Now recognised as a classic science fiction series, A for Andromeda was developed for television by writer and BBC producer John Elliot from an original storyline by Cambridge astronomer and novelist Fred Hoyle. In 1970 a radio telescope in the Yorkshire Dales picked up a series of signals from the remote constellation of Andromeda. These signals were then decoded by brilliant young scientist John Fleming (Peter Halliday), and in spite of opposition from his over-ambitious colleague, Dennis Bridger (Frank Windsor), Fleming revealed that the signals were instructions for the construction of a super computer, which was duly built under Government supervision on a remote Scottish island. The computer's 'message' revealed the inhuman arrogance of its creators, who believed that by informing others of what they had been through and showing them a path forward (which required a certain amount of tyranny) they would save all the races who received the message from destroying themselves. To get its message across, the computer created an embryo based on a female lab assistant that it had electrocuted. The embryo rapidly developed into a replica of the girl and was given the name Andromeda. The machine then became dangerous when Fleming tried to interfere with it, which it would not tolerate. However, under the admiring and human influence of Fleming the girl eventually rejected her mechanical master and the world was made safe once more. Until, that is, the second series, The Andromeda Breakthrough, in which Fleming and Andromeda were kidnapped by the evil Kaufman (John Hollis), who worked for a Swiss business cartel called Intel, whose aim it was to build another computer.
The series was notable for being the BBC's first attempt at adult science fiction since the highly successful Quatermass serials, and for the introduction of Julie Christie (as Andromeda), who was discovered at a drama school by producer Michael Hayes. In the second series Susan Hampshire played the girl. Although all of The Andromeda Breakthrough exists in the BBC archives, only about 11 minutes of A For Andromeda has survived, although it is generally believed that one episode is held in private hands. The BBC made a new version which was broadcast on Monday 13th November 2006.
"In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team." A group of ex-Vietnam Commandos band together to form an unlikely partnership in order to assist the victims of injustice, whilst on the run themselves for a crime that they did not commit. Each member of the team possessed his own specialist talent, Hannibal Smith (George Peppard), the leader of the group was a master of disguise, Howling Mad Murdoch (Dwight Shultz) was the pilot sprung from a psychiatric hospital in order to join the team, BA -standing for Bad Attitiude- Baracus (Mr.T -real name Lawrence Tureaud) was a master mechanic, and Faceman (Dirk Benedict) was the procurer of all the teams material needs. Eventually the A-Team became government agents and were joined by special effects expert, Dishpan (Eddie Velez). The series enjoyed great success on both sides of the Atlantic with its comic strip style of action packed adventures.
Spanning eighteen years and forty-two episodes, A Touch of Frost became one of Britain's best loved Television Detective shows, and starred actor David Jason in the title role. Although Jason was better known for his much-loved comedic roles in Only Fools and Horses and Open All Hours, the British Public continued their on-screen love-affair with him, despite his change in genre. The television series took place in the fictional town of Denton, and was based on R.D. Wingfield's series of 'Frost novels'. The content of the first four books made up a total of eight of the forty-two episodes, whilst the last two were never used as their content was thought to be too graphic for the tone of the show. In the opening episode, Detective Inspector Jack Frost finds out his wife has terminal cancer prompting him to go out and get drunk before breaking police protocol by approaching an armed man, who promptly shoots him. Despite his recklessness, he is awarded the George Cross (the highest award a civilian can receive for gallantry). It is an award that makes him the Chief Constable's blue-eyed boy and this, combined with his unorthodox but highly successful method of closing cases, saves him from the axe that social-climbing Superintendant Mullett would like to wield in Frost's direction. Frost frequently clashes with his superiors, but his flaws are outweighed by his dedication to the job and his desire to pass on his detective skills to the plethora of detective sergeants that accompany him on his cases. These detective sergeants are often hand-picked by Mullett in an effort to undermine Frost. However, Frost's mixture of dedication and flawed genius always wins over the detective sergeants who help him solve the cases, leaving Mullett simmering at Frost's continued presence.
After his wife's death, Frost has a variety of love interests which include Shirley Fisher, the nurse who looked after his wife as she was dying, but she can't deal with Jack prioritizing his job over her. He then has a mostly physical relationship with childhood friend and ex-prostitute Kitty Rayford, but this fizzles out. His final one is Christine Moorhead, who is still with Jack when the series comes to a close. They plan to marry, but Christine's jealous ex-husband plans to kill Jack. However, drunk, her husband instead kills Jack's colleague and long-time friend George Toolan, and this is the main reason that Frost decides to retire. This storyline was written after, on 15 September 2008, David Jason announced he was quitting his role as Frost, citing that at 68 Frost was the oldest detective on television and should retire. A number of well-known actors made their major debut as Frost's sidekicks including: Damian Lewis, Matt Bardock, Neil Stuke, Ben Daniels, Nathaniel Parker, Mark Letheren, Jason Maza, Colin Buchanan, and Marc Warren. Many of them came and went in interesting ways including Bardock's characters (Clive Barnard) who died in the line of duty and was fittingly buried along with Frost's George Cross. The show's theme music also became iconic due to skills of saxophonist Barbara Thompson.
(Review: Tim Rands - 2014)
The final starring vehicle for the masterful comedic talents of the incomparable, Arthur Lowe - A.J. Wentworth, BA was produced and directed by Michael Mills for Thames Television and recorded just a few short weeks prior to Lowe's untimely death on the 15th April 1982, and first transmitted several months later. Skilfully adapted by Basil Boothroyed from the series of stories written by H.F. Ellis, which first appeared in the magazine Punch, before they were compiled into two books; The Papers of A J Wentworth, BA -in 1949, and The Papers of A J Wentworth, BA (Ret'd) -in 1962. The series charted the gentle misadventures of one A.J.Wentworth BA, the mathematics master at Burgrove, a minor boys preparatory school in rural England during the 1940s. Although liked by the boys, Wentworth had problems maintaining discipline and was apt to be taken advantage of. Coupled to this was his amusingly portrayed minor obsession with the up-keep of the school's honour and the ever higher cost of pen nibs, while simultaneously keeping a watchful eye on the dubious tactics of his nemesis, Burgrove's formidable Matron (Marion Mathie). With distinguished supporting playing from Harry Andrews as Rev. R Gregory Saunders, Michael Bevis as Gilbert and Deddie Davies as Miss Coombes, the series ably showcased it's star's faultless comedic timing and ability to evoke sympathy and audience identification in a character who, in less assured hands, might have appeared blimpish and unlikable. Although not in the same league as Lowe's legendary Captain Mainwaring, the combination of good writing, strong performances and a star who was a genuine master of his craft ensured that the mere six episodes of the series were pleasing enough to viewers that the show remained in the top ten for the entirety of its all too brief run. Although it was far from the triumphant stature of Dad's Army, A.J. Wentworth BA, nevertheless was a quality bow-out for its much-missed star.
