The thirteen episodes of I, Claudius were a masterpiece of costume and design, the series also boasted a high degree of historical accuracy in its intelligent and sophisticated depiction of the lives and events of its historically genuine central characters. Utilising author Robert Graves' own literary device of having the aged Cladius himself act as the viewers guide to the unfolding story in a series of flashbacks (which is then discovered some nineteen centuries later), is a masterstroke which affords the viewing audience the perfect road map to the never ending series of intrigues, plots, and double dealings which drive the central story from the very outset, added to which, by ensuring that it is the central character himself who acts as our guide, our sympathies and total identification with him are engaged from the first, as the series charts his reluctant eventual rise to power in a decadent and violent age. In a wonderful cast which boasts top flight performances from some of the leading lights of the legitimate theatre, it is Derek Jacobi's astoundingly remarkable central performance as Claudius which is the lynch-pin upon which the entire remarkable triumph of the series turns. When shown in the USA on PBS I, Claudius single-handedly redefined the boundaries of acceptability on American television. Despite the content of orgies, nymphomania, adultery and incest, the series was shown on all PBS stations under the banner of Masterpiece Theater. An undisputed masterpiece-I, Claudius remains as a shining example of just how ambitious, intelligent and exciting great television drama can aspire to be.
Long before Larry Hagman was mean-old womanising oil baron J R Ewing in Dallas, he was clean living Captain Tony Nelson of the US Air Force in this highly successful sitcom that was NBC's answer to rival network ABC's series Bewitched. When Nelson crash-landed on a desert island in the South Pacific, he stumbled upon an old bottle containing a genie. On releasing the genie he found that she was a beautiful blonde who instantly fell in love with him. Jeannie (as he so named her) accompanied Nelson back to his Florida home where she was happy to serve his every need (no, not that...this was the 1960's), and call him 'Master.' The beautiful Barbara Eden played the spirit from the bottle who, in spite of wearing a skimpy chiffon outfit had to keep her navel covered by order of the Network Bosses. In order that the viewer should be left in no doubt as to the wholesomeness of Tony and Jeannie's relationship, he was given a fiance in the early episodes. However, the 'other woman' was soon dropped and eventually, after Jeannie's many attempts to please had dropped Tony in a number of tricky situations, the two main characters finally 'tie the knot'. Tony's best friend and confidante was Captain Roger Healey (Bill Daily). There have been several revivals of I Dream of Jeannie, the first was a one-off TV movie imaginatively entitled I Dream of Jeannie Fifteen Years Later, but former M*A*S*H star Wayne Rogers stepped into Hagman's shoes when the latter's Dallas commitments precluded him from the special. A shame really, because the viewers -and Tony- finally got to see her navel!
A genuine pioneer in the way in which TV programmes were recorded and presented, I Love Lucy laid down the all important, yet deceptively simple winning pattern for the domestic sitcom as far back as 1951. Remaining the creative template that is still followed to this day, the series also elevated it's star, Lucille Ball, to be regarded by many as US television's comedienne without peer. Following Lucille Ball's CBS radio show 'My Favourite Husband' in which she co-starred with Richard Denning, the star recorded a pilot with her real life husband, actor and musician Desi Arnaz, which was then taken up by the company for conversion to the small screen. The series centred on the life of Lucy Ricardo, (nee MacGillicuddy), the scatterbrained wife and showbiz wannabee of Cuban dance leader Ricky. The Ricardo's lived in an apartment on the East side of Manhattan where Lucy hatched most of her disaster-prone schemes to improve life around the home, make money, or be anything other than an ordinary housewife. Sharing these adventures with her was best friend Ethel Mertz, married to the considerably older Fred, who's wisecracking asides made him a viewers favourite. A smash hit from it's first season, Lucymania swept America, and when in 1953 Lucy gave birth to Ricky Jnr, an event that coincided with Ball's real life delivery of Desi Arnaz Jnr (the episode was screened on the same night), and actually headlined in newspapers above President Eisenhower's inauguration. The high quality of acting, scripts and production values (it was made by Ball and Arnaz's own production company, Desilu), won it five Emmy awards, and the fact that it was filmed means that each episode is preserved in remarkably good condition. It is estimated that the show has been running somewhere in the world at any time for over sixty years!
