Amos N' Andy had the distinction of being one of the longest running (since 1929) and most popular US radio shows of all time before it came to TV screens in June of 1951. Had it remained a radio series, the chances are it would never have been steeped in the deep controversy that ultimately resulted in the reruns being pulled from syndication in 1966, never to be seen again. Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll not only produced the original radio series they also played the leads. However, when it was decided to take the series to television they wisely decided to recast, due to the fact that Gosden and Correll were white and the entire cast of 'Amos N' Andy' were meant to be black. (After this series it wasn't until the 1970's that another US show appeared with an all-black cast, that series being 'Sanford and Son'). Amid much ballyhoo a search was held for suitable actors to take the roles, which eventually (after a four year search) went to Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams Jr. Set in Harlem, the series centred around three men: Andy, the somewhat naive and dim-witted president of The Fresh Air Taxi Company, Amos, his more level-headed partner and cab driver (who narrated most of the episodes), and George "Kingfish" Stevens (Tim Moore), an inept con artist, and head of "The Mystic Knights of the Sea" fraternity. Civil rights groups such as the NAACP protested that the series fostered racial stereotypes with exaggerated accents and eye rolling antics reminiscent of the way black people were unfairly depicted in many Hollywood movies years earlier. However, this view was not shared by everyone, including Alvin Childress who defended the show by saying, "I didn't feel it harmed the Negro at all. . . . Actually the series had many episodes that showed the Negro with professions and businesses like attorneys, store owners, and so on, which they never had in TV or movies before...." In all 78 episodes were made between 1951 and 1953 and the show continued in syndication for years afterwards. However, the turning point came in 1963.
CBS announced that they had sold the show to both Kenya and Nigeria, but soon afterwards an official of the Kenyan government announced that the programme was to be banned in his country. This re-focused attention on the series racial issues so that when a Chicago TV station announced it was resuming reruns the following year there were widespread protests. This came at a very sensitive time in the US -for civil rights was a major political issue at the time and coupled with the fact that the reruns were having a noticeable effect on the sale of CBS' films, the show was withdrawn from sale. Critics have debated whether or not the show was indeed racist ever since with no positive conclusion and in all probability that viewpoint will always remain, for many, a wholly personal one. But in the history of US television, Amos N' Andy, for one reason or another, has certainly left its mark. The principle writers of the show, Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher went on to create, write and produce the massively popular Leave It To Beaver (popular in the US, that is, as it was only ever aired in one or two regions in the UK) as well as The Munsters. 67 episodes of Amos N' Andy were aired in the UK by the BBC between 1954 and 1957, making it the first US sitcom shown on British television.
Robert Neilson (John Gordon-Sinclair) is an actor who dreams of being a star - alas, the best he has achieved so far is the face of Doberman Aftershave in a TV commercial. Nevertheless, Robert is convinced that stardom is only an audition away. Keeping his feet on the ground is girlfriend Sue (Gina McKee) and his dependently unreliable agent Desmond (Victor Spinetti). Even so, Robert dreams of starring alongside the likes of Hollywood's rich and famous. This six episode series was developed for television by Paul Mayhew-Archer from his own BBC Radio 2 series. Gordon-Sinclair reprised the role he played on radio (although the character's name was Robert Wilson) but Sue was originally played by Caroline Quentin and Desmond by Gary Waldhorn. After the single series finished it returned to radio.
Canadian husband and wife team Bernard Braden and Barbara Kelly entered British television with a series of their own in 1951 called An Evening At Home. This was a set of inconsequential programmes with the Bradens joined by Welsh actor George Benson, notable as a comic support in roles with George Formby (Keep Fit - 1937) and Ronnie Barker (A Home of Your Own - 1964) and actress Hestor Paton-Brown. They were joined by occasional small-part character players or the odd guest artiste. Intended to take the camera informally inside the Braden home (allegedly), the series caused, according to The Television Annual for 1952, 'violent argument' among viewers as to its effectiveness. Fortunately, there are no records of anyone being arrested for these differences of opinion. Despite some neat production work by Thomas Leslie Jackson (a newcomer who went on to produce What's My Line?, Call My Bluff and This Is Your Life), the series barely succeeded, probably-the TV Annual opined-owing to its dependence on the quaint idea of Canadian women that husbands are schoolboys with adult earning power. A suggestion in 1951 that would have sat very unsteadily on the male ego.
Adapted from the Television Annual for 1952
Almost a direct follow on from the BBC's hugely popular Not In Front Of The Children starring Wendy Craig who was in an almost constant state of domestic discord, only on this occasion she was left carrying the babies herself as she was cast as widow Sally Harrison. However, the babies in question, Simon (Robin Davies) and Peter (David Parfitt) were in fact two almost-teenagers and help was often at hand from Auntie Flo (Valerie Lush). Craig played her role with a delightful scatterbrained aplomb that was to become something of a trademark for her in a long and distinguished television career. There were four series altogether and by the end of the last Sally had met, fallen in love with, and married antiquarian bookseller David Redway (Richard Coleman). This lead to a sequel...And Mother Makes Five (David had a daughter, Jane, played originally by Miriam Mann and in the sequel by Maxine Gordon), for which Wendy Craig wrote several episodes under the pseudonym Jonathan Marr.