Although slammed by the critics The Abbott and Costello Show became a firm favourite with the viewing audience as the comic twosome brought to the small screen the same brand of slapstick humour that had pulled in theatre patrons for years. William Alexander Abbott (born October 6, 1897 in Asbury Park, N.J.) was already an experienced 'straight man' when he first met his partner Louis Francis Cristillo (born March 6, 1906 in Paterson, N.J.) on the burlesque circuit. In 1936 the duo teamed up and became a much in demand act. However, it wasn't until an appearance on the Kate Smith Radio Hour, performing what would soon become their most famous sketch "Who's On First," that Bud Abbott & Lou Costello were to experience true stardom and a Hollywood career. Signed by Universal in 1939, Bud & Lou were hailed by the studio as "The New Kings Of Comedy," and went on to produce a decade of box office hits. In 1951 they took their unique brand of humour to the TV screens of America due to Lou's desire that the pair would own outright, for the first time, the best routines from their stage, radio and movie appearances, and although something of a forgotten classic these days, they produced 52 episodes of one of the most syndicated shows in television history. In the series, Bud and Lou were two unemployed actors sharing an apartment in a boarding house owned by Mr Fields (Sidney Fields), who was always hounding them for rent. Across the hall lived Lou's girlfriend Hilary (Hilary Brooke), and Stinky (Joe Besser).
Following the first 26 episodes, which were made up of material that the boys had been using on stage and screen since first coming together (including "Who's On First" and "The Susquehanna Hat Company"), a number of changes were made. The first to go was Lou's pet Chimpanzee, Bingo, who had made the mistake of biting the diminutive star during rehearsals. Lou, who owned the rights to the show, then employed Jean Yarborough to get things more organised, with consistent storylines and a new gag writer, Clyde Bruckinan, as by this time they were running out of their old material. Another 26 episodes were made before CBS pulled the plug on the show. However, the shows were rerun endlessly over the next decades beginning with six months on CBS' Saturday morning line-up from September 1954 to February 1955. The partnership finally broke up in 1957 and in 1959 Bud Abbott sued Lou Costello, alleging he was owed $222,666 as his share of the profits from the TV series. Lou Costello passed away that same year at the age of 52. But the pair were still remembered with great affection and in 1966 a cartoon version of The Abbott and Costello Show was made by Hanna-Barbera with Stan Irwin voicing Lou's part and Bud Abbott supplying his own voice. (Abbott passed away in 1974). Fifty years later The Abbott and Costello Show continues to show up on US television and in 1994 NBC screened an Abbott and Costello retrospective hosted by long term fan Jerry Seinfeld, who probably summed up their appeal best when he said, "If it weren't for Abbott & Costello, many of the wonderful burlesque routines which is a part of the American fabric, would have been lost forever. They were giants of their time who truly immortalized burlesque forever. Maybe that art form is largely lost, but I try and keep it alive in my own show." The series was shown in the UK from 1957.
1950s groundbreaking documentary/magazine series. Click Here for review
A series of 12 unconnected half-hour sitcoms, all written by different writers, created as a starring vehicle for Maureen Lipman who had previously had a huge hit with Agony, but for the past two years had been starring in a series of hit TV commercials for British Telecom as Beattie (a play on BT and suggested by Lipman herself who thought the name more apt than Dora, as created by Richard Phillips, an advertising copywriter who devised the campaign). There were two series of About Face, 1989 and 1991 and the first appeared less than two weeks before Victoria Wood launched a similar series on BBC1. During the run Lipmanplayed a South London telephonist, a Cypriot immigrant, an overworked doctor and Margaret Thatcher. The last show in the series was written by her husband, Jack Rosenthal. Guest stars included Michael Gambon, Phyllidia Law, John Wells, Keith Barron, Libby Morris, Stephanie Cole, Martin Clunes and Bernard Hill.
1950s home-making programme aimed at women. Click Here for review
Absolutely drew together a new breed of relatively unknown (mainly Scottish) comics and pretty much gave them free licence to create a collection of surreal and silly sketches and songs. Like Monty Python years before the performers were also the writers and the sketches stretched from the sublime to the ridiculous, but unlike Python, Absolutely featured a number of recurring characters who have since become cult figures. Morwenna Banks (now an established actress, writer and director) often played a whining St Trinian's type schoolgirl sitting on a large table or desk (to make her appear small) and the sketches she appeared in often ended in her exclaiming "It is, it's twue!"; Jack Docherty was the extreme Scottish nationalist and playwright MacGlashan ("All English are pooves"); John Sparkes developed the character of a grumpy old man called Bert, complete with Zimmer frame; Stoneybridge Town Council (played by the entire cast) were originally created to lampoon the (then) trend of small-town self-promotional travelogue videos, but soon became a parody of all local councils. Other members of the cast included Moray Hunter, Peter Baikie and Gordon Kennedy. After the show finished in 1993 a spin-off appeared; Mr. Don and Mr. George (6 episodes) and a pilot appeared on BBC2 for a series called Mac, a sitcom based around MacGlashan and his long-suffering brother Finley.
Developed from a sketch in the TV series French and Saunders in which Saunders played a baseball capped parent berated by her prim and proper daughter (French), the pilot episode was greeted by one TV executive with the comment, "I don't think women being drunk is funny." In this observation it appears he was very much in the minority, as the series came out of its first season clutching two BAFTA Awards, critical acclaim, and audience appreciation. In the process it also established another television icon.
