Billy Lair, originally a play by Keith Waterhouse published in 1960, was later adapted as a film and play script with the aid of Willis Hall; an experienced play write.
Billy Liar focuses, not surprisingly, on Billy Fisher; a well educated highly imaginative 19 year old living in the 1950s who simply cannot stop himself from lying. His lies to him are his fantasies and lives them out in graphic detail, a device that is difficult to recreate on stage with no narrator or ability to make each fantasy a reality as in the film or with the use of a passive voice in the novel.
The Fishers who would have been described at the time as “new money” are desperately trying to fit in to their new “Lower Middle Class” stereotype but fail to do so as they insist on purchasing lavish over the top furniture in an attempt to flaunt their new found wealth as they know no better. They came into money thanks to uneducated but hard working Geoffrey, Billy’s father, who runs a garage.
Billy’s personality contrasts greatly to that of the majority of other characters in the play, not least Geoffrey who he is constantly infuriating with his grammatically correct and typically upper class comments and declarations. This is his own way putting his father down. Billy assumes the voice of a highly educated person and talks to Geoffery at a level he is unable to comprehend. Billy realizes his families struggle for social status, although he himself believes that he is already a class ahead, and knows that this greatly infuriates Geoffrey because he is not capable of responding at the same intellectual level and instead resorts to “bloody” as his way of breaking even with him, although he uses the word so frequently that it becomes blunt and ineffective.
A prime example of this is when Billy finialy comes down for breakfast and when informed that he should burn his raincoat and get up in the morning breaks in speech
“I gather that he who would burn the raincoat is Father and he who should get dressed of a morning is my good self…” to which his father replys
“Here, here here! Who do you think your bloody talking to? You’re not out with your daft mates now.” He obviously doesn’t understand how gramaticaly correct that sentence was and istead of calling him posh he refers to how he acts with his mates. Geofrey simply doesn’t understand what Billy is saying.
But sometimes the Fishers lapse in their struggle for higher social status, in a letter to “Housewife’s Choice” Billy’s mother writes:
“P.S. My son writes songs, but I suppose there is not much chance for him as he has not had the training. We are just ordinary folk”
When Billy’s friend Arthur reads this aloud to torment him this comment even infuriates Billy who reply’s “I’m not ordinary folk even if she is” Billy believes he is a class above his parents.
As the curtains rise and we take our first look at the small set, based entirely around the Fishers house and garden side on, we meet Florence – Billy’s Grandma. A easily confused lady of traditional up bring in her eighties who appears at a glance to be slightly senile, but you soon realize that no one pays her any attention. She therefore talks to the only thing that cares to listen, the sideboard. Sadly she seems to be little more then an ornament herself. She is sat in the lounge alone, talking to the sideboard, while her daughter Alice and husband Geoffrey have breakfast in the kitchen.
Alice takes no notice of Florence as she walks past to call Billy down from his bedroom, he is late again, probably still in bed day dreaming.
Billys fantasy’s are very hard to portray in the play, as Billy can only speak what he is thinking. Its only when watching the film that things being to take shape. This is because films have the ablity to make the whole set change and even Billy is dressed, for example, in a Sergeants Uniform and all the people around him are cheering him on. Clearly this cannot happen in a Play. It doesn’t make the Play worse but its left to the audience to picture what is happening from his words.
This aspect of the film really hits home how detached from “real life” Billy can become.
Later on in the play we meet Arthur Billy’s friend and work colleague, who acts just like Billy does but knows when to stop. Arthur knows how prone to lying Billy is and takes everything he says with a pince of salt, with the exception of one that he believes whole heartedly.
Billy infuriated with the world around him wants to make an escape, he receives a letter from a comedian Danny Boon which he dresses up to make everyone think he has been offered a job in London, Even Arthur is convinced at this stunt and it takes it seriously to the extent of handing in his notice.