LONDON'S BURNING (1986)
The gritty reality and dark humour of a group of firefighters based at a fictional London-based fire station. Click Here for review
LONDON TOWN (1950)
1950s groundbreaking documentary/magazine series. See About Britain for review
The Lone Ranger began life as a radio series on Detroit's WXYZ in 1933, where it was created by the stations owner George W. Trendle, producer James Jewell and writer Fran Striker. The show became an instant hit, was taken up nationally and turned into two film serials by Republic. In 1949 it arrived on America's ABC network to become one of the first major hits on television. The first episode told of how John Reid, one of six Texan Rangers, was the sole survivor of an ambush by the Butch Cavendish Hole In The Wall Gang. Reid was nursed back to health by an Indian scout called Tonto, who declared "You only ranger left. You lone ranger now." Reid then set off to avenge the death of his five colleagues, one of whom was his own brother. With his trademark white hat, black mask and horse called Silver, the newly dubbed Lone Ranger set off with Tonto (who referred to him as 'Kemo Sabe', meaning 'trusty scout'), on his crusade to "clean up the town"; that was any town where villainy was in evidence or a wrong needed to be put right. Having done so he would then ride off into the distance with a "Hi-yo, Silver -away!", leaving his beneficiaries to ponder the question, "Who was that masked man?"
Former trapeze artist and male model, Clayton Moore played the Ranger on TV for most of it's run, although during a contract dispute with the studio he was replaced by John Hart. However, Moore and the studio sorted out their differences and he returned to the role leaving Hart to find further fame in Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans. Tonto was played by Jay Silverheels, who, despite being the genuine son of a Mohawk Indian, was really named Harold J. Smith. Years later he spoke out against the humbling way Indians had been portrayed on TV and film. The other recurring characters (apart from the horses Silver and Scout) were Dan Reid, son of the Lone Ranger's murdered brother, and who later became the father of another George W. Trendle character, The Green Hornet, and Jim Blaine who ran the Ranger's privately owned silver-mine that was his source of income and endless supply of silver bullets. The show followed a strict set of guide-lines, as laid down by the production company. "The Lone Ranger never shoots to kill, he uses perfect grammar and his ultimate objective must be towards the development of the west of our country." Parents loved the patriotism and the moralistic story lines, and even FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover described it as "one of the forces for juvenile good in the country." With it's rousing William Tell Overture, it's fast paced action, simple plots and zero character development, The Lone Ranger was the very embodiment of an idealised west, which had only ever existed within the minds of its creators and the character's uncountable legions of adoring fans.
Look At It This Way was Eric Barker's fourth series for BBC Television in the 1950s following on from three series of The Eric Barker Half-Hour. It was also to be his last. As early as 1951 Barker had got into trouble with his bosses. The BBC were experimenting with covering the General Election. There were considerable obstacles in the way, most notably the 14-Day Rule that prevented the BBC from commenting on any issues being debated in Parliament for two weeks. But at the same time the Corporation were keen to make programmes dealing with 'current affairs.' Barker wrote and broadcast a sketch on the ludicrousness of the situation. But his bosses at the BBC were none too pleased. Fearing that sketches poking fun at the government would hinder their cause, Barker was told in no uncertain terms to reign in his satirising of the British Government.
By the time Look At It This Way reached the screens in 1955, Barker was poking fun at British life wherever he saw the opportunity, be it politics, sport, industry or transport. But it was one particular sketch that had everyone clamouring for his neck. It seemed harmless enough at the time. In this sketch a regal-looking lady (played by Barker's real-life wife, Pearl Hackney), is at a launching ceremony for a new ship. She is passed a bottle of champagne on a rope which she then releases. The scene cuts to a film of a ship slowly sinking. Within minutes of transmission the telephone lines to Broadcasting House were jammed by angry callers convinced that the show had mocked the Royal Family. Although there was no inference in the sketch, the public and press alike were convinced that the lady in the sketch was intended to be the Queen Mother. Barker was immediately ordered to present himself to the Head of Light Entertainment who gave him a severe dressing down and warned him that if there was any further controversy the series would be cancelled and he (Barker) would never work for the BBC again. Look At It This Way ran from February to April 1955. It was shown fortnightly. Barker was once again joined by Nicholas Parsons and Cameron Hall. When the series ended the BBC decided not to renew his contract. In his autobiography, My Life In Comedy, Nicholas Parsons wrote: "...his individualism did not endear him to an organisation that at the time liked conformity and conventional thinking." Barker enjoyed a hugely successful film career until a stroke, at the age of 52, ended his career. Although he survived the stroke he was unable to work again other than a little in local radio. Eric Barker passed away in 1990 aged 78 years.
