Belfast Telegraph

Carla Lane's stars bid her fond farewell at funeral of hit TV comedy writer

The stars of Carla Lane's hit comedies joined family and friends in paying tribute to the acclaimed writer at her funeral.

Shows such as Bread, The Liver Birds and Butterflies established Lane as one of the country's best-loved writers.

Much of her work focused on strong female characters ranging from frustrated housewives to working class matriarchs.

Among those attending the hour-long service at Liverpool Cathedral were Bread actors Jean Boht, Peter Howitt, Melanie Hill, and Nick Conway, together with Nerys Hughes who featured in The Liver Birds and Wendy Craig who starred in Butterflies.

Speaking outside the cathedral, several of those stars praised Lane's writing skills which they said had transformed their lives.

Hughes, who played Sandra in the The Liver Birds, said: "She gave me the most wonderful scripts that you could hope for.

"Right through the seventies was such a joy doing The Liver Birds.

"She was one of those strong independent women who was also very gentle and caring. Quite a special lady."

Craig, who played Ria Parkinson in Butterflies, said her fondest memory of Lane was "working with her".

She said: "A wonderful person to work with, such fun. She gave me the best part of my life. It was a pleasure to have such a role. She understood how I acted and she wrote it that way and I am so grateful for her.

"She left such a great legacy."

Bread favourite Boht, who played Nellie Boswell, said Lane changed her life.

She said: "She had the greatest humanity and care when she wrote about real people, and made you love them. People related to her."

While Bread co-star Peter Howitt (Joey Boswell) said: "She was unique. She created a wonderful divide between tragedy and comedy, and between comedy and drama. She bridged that line very well and you didn't know whether to laugh or cry and you ended up doing both."

A nod was given to Lane's passion for animal rights as four dogs from the Carla Lane Animals In Need centre lined up outside the cathedral as the funeral cortege arrived carrying Lane's wicker coffin.

Cody, a cross mastiff Staffordshire bull terrier, Shih Tzu Meena, pug Lola and Buddy the beagle all wore special sashes, along with staff from the Melling-based centre, in tribute to Lane.

Lane had transformed her former home at Broadhurst Manor in West Sussex into a sanctuary for a variety of creatures - looking after rescued farm animals, homeless cats and dogs and injured wildlife.

Lane received an OBE for services to writing in 1989 but returned it to Tony Blair in 2002 in disgust at animal cruelty.

A warm tribute was delivered to the congregation by Lane's former daughter-in-law, Dr Martine Anne Fleming.

Born Romana Barrack, Dr Fleming said the daughter of merchant seaman Vincent and Ivy and her much-loved sister and brother, Marla and Ray, grew up happily in the family's flat in Liverpool and loved each other.

She said that Lane often joked that she only moved out to get married because her mother would not let her have a dog.

She said: "It was the first of many thousands of animals that she would go on to save, nurture and treasure."

Lane had a love for her home city and drew much of her inspiration from its spirit and its people, mourners heard.

Dr Fleming said: "Without her beloved Liverpool there would be no Carla Lane. Liverpool was part of her and she was part of it. Like sandstone to this cathedral.

"Her material was within her and all around her in the foibles, idiosyncrasies, the accents, the colourful language and the incorrigible humour of Scousers.

"The adversities of everyday life she weaved into the balm of comedy. Her gift was in transcribing the dialogue she would hear in the everyday life of everyday people into hilarious yet poignant situations.

"She described herself paradoxically as a miserable person with a sense of humour who wrote situation tragedies about marriage, infidelity and separation, with wafer-thin distances between tragedy and comedy."

To laughter, she quipped: "In fact I reckon she is in here right now, willing something to go comically wrong."

She added that Lane's long association with the BBC ranged from the "youthful nonchalance" of The Liver Birds to the pathos of the series I Woke Up One Morning, which dealt with alcoholism.

Dr Fleming said Lane received many accolades over her lengthy career but was "rather scornful of such things" including when returning her OBE.

"Wealth and fame were never Carla's desires," she said. "She didn't buy fancy cars or designer clothes. She didn't smoke and she didn't drink. She preferred to shop in Kensington Market rather than Harvey Nichols."

Lane had her own inimitable style and was "no fashion victim" - to the extent she wore a black dress and shoes made out of dried vegetables for her granddaughter's wedding.

She was a committed vegetarian and lived on seeds and berries.

At the height of her success she was whisked to Hollywood and when dining was offered caviar, oysters and champagne but instead said: "No thank you. Can I have some beans on toast and a cup of tea?"

In another culinary experience she bought all the live lobsters from a restaurant's tank and released them into the sea.

Dr Fleming said: "But such non-conformity didn't stop Carla becoming one of the biggest names in comedy and certainly at the height of her powers the most important female writer in British television.

"Carla was a woman with a broad mind, a deep soul and a big generous heart. She spoke her mind, she was a free spirit who did not unquestionably follow conventions, did not simply accept other people's views no matter who they were.

"She was a woman who lived out what she believed in and she believed, above all, in protecting animals."

Her passion for animal welfare over-rode every other concern by the time she moved to Broadhurst Manor, the congregation of several hundred was told.

The grounds became a sanctuary for creatures as great as an abandoned shire horse to as small as a tiny wren with a broken wing.

She had been known to stay up all night to feed a guinea pig to keep it alive, fixing a caster to a three-legged tortoise and even suspending a flock of sick pigeons from the ceiling with elasticated bandages and force-feeding them all day until they got better.

Goats would roam the tennis courts, parrots would be in the kitchen and fishing was "banned" in the lakes of the manor.

She loved her hounds Igor, Maximus and Pagan, like children and they would escort her everywhere.

Dr Fleming said: "This place is full of people with similar stories. It is in such tales and in the timelessness of her work and in the love of her friends and family that she will always be remembered with great, great love and affection.

"And she came home to Liverpool, not to retire, but to return to writing about the city. That wouldn't happen because of the cruelty of age that even caught up with her in the end.

"But right up to the end she enjoyed a silly story and a cuddle from the dog and a laugh about the past, and weren't we lucky to know Carla Lane."

Lane, who died last week aged 87, leaves two sons, Nigel and Carl, who mourners were told she "adored".

A number of Lane's poems were read at the service - True Love read by Howitt, Me by Boht and Sons by Lane's son Carl Hollins.

Readings were given by Lane's granddaughter, Romana Hollins, and former Brookside actor Dean Sullivan.

The Butterflies theme song, Dolly Parton's Love Is Like a Butterfly, was performed during the service which was played out to the theme of The Liver Birds.

A private service of committal followed the ceremony.


From Belfast Telegraph