Saunders, in her first solo role, played late 30-something flower child Edina Monsoon, single mother of two and head of a PR agency. Her best friend, Patsy Stone, was the editor of a fashion magazine and together they would strive to be seen in all the best places, wining, dining and flaunting it with all the 'darlings' and 'sweeties' of the 'Hello' set, in one last effort to recapture their lost youth. By contrast, Edina's daughter, Saffron, (now played by Julia Sawalha) was a plain Jane character who looked on aghast as her mother indulged in a life of sex and drugs and rock n' roll. Also sharing their Holland Park home was Patsy's mother, veteran actress June Whitfield, Jane Horrocks appeared as Bubble, Edina's secretary and there were occasional appearances from Adrian Edmondson, Saunders' real life husband. But it was Joanna Lumley's over the top performance as the alcoholic, chain-smoking Patsy that won the most plaudits, blowing away her previous public image of quiet sophistication. Two more seasons and relocation to BBC1 followed and a rapturous response in the USA led Roseanne Barr to buy up the rights for a stateside version. However, when ABC insisted the characters' drunkenness and swearing be toned down, they were missing the whole point of the show.
The series theme song was Bob Dylan's This Wheel's On Fire and was sung by Jennifer Saunders and Julie Driscoll, who, with Brian Auger and the Trinity had taken the song to number five in the UK charts in April 1968. Vulgar, tasteless, resolutely non-PC and hilarious just by dint of the simple fact that its two central characters were almost pathetically grotesque Gerald Scarfe caricatures given flesh. AbFab, as it became affectionately known, was that rarest of beasts, a modern British sitcom that was actually funny as well as being wildly successful, and for that feat alone, both Sanders and her creation deserved all the accolades and acclaim that they received.
According to Dora, subtitled A Bryan's Eye View on the World, was a starring vehicle for Southport born actress/comedienne Dora Bryan who had made her showbiz debut as a child in pantomime in Manchester. After spending eight years in rep she headed for London and was cast in a production of Noel Coward's Private Lives, changing her name from Dora May Broadbent to Dora Bryant, but a printing error showed her as Dora Bryan and that's how she remained. Dora proved a versatile and accomplished character actress with scene-stealing comic timing and by the time she was given this series in 1968, she was established as a veteran of stage, films and television. In 1962 she won a BAFTA (Best British Actress) for the role of Helen, the sluttish mother of Rita Tushingham in the kitchen-sink drama movie A Taste of Honey. According to Dora featured a different topic each week centred round subjects such as travel, beauty, transportation and the home and a number of famous comedy faces appeared in support, including Clive Dunn, Graham Stark, John Junkin, Wilfrid Brambell and Carry On stalwarts Kenneth Connor and Joan Sims. In 2000 Dora joined the cast of the long-running BBC comedy series Last of the Summer Wine as Aunt Roz Utterthwaite. In 1996, she was awarded the OBE in recognition of her services to acting.
A magician battles the forces of evil. Click Here for review
Long cited as the BBC's answer to The Avengers, in reality Adam Adamant Lives! owes more to the slick style, tone and format of Lew Grade's phenomenally successful ITC stable of action series rather than the sleek and sophisticated antics of Steed and Mrs. Peel. Under the watchful eye of former Doctor Who producer, Verity Lambert, script consultant and series creator Tony Williamson, with creative input from both Donald Cotton and Richard Harris, the concept of a Victorian adventurer restored to life to right wrongs and daredevil through the criminal underworld of the "Swinging" city of London (circa 1966), was brought to the nation's television screens with a wit and exuberance hindered only by black and white filming and a standard BBC budget of the time.
The hero of the series is one Adam Llewellyn De Vere Adamant, a perfectly judged performance of such urbane, heroic verve from a perfectly cast Gerald Harper that the borderline psychotic ruthlessness with which the character kills is overlooked with astonishing ease on the part of the viewer. In the opening story our hero is drugged and frozen alive in 1902 by his archenemy 'The Face' (Peter Ducrow). Thawed out in the middle of the Swingin' Sixties, Adamant is then rescued by trendy nightclub DJ Georgina Jones (Juliet Harmer), who, having learned about his exploits from her grandfather, is a confirmed Adamant fan. Accompanied by Georgina and former music hall artist turned valet, Simms (Jack May), they swashbuckle their way through various adventures.
Most of the fun came from the stark contrast between Adamant's Edwardian values and that of the era of love, peace and flowers. The music that introduced each episode was a 'raunchy' Goldfinger style theme sung by Kathy Kirby. Although very much a product of the decade that spawned it, at its best Adam Adamant Lives! as well as being exciting and blessed by an effortlessly commanding central performance from Harper, also set a certain style in it's elaborately attired leading man, which would find televisual echoes in the decades that followed, particularly in the man-of-action dandiness of Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who and Peter Wyngarde's outrageously stylised Jason King.
Living at 000 North Cemetery Ridge, The Addams Family was developed from a cartoon strip in the New Yorker by Charles Addams. Like The Munsters that began at around the same time, the Addams' were a family of misfits that viewed the outside world as strange and their own peculiar lifestyle as perfectly normal. Head of the family was Gomez (John Astin formerly of I'm Dickens, He's Fenster), a lawyer of independent wealth who dressed like a 1920's gangster and spent his leisure time playing with his pet octopus, Aristotle, and blowing up toy trains. Gomez was married to Morticia, played by experienced Hollywood actress Carolyn Jones, one-time wife of TV producer Aaron Spelling. Morticia only had to speak a word of French in order to send Gomez into a sexual frenzy. Their children were Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax), who had an electric chair and a gallows amongst his playthings, and Wednesday (Lisa Loring), who played with a headless doll. Other household members were Uncle Fester, played by Jackie Coogan, who, as a four year-old had most famously appeared alongside Charlie Chaplin in The Kid, and Gomez's mother, Grandma (who was a witch), played by Blossom Rock, sister of singer Jeanette McDonald. 6 foot 9 inch actor Ted Cassidy played the part of the family butler, Lurch, who famously said "You Rang?" whenever the family or someone at the front door summoned him. (This is the role that Astin originally auditioned for). Rounding off the family was hirsute Cousin Itt (Felix Silla, voiced by Tony Magro), and Thing -a disembodied hand (also Ted Cassidy). Astin went on to become a director with shows such as ChiPS, McMillan and Wife and Murder She Wrote to his credit, and an animated version of The Addams Family appeared in 1973. In 1991 the show got the full Hollywood big-screen treatment with Raul Julia and Angelica Huston in the lead roles. A sequel followed in 1993.
