Lilies (BBC TV series)

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Genre Drama
Created by Heidi Thomas
Directed by David Moore
Roger Goldby
Ferdinand Fairfax
Brian Kelly
Starring Catherine Tyldesley
Kerrie Hayes
Leanne Rowe
Composer(s) Kevin Sargent
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 8
Executive producer(s) Heidi Thomas
Tony Garnett
Location(s) Liverpool, England
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time approx. 59 min. per episode
Original network BBC One
Original release 12 January 2007 –
2 March 2007

Lilies is a British period-drama television series, written by Heidi Thomas,[1] which ran for one eight-episode series in early 2007 on BBC One.[2] The show's tagline was "Liverpool, 1920. Three girls on the edge of womanhood, a world on the brink of change."[3] Due to lower than expected ratings, the BBC did not commission a second series.[4]


Lilies details the lives of Iris, May and Ruby Moss, three Catholic sisters living with their widowed father and brother in a terraced house in Liverpool in the early 1920s. The story is set in the years immediately after the First World War and, as such, the after effects of that conflict are apparent.

The story depicts a life lived on a knife-edge of poverty, tempered by various kinds of love. All three girls must make their own way in the world. In the course of the series, each sister tastes passion for the first time, and their lives, newly launched, are changed forever.


Heidi Thomas first developed the idea for Lilies from listening to her grandmother's stories about growing up in post-World War I Liverpool. The Moss sisters are loosely based on her grandmother and her three sisters. Some aspects of the series, such as the grave fund that the girls save for, are taken directly from their lives. Thomas wrote the first complete draft of the script in 1996, but it was almost ten years before it was optioned by the BBC. During that time she lost the script, and had to recreate it from an old copy she found in her attic. Thomas elected to insert certain elements into the script to give the series a sense of realism, such as the slaughter of animals in the Moss home. Largely unknown actors were cast in Lilies, including native Liverpudlian Kerrie Hayes in her acting debut.[5]

During location scouting, the production team was unable to find an area of Liverpool with terraced houses that had been sufficiently preserved so they decided to reconstruct a whole neighborhood on a backlot in Aintree. In order to give a sense of space to the production, large painted billboards mimicking distant buildings were erected on the edges of the set.[5] Other scenes were filmed on location at the Woolton Picture House, the Walker Art Gallery and Croxteth Hall.[6]



1. "The Chit Behind King Billy"[edit]

The first episode introduces the Moss family; Dadda Moss and his children; Iris, May, Ruby and Billy. Mamma Moss has recently died and Walter, Ruby's twin brother, died during World War I.

All the family work, except Billy. Dadda works at the local dairy and is local vet. Iris runs the house and makes chocolates, May is parlourmaid to the Brazendales and Ruby, having been previously employed by the Post Office, is now employed by Aurora Corsets.

Father Melia, the local priest, announces that there will be a homecoming streetparty as all the young men who survived the war have returned and asks the Mosses to lend the pianola for some music. Unfortunately it was pawned to pay for Mamma's funeral and the family do everything they can to raise the money necessary to get it back in time. Ruby works overtime, selling corsets, and May dances at a gentleman's club in her underwear.

The Brazendales, Richard and Madeleine, take an interest in May. Richard sits with May in the kitchen and tries to make friends, much to May's surprise. May supports Madeleine after she miscarries again.

Ruby trains for a place on the British Ladies Olympic swimming team, with a former neighbour, Phyllis Cook. On the day of the trial, Ruby's family go to support her, including Billy - despite his terror of water after his ship sank. Someone, however, disapproves of Billy as he receives white feathers (symbolising cowardice) in the post and gets another on the day of the trial, leading him to attempt suicide. He survives and tells his family that Phyllis was responsible, leading her and Ruby to fight in the street, and lose their places on the Olympic team. Phyllis sent them to Billy, angry that he survived while her dad (serving on the same ship) didn't.

(Originally broadcast: 12 January 2007)

2. "The Thunderbolt"[edit]

Iris, May and Ruby are unhappy with Dadda's behaviour and discuss it while at confession. They agree to put their foot down about it, leading Dadda to put the rabbits in the backyard up for sale. Iris starts dating the man who buys them, Domingo Hennessy, and after a brief courtship, he proposes marriage and Iris accepts. Neither Dadda or Ruby are happy about this - both hating change - but come round to the idea. Domingo tells them that he was in the army during the war but was invalided out.

