Thought to be one of the last great made-for television spy series, produced as the Cold War era came to an end, Codename: Kyril offers complex characterisations and an intelligent treatment of the classic espionage theme of trust and betrayal. The KGB has a particularly evasive spy to eliminate: a high-ranking Kremlin traitor who has been leaking crucial secrets to London. Bucharensky, code-name Kyril, is ordered to defect to catch the attention of the intelligence services of both East and West, setting himself up as a target and drawing fire from all sides as he makes his way across Europe to London; the object of his mission is to panic the traitor into making a mistake. But waiting in London is Kyril's deadliest enemy: Royston, a KGB mole whose life now depends upon silencing Kyril before he can disclose Royston's identity as a Soviet double agent...This compelling, evocative series is adapted by the award-winning John Hopkins - whose previous credits include Smiley's People and Z Cars - and co-produced by Primetime Emmy winner Patrick Dromgoole (Robin of Sherwood). Among an illustrious cast that includes Joss Ackland, Peter Vaughan, Richard E. Grant and Denholm Elliott, Edward Woodward stars opposite Ian Charleson in a taut and skilfully plotted Cold War thriller. (Network DVD)
Unfairly described as an English version of Friends, Granada's comedy/drama Cold Feet rose from humble beginnings to become an award winning ratings winner with a healthily average audience of 10 million viewers. The story focused on the lives of three comfortably placed middle class couples as they go through the trials and tribulations of their every day existence. Couple number one are Adam, a systems analyst, and Rachel, an advertising executive, who met in the pilot of the series. Adam's continual fear of commitment precludes any permanent relationship between them. However, by this story's end, he had declared his love for Rachel and, following an argument, he wooed her back by serenading her naked with a rose sticking out of his backside! Couple number two are Pete and Jenny Gifford, who, during the pilot are trying to conceive. By the start of the first series (set 9 months after the pilot) they have a son, Adam. But, the arrival of the baby does not, as in real life, necessarily lead to family harmony. Jenny, feeling undervalued and less and less attracted to Pete, begins to look at one of Pete's friends in an entirely different light. Couple number three are David and Karen Marsden. He is a career minded management consultant who tends to be something of a snob, (class is a big issue for David), she was a book editor but had given up work to care for their family. Now, her life is filled with taking care of her children and arranging dinner parties. But not alone, for the Marsden's have a children's nanny, Ramona, who Karen treats as one of the family, much to the chagrin of David.
After its Easter 1997 debut as a single pilot episode, Cold Feet, created by Mike Bullen, disappeared without trace for 18 months. When it won the Golden Rose at the Montreux Festival, a series was commissioned. By series two and three, the viewing figures were nudging the eight million mark and the actors found themselves becoming household names. Helen Baxendale, who played Rachel, had already gone Stateside to appear in the hit comedy Friends as Ross' English fiance, Emily, who is left gob-smacked at the altar when Ross utters another's name during their wedding vows. James Nesbitt (Adam) had already established himself as an up-coming movie star. Hermione Norris (Karen) had appeared on the front cover of Vogue magazine, and John Thomson (Pete) found himself becoming an unlikely sex symbol. The other stars of the series were Fay Ripley (Jenny) and Robert Bathurst (David). Cold Feet didn't have the wise cracking pace of Friends, and referring to it as the British version of the hit US comedy is somewhat misleading. Yes, like Friends, the storyline of Cold Feet does revolve around a group of six people, three of whom are male and three of whom are female, and it does involve itself in their interwoven lives, loves and tribulations (and the irony that Helen Baxendale's character is called Rachel is not lost on those viewers who are fans of both series). But that's where the similarity ends. The New York Friends can variously be described as 20-somethings living teenage lives, whereas the Manchester based Cold Feeters are thirty-somethings who are heading towards the inevitability of middle age. And, whereas Friends is played strictly for laughs, Cold Feet is just as likely to have you bawling your eyes out as sending you into fits of side-splitting laughter. The series was probably more thirtysomething than Friends, in that in each of the characters there was someone that each viewer could relate to. 'I think that's the key to the success of Cold Feet,' said writer/creator Bullen, 'I know David and Karen are a little out of the realm for most of us, but they are at the top end of the middle class, with Rachel and Adam in the centre, and Pete and Jenny at the bottom -- so everyone, I think, finds one couple they identify with.'
Winner of the 1999 and 2000 British Comedy Award for best comedy, Cold Feet ended its five-year run in dramatic style. It had never avoided difficult subjects such as alcoholism, depression, adultery, sickness and infidelity, but few were prepared for the demise of Baxendale's Rachel character in a freak car accident in the series' penultimate episode. But tugging on the nations heartstrings and playing with its emotions was typical of Cold Feet. The last episode centred on Rachel's funeral and Adam's struggle to come to terms with her death. In an emotional scene, he decides to scatter Rachel's ashes at Portmeirion in Wales, where they shared some of their happiest times. Through five event-packed series, Cold Feet's combination of sparkling script, consumate acting and superb camerawork became essential viewing for a legion of devoted fans, winning as many critical plaudits as it did viewers to become one of the most successfully entertaining shows on modern day British television.
Adhering faithfully to the established British dramatic tradition of presenting war based drama in an understatedly realistic, character driven, but nevertheless tense and exciting fashion, the setting for this series was the infamous German POW camp Oflag IVC, situated to this day on a cliff face in eastern Germany, but better known the world over as the legendary, so called, "escape proof", Castle Colditz. This WWll drama was inspired by the 1954 film, 'The Colditz Story' starring John Mills and Eric Portman, which was itself derived from the best selling memoirs of real-life escapee Major Pat Reid, MC. (the series technical advisor), and ran on BBC1 from October 1972 to April 1974. The first three episodes of the series acted as an extended introduction to the basic foundation plot of the show and deftly introduced the viewers to the three main central characters by charting the events that led up to their arrival at the camp. Colditz's British POW contingent was under the reluctant command of Lt Colonel John Preston, (played with intelligence and an understated authority by respected character actor Jack Hedley) whose main adversary was the unnamed, (but sympathetically played by the excellent Bernard Hepton), German Kommandant of the camp. Thanks to a combination of assured acting and insightful, sensitive scripting, the mutual respect shared by the two opposing officers gave an enhanced edge of humanity to what might otherwise have been strictly one-dimensional roles. The overall air of tension and added dangers for the castle's inmates was heightened with the introduction at the beginning of season two of an unwanted and unwelcome takeover by the ranks of the feared SS, memorably embodied in the sinister form of sadistic security officer Major Horst Mohn, (a performance of stone-faced immaculate menace from Anthony Valentine, who had appeared as cold bloodied killer Toby Mears in ITV's gritty spy series Callan). Another of the series' greatest assets was its large and vastly experienced cast of internationally know actors, including such luminaries as former Man from U.N.C.L.E., David McCallum as Flight Lt. Simon Carter, Edward Hardwicke (later to become arguably television's definitive Doctor Watson alongside Jeremy Brett's extraordinary portrayal of Sherlock Holmes for Granada Television), Christopher Neame as Lt. Dick Player; and in a two episode guest spot which would ultimately be recognised as reviving his, until then stalled acting career, Hollywood's Robert Wagner, as Flight Lt. Phil Carrington.