Early TV shopping programmes disguised as consumer advice. Click Here for review
The brainchild of Patrick Dowling and devised with the help of Ian Oliver, The Adventure Game was inspired by the early text-based computer game of Dungeons and Dragons and had elements of Douglas Adams' radio comedy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Dowling had been working at the BBC since 1955 and had become a senior producer in the Children's TV Department. For the last ten years leading up to The Adventure Game Dowling had been working on Vision On, the programme for the hearing impaired - but that was now finishing and he was looking for a replacement. Initially Dowling approached Douglas Adams and outlined the general idea to him in the hope he could get him to write it up. But Adams had just been offered the chance to transfer his radio series to television and was busy adapting his own scripts. Dowling later explained his vision for the series: "I suppose the general idea that emerged was to face a group of three studio visitors with a bizarre and completely unknown surreal set of situations, with only the instruction "to progress" and just watch them get on with it. Which is, roughly speaking, what happened. But this was the point I got Olly in on it because I knew I wouldn't be able to direct from the gallery at the same time as keeping some sort of control over what might happen. We collaborated on the development from then on."
The planet Arg is situated millions of light years away on the far side of the galaxy. It is home to a race of shape-changing dragons led by the Great Rangdo (Ian Messiter and later Kenny Baker). In each episode three humans are marooned here and must find a vital crystal in order to power their starship home. Rando's loyal subjects included Darong (all the characters and place names were made up from the letters in "dragon"), who met the humans in the form of BBC newsreader Moira Stuart, Gandor, who took on the human form of a white haired butler (Christopher Leaver), his neice, Gnoard (Charmain Gradwell), who presented TV broadcasts on ArgoVision, and Ron Gad (Bill Homewood) who spoke backwards. Other characters were added with each series such as Blue Peter presenter Lesley Judd who appeared as a mole.
One of the keys to playing the game was to get to grips with the local currency, known as Drogna, which helped the contestants navigate a safe route across a floor of tiles, and those unlucky enough not to make it ran the risk of being trapped in a room devoid of any light, needing their fellow contestants to verbally guide them to safety using night-vision glasses to see the safe route. The most popular game by far was the Vortex Game, loosely based on a game called "Fox and Geese" or "Nine Men's Morris", in which the contestants took turns to cross a white lattice suspended over open space. One false move meant that the contestants would be evaporated!
The contestants were two celebrities and a member of the public. Among the celebs appearing was Liver Birds Elizabeth Estensen and Nerys Hughes, Liza Goddard, James Burke, Maggie Philbin, Denise Coffey, Paul Darrow, Madeleine Smith, Graeme Garden, Sandra Dickinson, Janet Fielding, Noel Edmonds and Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew. Although just 22 episodes were made, shown on BBC2 over six years from May 1980 to February 1986 (initially at 9.30am on Saturday's but later when it began to pick up a more adult audience), the series is still fondly remembered by a generation of viewers. Gronda, Gronda!
Adventure Weekly was the name of a junior newspaper set up by five budding reporters; Peter (Brent Oldfield), Andy (Len Jones), Tubby (Ian Ellis), Swot (Frank Barry) and Fred (Elizabeth Dear). As dynamic young reporters they got involved in a whole series of adventures spread over 13 episodes which included capturing a team of post office robbers and covering the story of an unexploded WWll bomb. The kids are offered facilities within the local 'Cliffsea Reporter' offices, itself an ailing publication with a very modest circulation which is faced with imminent closure until it is bought out by London based newspaper magnate Lord Huntingford. Even then the junior journalists are faced with losing the paper's support until they mount a successful campaign to save it and ultimately uncover their biggest scoop to date.
The series was originally conceived as a seven-part children's drama by the late Shaun Sutton, who was later to become BBC TV's Head of Drama, but when the extra episodes were added Sutton realised that he was too involved with other projects and he called in Victor Pemberton to write six of them. It was Pemberton's first job for the BBC and he remembers it with affection: "Although the idea was hardly earth-shattering, the series and characters were really very appealing. I enjoyed the job very much, not only because it gave me valuable television writing experience, but also because it gave me the chance to work with the late Joan Hickson, that enchanting Miss Marple in a later BBC TV series."
Sutton was instrumental in casting Patrick Troughton in the role of Doctor Who and then chose Jon Pertwee to succeed him. Victor Pemberton went on to have a close association with 'Who' and the series was directed by another Doctor Who legend; Barry Letts. The other episodes were written by Ian Shurey and P.J. Hammond, the latter of whom devised the science fiction series Sapphire and Steel.
The publicity for this ITC show read "travel the world with The Adventurer, in a series of vital, new and dynamic situations in which every turn brings the zing of danger, drama and originality". Most viewers ended up wishing the hero of this particular television outing had stayed at home. Produced by Monty Berman and filmed on location in France and at Elstree studios in the UK with theme music by John Barry, this 1971-72 ITC action-adventure series starred American actor Gene Barry (Burkes Law, The Name of The Game) as Gene Bradley, a wealthy, jet-setting movie celebrity who indulged himself in business ventures of all kinds, but whose real job involved secret assignments for U.S. Intelligence. Using his acting skills, Bradley would take on various disguises as an international knight who came to the rescue of threatened women, defecting scientists and others in need of assistance. His assignments were given to him by his 'manager', (Mr. Parminter played by Barry Morse of The Fugitive and Space 1999 fame), and he was accompanied by fellow agent Gavin Jones. Diane (Catherine Schell-Space 1999) was his contact with his agency. The series was made by Scoton Productions, a company formed by Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman. The first of the company's productions was The Champions which was a fantasy/action/thriller series about secret agents who are endowed with extra-sensory, almost super human powers.