Based on Frederick Grice's 1969 novel, The Courage of Andy Robson, about a young boy (Tom Davidson) who is uprooted from his life in the pit community of Easington, in 1910, when his father is killed in a mining accident. Andy is sent to stay in a remote part of Northumberland, but after upsetting his new schoolmaster and making an enemy of the school bully he realises he has a lot to learn about rural life. Andy is given a dog to care for but in the second episode (Plague Dogs) an outbreak of rabies further alienates him from the locals. Help is at hand in the form of upper class Victoria Dennison (Stephanie Tague) and local lad Alec (Stevie-Lee Pattinson) whom he befriends. The trio shared numerous adventures across two seasons including intrigue with foreign agents, hunting for buried treasure and preparing for a royal visit.
Spinning-off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel continues to follow the fortunes of a centuries-old vampire cursed with a conscience, who leaves the hell-mouth of Sunnydale to take up residence in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, where he aimlessly wandered the streets looking to save a few lost souls and, in turn, possibly redeem his own. It was at this point that Angel met Doyle, himself a demon, sent by the mysterious "Powers That Be". Doyle gave Angel's existence a purpose and, along with old 'Buffy' associate Cordelia Chase, the trio set up an agency to help those in need. Until season 3 Angel was somewhat darker and certainly more adult in content than 'Buffy.' When Channel 4 in the UK aired the series for the first time it was decided to cut some of Angel's more gory scenes. This led to complaints from viewers and the channel pulled the series from its schedule entirely before re-scheduling it in a later time-slot. But Angel was not toned down and in fact co-creator Joss Whedon was sufficiently confident enough to take those darker overtones into 'Buffy's' season six. Like the series that gave birth to it what keeps Angel's strongest point was the sharp writing, alongside well defined and likeable characters and generous helpings of dark humour. The success of the series was most certainly helped by David Boreanaz's dark and brooding portrayal of the central character, whilst the supporting cast-especially Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia, worked well together to make this show a highly enjoyable series.
Created by writer Paula Milne, Angels chronicled the personal and professional lives of six student nurses based at the fictitious St Angela's Hospital in London's Battersea district, from 1975-1983 on BBC1. Dubbed the Z-Cars of nursing by some critics due to its authentic semi-documentary approach, the series, over the course of its successful run, acted as a valuable training ground for a number of young gifted actresses such as Fiona Fullerton, Kathryn Apanowicz and Shirley Cheriton (EastEnders), Lesley Dunlop (May to December) and Pauline Quirke (Birds of a Feather), all of whom would later go on to consolidate the promise exhibited during their time with the series. Other notable behind the scenes production personnel who lent their talents to the series were writers Anne Valery and Deborah Mortimer and experienced directors such as Tristran de Vere Cole, Derek Martinus and future EastEnders supremo, Julia Smith. The series began as a 50-minute drama series but changed to two half-hour episodes a week in 1979 and exterior scenes were shot in the grounds of St. James's Hospital, Balham. With its winning combination of the soap opera-like personal lives of the young nurses and the often starkly detailed and harrowing medical aspects of its drama, Angels was a slickly produced series that can now be seriously regarded as the all-important bridge between the gentler medical series of the 1960s such as Emergency Ward 10 and the intense, harder edged offering that followed such as in Casualty and A&E.
Gerald Middleton is a wealthy and cultured professor of medieval history who, at sixty, feels both an academic and emotional failure. His broken marriage to the monstrous Inge has produced three children from whom he is estranged. Dollie, his best friend's wife with whom he had a long and passionate love affair, has disappeared from his life in a cloud of recrimination and alcohol. And Gilbert Stokesay, the best friend, long dead in the trenches of the Great War, continues to haunt and threaten his self-esteem as an historian - all because of the Melpham Idol, a pagan phallic figure found in the coffin of a disinterred Bishop. It is the most important archaeological find of the century, a discovery that changes the course of scholarship and sets the academic world in turmoil. But is it a hoax? And if so who was responsible? And why? From Angus Wilson's remarkable post-war novel, Anglo Saxon Attitudes has a typically rich and interwoven cast of Wilson characters. It is a satire, a tragedy, a black comedy of manners and a deadly accurate examination of the loves, lusts and foibles of a middle-class family bent on self-destruction. Made into a three-part television mini-series in 1992 by Thames Television subsidiary Euston Films. The screenplay was written by Andrew Davies and featured Richard Johnson in the role of Gerald Middleton. Tara Fitzgerald played a supporting role as the young Dollie, and there was also a brief appearance by a 16-year-old Kate Winslet. The film won the BAFTA award for best serial drama; Davies and Johnson also won awards, from the Writers' Guild of Great Britain and the Broadcasting Press Guild respectively.