The adventures of an aristocratic amateur sleuth created by clergyman's daughter Dorothy L. Sayers and first published in 1923 were bought to life as a period piece drama in 1972 by BBC television. Playing the lead role was Ian Carmichael who had previously had a long run as an aristocratic type in the hugely successful P.G. Wodehouse's The World of Wooster. But apart from having a manservant and wearing a monocle that was where the similarities between the two characters ended, for whereas Bertie Wooster was a bumbling nincompoop, Lord Peter Wimsey was anything but-and his sometime outward appearance as an upper-class twit was usually only employed in order to outwit his adversaries.
Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893 - 1957) married the journalist O.A. Fleming in 1926 and worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency until the success of her detective novels gave her financial independence. Lord Peter Wimsey's first appeared in print in the novel "Whose Body?" published in 1923, and marked out Sayers' distinctive style for well-researched backgrounds, observant characterization, and ingenious plotting. Wimsey began his fictional life in 1890, was educated at Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford, and served in World War I where he ended up with a bad case of shell shock, causing him occasional problems throughout his stories. His elder brother, Gerald, inherited the title Duke of Denver from their father, and their sister Lady Mary married Peter's friend, police detective Charles Parker, after they met when her fiance was murdered in the second Wimsey novel, "Clouds of Witness." His manservant, Bunter, whom Wimsey met when they served together in the war, accompanied him throughout the TV series, although he was played at various times by Glyn Houston and Derek Newark. Mark Eden appeared as DCI Charles Parker. The first episode shown on TV was based on the second novel and four other of the original stories were adapted for the small screen ("The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club", "The Five Red Herrings", "Murder Must Advertise" and "The Nine Tailors.")
Wimsey later returned for three more TV adventures, this time played by Edward Petherbridge with Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane, the girl that Wimsey married in the 1935 novel "Gaudy Night". Three further stories were told in 1987 under the title A Dorothy L. Sayers Mystery. Sayers wrote eleven Wimsey novels in total plus a number of short stories. In 1998 Jill Paton Walsh completed an unfinished novel prior to publication, and in 2002 Walsh also wrote "A Presumption of Death," loosely based on The Wimsey Papers.
An early entry from the science fiction stable of prolific producer Irwin Allen, Lost In Space was originally intended as a dramatic futuristic reworking of the classic Swiss Family Robinson. The series quickly descended into a sometimes unintentionally hilarious, high camp example of the notorious "monster of the week" pulp, which was a hark-back to the monochromatic days of the Saturday morning movie serial cliff-hangers. The basic plot was simple; the experimental colony spacecraft transporting the Robinson family to a new world is sabotaged by an infiltrating enemy agent, causing them to crash-land on a remote planet deep in uncharted space. The core group of characters consisted of the five members of the Robinson family itself, Professor John Robinson, (Guy Williams) his wife Maureen, (June Lockhart) and their children Judy (Marta Kristen), Penny (Angela Cartwright), and son Will (Bill Mumy). The remainder of the Jupiter 2's small crew compliment was rounded out by handsome young male co-pilot (Mark Goddard) and the whining, scheming, cowardly saboteur, Dr Zachary Smith (played to comic, yet still sometimes sinister effect by Jonathan Harris), and the sophisticated B9 robot (Bob May), named rather unimaginatively as simply "Robot". Although supposedly remote, the Robinson's planet prison soon proved to be something of an unlikely stopping-off point for almost every space-faring alien and monster in the galaxy. As the series progressed and grew ever further detached from the hard edged, suspenseful, original premise, it was the mismatched trio of Will, Smith and the Robot who came to be the show's central focus. With the successfully crowd pleasing comedy double act of the increasingly arch Harris's Smith and the Robot ultimately providing the increasingly juvenile series only real point of enjoyment. Fondly remembered today, mostly for all the wrong reasons, Lost In Space was arguably the most successfully enjoyable of all Irwin Allen's forays into the field of television science fiction.