The Champions was filmed mostly on the backlot of Elstree studios, which doubled for a number of exotic locations, which in turn made the series relatively cheap to produce, a major factor in getting ITC chief Lew Grade to bankroll the project. Under Grade's leadership ITC had specialised in action/adventure series like The Saint and Danger Man, which were deliberately aimed at the widest international audience. This proved massively successful for the company although by the time The Adventurer went into production Grade found himself being accused of making TV shows which didn't take any risks and, in their adoption of a commercially viable transatlantic style, lacked any real national identity. In April 1971, Grade was asked to find two new shows to fill two thirty minute timeslots in the USA who at that time were ITC's largest overseas purchaser. Even the lead actor was frequently American in many ITC shows, which made them even more US sale-able. Grade sanctioned two half-hour action shows to fit the bill. The first was The Protectors which was made by Gerry Anderson, the creator of ITC's Supermarionation series such as Stingray and Thunderbirds and who had been dying to make a live-action series for years. The second was Scoton's final series. The Adventurer was billed as "Everybody's pin-up - nobody's fool". But even casting a big star like Gene Barry failed to lift the show out of the very, very ordinary and lent weight to many critics claim that Grade's latest crop of shows were bland and formulaic. Viewers may well have been forgiven for thinking they had seen it all before and ironically, in the USA, for where the series had originally been made, it disappeared from the schedules without explanation after just 2 episodes. The Adventurer was made at a time when ITC was moving away from television production to focus on major feature films and in spite of having some of Britain's best known names from its Golden Television Era working on the show the whole series has something of a 'contractual obligation' feel to it. Directors such as Cyril Frankel and Val Guest and writers like Donald James and Brian Clemens should have elevated it above the norm, but instead the viewer is left with the distinct impression that they were simply going through the motions.
Created by James A. Michener, Adventures In Paradise starred Gardner McKay as Adam Troy, the handsome captain of a schooner called the Tiki. Troy, a veteran of the Korean War, became involved in all kinds of comings and goings featuring fortune hunters and freebooters as well as a host of beautiful Tahitian women. Our hero had a number of partners during the series three-year run including a Chinese-American called Oliver Lee (Weaver Levy), Clay Baker (James Holden) and Chris Parker (Guy Stockwell). Although set in the South Pacific the series was filmed on the back-lot of 20th Century-Fox. Following the cancellation of the series McKay turned his back on showbusiness to travel the world. He returned to acting in the 1960's and later became a playwright, drama critic and teacher. He passed away at the start of 2002 aged 69.
An oddity - a British made sitcom from the 1950s starring a US actress so it could be sold to America. The actress in question was Joan Shawlee who shortly after this series enjoyed her most famous film role was as Sweet Sue in the 1959 comedy classic, Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. She also appeared as a semi-regular in The Dick Van Dyke Show (as Buddy's wife, Pickles). Before this UK series the 27-year old actress had appeared in The Abbott and Costello Show on US TV. In The Adventures of Aggie she appeared as Aasgard Agnette Anderson, an international buyer working for a world-famous fashion house. The demands of her job meant that she didn't stay in one city too long so her globetrotting meant there was no room for a regular cast. However, a number of upcoming celebs appeared throughout the series run of 26 episodes, including Wilfrid Brambell, Christopher Lee, Patrick McGoohan, Richard Wattis, Rupert Davies, Gordon Jackson, Anthony Valentine, Patrick Allen and future film director John Schlesinger, all destined for fame and fortune. Like most females in 1950s sitcoms the situations she got into were normally a result of her tendency towards being accident prone, although none of these were of the domestic type and normally involved spies, smugglers or murderers. The series was shown in the US in syndication as simply Aggie.
Anna Sewell (1820-78) wrote only one book in her lifetime but it became an all time children's classic. The book, for which Sewell received just £20.00, was published in 1877 just three months before her death, and told the story of a black mare who had been brutally treated by a succession of cruel owners until it was finally taken in by a kind family that nursed it back to health. The TV series, with specially written scripts, was set on a beautifully spacious Victorian country estate and featured Judi Bowker as Vicky Gordon, the thoroughbred's latest owner. (When Bowker left the series Stacy Dorning as Jenny replaced her). Other members of the cast included William Lucas as Dr James Gordon and Roderick Shaw as Kevin Gordon and sharing the directorial seat was Charles Crichton who later went on to make the hit movie A Fish Called Wanda. A sequel, The New Adventures of Black Beauty was made in 1990 with Lucas and Dorning reprising their roles.
Sitcom following the adventures of a retired Army Brigadier, Garnet Wellington-Bull, a widowed career soldier who, now retired, is trying to come to terms with life on civvy street but not finding it very easy. He stumbles from one mishap into another and has to rely on a young officer, Sooty Pilkington played by Donald Hewlett (It Ain't Half Hot Mum) who previously served under him and his daughter Jane Wellington-Bull played by an actress billed in the Radio Times as a "bright-eyed television newcomer", Valerie Singleton. The Brigadier was played by Alexander Gauge, best known for playing Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood from 1955 to 1960. Gauge was born in a Methodist Mission in China and, before coming to Britain, went to school in California. He had been acting in plays on Broadway since 1945, often in Shakespearean roles. Although he often played sinister roles in his early films, he also seemed to display a gift for comedy. The same year that Robin Hood finished Gauge died (aged 46) from an overdose.
Cervantes in space: Don Quick (Ian Hendry), astronaut, is the anti-hero of this science fiction satire. As a member of the Intergalactic Maintenance Squad his only concern should be nuts and bolts. Quick, however, is not content with his role. Seeing himself as a roving ambassador of Earth, a latter day Don Quixote, he goes planet hopping attempting to set right anything he feels is wrong, but his efforts always end up upsetting the inhabitants of whatever society he is in. Like Quixote, Captain Don Quick has his trusty Sancho Panza in the form of Sergeant Sam Czopanser (Ronald Lacey). A 30 foot model spaceship was built for the series but in spite of the effort that went into it The Adventures of Don Quick failed to win over an audience and after just three episodes was consigned to a late-night time slot before disappearing quicker than a shooting star. Only the first episode exists in the archives.