Presented by the inimitable Johnny Morris, the man who not only spoke to the animals, but also for them, Animal Magic was a firm children's favourite on BBC television for no less than 21 years. Johnny Morris had previously hosted his own radio show in the West Country in which he became a jack-of-all-trades, doing other people's jobs for a day either as a furniture remover or a circus hand. The shows amounted to no more than 15 minute slots and went out under the title 'Pass The Salt.' Later on Johnny became television's Hot Chestnut Man, telling a weekly self-penned children's story whilst apparently standing on a street corner waiting to sell his next bag of hot chestnuts from his barrow. It proved hugely popular and ran for 8 years. (See: Playbox).
The year after he finished with The Hot Chestnut Man, Johnny was asked to host a new show when the BBC's Natural History Unit was formed in Bristol. It was thought that there should be a show about animals that was both instructive and entertaining. Pat Beech, former News Editor of BBC West came up with the name. "Children love animals and they love magic," he said. "Call it Animal Magic." According to Johnny the show didn't jump out of its cage on all four legs. "The programme went in fits and starts but it managed to jerk along and finally settled down when Douglas Thomas took over the production." Under Thomas' producership Johnny Morris became the zookeeper who was responsible for looking after the animals, all the animals, at Bristol Zoo. 'I was the zookeeper who was overlooked by a stern boss. You never saw the boss - he was a voice off-stage who shouted out from time to time, 'Morris, what do you think you are doing?'' What Morris was doing, he later wrote, was playing out his childhood fantasies. Morris the zookeeper would invariably be seen playing silly pranks in front of the animals as the cameras rolled. Later, he'd take the recordings back into the editing room and overdub his own voice and then add voices for the animals. In order to get close up Johnny would often enter the animal's cages as a nervous cameraman filmed him. Mostly, the cameraman took as little equipment as possible into the cages. Tripods and microphones were definitely not required equipment. "The more equipment you introduce into an animal's enclosure the more trouble you heap upon yourself." Wrote Johnny. "I have seen a young gorilla simply rip a tripod from a camera man's grasp and bash him over the head with it. He was not observing rule number one, which is never go into a great ape's enclosure with anything in your hand. It will first be taken from you and then you'll get it back with a vengeance." Oddly enough it was years before the BBC realised that they hadn't taken out an insurance policy on their star presenter. "In the end," said Johnny "they offered me five times my annual gross if I was killed!"
In spite of its great success, Animal Magic drew criticism from some quarters. "Some hated it because it was anthropomorphic" said Johnny. "And anthropomorphism is one of the deadly sins. To make animals appear as though they were talking was totally and absolutely unscientific. Not only that but it was a cheap and facile way to entertain boys and girls. To indulge in such worthless underhand tricks week after week was a disgrace." Disgrace or not, Animal Magic became a runaway success and as soon as the nation's zoos realised how a screening of their zoo increased attendance, there was no shortage of filming opportunities from zoos up and down the country. And not just in the UK. Johnny Morris and the BBC travelled all over Europe and eventually shows were filmed in Frankfurt, Basle and many other European zoos. Despite its longevity Animal Magic was very much a show of the 1960s. That it managed to survive well beyond that and the subsequent decade was less about the format and more about the charm of its presenter. The zoos may have provided the animals, but it was Johnny Morris who provided the magic.
Television's first Western heroine was played by Gail Davis and co-starred Brad Johnson as Deputy Sheriff Lofty Craig and Jimmy Hawkins, as Annie's brother, Tagg. Annie and Tagg lived in the town of Diablo, Arizona, with their uncle, Sheriff Luke MacTavish, who was usually away whenever trouble started. It would then be up to straight-shooting Annie and her "silent suitor" Lofty Craig to rescue law-abiding neighbours and arrest the outlaws. Annie Oakley was not a fictional character. The real Annie was born in 1860 as Phoebe Ann Moses and starred in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show as a sharpshooter; her most famous trick being able to repeatedly split a playing card, edge-on with a .22 caliber rifle, at 90 feet, and put several more holes in it before it could touch the ground. Oakley continued to set records into her sixties, and also engaged in extensive philanthropy for women's rights. In 1935, Barbara Stanwyck played Oakley in a highly fictionalized film called Annie Oakley. The 1946 Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun is very loosely based on her life. The original stage production starred Ethel Merman, who also starred in the 1966 revival. A 1950 film version starred Betty Hutton. Gail Davis - who played Oakley in the Gene Autry produced TV series was an adroit horseback rider. Davis also toured North America in Gene Autry's traveling rodeo and went on to manage a number of other celebrities.