"To eat the fruit of the lotus is to lose the desire to return home. But everyone who does has a reason." So Radio Times introduced viewers to The Lotus Eaters, one of the seventies most unusual drama series. It debuted on BBC2 on Sunday 23 April 1972 and was the first of a series of escapist dramas from, then, little known writer Michael J. Bird. Lotus Eaters concerned a group of British expatriates living on Crete and ran for two series. The first comprised nine powerful, often tragic, dramas each telling the story of a different member of the cast. Most characters appeared in more than one episode, and the tales were skilfully woven into a continuing sub-plot about the faltering marriage of principals Erik and Ann Shepherd. As one character put it, "You are running away from something... all of you. A cosy little foreign community huddled together in the sanctuary of a Mediterranean island. Why else would you all be living here 1,000 miles from home?" As the series unfolded it became apparent that no one was what they seemed. It was unheard of in those days for a single writer to script an entire series and several writers were engaged. Bird told them the overall concept, they contributed story lines and Bird acted as story editor, making sure the whole thing hung together: which it did beautifully.
The second series consisted of a single six-part story developing and extending the Shepherds' espionage sub-plot. Bird packed in twists at every point, keeping viewers guessing, and the ending was charged with emotion, as police chief Michael Krasakis is forced to banish his friends from Crete. The Lotus Eaters marked the start of a prolific and profitable partnership between Michael J. Bird and the BBC that was to last over ten years and take viewers on exotic adventures to Crete, Cyprus and Rhodes in Who Pays The Ferryman?, The Aphrodite Inheritance, and The Dark Side of the Sun. Following each series tourism soared at the location and Michael Bird became to Mediterranean islands what Delia Smith would become to obscure cookery ingredients. (Review: Dave Rice)
The end of one much loved series marked the beginning of another critically acclaimed creation, when in September 1977, Edward Asner's character of hard-bitten news editor, Lou Grant, finally stepped out of the shadow of his supporting role with the legendary Mary Tyler Moore, and stepped easily into the spotlight of his own series. The final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show had seen the character of Lou Grant and most of the news staff of WJM-TV Minneapolis fired and going off in their own directions. The following season, the fifty-year-old Grant had relocated to Los Angeles and taken a brand new job as the city editor of the Los Angeles Tribune, a crusading, hard-hitting newspaper under the excessively autocratic rule of its owner/publisher, Margaret Pynchon. (A delightfully hard-edged performance from the late, sadly missed veteran Nancy Marchand). Although Lou officially worked for managing editor and old personal friend, Charlie Hume, he was more often to be found locked in a stubborn battle of wills with the his strong-minded publisher. Pynchon was a woman who exhibited personality traits of stubbornness, toughness, and bloody-minded determination, of equal measure to, and perfectly mirrored in the character of Lou Grant, which led to frequent disagreements but never failed to acknowledge the underlying mutual respect between the two characters.