At the end of the 1956-1957 season of I Love Lucy, the show's stars decided that they wanted to experiment with a longer format of the programme. Over the course of the next few seasons, all of the I Love Lucy regulars starred in a number of one-hour specials (originally aired as The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show), in which they travelled to different places and became involved with various guest stars. Following Lucy and Ricky's real-life divorce in 1961 the show was renamed The Lucy Show and the star was relocated to Danfield, Connecticut, where she became Lucy Carmichael, mother of two children, Chris and Jerry; who shared their home with boarders, Vivian Bagley, a divorcee, and her son Sherman. For work Lucy became secretary to Theodore J. Mooney, Vice President of the Westland Bank. Desi Arnaz continued to produce tv shows and among his credits was the classic series based on crime-buster Elliot Ness, The Untouchables.
A hit on both sides of the Atlantic I Love Lucy was also one of the first US sitcom to be seen on British commercial television, when in 1955 it appeared in ITV's first week on air (although it was not the first-the first US Sitcom screened on Commercial Television was My Hero starring Bob Cummings and Julie Bishop and was shown on ITV on 24 September 1955-preceding I Love Lucy by a day). As Whilst most shows come and go only to be forgotten in the mists of time, there are some that are assured of their place in television history. If ever a show deserved a place in Television Heaven, then I Love Lucy is that show. (co writer Stephen R. Hulse).
I Made News was a landmark TV series for the BBC in several respects. Firstly, it was the first time that directors had been used in television. Previously on both sound radio and television the accepted format was for writer-producers to direct their own shows. The BBC had recently finished making the docu-drama series War on Crime, a police procedural based on real-life cases from the files of Scotland Yard. But one of the criticisms of War on Crime was that as it was only shown monthly - it failed to build up any audience loyalty. As a result, producer Robert Barr was given the job of setting up a production unit capable of turning out weekly dramas of the type that were then being produced in America. I Made News was to be the case study for this new production process, turning out 12 weekly half-hour docu-dramas. Due to its experimental nature, I Made News was more concerned with quantity than quality, a move that proved to be quite controversial within the BBC itself. Critics too, appeared to be divided. The News of the World commented: "I Made News has only occasionally made good television. As the creator of 'Raffles' may not have said, there's no police like Holmes." The series centered round criminal investigations but didn't restrict itself to the British police force. Some episodes were set in Holland, others involved the FBI and the leading investigator from those cases were invited to top and tail the programme which was told, like War on Crime, in dramatic reconstruction. The face of the Metropolitan Police was Robert Fabian (pictured) whose exploits would later form the BBC series Fabian of Scotland Yard (aka Fabian of the Yard). In her book on the development of the police series' on British television, 'Beyond Dixon of Dock Green', Susan Sydney-Smith writes that I Made News "both increased production and considerably enhanced the BBC's ability to compete with the arrival of Independent Television." Building on the experience gained on I Made the News, the BBC produced another six-part series called Pilgrim Street. This series, made in co-operation with Scotland Yard, contained many of the elements that would eventually be employed in the BBC's best remembered police series; Dixon of Dock Green.
Bradley Stevens served as a judge in domestic court. Each week the case he was trying reminded him of an incident that happened between himself and his dizzy wife, Joan, and this was the cue for him to explain how he had dealt with it. At this point the picture would fade into his home and the situation would be enacted. I Married Joan was one of the many US sitcoms that tried to reproduce the phenomenal success of I Love Lucy with -in this case, actress Joan Davis doing a more than passable job for three years. During the first season Joan's partner in crime was next door neighbour Minerva Parker (Hope Emerson), but for the next two seasons Joan's real-life daughter (Beverly Wills) joined the cast as her younger college student sister, Beverly. Jim Backus, the man who voiced the myopic cartoon character Mr Magoo, was Judge Stevens.