Transmitted once a fortnight from 1952 in the Children's Television slot, The Appleyards is generally regarded as Britain's first television soap opera-even if it was made for kids. Telling the ups and downs of a suburban Home Counties family, the show, which picked up a number of awards during its 5 year run, was broadcast live on Thursday's around 4.30 to 5.00pm with a repeat performance the following Sunday. Each episode was approximately 20 minutes in length. The theme music for the series, 'Looking Around' was played into the studio live off a 78rpm record. The family consisted of Mr and Mrs Appleyard and their four children; teenagers Janet and John, and their younger siblings Margaret and Tommy. Interestingly, the younger actors were replaced during the series run in order to maintain a constant age for the children, suggesting that although regarded as an ongoing series, time stood still in 'Appleyard World'. Although the series was popular with the viewing public it's title was not to the liking of everyone, especially the then Controller of Programmes, Cecil McGivern, who suggested it sounded like 'suet pudding with a dash of cement.' The series ended in 1957 following around 160 broadcasts of what is best described as the trivial ups and downs of a nice suburban family, worlds apart from the dramatic and often traumatic lifestyles that latter day soap characters lead as an obligatory requirement. A Christmas reunion, Christmas With The Appleyards, was made in 1960.
Created by Hanna-Barbera Productions in the USA, Arabian Knights appeared in an animated segment of the Banana Splits. Stories are set round the ancient city of Baghdad which is under the rule of the evil Sultan Bakaar who has usurped the throne from the rightful inheritance of the young Prince Turham. Whilst fleeing the city for his own safety, Turham meets a magician, Fariek, who uses his magic powers to help the young prince escape (via flying table as he is "fresh out of flying carpets."). They eventually meet up and befriend Raseem the Strong in the Caves of Doom and head for the home of Turhan's uncle, the Caliph of El Rabal, only to discover that he too has been deposed by Bakaar, who is planning to sell the Caliph's daughter, Nida, into slavery. The allies manage to free Nida with the aid of Bez, a man who can transform himself into any animal. Along with Raseem's small donkey, Zazuum, the heroic band set off on many more adventures as they set out to rid the land of the tyrant Bakaar. Prince Turhan was voiced by Jay North, the former child actor who, at the age of six, became a household name for his role as Dennis the Menace and Shari Lewis, the American ventriloquist best known for her puppet Lamb Chop, provided the voice for Princess Nida.
Set in the fictional department store of Grace Brothers, Are You Being Served? was the brainchild of Jeremy Lloyd, a scriptwriter who had just returned to his native Britain from the USA where he'd been writing gags for Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Unable to find work, Lloyd sent off a synopsis to both of the main English networks, and soon heard from BBC producer David Croft who suggested himself as co-writer and producer. The pilot, having been made, was then awaiting its debut in the BBC's popular Comedy Playhouse series when tragedy struck. The murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and the subsequent cancellation of preceding sporting events meant that the BBC had programming slots to fill. Are You being Served? was chosen as one of those fillers. The situations took place mainly on the first floor of the department store, which was divided into two sections-men and ladies apparel. Joining the two departments was floor-walking supervisor Captain Peacock (Frank Thornton), an ex-regimental type who tried to keep some semblance of order in the middle of 30 minutes of 'Carry-On' style innuendo. On the men's side this was mostly provided by Mr Humphries, a homosexual comedy stereotype whose response to Captain Peacock's question, "Mr Humphries, are you free?" was a high pitched, "I'm free!" with tape measure ever poised to take the inside leg measurement of the next male customer. John Inman (a former Austin Reed window dresser) came in for much criticism for his portrayal from gay groups, unhappy that there were no public figures at that time redressing the balance of the general public's view of such characters, and therefore leaving them open to ridicule. However, this didn't stop Inman being voted 'Funniest Man on Television' by readers of the TV Times as well as BBC Personality of the Year. Although some may still be a little offended by Inman's performance the fact of the matter is that in later years both actor and character became something of a gay icon. Mind you, the most risqué lines were given to the head of the women's department, Mrs Slocombe (Mollie Sugden), her of the blue, red or purple rinse, who literally bought the house down with constant references to her 'pussy', which everyone knew (of course) was her pet cat.
Other sales staff included a pre-Eastenders Wendy Richard as the innocent Miss Brahms, ageing assistant Mr Grainger (Arthur Bough), department junior Mr Lucas (Trevor Bannister), and his later replacement Mr Spooner (Mike Berry). Overseeing the department was Mr Rumbold (Nicholas Smith), who was directly answerable to the Grace Brothers Board of Directors headed by 'Young' Mr Grace (Harold Bennett), who was in fact a failing geriatric who would occasionally visit the sales-floor flanked by a couple of buxom 'secretaries'. Former music hall 'spiv' Arthur English starred as warehouseman Mr Harmen. At the height of its success Are You Being Served? reached an audience of 22 million viewers (for a 1979 episode), John Inman had a minor 'in character' hit record in 1975 and there was a full length movie version in 1977, but by 1985 the programme was showing signs of age and at the end of series ten Grace Brothers closed for business for the last time. However, that wasn't the end of the story-for many of the characters were returned for a spin-off series Grace and Favour. AYBS was also a big hit in the US (where it was shown on PBS) although an American version, Beane's of Boston never went beyond its pilot. John Inman also appeared in the Australian adaptation which ran for 16 episodes between 1980-1981.