Other core characters included Joe Rossi; an impulsive but deeply committed young investigative reporter; Carla Mardigian, a young and ambitious female reporter (who was destined to last mere weeks, before being replaced by the character of Billie Newman, another young reporter with similar aspirations); Art Donovan, the fastidious assistant city editor; and Animal, the nonconformist staff photographer. Unlike other 'MTM' show spin-offs Rhoda and Phyllis, Lou Grant dropped outright comedy, deftly mixing serious issue lead drama with moments of well judged humour and thrived on a succession of well crafted scripts, which made full use of the dynamics and interplay of a talented, finely balanced and experienced cast. The series won 11 Emmys in 5 years, including two for Asner as Best Actor and 2 for Outstanding Drama as it covered a range of serious issues such as Vietnamese refugees, child abuse and gun control, before it concluded its run in September of 1982, in a storm of controversy which could easily have served as a storyline from the show itself. Despite CBS' statement at the time that the series had been unexpectedly cancelled because of declining ratings, the real reason behind the network's withdrawal of support was due to the forthright political statements concerning U.S. involvement in Central America, by Asner, at the time head of the Screen Actors Guild, which led him into direct conflict with President Ronald Reagan. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)
Michael Medwin, recently demobbed from The Army Game, was given a 26-week sitcom (although it was eventually extended to 30) as dance-band trumpeter Mike Lane; always broke, always short of rent, always running after easy money or a hard-to-get blonde. He is an inveterate woman chaser, and his hunting costume is a padded dressing gown and long cigarette holder. His equipment includes a record-player pitched to woo, soft lights and an unscrupulous eye for an unfair advantage. However, this being the moralistic early 1960s, it isn't surprising that Mike's schemes always end in failure. Appearing with Medwin were Brian Wilde as his flat-mate (although only for the first seven episodes - he was replaced by Bernard Fox), George Roderick, from The Larkins, as a henpecked neighbour who is always popping in and Carmel McSharry as Mike's char lady. Medwin, Roderick and Fox teamed up again the following year for Three Live Wires.
Light, playful and possessed of a uniquely British charm, Lovejoy originally came into being in a series of novel's by author Jonathan Gash, before Ian McShane himself realised the wider potential of the character as a starring vehicle and obtained the television rights, which were then developed by the sublimely assured hand of Ian La Frenais. Set in the stuffy, enclosed, specialised world of the antiques trade, the Lovejoy character is an opportunistic, charming non-conformist dealer possessed of the rare-near supernatural gift of being a natural 'Divvy'. (A diviner: Able to identify a genuine antique whatever it's condition, even if it's located in a room filled with otherwise worthless items).
However, whereas the novels depicted the character in a rather harsh light, La Frenais wisely opted to tailor this Lovejoy to the charismatically likeable charm of its leading man. What emerged was a modern day variation on the time honoured Robin Hood riff. Lovejoy became a slightly roguish, but basically decent man who would happily fleece the unscrupulous dealers he encountered, whilst ensuring that those who had fallen victim to the sharks received what was rightfully their due...usually for a small fee. As Lovejoy's chief nemesis, the superciliously underhanded dealer, Charles Gimbert, enjoyably fell foul of this type of retribution on numerous occasions. The core of the success of the series, as is so often the case, lay in the delightfully comic dynamics of the central characters. In Tinker, (seasoned veteran character actor Dudley Sutton) the older, erudite, alcoholically challenged right hand man, and the younger, enthusiastic, but ever-so-slightly dim assistant, Eric, the sense of good-natured family bickering and one-upmanship is wonderfully evoked. Lovejoy also employed a television technique known as 'breaking the fourth wall' to great effect. This called on McShane to talk directly to the camera, as if taking the viewer into his confidence.