Other notable guest stars included the likes of Patrick Troughton, (the second Doctor Who), Nigel Stock and Peter Barkworth and another Hollywood stalwart, the veteran Irish actor, Dan O'Herlihy as Lt. Colonel Max Dodd. On the writing side the series boasted consummate scripts from the likes of cousin's Ian and Troy Kennedy Martin, the highly experienced N.J. Crisp, John Kruse, John Brason, and perhaps most noteworthy, famous actor/novelist/screenwriter and director, Bryan Forbes. (Who had himself appeared in the 1955 movie version). Equally accomplished directors took the helm of individual episodes, including, Michael Ferguson, Peter Creegan, Viktors Ritelis and Terence Dudley. But possibly the main attraction for the viewing audience was the multitude of imaginative and audacious attempts by the prisoners to escape from the vaunted, inescapable castle. These ranged from the traditional, tension filled attempts at guard impersonations and wall scaling, to the bravado tinged launching of home made gliders from the roof of the castle. But perhaps the most memorably disturbing came in the desperate form the officer who succeeded in making his escape by feigning insanity, only for the story to take a chillingly downbeat turn as the stress of doing so proved to much for him, leading to an actual mental breakdown. The series finally drew to a close with its twenty-eighth episode, which charted the final, long awaited liberation of Colditz's inmates in 1945.
The series was a co-production between the BBC and America's Universal TV, but for reasons which were never explained it failed to find a screening in the U.S. market, except for episodes twenty-four ("A Very Important Person") and twenty-five ("Chameleon"), which aired as a two hour TV Movie entitled 'Escape From Colditz', in 1974. Although perhaps the strangest by-product of the show's success both in the UK and Europe, was the beginning of an upsurge in people taking holidays to the real Colditz Castle. A contemporary review of the original film in the newspaper The News Of The World, praised it thus: "It has all the realism, dignity and courage of the men it commemorates." Thanks to a combination of superb acting, intelligent writing and direction and the legendary production expertise of the BBC drama department, Colditz: the series, was as worthy a monument to the courage and heroism of the real castle's prisoners as the illustrious big screen version, which had indirectly given it life.
Based on (John) Dickson Carr's collection of short stories first published in 1940 under the title The Department of Queer Complaints, Colonel March was a British series made in 1953 by Sapphire, although it didn't get a UK airing until the birth of Independent Television in 1955, by which time three of its (compilation) episodes had been released as a feature film; Colonel March Investigates. Playing the one-eyed detective was Hollywood screen legend Boris Karloff, who had won recognition in Universal's acclaimed 1931 production of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's classic horror story, Frankenstein. Working out of D-3, Scotland Yard's department for seemingly unsolvable cases, March's investigations brought him into contact with the impossible, the unnatural and the supernatural. However, with dogged determination the good detective, aided and abetted on occasions by Ewan Roberts, Eric Pohlmann and Richard Wattis managed to solve such mysteries as The Case of the Lively Ghost, The Sorcerer and The Second Mona Lisa
It is June 1940 - and Britain stands alone. The choice of Colonel Trumper (Dennis Price) to rescue a Polish professor proves that our backs are indeed against the wall. Following his rescue the professor, (played by Warren Mitchell), joins Trumper's unit which also included Pvt. Hicks (George Tovey). Each week Trumper and his unit are sent on a different undercover mission in Europe, but not before they complete preperations at a highly secret School of Espionage where they manage to pass their final test-with some degree of success. Trumper, of British Counter-Intelligence, was described in a TV Times article as the man "with the mind of a criminal and the morals of a Borgia." Somehow, though-he managed to muddle through each assignment. He took his orders from a Lt. Hasting (William Gaunt). This was television's first attempt at making a sitcom set during the War years. The series first aired at 8.55pm on Friday 15th September 1961. By October the cast had been demobbed.
Take one intricately plotted, perfectly executed murder where the identity of the killer is known to the viewing audience from the very outset, add one shabbily attired, vaguely exasperatingly disorganised LA homicide Lieutenant, modelled on no less a character as Petrovitch in Dostoevski's literary masterpiece Crime and Punishment, whose demeanour disguise's a brilliantly insightful mind. The result...a consistently entertaining series of cat and mouse battles of wits where the central question wasn't "whodunit?", but rather "how's he going to prove it?" Now universally known for his definitive interpretation of the character, Peter Falk was actually the third actor to assume the role. Bert Freed first played Columbo on television in a live 1961 broadcast of an episode of The Chevy Mystery Show called Enough Rope, which was later adapted for the Broadway stage by Levinson and Link as "Prescription: Murder", starring 'Gone With The Wind's' Thomas Mitchell as the Lieutenant. Sometime later "Prescription Murder" itself was reworked as a one-off TV Movie, where for the only time in the shows run we heard Columbo referred to by his first name -Phillip. The legendary Bing Crosby was originally offered the Columbo role, as was Lee J. Cobb, but both actors refused, paving the way for Falk's triumphant debut.
Although well received by the viewers, a series wasn't immediately forthcoming because neither Columbo's creators nor the star felt that the format could be sustained on a weekly hour-long series basis. The problem was solved with NBC's creation of the "Wheel", an alternating cycle of feature length episodes of such series as McCloud, McMillan and Wife, and Banacek. Even then Columbo wasn't initially ensured a rotation on the Wheel, as it was feared that the proposed show's format had already reached its zenith with Prescription Murder. Ultimately however a new pilot, Ransom for a Dead Man was commissioned and from that point on Columbo soared. So successful was the series that a spin-off, Mrs. Columbo was made in the mid-eighties. With its constant stream of high profile guest stars allied to Falk's consummate interpretation of the central character, Columbo continued past its original 1971-78 run, to become an irregular treat for viewers world-wide, on it's way picking up eight Emmy's, two for guest star Patrick McGoohan, and four awarded to Falk himself. The show also gave the opportunity to a new man to cut his directorial teeth-Steven Spielberg. The once innovative format has now become as comfortable and familiar to the audience as a favourite pair of slippers or well-worn cardigan. But like the crumpled, rumpled detective himself, it's one which is deceptively brilliant in its simplicity. (Co-writer: Stephen R. Hulse)
COMEDY PLAYHOUSE (1961)
Series of self-contained half-hour situation comedies with a different cast each week. Click Here for review
It was on November 2nd 1982 that the United Kingdom gained a fourth terrestrial TV channel in Channel 4, but it also saw the birth of The Comic Strip Presents series with the first showing of the Famous Five parody, Five go Mad in Dorset, which was one of the highlights of the Channel Launch Evening.