Australian series filmed in colour but only available to the UK viewing public of 1957 in black and white, The Adventures of Long John Silver was based very loosely on Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel Treasure Island, with only the central character and his cabin boy, Jim Hawkins, making the transition from printed page to small screen. Even the setting for the series was different, being located in Portobello on the Spanish Main, where Silver and Hawkins worked for British Governor Strong in order to thwart the advance of the treacherous Spaniards and thereby keep the island safe in the hands of The Crown. There was still time for a little treasure hunting although Silver's favourite way of spending his off-duty hours was in Purity Pinker's Inn, where he could swig away on the local brew. Reprieving the title role that he had made very much his own in Disney's first complete live action movie (1950) was the incomparable Robert Newton, who hammed it up so well that every impression that you have ever seen of the good Cap'n is almost certainly based on his interpretation. Sadly, Newton died shortly after completing the 26 half-hour episodes. The series was filmed in Sydney by producer Joseph Kaufman for Isola del'Oro Productions. Almost thirty years later HTV produced John Silver's Return to Treasure Island starring Brian Blessed in the title role and later still the BBC produced Treasure Island with Peter Vaughan in the lead.
Portland Bill is the keeper of the Trinity House lighthouse, on Guillermot Rock. Accompanied by Ross and Cromarty and his faithful pet pooch Dogger, Bill is the head lighthouseman who busies himself with keeping the shipping lanes safe, running maintenance repairs and keeping thing generally tidy. He often pops ashore in his old rowboat, The Puffin, to the local village of McGuillycuddy in order to pick up provisions from Edward Stones' Emporium shop. Eddy is also the town's electrician, water board inspector, postman, milkman, policeman and mayor. Here Bill catches up on the local gossip from Grandma Tiree, the crofter Finisterre, Fastnet-the village fisherman and old Mrs Lundy. All the characters take their names from shipping forecasts, sea regions and nautical terms. The series was devised and scripted by John Grace and the voices were supplied by Norman Rossington. The Adventures of Portland Bill was filmed in stop-motion animation and ran for approximately 11-minutes each.
TV series based on one of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1920s, Rin Tin Tin was one of two survivor of an Apache assault on a wagon train, a scenario that wasn't a million miles from the dog's true origins. The original Rin Tin Tin was discovered by Corporal Lee Duncan as one of five puppies of German Shepherd Dogs who survived a bombed out war dog kennel in Lorraine, France during World War I. Duncan decided to keep two of the puppies for himself, and named the male and a female after tiny French puppets the children gave to the American soldiers for good luck. He called male Rin Tin Tin and the female Nannette.
Back at camp, Duncan began working with the dogs and soon became impressed with their ability to learn quickly. When he discovered that the German kennel master was a prisoner in the camp he soon found out as much as he could about the breed. Then, when the war was over Duncan took his two pups back to the United States and to his home in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, soon after arriving home the female Nannette died, but Duncan continued to train Rin Tin Tin and entered him into a number of shows. It was at such a show in 1922 that Rin Tin Tin astounded the crowd by jumping 11 feet 9 inches during a performance. In the crowd was Charles Jones who asked if he could film the dog with his new camera. He offered Duncan $350 which was readily accepted.
Duncan saw an opportunity to make money and on returning home he began writing a script for a movie which he later touted around all the Hollywood film studios. Unfortunately for him nobody was interested. Rejection followed rejection and Duncan was probably about ready to give up when one day an unexpected opportunity presented itself. He was walking away from another rejection when he discovered a film crew shooting a scene on what was called 'poverty row'. The scene the crew were trying to shoot involved a wolf, but the wolf was being uncooperative. Duncan approached the crew and told them he and his dog could do the scene in one take. In desperation the crew agreed to film Rin Tin Tin and he was as good as Duncan's promise. The crew kept him on for the filming of Man From Hell's River.
The name of fledgling studio on the verge of bankruptcy was Warner Brothers Pictures. The film was a hit and Rin Tin Tin was a sensation. The public loved him and his heroic ability and at the peak of his career he received in excess of 10,000 fan letters a week and was considered to be one of Hollywood's top stars. Rin Tin Tin ultimately made 26 pictures for Warner Brothers before his death on August 10th, 1932 and was referred to as the 'mortgage lifter' and credited with saving the studio from financial ruin during the silent film era. Duncan had raised several litters from Rin Tin Tin and had kept a pup he called Junior. Like his father, Junior was soon put to work for the studio winning the hearts of fans across America. Rin Tin Tin II would sire Rin Tin Tin IV and both dogs were used in the filming of the TV series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. In the series, having been rescued by the cavalry, ten-year old Rusty (Lee Aaker) and his dog Rin Tin Tin are given a new home on the Fort Apache base in Arizona where they are given the rank of honorary troopers where they help establish law and order in and around Mesa Grande with the dog heroically leaping into action whenever needed. Reruns of the show ran on daytime television and on Saturdays until 1964. A new set of reruns was shown in 1976 when former star James Brown (Lt. Rip Masters) came out of retirement to film new introductions for them. The original black and white prints were tinted light brown.
The series was shown in the UK on the fledgling ATV channel as part of Independent Television's campaign to lure young viewers away from the BBC. The first episode, Meet Rin Tin Tin aired in the US on 15th October 1954; the last on 8th May, 1959. Today, Rin Tin Tin stands alongside Lassie and Flipper as TV's best known animal characters. An enduring and faithful companion if ever there was one.
