past a sad looking Barbara.

In the dance hall Billy sees Liz sat on the balcony, she sees him and waves, he goes to see her, sneaking past Rita as he does. Billy’s relationship with Liz is different than any other relationship he has, she knows that he lies, but she doesn’t care, which actually makes Billy be honest with her. I liked their relationship, I found it interesting and it had more meaning then any of the others. She is free-spirited and well-travelled, and that’s what Billy wants to be.  

I also thought it was interesting that Liz, as a woman in the 60’s had the ability and confidence to go out on her own and be independent. But, Billy who seems so desperate to leave is still living at home with his Parents and Grandma. Although the film is a comedy, it is also a thought provoking one, at least to me it was.

The band begin to play a song called Twisterella, and Billy gets really excited, telling Liz that he and his friend Arthur wrote the song. Liz disbelieves him, knowing that he lies about most everything, but as he starts to sing along she accepts what Billy’s claim.

Mr Shadrack and his wife happen to be at the dance hall as well, given their argument earlier about the calendars Billy wants to avoid him. So, he throws a grenade at them (fake of course) and runs back downstairs to the dance floor where he runs into Barbara. She is angry about being stood up, but he lies and tells her they were meant to meet inside.

A few moments later they run into Rita, and with both women stood in front of him, it’s hard for Billy to lie. For a final time, Billy’s tries to break the engagements with both women, and yet again fails. The women instead chose to fight with each other off the possession of the ring, and give Billy the chance to slip away.

The owner announces that Twisterella was written by Arthur and Billy, as they are both thrust into the limelight, and much to the disappointment of Billy, his supposed job with Danny Boon is also announced. Billy and Arthur argue before Billy goes back to Liz, where she comforts him.

Everyone joins the conga, an announcement is made that Billy has a phone call, but he and Liz chose to leave the dance hall instead, and go for a walk. They talk about dreams for the future, and despite his earlier troubles Billy proposes to Liz. I love Billy, but he needs to slow down on his proposals.

Liz convinces Billy to with her to London, and he agrees. They both go home to pack, and agree to meet at the station to catch the last train at midnight.

At home Billy’s Father is angry more of his lies have been exposed, and his Father knows all about the unposted calendars. Billy’s Grandma is also in hospital and his Father makes him call a taxi, so that he can go and see her. When he goes up to his room to pack, his room is a mess and his locked wardrobe has been broken into.

He meets his mum at the hospital, and they both worry about his Grandma. Billy’s Mother gets called into a room by the nurse, and we find out that Billy’s Grandma is dead (1hr27). When Billy learns this, he imagines a beautiful Ambrosian funeral in her honour, and we see how much Billy loved her.

Billy then heads to the station, he walks down a dark, empty street (1hr30) which cinematically I found quite reflective. At the station he buys a one-way ticket to London and waits to meet Liz. She arrives and they get on the train, Liz is excited but Billy seems less so. He worries about food, but Liz has prepared sandwiches for the trip.

Then he decides to get milk, moments before the train is due to leave, and goes over to a milk vending machine (you don’t see those anymore). He appears to be in no rush, and holds the milk in his hand, not moving until he hears the train leave. Then he runs, as if he is desperate to catch it, but stops when he sees his suitcase has been left on the platform, and Liz looks back at him with a sort of ‘Oh well’ look on her face.

The film ends with Billy walking back up the hill towards his parents’ house.  He has a smile on his face, and the whole of the Ambrosian army following behind him. The hall light is on, left for Billy who is always expected to come up. Billy spent the whole day dreaming of leaving but in the end returns to what he always knew.

Favourite Quote

“Today’s a day of big decisions” said by Billy in his voiceover (06:40)

Significant Scene

I would have to pick the very final scene, more specifically the last minute of the film. Billy choses not to got to London, he walks back up the hill to his Parents house with an entire army behind him.

The hall light is still on as if they expect him to come home, even if it is in the middle of the night like he has done before. It is a poiniant moment, Billy the dreamer has a chance to leave his ordinary life, yet he chooses to return to it.

Film Club

I’d give this film a 8/10, what do the rest of you think?

Comment below and become part of the film club, at the end of all my reviews whether you’ve seen the film before or want to watch it for the first time. I want to hear what you think.

The last film was: #451 Night Moves

The next film will be; #708 Reservoir Dogs

C.Clayton .;.


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