The Comic Strip was a Soho comedy club opened by writer Peter Richardson just two years before and gave an opportunity for a new breed of 'alternative' comedians to perform in front of a live audience. Its compere was Alexi Sayle and among its more prominent performers were the likes of Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer and the female comedy duo French and Saunders. Unlike the nightclub format the television version dispensed with stand-up comedy routines and focused on parody, the first of which was written by Peter Richardson together with Pete Richen, who would go on to write much of the long running series together. Peter Richardson also starred in the series as Julian, Adrian Edmondson played Dick, and Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders played George and Anne respectively. Timmy the dog was played by veteran canine actor Bimbo. It was the first time most of them had appeared on television and all went on to have very successful TV careers, in comedy and in more serious dramas. Another member of the cast who was making his first screen appearance was Robbie Coltrane who appeared as a gypsy/shopkeeper. Five go Mad in Dorset was a brilliant parody of the Enid Blyton Famous Five stories, where Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog would go in search of fun and adventure, but always end up foiling the plot of some dastardly uncouth villains. The Comic Strip's interpretation of the stories saw the five holidaying down in Dorset with Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny, where they set out to discover the truth about the disappearance of their uncle. Along the way, the group encounter a number of shady characters including Coltrane's Gypsy and female shopkeeper. They meet the local spoilt rich brat Toby Thurlow, played by Daniel Peacock, who tries to join the Famous Five. The gang as would often happen in the books, would overhear the local criminals planning their next big caper "secret plan blah blah blah". They had to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Uncle Quentin the famous scientist, who was played by Crossroads stalwart Ronald Allen. But, it was just a dastardly plot so Uncle Quentin the "screaming homosexual" could leave Aunt Fanny the "unrelenting nymphomaniac" and run away with his young boyfriend Toby Thurlow. Of course the Famous Five rumble the plan and the pair are arrested and the five get to celebrate with "lashings of ginger beer", a saying that was never actually said in the Famous Five books.
As well as being a great spoof of the books, they also highlighted some of the more sinister
elements in what was classed as harmless children's books, like the undertones of racism and
elitism. This was a spoof just crying out to be made and The Comic Strip team did a great job. They went on to do two more Famous Five episodes. In the second Comic Strip Presents series they did Five go Mad on Mescaline and on the thirtieth anniversary of the release of the original episode, the team reformed and made Five go to Rehab. In total there were five series of Comic Strip productions which included parodies of Hollywood movies with such titles as A Fistful of Travellers Cheques and turning that idea on its head were Hollywood style productions of British current affairs such as The Strike which explored the miner's dispute and had Peter Richardson as Al Pacino portraying Arthur Scargill with Jennifer Saunders as Meryl Streep playing Scargill's wife! The series moved to BBC2 in 1990 before returning to C4 in 1998.
(Review: Glyn Howells 2014)
Compact was the BBC's third adult soap opera following The Grove Family and it's brief replacement, the almost forgotten Starr and Company.
Starr and Company was the Corporation's first attempt at a bi-weekly soaper in emulation of ITV's Emergency-Ward 10. Set in the town of Sullbridge on the South coast the 'action' (if it can be called that) centred on a small family firm making buoys. The series went out on Mondays and Thursdays at 7:30pm (to avoid clashing with EW10) in 1958 but vanished from our screens after 77 episodes. It seems as though the stuffy Beeb were not comfortable with the weekly domestic drama format and it wasn't until 1962 when they were desperate to find a rival to Coronation Street that they decided to give the genre another try.
Script-writer Hazel Adair had previously worked for a well-known woman's magazine and had it in mind that the setting would be right for a TV series with its world of different personalities, situations, intrigues and romances. What's more, she believed that the authenticity of an office background would lend an air of reality for many viewers. However, the idea was put on the shelf until one day she received a call from a friend at the BBC who asked her if she had any ideas up her sleeve? She did, but wasn't sure how to best develop it and so Hazel rang a friend of hers, Peter Ling, who she had known since 1950 and had worked together with at the BBC previously but never as a team. "Peter, I've had the germ of an idea" she told him. "I want to talk it over with you and see if we can produce something." The duo spent a number of weeks working out the format and coming up with a synopsis. When they submitted it to the BBC it was accepted within twenty-four hours.
Compact told the story of a glossy women's magazine, the eponymous Compact, based in fictional Enterprise House in London's Victoria district. The stories revolved round the hassle of getting each issue on to the presses while exploring the personal relationships of the staff and their often vying for position within the company. When we are first introduced to 'Compact' the magazine editor is Joanne Minster (Jean Harvey) who oversees the magazine for its owner Sir Charles Harmon (Newton Blick). But it is not long before the owners son, Ian Harmon (Ronald Allen), arrives from America to take the helm of Harmon Enterprises Incorporated. Like all good magazines Compact had a Features Editor (Augusta 'Gussie' Brown played by actress Frances Bennett), a Fashion Editor (Lois James played by actress Dawn Beret), an Agony Aunt (Alison Morley played by actress Betty Cooper) and notably a photographer, Jeff Armandez played by Horace James who was the first black actor to have a regular role in a soap opera (in 1964).
Some of the characters had their names changed - such as Gussie Brown, as the writers later recalled. "Frances Bennett was originally cast as an interviewer. Since the celebrities were not known at the time the script was written, she was referred to as Mary Brown. By a secretarial error, Frances was listed as Mary Brown in the Radio Times." As soon as Hazel and Peter decided to keep her for the series they realised the name was far too dull for so vivacious a personality. "That name just had to go," remarked Peter. "So we introduced it into the programme. She revealed that her name was Augusta and she merely hid behind the name Mary. Of course, the moment the office found out they insisted on calling her Gussie." In another instance Betty Cooper's character was called Alison Grey until it was discovered that there was a Readers' Digest contributor with the same name. The name change was introduced into the script.
Compact was panned by critics but was an immediate hit with the viewing public and from 1964 demand was such that the BBC had to introduce a Sunday omnibus edition. At the same time it started to explore a number of 'daring' storylines such as infidelity, suicide and even, on one occasion, drug supply, but it seems as though the BBC were still uncomfortable with such racy subjects and at the height of its success and after three years and 373 episodes the Corporation unceremoniously dumped it.
During it's run Compact featured a large amount of actors on their way from or to bigger and better things. Australian Bill Kerr had already been part of the hugely successful radio 'Hancock' series. American Shane Rimmer would go onto appear in television's premier soap opera, Coronation Street (as Elsie Tanner's husband) as well as lend his voice to Gerry Anderson's immortal Thunderbirds series (as TB1 pilot Scott Tracy), Carmen Silvera starred as that 'stupid woman' (Edith Artois) in 'Allo 'Allo! and Patrick Troughton was just a couple of years away from being Doctor Who.
Hazel Adair and Peter Ling were invited by Lew Grade to devise a new series for ITV which would run for five nights a week - and they came up with Crossroads.
Introduced by the bearded, round faced and exuberant Philip Harben, Cookery Lesson was a series of twelve programmes that introduced viewers to the basic principles of cooking, working from the assumption that the TV audience didn't even know how to boil an egg. Considering the country was still under ration-book rule at the time it is surprising that Harben's 'lessons' were so successful. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that he was such a hit at a time when the kitchen was still seen as very much the domain of women. Just read the following paragraphs from the Television Annual for 1953:
When it comes to Philip Harben, the television cook, I fully expected my woman TV viewers to be roused to both criticism and resentment, because any man daring to invade the precincts of a woman's own particular province - the kitchen - is surely asking for it. But they not only like him, they are quite prepared, literally, to eat out of his hand!