Legends never really die; they simply become successful movie and television money-spinners which reinforce the power of the original for successive generations. Robin Hood is a prime example of this, and for the television audiences of the 1950's, one particular incarnation of that legend proved to be a mainstay of their viewing week. Richard Greene starred as the legendary 12th century outlaw who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. Greene began his career at the tender age of three with walk-on parts for the Brandon Thomas Repertory Company in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and was twenty-two when one of Daryl Zanuck's talent scouts saw him and flew him to Hollywood to co-star with Loretta Young in his first movie. He returned home to serve in the army during WWll and was discharged in 1944 having reached the rank of lieutenant. The Adventures of Robin Hood was his first TV series. Two actresses played Maid Marian Fitzwalter, the first was Bernadette O'Farrell who had previously turned down a contract with the Rank Organization in order to pursue a career in Rep. The second was former Picture Book presenter Patricia Driscoll. Similarly two actors played Robin's friend Little John.
Robin of Locksley, the Earl of Huntingdon, was forced to rebel against the cruel Prince John (Hubert Gregg, Brian Haines and most famously -Donald Pleasence) and his local henchman, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Wheatley). Ably abetted by his traditional band of Merry Men, Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett (Ronald Howard, later replaced by Paul Eddington who would go on to find fame in The Good Life and Yes Minister), and Alan-a-Dale. The series was one of the first British shows to be purchased by an American TV company where it was also a big success. Robin Hood enthralled a generation of children and spawned a number of imitations such as The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, Sir Francis Drake and The Adventures of William Tell. Shot at Nettlefold Studios at a rate of a 26-minute episode every four days, Hood managed to maintain a high standard of writing, employing blacklisted Hollywood writers who wrote under various aliases. The series was also significant in being the first commissioned programme for the new ITC company, founded by Lew Grade, Val Parnell and Prince Littler. (A more detailed history can be found in The Lew Grade Biography and The Independent Television story in TV HISTORY). Terence Fisher, Don Chaffey and Ralph Smart were among the directors, and the theme song was a hit in 1956 for Dick James, who also went on to become a world famous music publisher with his DJM company publishing the songs of The Beatles and Elton John.
Primitive by today's sophisticated production standards and massive budgets, the series still retains a certain innocently nostalgic charm and conviction which the massive Kevin Costner mega-movie could never hope to emulate. Legends never truly die, the monochromatic Adventures of Robin Hood ably attests to that.
Trivia: Art Director Peter Proud placed most of the props (trees, entrance halls, etc.) on wheels to facilitate quick set changes. Director Ralph Smart also directed The Adventures of Sir Lancelot and William Tell around this time and later went on to create Danger Man. Legend: There are records of several people named Robert Hood who were living at the time of Richard the Lionheart, but no Robins. The first mention of him came in a classic poem written a hundred years after Richard's death called The Vision of Piers Plowman: 'I kan not perfitly my pater noster as the prest it sayeth - 'But I kan rymes of Robin Hode and Randolph, Earl of Chestre.'It is said that this was the beginning of the legend.
Drama series about a seaman shipwrecked on a desert island. Click Here for review
Having made good international sales with The Magic Boomerang, Pacific Films in Australia embarked on a somewhat more ambitious project about a widowed father travelling the Southern Pacific seas with his two sons, daughter and a deckhand. Originally made as a monochrome pilot in 1965 entitled The Cruise of the Seaspray, Pacific took the bold step of filming the episode entirely on location in Fiji. Realising that they would not be able to afford the grand budget required to do the series justice Pacific sought co-funding and found it at Screen Gems, a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures in the USA. However, the American company required some changes before the series went into production and as a result there were some cast changes, the filming moved to full colour and the title was changed to the more dynamic sounding The Adventures of Seaspray. The deckhand in the pilot only had a small role but this was expanded for the series. A Fijian native, Leone Lesianawai, was a real-life police officer in Fiji but left the force to play the character of Willyum Lesi. Walter Brown was drafted in to play Captain Dan Wells (replacing Joe McCormick as Captain Dan Wilder in the pilot) and Gary Gray and Rodney Pearlman played sons Mike and Noah. The daughter, Sue, was played by Susanne Haworth. After seven episodes the character of Noah was dropped when Rodney Pearlman decided that he didn't want to be an actor after all, and would rather resume his educational studies. The Seaspray continued to sail thereafter with a crew of four. It was initially planned to produce a series of 26 episodes but in the end 32 were made. The pilot episode was never screened.
Sleuthing drama series about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's celebrated detective. Click Here for review
Fantasy series about a hero with super powers. Click Here for review
Another in the series of ITC's 'Adventures Of...' historicals. Sir Lancelot du Lac was played by William Russell, who would later star in Doctor Who as original travelling companion Ian Chesterton. The series was lavishly filmed being the first British series to be shot in colour and, using background information researched at Oxford University, featured accurate 14th Century settings, even though the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table hailed from the 6th century. An Anglo-Saxon village with huts, sheep, goats and costumes transporting one into a world of pre-Norman Conquest days was constructed at Nettlefold Studios and used in most of the ITC series', beginning with The Adventures of Robin Hood. Outside location work was shot in Kent, where the company requisitioned Allington Castle, a fitting site for such activity since its long history included settlement by Ancient Britons, Romans and Saxons. Writers for the series included expatriate Americans blacklisted by the McCarthy subcommittee investigating allegations of communism in (amongst other areas) the US entertainment industry. Patrick McGoohan had a minor role in one of the episodes, and it was here that he first met writer/director Ralph Smart, who would later create Danger Man, the role that would propel McGoohan to stardom.
Animated tales from the same stable that produced Captain Pugwash, Sir Prancelot followed the exploits of the heroic but somewhat eccentric knight as he set off for the Crusades to the Holy Land. All voices were performed by Peter Hawkins. The story featured the narration of The Minstrel character, whose Cockney accent was rather reminiscent of Michael Caine. Written and produced by John Ryan.