There were actually three series titled Armchair Thriller, the first of which premiered on 22 April 1967 but is covered in more detail in the plays section of Television Heaven under the banner of ABC Armchair Thriller. This review concerns itself with the later two series from Thames, the first of which debuted on 21st February 1978. Each story in the series was unrelated to any of the others and some of them were adaptations of existing novels. They were each told over the course of either four or six episodes, most of which ended with a dramatic cliffhanger to bring the viewers back for more. The mood was set right from the off as most episodes commenced with the 'night time' version of the familiar Thames logo. Everyone remembers the usual version with a bright blue sky above the famous London landmarks, but occasionally in winter months Thames would use an alternative version to reflect the dark evenings. This darker, more mysterious Thames ident would then give way to the opening titles of Armchair Thriller, so very simple but highly effective: a short animation of a shadow coming to rest in a spotlit armchair, then, just as the shadow figure was seated, the hands would tense as though it were suddenly gripped with terror. And while these images were playing so too was an eerie melody. Even the trailers for the series heightened the horror element with their images of armchairs showered in blood and screaming faces.
By the time the final story of the first series was broadcast in May , Armchair Thriller had built up quite a following, resulting in the first episode (of 6) of 'The Limbo Connection', which starred James Bolam as a man in search of his missing wife, achieving an audience in excess of 17 million viewers. So ended series one, but with such enormous success in the ratings, the commissioning of a second series was all but guaranteed. It duly appeared in January 1980, again on Tuesdays and Thursdays but at the slightly earlier time of 8pm. Andrew Brown now shared the producer's chair with Brenda Ennis, whilst Robert Holmes took over as the new script editor. Armchair Thriller was not picked up for a third season, most probably due to cost implications and the second series not performing quite as well as the first. Some of the serials did get repeated in daytime slots and then later on the now defunct Super Channel but otherwise this often imaginative and sometimes chilling drama series has been allowed to fade from the memory - except that is for those really scary moments that will remain etched on the mind for many more years yet...
Hugely successful series from Granada TV that started in 1957 as a fortnightly live sitcom, which was moved to a weekly spot when it became so popular. Loosely based on the 1956 movie Private's Progress, the series followed the fortunes of a mixed bag of army conscripts in residence at Hut 29 of the Surplus Ordnance Depot at Nether Hopping in remote Staffordshire. At the forefront of this gang of misfits was Pte 'Excused Boots' Bisley played by diminutive comedian Alfie Bass, Pte 'Cupcake' Cook (Norman Rossington), Pte Hatchett (Charles Hawtrey who would become a 'Carry On' film regular), Pte 'Popeye' Popplewell (East End born comedian Bernard Bresslaw, another 'Carry On' regular) and future Doctor Who William Hartnell as bellowing Sgt Major Bullimore. Popplewell's catchphrase "I only arsked" became a national catch phrase and became the title for a 1958 feature film based on the series. The Army Game debuted on 19th June 1957 (two months after the BBC began screening The Phil Silver's Show) sandwiched comfortably between two of ITV's top rated midweek shows -Criss-Cross Quiz and Play of the Week and alternated every other Wednesday with The Caroll Levis Variety Show. By the end of the first series The Army Game had become the nation's favourite sitcom and was switched to a Friday night slot - there was a break of just two weeks between series one and two with the former ending on 4th December and the latter commencing on 20th December 1957.
The series was created by Sid Colin who had served in the RAF during the Second World War and it certainly struck the right note with the men of Britain who had been affected by the National Service Act (of) 1948 which ordered every man over the age of eighteen to serve in the armed forces for eighteen months (this had been extended to two years by the time the series hit the screens). Some young men went willingly, some went reluctantly and it was the latter group that The Army Game concentrated on as they presented far more opportunity for comedy. Even with Colin's experience, Granada drafted in a military advisor in the form of Major John Foley. Even so, the appointment of a military man was not enough to appease the Army itself who were livid not just at the irreverence of the conscripted men also (perhaps more so) at the incompetence in the way that Commanding Officers were portrayed. Indeed, many CO's banned their men from watching the show, as they believed it had a corrupting influence and would undermine their authority. A number of cast changes from 1958 onwards affected the show's popularity and ultimately led to its demise. The first to leave were Hawtrey, Bresslaw and Hartnell (although the latter returned for the final series). Hartnell's place was taken by Bill Fraser as Sgt Claude Snudge, a character that proved popular enough for a spin-off series Bootsie and Snudge in 1960. The series is notable for launching the career of many British actor/comedians including Harry Fowler and Dick Emery (who appeared as 'Chubby' Catchpole), and amongst its writers boasted the likes of Barry Took, John Antrobus, Talbot Rothwell and Marty Feldman. Selected episodes were paraded once more by the now defunct Granada Plus in 2002. National Service officially ended on 31st December 1960 and both it, and the series itself soon became a distant memory.
Innovative US crime drama series which was almost two programmes in one. The 90 minute presentation was split into two parts. In the first 45 minute segment viewers saw Ben Gazzara as LA Detective Sgt. Nick Anderson as he hunted down the suspect to a crime and ultimately made the arrest. Then in the second part Chuck Connors appeared as attorney John Egan and the police procedure turned into courtroom drama as Egan attempted to get the accused acquitted. The series ran for just one season.