Domingo reveals the full extent of his injuries to Iris on their wedding night. She is angry to discover that the future she hoped for - a home and family of her own - is impossible. Unable to stand the sight of Domingo, she goes home and is assured by Father Melia that she will not have to return or get a divorce.

(Originally broadcast: 19 January 2007)

3. "The White Charger"[edit]

Mrs. Brazendale goes to a spa for her nerves, reducing May's workload. Free from lunchtime, her friendship with Richard Brazendale turns to flirtation but halts when he introduces her to a friend of his, Claude Freeman. He claims to be a portrait photographer but his motives are far from pure. Knowing this, Richard rescues May from Claude's studio and finding her drugged, puts her to bed and sleeps on her bedroom floor.

Seeing him there and discussing their feelings later, they realise they have feelings for each other and start an affair. Unfortunately Mrs. Brazendale returns sooner than planned and in disgust at May telling her about how pleased Richard was to see her, walks out of her job.

Dadda and Billy practice, with the rest of their lodge, for the 12th July march (they are staunch Protestants). Iris struggles to cope with what she discovered about Domingo after she married him. Father Melia tells Iris that, although it will take time, her marriage can be dissolved. Mrs. Dobbs visits Ruby, wanting the gossip about Iris and Domingo.

(Originally broadcast: 26 January 2007)

4. "The Tallyman"[edit]

Iris helps Mrs Quirke (the local midwife) when Mrs. McBride gives birth prematurely. Dadda sees that the McBrides are ill and calls the doctor but both die, leaving behind seven children. Iris takes the girls and the boys stay with Father Melia at the rectory.

The doctor notifies the Board of Health and the epidemics gentleman calls the tallyman, worried about overcrowding. Dadda makes sure no families are broken up. Realising no one can take all the children, Father Melia puts them in an orphanage, having been assured that they will be raised together. This illusion is shattered once the orphanage are the McBrides' legal guardians. The Matron tells Father Melia and Iris that Arthur (the youngest) will be transferred to Doctor Barnardo's and the older boys will go abroad. Horrified, Father Melia and Iris want to remove the children but are refused permission.

Ruby and Billy, suspicious that May didn't get a reference, write to Richard Brazendale and he replies, revealing May walked out but would be given a reference if she visited his office. They meet secretly, and Richard ends their romance, but later sends a key and a note with an address, asking her to meet him. Curious, she goes and he offers her a flat. Guessing he wants her to be his mistress, she is furious, feeling that would make her little better than a prostitute and walks out.

(Originally broadcast: 2 February 2007)

5. "The Sea"[edit]

Billy gets a letter from an old friend, Nathaniel Sullivan, known as Nazzer. In his letter, Nazzer tells Billy that he is being transferred to the Turner Home and asks him to visit. It is revealed that Billy and Nazzer's relationship is homosexual and they still have feelings for each other. Iris suggests inviting Nazzer to tea but when Billy doesn't invite him, she does. Nazzer accepts and Billy invites Queenie Hicks to join them, knowing she fancies him. She agrees, providing Billy is her date at a dance.

During the tea party, Nazzer tells Dadda what he saw the night their ship sank after Dadda tells him about Billy's nightmares and fear of water. Nazzer stays over and sleeps with Billy. He later helps Billy overcome his fear of the sea but admits hating living as a cripple in institutions. He tries to convince Billy to help him commit suicide, but he refuses. The night Billy and Queenie go to the dance, he visits Nazzer - to find him dying of pneumonia. Billy attends the funeral and signs up as cabin steward on the Aquitania, in his memory.

May has a new job — cook for Father Melia — but isn't very good so Iris helps her. Father Melia tells her that the McBride boys have been split up - two have emigrated and the youngest will be adopted. He hopes to get the girls transferred to Catholic orphanages so they will stay together.

Seeing that May is ill, Father Melia calls the doctor and he tells her that she is pregnant. Now unable to work, she hands in her notice and visits Richard. She is shocked to discover that Madeleine went away deliberately, leaving Richard to seduce May. They hoped she would get pregnant and let them adopt the baby. Madeleine suggests May stay with them until suitable accommodation can be arranged but angry at being used, she tells Madeleine about Richard's offer of a flat and leaves.