Anglo-Canadian sitcom about Annie Brennan, the fog-horn voiced captain of the Narcissus, a tugboat based in a harbour on the Pacific North West of America. Her main preoccupation was getting the better of fellow skipper Horatio Bullwinkle and the two spent most of their time trading insults although deep down they were really friends and shared many adventures together. Tugboat Annie first appeared in Norman Reilly Raine's short stories that appeared in the weekly US journal Saturday Evening Post in the late 1920s. In 1933 a movie was made which starred Marie Dressler as Annie and Wallace Beery as Bullwinkle. Tugboat Annie Sails Again appeared in 1940 and Captain Tugboat Annie in 1945. In each movie Annie was portrayed by a different actress. The independent US production company TPA (Television Programs of America) commissioned a series in 1954 but the pilot was beset with problems; taking two years to complete and costing a then record $129,000. Among the favoured stars to play the lead role was the original Bride of Frankenstein; Elsa Lanchester. When the series was finally made (by Normandie Productions, Inc. a Canadian subsidiary of TPA) former opera singer Minerva Urecal was cast as Annie and Walter Sande as Bullwinkle. Annie's deckhands were Whitey and Pinto (Don Baker and Don Orlando) while Bullwinkle was supported by Jake (James Barron). Filmed in Ontario, Canada for US Syndication and Associated Rediffusion in the UK.
Early Gerry Anderson produced puppet series for kids. Click Here for review
"James Butler Hickok, mister" our hero would announce to all and sundry before his sidekick would elaborate, "That's Wild Bill Hickok, mister! The bravest, strongest, fightingest U.S. Marshal in the whole West!" In the 1950s the number of Western series on US television seemed to multiply on a weekly basis. This series began as a syndicated programme for local broadcast. Hickok was a folk hero of the American Old West. His skills as a gunfighter and scout, along with his reputation as a lawman, provided the basis for his fame. Hickok worked at different times as a stagecoach driver, Pony Express rider, Union Army scout, as well as a scout for General Custer. He also took up the post of Marshal of Abilene, Kansas - all of which he combined with his passion for gambling which would eventually cost him his life at the age of 39 years. The hand that Hickok was holding when he was shot in the back of the head - a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights - became known as Dead Man's Hand and appears variously in popular culture even to this day.
Playing the title role was Hollywood matinee idol Guy Madison, born Robert Ozell Moseley in California in 1922. Madison did not set out to be an actor but was talent spotted on a visit to Hollywood and signed up for David O. Selznick's newly formed Vanguard Pictures by talent agent Henry Wilson, who was widely known for his stable of good-looking, marginally talented actors. He immediately cast the rechristened Madison in a bit part in Selznick's Since You Went Away. Following the film's release in 1944, the studio received thousands of letters from fans wanting to know more about him. Madison was signed by RKO Pictures in 1946 and began appearing in romantic comedies and dramas, but his wooden acting style hurt his chances of advancing in films. In 1951, television came to the rescue of his faltering career when he was cast in The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok.
Hickok's sidekick was Jingles, played by US character actor Andy Devine who was known for his distinctive raspy voice. Born in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1905, Devine had definite ambitions to be an actor. Although it was first thought that his peculiar voice would prevent him from moving into talkies, it became his trademark. He appeared in more than 400 films and enjoyed the rare ability to move with ease from B-Westerns to A-pictures. His notable roles included ten films as Roy Rogers sidekick, Cookie, and several appearances in films with John Wayne, including Stagecoach (1939), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
Devine and Madison also portrayed their roles on radio at the same time and during the 1950s, several episodes of the show were spliced together and released as feature movies. The series ran for eight seasons from 1951 through 1958. The Screen Gems series began in syndication, but ran on CBS from 1955 through 1958, and, at the same time, on ABC from 1957 through 1958.
Conrad Phillips starred as the legendary hero from the Swiss settlement of Berglan in Uri, who became a folk hero very much in the Robin Hood mode. The story of William Tell goes back nearly seven centuries (first appearing in a chronicle of 1470) to the days when the Austrians were the overlords of the states that now make up Switzerland, and the invading Austrian Governor Landburgher Gessler ruled with tyrannical force. To make sure that he was feared and respected Gessler placed his hat on a pole in the market place of Altdorf and ordered every citizen to salute it as they passed by. Then one day Tell walked into town with his son, and disgusted with the Austrian rule and the crippling taxes that they had imposed, walked past the hat without even looking at it. He was immediately seized by soldiers and taken before the tyrant. Gessler, who had heard of Tell and his skills as a bowman, told him that he could only avoid execution by shooting an arrow into an apple placed on his son's head from a distance of 20 paces (try it, it's longer than you think).
Legend has it that Tell succeeded and later slew Gessler and so initiated the movement which secured Switzerland's independence. In Altdorf today there stands a statue of William Tell holding his son in one hand and his crossbow in the other. However, like most folklore, the story -as well as Tell's own existence- is open to dispute. For the series, Tell had kept an extra arrow for Gessler (Willoughby Goddard), in case he failed to shoot the apple, and on discovering this, the Governor ordered his re-arrest. But Tell escaped and fled to the mountains with his son, Walter (Richard Rogers) and his wife, Hedda (Jennifer Jayne), before leading a small band of followers into a series of forays against the Austrians. Actor Conrad Phillips was 34 years of age when he took the part of William Tell. A Londoner who served in the Navy during the war he was also an ex student of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Phillips performed most of his own stunts and by the end of the series he had suffered a broken ankle, torn ligaments, and was left with a scar across his right shoulder as the result of a sword fight that became too realistic. The format of the series altered slightly during the run. Originally the Tell family was made up of wife, son and dog, but the dog was quickly dropped after the first few episodes when it was realised that far too much time was needed for it to learn its stunts. Next went the son, played by child actor Richard Rogers, allegedly because he was late for work too many times, holding up filming. Then, when actress Jennifer Jayne complained about not having enough to do, apart from appearing as the dutiful wife at the beginning and end of each episode, her part was expanded-even to the point where Jayne was giving fencing lessons so she could join in the action.
Location work took place in and around the area of Snowdonia and the usual ITC stable of writers, directors and producers were employed. Of more interest however is the impressive list of 'guest' actors who were starting out on the road to stardom (and in some cases superstardom). Early roles were given to Michael Caine, Christopher Lee, John Le Mesurier, Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Wilfrid Brambell. Phillips re-surfaced years later as an estate agent in the rural soap Emmerdale Farm (another vehicle for Frazer Hines), and later still in 1989 in an Anglo-French remake of the Tell saga, in which he made a guest appearance.