I think this is because of his friendly, informal way of passing on vital information; he never talks down to his audience. He so obviously enjoys cooking, and telling us little stories about this and that, that we hardly realise we are being taught something new; and far from being resentful, we find ourselves licking the lipstick off our lips as yet another Harbenesque masterpiece comes out of the oven!
Philip Harben was born on 17 October 1906 to performing stage and screen parents Mary Jerrold (who appeared in the first stage presentation of Arsenic and Old Lace) and Hubert Harben. As a child, he spent much time in the kitchen with his parents' cook, while they were away on tour. "I could scramble eggs and make mayonnaise long before I could read Thucydides or solve a quadratic equation," he once said. After leaving school he worked briefly as a stage manager before embarking on a career as a photographer. At the age of 31, Harben changed career direction again to become the first cook to work at the Isobar restaurant in Belsize Park, London. The restaurant also served as a club for people who lived in the apartments above; among them was the writer Agatha Christie.
At the outbreak of the Second World War Harben joined the RAF. A wound to his eye in the early forties put an end to his career as a pilot. Unable to fly, he joined the Air Force catering division. When he was demobbed he approached the BBC and put himself forward as a cookery broadcaster for television (having previously done a cookery show on radio). "Why not?" was the response, and Harben embarked on his new career in June 1946 as television chef on the 20-minute programme Cookery (1946-51). In his first programme he showed viewers how to make lobster vol-au-vents! He was soon a runaway success, appearing weekly on both television and radio, writing prolifically, and doing cookery demonstrations around the country. His first cookery book was published in 1946 and over twenty more followed up until 1968.
Also in 1956, Harben presented What's Cooking for the BBC. Even though other TV cooks began to appear in the 1960s Harben continued to be successful and turned to ITV in 1964 with Headway, subtitled 'The Grammar of Cookery', thirteen episodes on the craft and theory of cooking. Harben's last programme for television was Thames Television's The Tools of Cookery (1968-69), a 20-minute afternoon series about making the best use of modern kitchens. A year later (on 27 April 1970), Harben passed away. (Sources Include: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/4810007/TVs-first-masterchef.html)
CORONATION STREET (1960 to 2000)
British soap opera set in Weatherfield, a fictional working class district in Manchester. Click Here for review
THE CORRIDOR PEOPLE (1966)
Off-the-wall British drama series similar in style to The Avengers. Click Here for review
In 1984, the American situation comedy was considered dead and tired by critics and viewers alike. But that same year, The Cosby Show proved the naysayers wrong. It not only single handedly revived the genre, it turned NBC from a cellar-dwelling network into the prime-time leader, and made Bill Cosby the biggest star on the planet for a time.
All this attention focused on a comedy about an upscale African-American family living in New York City. And viewers loved it. Cosby gained fame in the late 1960's as the first black actor to star in a US dramatic series--I Spy. After it went off the air, the comic's success with series TV was spotty at best. A self-titled sitcom lasted for only two seasons; two variety shows came and went quickly in the 1970's, but his success in concerts and on television commercials kept the Cos in the public eye. And then fate intervened. One night, NBC's Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff was unable to sleep and turned on his network's late-night programme The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. As it happened, Cosby was one of the show's guests, and went into his monologue. As Tartikoff remembered it, "I notice that Cosby had completely reworked his act...he was talking about being an adult, the father of adolescent children, the husband of a woman he met twenty years ago but is still getting to know." The next day, Tartikoff called Cosby's agent and said the network was interested in a show around the comic "but only...if it's rooted in Bill Cosby's real life."
Former ABC network executives Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey were tapped to create the show. But since they had a contract with ABC, the two had to take the idea to that network first--and ABC's Entertainment chief, Lew Erlicht turned it down, allowing Werner and Carsey to bring the show back to NBC. (About three years later, a story made the rounds in Hollywood: When Erlicht was asked for a handout by a homeless man, he replied "Listen, don't give me YOUR sad story. I'm the guy who passed on The Cosby Show.) Cosby wanted his character to be a chauffeur and his wife to be a maid--but Cosby's real-life wife eventually talked him into playing an obstetrician. So Cliff Huxtable became a doctor; wife Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) was a successful lawyer. A nationwide search went out for the children to be part of the Huxtable clan. Four virtually unknown kids were hired to play teenager Denise, only son Theo, adolescent Vanessa and youngest daughter Rudy. (A college-age daughter, Sondra, was added soon after the show's premiere on September 20th, 1984.)
"Cosby" shocked the industry by beating the once-formidable Magnum P. I in the ratings right from the start. By the spring of 1985, "Cosby" was American television's top-rated series, propelling NBC's Thursday night schedule--which at the time included Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court and Hill Street Blues--to high ratings. The Cosby Show represented a break with black sitcom tradition. Unlike 'Julia' and 'What's Happening', "Cosby" had a two-parent family--no single mom left alone to raise the kids. And unlike Good Times and The Jeffersons, the show was not a series of one-liners or put-downs. Cosby and his writers simply took small moments from family life and made them the focus. The Huxtable kids were real--no catch-phrases came from their lips. Plus, Cliff and Clare Huxtable were credible parents. If their kids did wrong, they were not afraid to punish them. And there was great chemistry between Cosby and Rashad, a reminder to viewers that you CAN be sexy when you're past 40.
But there was debate as to whether the Huxtable clan was a credible African-American family. Some thought they were a bit too rich, a little too cultured, not so "streetwise." (A study by two University of Massachusetts professors--funded in part by Cosby himself--claimed the affluence of the fictional Huxtables made Americans less sensitive of the plight of inner-city blacks.) On the flip side, black middle and upper-class families were making strides in the 1980's. "Cosby" reflected their growing economic power. Such was Cosby's clout that in 1987, Lisa Bonet--who played Denise--was spun off into her own series about life at a fictional black college, A Different World. (It became it hit because it followed its parent on Thursday nights.) But Bonet became pregnant in real life and returned to "Cosby" a year later, as a married, expectant woman. 'Different World' without Bonet ran until 1993.
Eventually, "Cosby" began to fall in the ratings; its general appeal was losing ground to such harder-edged domestic comedies as Roseanne, Married With Children and the animated The Simpsons (which started beating "Cosby" in the ratings after the two went head-to-head in 1990). On April 30th, 1992, "Cosby" aired its final episode with Theo graduating from college and Cliff and Clare looking forward to a home nearly devoid of children. But that was also the night the city of Los Angeles broke out in riots, after four white police officers were acquitted in the beating of black motorist Rodney King. NBC's Los Angeles station broke away from the riots to air the final "Cosby"; Cosby himself taped a plea for the end of the program, urging viewers to "pray for a better tomorrow, which starts today."