Initially, the romantic interest rested in the "will they, won't they" undercurrent of mutual attraction between Lovejoy and his friend and sometime business partner, Lady Jane Felsham, played to drolly-aristocratic perfection by the accomplished Phyllis Logan until the actress opted to leave the show in 1993. (One of two major cast changes, Eric left to run his uncle's pub and was replaced by another young trainee, Beth). A succession of fleeting romantic interludes ensued until the arrival of university educated auctioneer Charlotte Cavendish in 1994 as the new permanent woman in Lovejoy's life. With its backdrop of beautiful Home Counties scenery, well written and amusing scripts and a cast of talented performers who obviously enjoyed their work, Lovejoy proved to be both a ratings winner and a delightfully finely polished gem of a series, which will continue to amuse and entertain. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)
According to television everybody was getting a taste of the 'permissive society' in the 1970s, the decade that followed the liberating sixties with all its promise of free love and sexual liberation. Everybody, that is, except Geoffrey Bubbles Bon Bon and Beryl, his virginal (although slightly teasing) girlfriend who was determined to stay that way until her wedding night and would entertain no thoughts on what she termed 'Percy Filth'. 'Time Magazine' had previously noted that 'Sex has exploded into the national consciousness,' before going on to observe that 'Britain is being bombarded with a barrage of frankness about sex...' therefore The Lovers, created by master character craftsman Jack Rosenthal, hit the right note with both male and female viewers in its timely reflection of the teenage angst that had been largely dumped on young shoulders by all the media hype of what one should -and should not- have been getting at the time. Newcomers Richard Beckinsale and Paula Wilcox starred as Mancunian's Geoffrey and Beryl respectively and it was Geoffrey, egged on by workmate Roland (Robin Nedwell of Doctor In The House fame), who continually tried to take his and Beryl's relationship to the next level. Needless to say, he failed miserably.
Rosenthal left his creation behind after the first season (there were only two) and Geoffrey Lancashire wrote the scripts thereafter, but Rosenthal returned to do the honours for the 1972 movie version (which came out at a time when it seemed that almost every 'Britcom' was being transferred to the silver screen). For the young stars (she was 20, he 23) it was the beginning of successful television careers. Wilcox went on to star alongside Richard O'Sullivan and Sally Thomsett in the long running Man About The House, and Beckinsale in Rising Damp with Leonard Rossiter and Porridge with Ronnie Barker, although his career was cut tragically short by a fatal heart attack at the age of 31. Rosethal's wife, Maureen Lipman appeared in one episode. Played with a delightfully observed air of charm and innocence by the all important central duo, and expertly produced by some of Granada Television's most talented personnel, The Lovers was a warm, witty and wonderfully knowing spin on the traditional "Boy meets Girl" storyline given an added layer of humour by its deftly subtle swipes at the myth of the free love generation.
Convinced that he could find a starring vehicle that would make his 'discovery' David Jason a household name in Britain (see review of The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs), producer Humphrey Barclay invited Terence Frisby ('There's A Girl In My Soup') to write a 13-episode sitcom that would be tailor made for the actor's talents. In the series Jason plays Shorty Mepstead, a South-East Londoner who lives at home with his mum (Pat Heywood) and brother, Randolph (Peter Armitage). The brothers, who run their own plumbing company, are like chalk and cheese, with Shorty being the shy and reserved type and Randolph being a confident 'lad' who has no problem 'pulling' the ladies. The problem for Shorty is that in the first episode Randolph 'pulls' Kath (Cheryl Hall), who he is in love with. However, by the end of the series the 'lucky feller' gets his girl. The Stage reviewed the series on its debut with the prophetic statement that, 'Somewhere there is a writer whose idea's Mr Jason can execute to great effect - but they have not met yet.'
13 part Anglo / Australian co-production that was two years in the making and told the adventures of the Firbeck family who are uprooted from their Yorkshire home by their father in 1829 following the death of their mother, and taken to the other side of the world to start afresh in New South Wales. Their journey was not meant to be a speculative one, as the father, former naval lieutenant Jason Firbeck (James Condon), set out to claim land bequeathed to them by an old friend. However, when they arrive in Australia they find that the land promised to them is occupied by others and, without enough funds to return home, they are forced to set up residence in the bush. Proclaimed by law as squatters, the Firbeck's have to stand up to prejudice, other settlers, outlaws and native Aborigines in order to survive. The family consisted of daughter Jassy (Elisabeth Crosby), and sons Samuel (Gerard Maguire) and Luke (Oliver Tobias), the hero of the piece who more often than not risked life and limb in order to protect his family in their pursuit of a peaceful existence. Tobias, with his rugged good looks was already on his way to making a career of period-piece dramas having previously starred in Arthur of the Britons, he would follow this series with a guest appearance in Dick Turpin and a starring role in Smuggler.
A near-genius murder detective whose brilliant mind can't always save him from the dangerous violence of his passions Click Here for review