As childhood best friends, Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson were the perfect choice to play sisters in the hit comedy Birds Of A Feather.
And their realistic portrayal of the joys and frustrations of family life made the show a huge hit.
But the frequent on-screen bickering between their characters Sharon Theodopolopodous and Tracey Stubbs appears to have exploded into the actors’ real lives, prompting fears for the future of the long-running programme.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that a seemingly irreparable rift has developed between Quirke and Robson, whose friendship of 50 years once helped cement their reputation as among the UK’s most popular double acts.
Pictured: Lesley Joseph (left), Linda Robson (centre) and Pauline Quirke (right) from Birds of a Feather. The frequent on-screen bickering between Robson and Quirke’s characters Sharon Theodopolopodous and Tracey Stubbs appears to have exploded into the actors’ real lives, prompting fears for the future of the long-running programme
Insiders say there have been ‘real and tense issues’ which resulted in Quirke refusing to take part in the 30th anniversary show, which aired in 2019.
At the same time, Robson grew closer to co-star Lesley Joseph, who plays man-eating neighbour Dorien Green, and the pair decided not to ask Quirke, 61, to take part in 2020’s Christmas special.
The fall-out seemingly marks an end to Quirke’s much-loved character of Sharon, whose recent absences have been explained by the character heading off on a cruise.
One friend said: ‘Both Linda and Lesley were saddened that Pauline didn’t want to return to make a 30th anniversary episode. Linda and Pauline used to be very close, less so Pauline and Lesley.
‘I think Pauline resented the attention that Lesley got and it was very tense and difficult to navigate at times.
‘Pauline wasn’t approached about the Christmas special. The atmosphere on the set had previously become difficult, there were real and tense issues.’
The trio shot to fame in 1989 when Birds Of A Feather began on BBC1. Following the lives of two sisters who move in together after their husbands are jailed for armed robbery, it ran for nine years.
It was later revived in 2014 on ITV by its original writers and creators Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran.
Linda Robson and Pauline Quirke, 1993
The Christmas special pulled in an impressive 7.9 million viewers, and it is understood that Robson, 62, and Joseph, 75, are keen to continue with the Essex-set show. But sources say ITV are not convinced they want to make another series.
Claims of Quirke’s allegedly ‘demanding’ and ‘difficult’ behaviour on set were blamed as factors for the original fall out, and in a bid to secure the future of the show, a new character called Jordan – dubbed a ‘mini-me’ of Sharon – was introduced.
The friend added: ‘It appears that Sharon has been replaced by another character so that the show can go on. It is all very sad. Pauline and Linda have been friends for more than half a century and, of course, Lesley has known the women for at least 30 of those years.’
To complicate matters, Quirke’s son Charlie also stars on the show as Travis Stubbs, Tracey’s youngest son. He appeared in the Christmas special and at the time ITV tried to explain Quirke’s absence.
A spokesperson said: ‘Unfortunately, Pauline Quirke will not be taking part as she’s stepping back from acting to focus on her 200 nationwide performing arts academies.’
In the show, only a photograph of Sharon was seen and the storyline was written to say that she was on a cruise, during which she had met a Costa Rican hunk and married him.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that a seemingly irreparable rift has developed between Quirke and Robson, whose friendship of 50 years once helped cement their reputation as among the UK’s most popular double acts
Last year, Robson described her long friendship with Ms Quirke, saying: ‘We were friends from ten years of age.
‘We went to the same primary school and we started taking acting classes together.
‘We were known as the real kids, or the cockney kids off the street. We’ve both been really good friends, and we’re still working 52 years later.’
Robson and Joseph revealed in an interview with bingo company Mecca that they had met up during the pandemic when restrictions allowed, but there was no mention of Quirke.
The two women declined to comment. Quirke’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.