The Cosby Show was one of the last comedies on network television that the entire family could watch--and enjoy. And it regularly snagged more than 50-percent of the available US television audience, before cable became a reality in most homes. Its style may be rooted in the 1980's, but even in reruns, its appeal and view of family life remain timeless. (Review: Mike Spadoni)
With the voices of David Jason, Jack May, Brian Trueman, Jimmy Hibbert, Barry Clayton and Ruby Wax, Count Duckula was a major production from Cosgrove Hall which was developed with Nickleodeon. The looming form of the magical Castle Duckula has been home to a long line of fearsome vampires, Counts of Duckula. But the present Count has broken with family tradition and become a vegetarian - not to everyone's satisfaction! The show often centres around Duckula's adventures in search of riches and fame, assisted by the castle's ability to teleport around the world. The show also features a cuckoo clock whose bat-like Russian-accented characters would come out and make jokes about the current situation; the clock is also a vital part of the castle's travelling mechanism, and even has the ability to turn back time.
ITC series based on Alexander Dumas' masterpiece of mystery and intrigue, Le Comte de Monte Cristo, first published in 1845. Dumas' original story told of the elaborate vengeance of Edmond Dantes, who was falsely accused of being a Bonapartiste conspirator in 1815 and consequently imprisoned for many years in the Chateau d'If. There, a dying prisoner told him of treasure to be found on the island of Monte Cristo, and after breaking free, Dantes took it for his own, setting himself up as a nobleman on the proceeds. The TV series expanded and took Dantes beyond the original story, turning him into a Gallic version of Robin Hood as a righter of all wrongs. Cristo was played by George Dolenz. An American citizen by naturalisation, George was born in Trieste, and emigrated to South America before settling down in California where his handsome features got him into the movie business. His son, Mickey, went on to find television fame at the youthful age of 10 under the stagename Mickey Braddock, then years later as Mickey Dolenz one member of 'made for TV' pop group The Monkees. The Count of Monte Cristo, which was aired in the USA first, began with a three part story directed by veteran Hollywood director Budd Boeticher and Cristo was accompanied by a faithful mute companion, Jacopo, actor Nick Cravat, who had starred opposite Burt Lancaster in another medieval jaunt, namely the 1950 movie The Flame and the Arrow.
On June 30th 1940, foreign troops occupied part of the British Isles-the Channel Islands-for the first time since 1066. Three young rebels planned their own counter-attack. The idea for this series came about when ITV drama supremo Sydney Newman sent a photograph to writer Peter Ling. "It was a very ordinary picture of an English-looking street," said Ling, "with an ordinary police constable on point-duty. All very unexciting - except that the other man in the scene, asking the way, happened to be a German officer in uniform. German troops on British territory? It seemed impossible - but of course it happened in June 1940, when German troops occupied the Channel Islands."
"This is our story," said Newman. "We tell it in seven fortnightly episodes and if it is one tenth as fantastic as the truth about the wartime occupation of the Channel Islands, I will be happy!" Peter Ling began to read the background of this amazing chapter of history. "If the story is hard to believe look up some of the unbelievable things that really happened before the Islands were liberated." He said. "Our version is on the cautious side." But not too cautious...The children's consultant for ABC and ATV, Mary Field, drew on her experience of holding a junior audience - from her years as Head of the Children's Film Foundation - knowing that young viewers enjoy a real thriller with no punches pulled. "With Mary's help," said Ling, "I roughed out the basic cast of characters - Carol and Cliff Delamere, whose plans to fight back as an unofficial Resistance group gave the series its title; Terry Benson, whose father is a fisherman undecided where his duty lies - to escape to Britain and join the Services or to stay and look after his son; a local man who turns out to be more helpful to the enemy than to his own countrymen; the Nazi captain who tries in vain to make the children toe the Nazi party line; the British agent who arrives on the Island. The cast included three children who took the leading part in this Sunday teatime adventure series. Irene French played Carol, Murray Yea played Cliff and young Jeremy Bulloch played Terry Benson. The series was directed by ABC Armchair Theatre stalwart Charles Jarrott and produced by Sydney Newman. Based on original TV Times article
Court Martial was a British made production co-funded by ITC (in the UK) and Roncom Productions (in the USA) which aired on ITV in 1965 and on ABC in 1966. In order to secure the US money the two leads were played by American actors Peter Graves (later of Mission Impossible fame) and Bradford Dillman. Quite fitting, considering the series was actually a spin-off from a 1963 two-part Kraft Suspense Theatre story entitled The Case Against Paul Ryker. The original story was set in Korea, as Army Lawyers prepared the trial of a Sergeant accused of being a traitor. Ryker was played by Lee Marvin. Also in the cast were Vera Miles, Lloyd Nolan and Norman Fell with both Graves and Dillman as Major Frank Whitaker and Capt. David Young, respectively, two characters retained for the series but now relocated to England, and time-shifted back to the Second World War. Here they work for the US Army Judge Advocates General's Office, (Whitaker as chief prosecutor and Young as defending barrister) where they are tasked to bring to justice perpertrators of war crimes. This often meant they had to be sent into the fields of war-torn Europe before returning to the UK for the climatic court martial itself. The original Kraft Suspense Theatre production is often cited as the 'pilot' for the series - however, the gap between this story and the series being made, plus the original tale being set in another war (which began some years later), would not make it a 'pilot' in the true sense of the word. The series won the 1966 British Society of Film and Television (later known as BAFTA) TV award for Best Dramatic Series.
If you have a leak that needs stopping, a bathroom that needs renovating or a lounge that needs redecorating, just hope that you never employ a firm like Joe Jones Limited. At a time when inadequate builders were first coming to notice as the scourge of the construction industry and becoming something of a sick national joke, writer Peter Learmouth, who had once worked as a painter and decorator, came up with a hilarious comedy about an inept group of 'handymen' with a dubious reputation. Geyser (Colin Welland), Wobbly Ron (David Kelly) and Eric (James Wardroper) work for Joe (Roy Kinnear) because no-one else will employ them. And Joe has to employ Geyser, Wobbly Ron and Eric because no-one else will work for him. There was no shoddy workmanship about the casting of this series: Kinnear was one of the country's top comedy character actors appearing in TV and films including the BBC's satirical series That Was The Week That Was, as well as The Beatles movie Help! and Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers. Welland was best known for his role of PC David Graham in Z Cars and was just a year away from claiming an Oscar for his film script Chariots of Fire, and David Kelly had appeared as the one-armed waiter, Albert Riddle, in Robin's Nest. Peter Learmouth later created Surgical Spirit. Cowboys (in some ways unfortunately) is as pertinent and funny today as it was when first screened in 1980. (Network DVD)
Possibly the starkest, darkest, popular drama series to have emerge from a British Television company since the classic Edge of Darkness, Granada Television's Cracker was an instant success. Created by the talented Jimmy McGovern, the series presented us with the deeply flawed central character of Eddie Fitzgerald, a hard drinking, chain-smoking, compulsively gambling, but brilliant psychologist employed by the Greater Manchester Police to act as a profiler in criminal investigations of the most brutal and horrific nature. Under McGovern and fellow Cracker writer Paul Abbot's expert scripting, the dark and seedy underbelly of the Northwest was exposed to the cynically insightful gaze of Fitz's almost Sherlockian intellect in a series of complex, intelligent stories, which drew the viewers into a psychological cesspool of unrestrained psychosis and violent aberration. As brilliantly acted as it was written, directed and produced, the series benefited from a subtly brilliant central performance from Scottish comedian/actor Robbie Coltrane, whose natural charisma imbued what could have been an appallingly unappealing central character into an almost tragic romantic hero, without glossing over Fitz's almost wilfully self-destructive tendencies. Equally as excellent was a supporting cast which included Barbara Flynn as Judith, Fitz's long suffering wife, Christopher Eccleston, as Det Chief Inspector David Bilborough.Other characters of note were Bilborough's replacement, Det Chief Insp. Wise played by Ricky Tomlinson, and Det Sgt Jimmy Beck, a dark and venomous character who went on to savagely rape and almost murder, Det Sgt Jane Penhaligon, Fitz's Watson surrogate and on-off love interest, played by delicately attractive and gifted, Geraldine Somerville.