Until its eventual release on DVD in 2011, The Arthur Haynes Show, which first appeared on Independent Television in 1957, was a forgotten classic. And although the first series does not capture Haynes at the peak of his career, it wasn't long before he was firmly established as Britain's favourite television comedian. A place he held in the viewing public's heart for almost ten years. Arthur Haynes was born in Hammersmith, London, in May 1914 and tried a number of jobs including that of stand-up comedian in order to bolster his income. When the War broke out in 1939 he joined the Army show Stars in Battledress as a props assistant before finally getting his chance to perform in front of an audience alongside the already established Charlie Chester. When the War finished and the stars returned to civilian life Arthur was invited by Chester to join him on BBC radio in Stand Easy, a light entertainment series that featured The Crazy Gang. Haynes continued to build his reputation for the next ten years until finally, in 1956 he got his big break on the small screen. Associated Television approached Arthur to appear in a new series entitled Strike a New Note. Haynes became a big hit as a character called Oscar Pennyfeather, created by the writers Sid Collin and Ronnie Wolfe, a mischievous character who was never heard to speak aloud. Instead, viewers got to hear Oscar's thoughts; his conscience being spoken by actor Nicholas Parsons. Other characters soon developed and ITV were suitably impressed. In 1957 Arthur was given his own starring vehicle and on 2nd January 1957, The Arthur Haynes Show debuted. Haynes was given a regular supporting cast including Parsons who many viewers came to regard as one half of Arthur's double-act. "(My agent) should have pushed for naming the show Haynes and Parsons instead of The Arthur Haynes Show with Nicholas Parsons. ...but we were a good team and I was happy in terms of my contract. The billing was never a major issue to me." Parsons would later write in his autobiography.
The Arthur Haynes Show began, according to Parsons, modestly, going out at 1015pm and taking time to build up a loyal following. Critical review was good and after a while the show was moved to prime-time. By the early sixties The Arthur Haynes Show was firmly established as one of ITV's most popular programmes. With Johnny Speight writing and Haynes performing the two of them built up a collection of characters the most memorable being an aggressive, know-it-all tramp who took great pride in telling all who would listen (and even those who didn't want to) how he had fought for his country whilst being up to his neck in "muck and bullets." Alongside Arthur on a regular basis were Dermott Kelly (originally brought in for only one show), Tony Fane, Freddie Frinton, Jack Parnell and Patricia Hayes. (A 1962 episode of the series featured a young relatively unknown actor called Michael Caine). Arthur became one of British TV's first star comedians - his series dominated the ratings for years and led to an appearance on the Royal Variety Performance in 1961 and being voted Independent Television Personality of the Year in 1962. Arthur Haynes remained at the top of his profession for ten years until his untimely death at the age of 52. Once established, he never worked outside of prime-time television and he left behind a rich legacy of work that, with the latest DVD release, will get the reappraisal it richly deserves.
Depictions of King Arthur in films & on television have typically focused on the mythology & legend; chivalrous knights, courtly love, great deeds of derring-do, magic, enchantment & enchantresses. This excellent children's television series was a muddy & realistic version of the King Arthur legend which depicted Arthur (Oliver Tobias) as a struggling 6th century warlord, battling to unite the fragmented Celtic tribes into a cohesive fighting unit that could effectively oppose the Saxon invaders who were arriving in Britain in growing numbers. This was King Arthur as he might have been. Not based on historical fact, the series remained within the bounds of possibility rather than recount the legendary stories of an idealised Camelot of heroic deeds & great quests. Historians agree that the true Camelot was a severe encampment of log & thatch within cunning defences, and this series showed it as such. You would practically struggle through the mud & mist of this Camelot in your own living rooms at home, as you watched this most realistic of portrayals of Arthur's struggles not only against the marauding Saxon hoardes, but also the various Celtic factions which were scattered around the country. In this version, Arthur becomes leader of the Celts by releasing Excalibur, the sword in the stone, from the giant rock in which it is encased and lifting it above his head and thus proclaiming himself as the "true" King of the Britons. The cunning way in which Arthur got the other claimants to the throne to assist him in releasing the sword by moving the rock to enable him to claim it doesn't go down well with the others especially his cousin, Mark of Cornwall (Brian Blessed) but shows Arthur as a cerebral man who carefully considers the problems he & his tribe encounter and Arthur is shown as a man who tries to show his people the way forward by diplomacy and bargaining and not just by warmongering. Assisted & guided by Llud, The Silver Hand, his adoptive father & Kai, his foster brother, who is himself a Saxon foundling, Arthur of The Britons stripped away the elaborate medieval view of Camelot & provided the viewer with a thoughtful & fascinating insight into the Arthurian legend.