(Originally broadcast: 9 February 2007)

6. "The Release"[edit]

Iris and Ruby discovers May's pregnancy and do not react well. Panicking, May visits the Brazendales, wanting money for a termination. They refuse but offer her an account at a department store. Worried about what May will do, Madeleine threatens to have her charged if she harms the baby but May ignores her and tries to induce a miscarriage regardless. Luckily, she asks Iris and Ruby for help when feeling ill, so the baby isn't harmed.

Ruby receives a letter from Marianne Parkes. She condemns corsets, believing them vile and unnecessary, and invites Ruby to a debate. She invites Ruby to a picnic, drawing her into their intellectual circle. They advocate reproductive rights for women and vegetarianism amongst other things. Iris and May see Ruby is becoming a snob and warn her to be careful but she releases the pigs kept by the butcher on an allotment, damaging other allotments. Ruby admits what she has done and is ordered to pay compensation and work on the damaged allotments. Joseph, the butcher, is impressed by Ruby's spirit and they become friends.

Ruby is horrified when she learns her new friends believe in sterilising people they deem unfit to reproduce - particularly girls that have illegitimate children - so she rejects them. She promises to support May and helps her hide her condition. Iris supports May too after Father Melia reminds her that May needs support, not condemnation.

(Originally broadcast: 16 February 2007)

7. "The Serpent"[edit]

Billy comes home for a visit, bringing mini pineapples and a snake. The snake leads Dadda to meet a Miss Bird — she is a teacher and asks Dadda to give a talk about the snake. He does and starts accompanying Miss Bird and her classes on their excursions. They start dating and Dadda invites her to tea to meet his children. They are horrified that their father could date anyone and discover that Billy has a new job - waiter in a gentleman's club. The girls insist that he end it.

Iris reveals that she wants to be a nun. Father Melia initially supports her, but later changes his mind and refuses to explain.

May starts dating Frank Gadney and Ruby starts dating Joseph. May is happy with Frank until she sees Richard Brazendale. He visits before sailing to New York. After feeling the baby kick, he asks her to love their child and May realises that she can not hide her pregnancy any longer. Dadda is horrified at the news and walks out but returns later, drunk. Angry that his daughters demanded he end things with Miss Bird and then reveal May is pregnant, he beats her. Iris and Ruby protect May, allowing Dadda to pack his belongings and leave, unchallenged. Frank, bathing May's wounds, asks her to marry him but she refuses, telling him she is in love with the baby's father.

(Originally broadcast: 23 February 2007)

8. "The Reckoning"[edit]

Billy's new job and May's condition makes Iris feel that they are the talk of the street. Mrs. Quirke, the midwife, refuses to help at the birth and Richard reveals to Ruby that he and Madeleine offered to adopt the baby. Ruby confronts her and May reveals that that was what Madeleine wanted all along. May initially is happy with her son, but a visit from Madeleine and a row with Dadda, make her decide to allow Madeleine to adopt the baby. Richard Brazendale stops May signing the papers, knowing that Madeleine has manipulated her. He persuades her to make her own decision and - aided by her sisters - she does.

Father Melia visits Iris, wanting to apologise for his behaviour. The bishop, confused by Iris's request for a reference that Father Melia should have provided, sends Canon Kenan to get an explanation. He admits that he has feelings for Iris and is sent to Ireland on retreat but discovers that she is not joining a convent, due to their exorbitant request of 300 guineas and a pair of silver candlesticks.

Dadda goes home to find the pianola gone and that the Brazendales were adopting the baby. Dadda objects but Billy tells him that it is not his decision. Seeing his daughters return with the baby and shaken by recent events, Dadda takes the temperance pledge again and registers his grandson's birth, naming him Victor William Moss. He also asks if he can come home and his children welcome him back.

(Originally broadcast: 2 March 2007)


This series is available on DVD, distributed by Acorn Media UK.


  1. ^ "Lilies by Heidi Thomas — a new drama series for BBC ONE". Retrieved 2007-06-12. 
  2. ^ "Controller explains decision". BBC News. 22 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-12. The BBC's controller of fiction has explained why Lilies has been axed. 
  3. ^ "Lilies by Heidi Thomas — a new drama series for BBC One: Liverpool, 1920.". Retrieved 2007-06-12. 
  4. ^ Midgley, Neil (11 April 2007). "People power sways BBC to rethink Lilies". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 4 April 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Heidi Thomas (writer), David Moore (director) (16 April 2007). Lilies: The Complete First Series (Behind the Scenes) (DVD). Acorn Media. 
  6. ^ Coslett, Paul. "Lilies". BBC. Retrieved 4 April 2011. 

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