To ensure that the series was as authentic as possible within the bounds of dramatic licence, the maker's Granada brought in the expert services of psychologist Ian Stephen, who helped police track down the notorious serial killer Bible John in 1969, as technical adviser. The success of Cracker was such that it near single-handedly reinvigorated the entire genre of the psychological thriller series for British television. The format was sold to US television where a number of the stories were remade under the title of Fitz. But given the strict dictates of US Network policies, much of the power, brutality and sheer strength of the original's were fatally lost in the translation. Cracker might have been uncomfortable, uncompromising, sometimes harrowing viewing. But it was also unquestionably quality drama of the highest order. It succeeded in forcing its viewers to think, feel and ponder the darkness which lurks deep within us all. A secret which the majority of modern drama series seem to have sadly forgotten.
Children's entertainment show that had it's roots firmly set in the old music hall/variety tradition. Introduced each week with the by-line "It's Friday, it's five to five, and it's Crackerjack!" to which the shows adolescent audience at the BBC's Children's Television Centre would echo the shows title at the top of their voice (and indeed throughout the show whenever it was mentioned). Originally introduced by ex-boxing commentator Eamonn Andrews (later to host This Is Your Life), but perhaps best remembered for it's golden era when co-hosts Leslie Crowther and Peter Glaze would perform comedy routines, introduce the guest pop act, and host the weekly quiz 'Double or Drop' (devised by Andrews in the shows early days), in which contestants were given a prize for a correct answer or a cabbage for a wrong one, and then had to hold as many as they could without dropping them. Win or lose everyone went home with a 'Crackerjack Pencil' -heady stuff!
Richard Crane decided to give up the life of a city businessman and trade it in for one of excitement and adventure in Morocco. He said goodbye to his safe suburban home and headed for the sun, bought himself a boat and opened a beachfront bar near Casablanca. He also had a nice little operation dealing in illegal contraband. Keeping a watchful eye on his activities was local police chief Colonel Mahmoud (Gerald Flood), although there were times when the two men joined forces to work against 'serious' criminals. Crane also had an accomplice in the form of ex-French Foreign Legionnaire, Orlando O'Connor (Sam Kydd), who later reappeared on British shores in the children's adventure series, Orlando. Glamour was provided by cafe bartender, Halima (Laya Raki). The show's star, Patrick Allen, had previously appeared on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Memorial Company in Stratford-on-Avon and was offered the role of Crane whilst playing Achilles in Troilus and Cressida. Immediately the play was over he left for Morocco, where most of the filming for the series took place. Allen went on to appear in numerous other series although he is probably best remembered for his deep, authoritative voice, which kept him in television-commercial voiceovers for years to come. He was also the 'four-minute warning man' on the Frankie Goes To Hollywood hit single Two Tribes.
Sandwiched between The Quatermass Experiment and its sequel Quatermass ll, was Nigel Kneale's gripping tale of a party of explorers who arrive in Tibet, in search of the legendary Abominable Snowman. The story was inspired by the then-current craze for establishing the existence of the Yeti. During the 1950's there had been extensive searches of the Himalayas, and in 1954 one particular Fleet Street newspaper had dispatched a team to track the creature down. In this dramatisation a party of explorers led by Tom Friend (Stanley Baker) arrive at the Rong-ruk monastery because one of their number, Andrew McPhee (Simon Lack), had claimed to have seen a Yeti's footprints in the snow on a previous expedition. They are joined by Dr John Rollason (Peter Cushing) who is investigating some 'special evidence' that he claims to have found purporting to the creatures existence. Kneale's script draws together elements of mystery, suspense and betrayal as the expedition encounters more than they have bargained for and are attacked one by one. Two years later the writer adapted his script for the large screen in the 1957 Hammer/Clarion production The Abominable Snowman. Peter Cushing reprised his role from the original TV play, which was broadcast live by BBC television on January 30th 1955 with a second live transmission on 3rd February. No recordings were made and consequently the movie version is the only one that survives. However, there were numerous changes from the original TV script -including character name changes and two new characters, including John Rollason's wife, who had only been referred to in the original script as 'missing presumed dead'.
British television's long standing love affair with period crime fighting added another memorable success to its illustrious stable of Victorian sleuths with Sergeant Cribb. Very similar in style to ATV's 1963 Sergeant Cork series, Cribb debuted in 1979 as a 90-minute Screenplay story from Granada Television in the Midlands. Adapted from Peter Lovesey's 1978 novel and set in Victorian London around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, Alan Dobbie starred as a the tough and determined Detective Sergeant who worked for the newly formed Criminal Investigation Department, designed to clean up the streets of London using the latest detection methods. The series admirably caught the flavour of the era in its depiction of Victorian life and included many historical events such as the publication of Jerome K. Jerome's 'Three Men in a Boat' and the sale of London Zoo's most famous elephant, Jumbo, to Barnum and Bailey's Circus. The imaginative plots revolved around such diverse subjects as bare-knuckle prize fighting, spiritualism and Irish terrorism and were set against a backdrop of the Victorians at work and play. Aiding and abetting Cribb was his trusty stout assistant Detective Constable Thackery (William Simons) -whilst his direct superior Inspector Jowett (David Waller), far from impressed with Cribb's new crime solving techniques, would often turn up to frustrate him. Intelligent writing, superb production values and an especially intelligent performance by the talented and ever reliable Alan Dobie, ensured that Sgt Cribb became a more than worthwhile addition to the televisual ranks of Victorian detectives who were in many ways direct rivals of the incomparable Sherlock Holmes.
Ray Saxon is a former professional cycling champion who, unjustly discredited, takes on the task of cleaning up sport through a newspaper column. Saxon has a nose for sports racketeers. Working for the Sunday Globe he investigates corruption and murder such as the reasons for a crash at Snetterton where the driver of a new racing car, the Volterra, is killed, or why a jockey would throw a race for "a few miserable quid." Mark Eden as Saxon enjoyed his first starring role in a TV series and was helped along the way by regular co-stars Ray Mort and Sonia Graham. Some of the shows featured true-life personalities as themselves (the horse racing episode featured John Rickman). Other sports covered included cycling and boxing.