It's title inspired by the initials of the television company that produced the series, Arthur's Treasured Volumes appears to be, if the sole surviving episode is an example, an underrated and unfairly forgotten TV gem. Although regarded as the ultimate 'end-of-the-pier' performer and in spite of a hugely successful BBC radio series, Arthur Askey had great difficulty in finding a starring vehicle for television that was met with approval by both critics and viewers alike. In 1960 the diminutive comedian renewed an earlier successful association with producer Bill Ward, who had masterminded Arthur's earlier success on BBC with Before Your Very Eyes (1952-55). Ward acquired the services of experience scriptwriter Dave Freeman who came up with a formula in which Arthur's real life daughter (actress Anthea Askey) would pull a book down from a shelf and begin reading it to her father. This would be the cue for Arthur and his regular cast of supporting characters to launch themselves into the plot. Many other guest stars, who would soon become household names in their own right, appeared throughout the series and they included Wilfrid Barambell, June Whitfield, Barbara Mitchell and Geoffrey Palmer, and regular supporting roles were played by Sam Kydd and Arthur Mullard. But the real star of the show was Arthur Askey whose personality positively shone through as he joked and ad-libbed his way from beginning to end of each episode. The half dozen stories that were related by Anthea over the series of six shows (all of which were made up by Freeman) were 'A Blow in Anger,' 'The History of Mr. Lacey,' 'The Command Performer,' 'The Curse of the Bellfoots,' 'A Slight Case of Deception' and 'Pillbeam of Twickenham' (of which only the first survives and is currently held by the British Film Institute).
Female detective is transported back from 2008 to 1981 - sequel to Life on Mars. Click Here for review
Hard to believe it in this day and age but in 1970, long before the video revolution, the only way to see your favourite clips from the previous week's television was to write in to Michael Aspel, the genial TV presenter who became one of the country's most familiar faces during the 1960s and 1970s, as a regular presenter of the evening news, before moving on to a wide variety of light entertainment roles including the long running BBC children's TV series, Crackerjack and his own TV series, Ask Aspel. Each week Michael's postbag would be full of requests to rerun favourite clips-mainly from children's shows but with a few adult programmes slipping in from time to time including Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Goodies, Top Of The Pops and The Morecambe & Wise Show-to name but a few. Mike also got to interview the likes of John Cleese, Peter Cushing, Roger Moore and the top pop stars of the day such as Kate Bush. The series proved popular with young viewers and enjoyed two runs, finally finishing in 1981 by which time VCR's were becoming more commonplace in British homes and viewers could keep their own favourite clips to watch whenever they wanted...which is more than the BBC did with much of their archive material!
"It doesn't matter how old you are, you can still make your own special dream come true if you get in touch with Wilfred Pickles. Maybe you want to feed a lion or pat a giraffe on the tiny top of his head; or perhaps you'd rather see the lovely lights of London reflected on the Thames, or ride pillion on a motor bike. Maybe you want to meet a film star or you might even want to have a fight-all right! Just ask Wilfred Pickles. He'll try to fix it for you."-BBC publicity, 1954. In May 1954, Wilfred Pickles bought a format to television that he'd spent years perfecting on radio. A show where the great British public were the stars. Pickles radio series Have A Go illustrated the Yorkshireman's innate ability to get the best out of the public and it won him a loyal following of over 20 million listener's a week and a mailbag of around 5,000 letters. In the series, contestants were asked to recall their intimate secrets and their treasured memories in return for 'having a go' at his money-winning quiz which promised to make them richer by £1/19/11d. Developing the format further for the transfer to television, Ask Pickles gave the public the chance to reveal their dreams before Wilfred, with the help of his wife, Mabel, made those dreams come true. Some of those dreams may have been no more adventurous than the example of Carys Bowden, an eight-year old from Liverpool who complained she had to go to bed before eight o'clock every evening and therefore missed the sound of Big Ben on television. Wilfred's solution was to meet young Carys, and her sister Enid, in Palace Yard, where they went through the huge wooden doorway and up the narrow, twisting stairs to the bell balcony above the clock. One wonders if, having stood directly above the bells when they chimed, the poor girl ever managed to sleep soundly again!
Another aspiring guest was an elderly lady who had played a violin all her life but wanted to realise her ambition, just once, to play a Stradivarius. But these were much more innocent times and it would be years before the general public were appearing on television demanding "make me a millionaire." The show was steeped in sentimentality and when not fixing their dreams Wilfred was surprising his guests by confronting them with long lost friends or relatives who they thought they would never see again. They cried tears of joy, of course, and so did the audience, who tuned in without fail week in and week out shooting the series to the top of the BBC's most watched chart. "If the Almighty writes the script," said Wilf, "it's got to be good." For two years Ask Pickles continued to be watched by millions before the critics inexplicably turned on it accusing Wilfred of shamelessly exploiting the suffering of the innocent (an accusation which today would probably have producers clamouring for the international rights) and with the advent of ITV in 1955 the BBC decided that to do battle with commercial television's offering of historical adventures, US comedies and shoot-'em up Westerns, Wilfred's guns were just not big enough -and they scrapped the show. Younger viewers have probably already identified the format which became Jim'll Fix It, Ask Aspel, The Big Time, Surprise! Surprise!-and even the various model/media/pop idol contests that proliferate our screens today. Shows may have 'sell by' dates and formats may indeed be rested, but it seems that everything in TV land can eventually be revived.
