Discuss the differences in attitudes of Billy and Geoffrey. How do the writers of this play use this to make “Billy Liar” interesting for the audience?
“Billy Liar” was originally a novel written by Keith Waterhouse. In the late fifties/early sixties, Waterhouse collaborated with Willis Hall to turn the novel into a play. It is about a boy called Billy Fisher, his life, relationships, attitudes and lies. The story takes place on one Saturday in the Fisher household.
During the late 1950’s, teenagers were gaining more responsibility. For the first time, it was them who had to support the family as many adults were killed during the war. As they had jobs, teenagers had their own money to spend. This created businesses aimed at teenagers.
Teenagers were starting to like different music and wear different clothes rather than follow their parents like in previous times. This was seen as rebellious by elders and highly disrespectful. At this time, teenagers were also beginning to have their own opinions and no longer went by the saying “children should be seen and not heard”.
A great role model of the time was Elvis Presley. Teenagers saw him as ‘cool’ and good-looking – and he gave them a style/image to follow. What made him even greater was that adults hated him – because he was, in their opinion, disgusting. Elvis became a symbol of individuality for teenagers.
Fashion wasn’t the only factor that changed. Teenagers were given more freedom and started to own their own houses. Before, there could be two or three generations of a family living in the same house. With all the money teenagers were making, it was no longer necessary to stay in their parents homes. In some ways, this made families drift apart and have less contact with each other, proving that freedom may not always be a good thing.
Also, for the first time, the younger generation could speak their mind. They no longer had to keep quiet at the fear of being punished. This created more arguments within families. When children were told off before, they would keep quiet and accept their punishment, but now, they were arguing back. This made the parents jobs more difficult – and was seen as rude, disrespectful and unacceptable.
All of this is incorporated into ‘Billy Liar’ in a way that is understandable, especially to teenagers of the time. It was one of the first plays that young people could relate to and feel part of. This play is known as a ‘kitchen sink drama’ as it is set in one family home and reflects what was happening in families and societies at the time it was written.
The two main characters are Billy and Geoffrey. Billy is a nineteen-year-old boy, son of Geoffrey and Alice Fisher, who wants freedom. He is sarcastic, rude and unappreciative: “I gather that he who should burn the raincoat is father and he who should get dressed of a morning is my good self. Why do you always address all your remarks to the sideboard, Grandmother?” (Act1, lines 117-120) He has no respect for anything and he doesn’t seem to care about anything. Billy uses lies to make himself sound interesting and to get out of trouble. He is dirty and ‘slightly built’.