Playwright Ted Willis had been responsible for some of television's most successful plays and series. In Crime of Passion the creator of such typically British police shows such as Dixon of Dock Green and Sergeant Court turned to France to reconstruct some of the true life cases that have qualified for that description. In France crime passionnel (or crime of passion) was a valid defence during murder cases; during the 19th century, some cases could result in a custodial sentence for two years for the murderer. Each play in the series was based on fact and was both a courtroom confrontation and a human drama. The story started by showing the crime in question before moving on to the trial and tracing the criminal act to its emotional roots. At the end of each episode the judge delivered his verdict. President of the Court was played by Anthony Newlands, while the grave-faced figures of prosecutor Maitre Lacan and defence council Maitre Savel were respectively played by John Phillips and Daniel Moynihan. Bernard Archer as Maitre Dubois appeared in the last series. Each episode was named after the person on trial.
Popular quiz show based on the simple game of noughts and crosses. The format was devised for American television where it was known as Tic Tac Dough. Played on a grid of nine squares, each of two contestants had to answer a question correctly to put a nought or a cross in a square. They then had to get three noughts or three crosses in a row either horizontaly, vertically or diagonally to win the game. A wrong answer, if you were playing noughts for example, put your opponents cross in the square. However, a wrong answer would not cost a player the game because to complete three in a row he or she had to answer their own question correctly. Questions were asked from almost 100 different categories as diverse as films, quotations, nicknames, Africa, the 1920's, currency or pot luck, etc. Every correct answer would win a tenner (except for the middle square which was 20 pounds) and if a game was drawn the prize money was doubled for the next game. Winners stayed on show after show until they were beaten and some of the better players were able to build up a nice pot of money. However, a strict rule about how much a contestant could win was introduced after one lucky player walked away with £2,360. Produced by Granada Television, Criss Cross Quiz began in 1957 and was presented by Jeremy Hawk a character actor with a long career in music halls and on London's West End stage. He also appeared on television as straight man to Benny Hill, Arthur Askey and Norman Wisdom. When he left in 1962 he was replaced by Barbara Kelly a Canadian-born actress, best-known as a panelist on the British version of What's My Line? (She was also the wife of Bernard Braden). Contestants were chosen by Granada Television's Contestants Department which sorted through thousands of applications for a number of quiz shows such as Spot the Tune, Make Up Your Mind and Concentration. Criss, Cross, Quiz was shown three times a week and the show was networked across the ITV regions. One 1963 broadcast was interupted when news broke of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's resignation. A children's version of the show called Junior Criss Cross Quiz was produced the same year the adult version started although the children played for prizes instead of money. Presenters on the children's version were: Jeremy Hawk, Chris Kelly, Bob Holness, Mike Sarne, Chris Howland, Gordon Luck, Peter Wheeler, Bill Grundy, Danny Blanchflower and Barbara Kelly. Variations of the basic format have re-appeared many times on television down the years on shows such as Celebrity Squares.
Until 1972 restrictions in broadcasting meant that television in Britain could only be transmitted for a certain amount of hours a day. But the lifting of restrictions in October of that year opened the doors for the ITV companies and the BBC alike to explore new territory, particularly with daytime television. Yorkshire Television offered a new soap opera called Emmerdale Farm, Border Television gave us the twee husband and wife quiz Mr. and Mrs. and Thames Television came up with Harriet's Back In Town. It was Granada who came up with the series that wouldn't have looked out of place in the primest of primetime television; Crown Court.
The idea for Crown Court wasn't necessarily that new. An earlier Granada series The Verdict is Yours was transmitted from 1958 to 1963, although in this earlier version, the shows were unscripted, the actors being provided with background notes which the Television Annual of 1960 informs us were 'written in chatty story form...from which they find their 'characters' and learn the facts to which they will testify.' In The Verdict Is Yours the resident Judge was played by David Ensor who was at one time a practising barrister and the actors who played counsel also had some legal experience. Granada viewers were recruited to form the jury and the show was broadcast over three consecutive nights. A similar series at the same time was In Court Today in which cases were played out in a mock court room but in front of a real-life magistrate; Alderman Joseph Cleary of Liverpool, who had been on the Liverpool City Bench for 23 years.
But in 1972 it was the 'Verdict' format that Granada returned to. The most significant change is that the cases were fully scripted but apart from that very little was altered. It is unclear whether or not it was Granada's original intention to follow the same format as the first case 'Doctor's Neglect?', although transmitted in October 1972, appears to have been made somewhat earlier than the full series which continued the following week. In this first story a doctor is accused of neglect in allowing a patient with a head injury to leave hospital before his condition has been fully assessed. When the patient collapses outside in the street he is rushed back for surgery but his surgeon is unable to save his life. His widow is now seeking compensation. But by the following week a number of significant changes appear to have been made. There is no jury in this first story and it is the Judge who makes the final decision after hearing all the evidence and retiring to deliberate. The opening theme tune is different from the one used for the rest of Crown Court's run ('Distant Hills'), and the title for this episode stands alone as subsequent titles were always along the lines of 'Regina v.' whoever the defendant was that week.
Once again the jury at the fictional (Fulchester Crown) Court were made up of members of the public (all except for the foreman as he was required to speak when giving the verdict). But what set this series aside was the quality of the writing and the performances that gave Crown Court a truly authentic feel. This was no light lunchtime snack of a programme but heavy stuff as indicated in the second story when a barrister asks a defendant if she told her estranged fiancé to 'piss off?' The question would hardly raise an eyebrow today but this was 1972 and was deemed language most offensive as indicated by the gasps of exasperated disgust from the court gallery. Subject matters covered over the ensuing weeks included armed robbery, drug supply, acts of terrorism, a town councillor charged with indecent assault on his 18 year old secretary and a husband who is accused of giving his dying wife an overdose of morphine.
Played out over three 30 minute episodes transmitted on consecutive days the final scene of each story delivered the jury's verdict with the actors primed for one of two reactions depending on the result. Apparently the jury only had 30 minutes to make their decision so that filming could be completed on time. Great attention was paid to detail in each case and judicial law had to be followed to the letter leading Howard Baker, producer of the 1983 series, to describe the task as "like ballet dancing in corsets". But the end product was worth it, because Crown Court was by far the most believable courtroom drama to have graced our screens and that's why it ran for 12 years.
The series also presented a veritable who's who of British acting talent with many established stars as well as those who would go on to become household names in the UK and abroad such as Ben Kingsley, Bob Hoskins, Michael Gough, Connie Booth, Richard Wilson, Michael Elphick, Fulton MacKay, John LeMesurier, Maureen Lipman, Diane Keen, Brenda Fricker, John Barron, Mark McManus and Roy Marsden. Writers such as Martin Stellman, Franco Rosso, Ian Curteis, John Godber and Jeremy Sandford had written or went on to write award-winning drama for television and film.
The other remarkable thing about Crown Court is that 25 years on the series has hardly dated. Each case is sharply written, thoroughly absorbing and totally convincing and season one, released by Network DVD in June 2007 is testament to that. This release is highly recommended as a wonderful opportunity to observe the British justice system in a series that was shot with an authenticity rarely seen in more recent productions.