This slick espionage drama was notable for the fact that it was the first TV series on a national network to feature a black actor playing alongside a white one on a regular basis. It was not, however, the first TV series to do so. In 1953 WOR-TV, a New York station aired a series called Harlem Detective, a half-hour crime series featuring William Marshall and Owen Jordan as two plainclothes heroes. The series was written by Jay Bennett and directed by Bob Erle and Lawrence Menkin. So when I Spy came along in 1965 it was not exactly going into untested territory. Bill Cosby (later to become a major TV star in his own right), starred as agent Alexander Scott, who alongside Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson toured the four corners of the world travelling to exotic locations under the guise of tennis ace and coach. Although outwardly liberal minded, NBC ensured that Culp took the superior role of player and that Cosby never appeared opposite a white woman. Even so the show set became a great hit and Cosby was awarded three Emmy's for his role. The show ran for four season's finishing in 1968, although the two paired up again in 1972 for the movie Hickey & Boggs, in which they played two down-and-out private eyes.
As early as 1956 Associated Rediffusion tried to cash in on the popularity of The Goon Show in this attempt to recreate the lunacy of radio comedy's finest half hour. The Idiot Weekly (price 2d) was a tatty Victorian tabloid run by Peter Sellers and each week its headlines were used as a convenient link for a number of off-the-wall sketches featuring Sellers and Spike Milligan, who also wrote a majority of the scripts. However, Associated London Scripts, a co-operative of talented scriptwriters of whom Milligan was a member, also contributed. The rest of the team was comprised of John Antrobus, Eric Merriman, Brad Ashton, Lew Schwarz, Dick Barry, Dave Freeman, Ray Galton, Alan Simpson, John Junkin, Terry Nation, Johnny Speight and Eric Sykes, although it is unlikely that they all contributed. Sykes appeared in front of the cameras as did Valentine Dyall (radios infamous 'Man in Black'), Kenneth Connor, Graham Stark, June Whitfield, Patti Lewis and Max Geldray. The series ran for five episodes until April 1956 and by May, Milligan and Sellers were back with A Show Called Fred. For A Show Called Fred, Spike Milligan went solo with the scripts and on-screen support came from Dyall, Connor, Stark, Lewis and Geldray. Like the previous sketch show this one was only seen by London viewers and ran for five episodes ending on May 30th. In September it re-emerged as Son of Fred (from which the above photograph is taken).
Son of Fred was, some thirteen years before, the precursor to Milligan's celebrated 'Q' series. Milligan announced that he was bored with conventional TV boundaries and began to experiment with surreal concepts using minimal scenery, simple props and the use of animation to link between sketches. But the format that would eventually become cult watching in the hands of the 'Monty Python' team in the late 1960's, were a little premature for the audience 1950's, or so ITV thought and Son of Fred was cancelled after 8 shows. It would be eight years before Spike Milligan would return to British TV with a full series. Sellers was contracted to do one more series for Associated Rediffusion and returned in 1957 for Yes, It's the Cathode-Ray Tube Show! All three series were produced by Dick Lester, who would later direct numerous feature movies, perhaps most famously the two Beatles films, A Hard Day's Night and Help! In 1963 ITV screened a 30-minute compilation of the two Fred shows entitled Best of Fred.
Devised by David Croft this was an unscripted thirty minute comedy series in which the five members of the cast were presented with cards bearing the characters, situations and first lines which would form the basis of that week's show. From then on the rest was up to them. The performers were Betty Impey, Peter Reeves, Anne Cunningham, Victor Spinetti and Lance Percival and the 'card giver' known as Boss Man was Jeremy Hawk. The music was supplied by John Barry. The series only ran from April to June before disappearing from our screens but years later was revived in a somewhat altered form for BBC radio before returning to television as Whose Line Is It Anyway in which different guest performers each week would improvise short sketches suggested by a live studio audience.