Mrs Sybil Dickinson from Strood, Kent wouldn't have forgotten her experience of appearing on "Ask Pickles" too easily. The lady wrote in saying she'd like to fondle a lion. She was granted her wish. Was she expecting to come face-to-face with a small cuddly cub? Who knows. But what she was presented with was a half-grown ten-month-old monster. Her experience got worse. The creature was bought onto the studio floor where it promptly snapped at the studio managers legs and then savaged the sleeve (and thank goodness no more) of Mrs Dickinson's dress.
Ask the Family was a quiz show which originally was hosted by Robert Robinson and proved suprisingly durable running from 1967 to 1984 on BBC1. The programme involved two family teams, made up of a mother and father and two teenage children who would be asked questions on a variety of subjects. The series became famous for its picture puzzles, especially for photographs of ordinary objects taken in extreme close-up - which became the programme's trademark - and animated caption slides prepared by Eric Ilett. It was also noted for its unusual theme music, a sitar piece called "Acka Raga" performed by the jazz musician Jon Mayer. The series was presented in a terribly middle class British manner so when it was revamped and revived in 2005 it caused almost a public outrage. The latest incarnation broadcast on BBC2 was hyped by the Beeb as the first primetime outing for Dick'n'Dom, two children's presenters who had hosted the Saturday morning show Dick 'n Dom in da Bungalow...one of the lesser regarded Saturday morning offerings on BBC TV. Their new venture received a critical mauling, too. In fact, the show's original creator, Patricia Owtram, felt compelled to write a letter to 'The Times' newspaper in which she complained: "I was appalled that, in a programme in which small girls took part, there were so many jokes about willies and so much sexy cuddling between a presenter and an over-excited mother. I sound like a Grumpy Old Producer. I probably am. If the BBC was going to take someone's idea, make it over, use excerpts from it, repeat selected programmes, and devote airtime to knocking them down, it might have been a courtesy to tell the deviser that this was going to happen." This complaint was echoed by the show's former producer Rosalind Gold who likened the new version to "witnessing your favourite aunt prostituting herself for a cheap thrill." Methinks they were none too happy!
Ground-breaking British comedy sketch show. Click Here for review.
Auf Wiedersehen Pet was a comedy drama about unemployed construction workers forced to seek employment in Germany. Its crux revolved around the pain of them leaving wives, girlfriends behind and their worry about just what their men might get up to away from home. With unemployment high in Britain, it was a concept many could empathize with, and it became an instant hit. We first meet three Geordies, Dennis, Neville and Oz, with Dennis in the process of being divorced by his wife Vera, and Neville firmly under the thumb of his wife Brenda. Meanwhile, Oz is a loud, obnoxious Newcastle United loving drunk who hates Germans. The boys soon find themselves teamed up with four more construction workers, after which they nickname themselves the magnificent seven. The other four being: Barry a twice-married boring Brummie who the boys mock constantly; Wayne, a womanising Cockney whose love of the ladies often lands him and the gang in trouble; Moxey, a stuttering Scouser with bad acne and a criminal past as an arsonist; and Bomber a quiet spoken giant of a man. Wayne, after the death of actor Gary Holden, was later replaced by Wyman. They were brilliant characters everyone could relate to and the conflict between them even more so. Its popularity was also due to its writers Dick Clement and Ian la Frenais (The Likely Lads and Porridge), who also co-produced the first two series.
Airing in 1983, the first series revolves around the lads working on a building site in Düsseldorf where, despite being promised hostel accommodation, they have to live in a hut resembling a POW camp. The interactions, altercations and evolving friendship of the characters drives the show as the boys, led by appointed leader Barry, get into all sorts of trouble. In 1986, the boys reunited to help renovate a country manor house owned by crooked businessman Ally Fraser, but soon end up in Spain refurbishing his villa. The gang are soon mistaken for criminals and at the end of the series they flee the Spanish police in a motor yacht. Clement and Le Frenais revived the series in 2002, this time for BBC One. However, with many characters appearing to have moved on, critics doubted whether the series would retain its initial audience appeal. Viewing figures of 11.6 million (a 47% market-share of viewers) soon laid the doubters to rest. The storyline for series three revolved around a corrupt politician's plan to dismantle the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge and the sell it in the Far East. The gang look likely to get cheated out of their share of the profits, but a wealthy Native American from Arizona comes to their rescue by buying the bridge, instead. In 2008, the fourth series sees the boys refurbishing the British Ambassador's residence in Havana, Cuba, where Neville is reluctantly recruited by British Intelligence as a spy. When Pat Roach (Bomber) announced he had cancer in real life, it was decided the curtain would be brought down on the programme whilst it still retained its popularity. In a two hour finale Barry is kidnapped whilst on the Eastern and Oriental Express before being rescued by the boys amidst emotional scenes, which left the audience satisfied - though they would have happily welcomed more.
(Review: Tim Rands 2014)
Crime fighting duo work for the British government. "Mrs Peel, we're needed." Click Here for review.