The style of animation on this children's cartoon series might well have been influenced by the Beatles full-length animated feature Yellow Submarine which had come out a few years earlier. To many, the almost psychedelic look and feel of the series was enough for them to dub it 'Crystal Trips with Alistair.' Creator Hilary Hayton certainly invented a land where everything seemed fab and groovy and where best friends Crystal and Alistair lived in a pop-art world that one could easily envisage being a part of John Lennon's 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.' And just like Lennon's trip into the world of 'LSD' so Crystal and Alistair's world included tangerine flowers of yellow and green as well as tangible rainbows and giant bubbles that enabled them to float up to the sky. When they needed more conventional (?) forms of transport Crystal had her own big-propellered biplane. There were no words uttered between the characters, the pictures told the stories clearly enough and to accompany the vivid images there was an equally-expressive score from composer Paul Reade.
Spinning off from comedy drama Shillingbury Tales, this engaging sitcom from 1983 starred Bernard Cribbins (Doctor Who) as the scruffy, rather mischievous tinker who lives in discomfort in a shabby caravan in the fictional, picture-postcard Hertfordshire village. Cuffy is now the centre of attention as he mopes around Shillingbury with a permanently grubby coat, flat cap and stubble - although underneath it all, he has a heart of gold. Other Shillingbury Tales cast members reprising earlier roles included Jack Douglas as farmer Jake, Linda Hayden as his daughter Mandy, and Nigel Lambert as the Reverend Norris; Diana King now featured as local spinster Mrs. Simkins. Cuffy was written by the multi-talented producer/director/writer Francis Essex, best known for bringing The Muppet Show to British TV but also a noted composer whose themes include Follyfoot's celebrated The Lightning Tree (as Steven Francis). The character of Cuffy was created by Bob Monkhouse, although he had no involvement in the series. (Network DVD)
In the history of British television few sitcoms have courted as much controversy as Till Death Us Do Part. But amidst outcry from certain sections of the viewing public on the right wing opinions of Alf Garnett, series creator/writer Johnny Speight came up with Curry and Chips, a series that in spite of starring two of British comedy's all-time iconic figures, Eric Sykes and Spike Milligan, proved too hot in subject matter for the IBA, who ordered its cancellation after just six episodes. The main setting for the series (the first LWT sitcom to be broadcast in colour) was the canteen and factory floor of the aptly named Lillicrap Ltd, manufacturers of cheap souvenirs and seaside novelties. Milligan, (wearing black make-up) played an Asian employee with the unlikely name of Kevin O'Grady. This he claimed was a result of having an Irish father, which also led to his nickname of 'Paki-Paddy' (The character as played by Milligan had first turned up in an episode of Till Death Us Do Part). Sykes was the liberally minded factory foreman who often sprang to O'Grady's defence especially when he was faced by the racist taunts of fellow workmates, Liverpudlian's Norman (Norman Rossington) and Dick (Geoffrey Hughes), and Kenny (Kenny Lynch), as a black man who didn't like Pakistani's. As with Speight's Till Death Us Do Part, the intention of the series was to highlight the futility of racial prejudice and use comedy as a weapon to combat it. However, whereas Alf Garnett's weekly diatribes would highlight the general state of society itself, encompassing the world of politics, permissiveness and class, it may well be that Curry and Chips suffered from concentrating on one subject matter alone.
Along with the copious use of racist terms, Curry and Chips was also accused of being too liberal with its use of expletives, one viewer complaining that a single episodes used the word 'bloody' on 59 occasions (although Eric Sykes could not be accused of this as he flatly refused to use bad language). And where the BBC vigorously defended Till Death Us Do Part stating in a Radio Times article that if you "laugh with Alf Garnett you have been entertained, if you laugh at him you have been entertained and informed-and that's a victory for Johnny Speight", Curry and Chips did not win the same support from the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Speight himself later remarked: "It was the English who were made to look bigoted in the show but the people at the IBA couldn't understand that. It was London Weekend Television's first year, but only six shows went out. The IBA made LWT take it off, saying it was racist." In spite of the IBA's sensitivity towards matters of racial disharmony they did not intervene when the subject was revived in the later and far more crude Thames produced sitcom Love Thy Neighbour, which debuted in 1972 and ran for eight series until 1975. That same year Milligan returned as a character similar to O'Grady for six episodes of a BBC series entitled The Melting Pot (written this time by Milligan and Neil Shand), although only the first episode was ever aired.
Cybill may be the closest American television has come to the spirit (and success) of the British hit Absolutely Fabulous. Though it was not a copycat of the UK series, Cybill had some similarities with 'AbFab.' Both involved women in their 40's who knew they were getting no younger. But while AbFab's Edina tried to turn back the clock, Cybill was smart enough to make the most of what she had--and she had plenty to begin with!
And like Edina, Cybill Sheridan had a best friend who liked to booze it up more often than she should. In Cybill's case, friend Maryann frequently referred to her former and never-seen husband as "Dr. Dick" (an excellent example of both a noun and a verb). The true focus of Cybill, however, was a middle-aged woman who was still attractive, had a vital and active sex life, but found her career as an actress limited, thanks to Hollywood's narrow view of older women--a unique premise for US television. Certainly American TV likes its actresses either young and sexy, or if they're "mature", either oversexed or more of a grandmother-like figure (think The Golden Girls or Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote).
Cybill Shepherd, the former model turned actress, was the inspired choice for this sitcom (she was also a co-producer). In fact, Shepherd's real-life experiences helped form the basis of many episodes. Unfortunately, her reputation as a temperamental television diva (which began when she co-starred with Bruce Willis in the classic 1980's detective comedy-drama Moonlighting) followed her to this series as well. Couple that with a network (CBS) that wasn't altogether comfortable with the show, and you had a comedy with a relatively short life.
The pilot episode (which aired January 2, 1995) introduced Cybill Sheridan, best-friend Maryann Thorpe (the talented Tony-winning actress Christine Baranski, who beat out veteran Sally Kellerman for the part); older daughter Rachel (Dedee Pfeiffer, sister of actress Michelle); sarcastic teenage daughter Zoe (Alicia Witt); ex-husband number one, stuntman Jeff Robbins (played by former Dukes of Hazard star Tom Wopat); and ex-husband number two, writer Ira Woodbine (Alan Rosenberg, who co-starred in Civil Wars and L.A. Law). It was an immediate top-20 hit, helped by its placement Monday nights after the successful Murphy Brown. But in the fall of 1995, CBS moved the show to Sundays, where it faced tough competition from such series as Mad About You and The Simpsons.
Not helping matters was Cybill's relationship with Baranski. In her autobiography "Cybill Disobedience", Shepherd wrote that when the New York actress first auditioned for the show, "I checked her out with some...theater friends, and everyone said the same thing: her work was respected, she was serious and talented, but watch your back". Things didn't help when Baranski won an Emmy in the show's first season for Best Supporting Actress, and Cybill lost to Candice Bergen of Murphy Brown for lead comedy actress.
Shepherd wrote that CBS never gave her show the support it needed, and moved it from timeslot to timeslot until the show's ratings dropped to the point where the network justified the need to cancel it. Whatever the reason, Cybill had a relatively short life span on US network television. But it was a consistently good comedy with a message. In this case, Cybill Disobedience came through. (Review: Mike Spadoni)