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Reviews

MADIGAN (1970)

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Show ImageRichard Widmark starred as New York homicide detective Daniel Madigan, a grim-faced loner who lived alone in a sparsely furnished one-room apartment. His cool indifference may well have put people off but in reality his rough exterior hid a genuinely soft centre. Madigan began life as a novel, The Commissioner by Richard Dougherty, before getting the big screen treatment by co-writers Howard Rodman, Abraham Polonsky and Harry Kleiner with direction by Don Siegel. Apparently, Rodman wasn't happy with the way it turned out and changed his name on the credits to Henri Simoun, mainly because what started out as a deliberate attack on police department hierarchy finished up as a pretty standard (although in many critics opinion - stylish) action packed cops and robbers story. Rodman at the time was active with a local construction union and Polonsky may have still felt some bitterness about being a blacklisted writer in the 1950s. There were also well documented instances of Siegel and producer Frank Rosenberg clashing behind the scenes as each tried to stamp his authority on the project. Nonetheless, the cast, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens and Harry Guardino overcame any upheavel off set by producing the goods in front of the cameras and sending audiences home more than happy. The titular character was played by Academy Award nominated actor Richard Widmark who first entered show business in 1943 after a perforated eardrum stopped him from joining the military. In 1950 and 1952 Widmark starred in Panic In The Streets and Night and the City, respectively - each considered classic examples of film noir.

In 1971 NBC began a series called The NBC Mystery Movie an umbrella title for a trio of rotating series that appeared in the same time slot (Wednesday 8:30 - 10pm) every week. These included Columbo, McCloud and McMillan and Wife. The series became so popular that in 1972 it was moved to Sunday night where it was imaginatively titled The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie and at the same time three new series were introduced for the Wednesday night version; Banacek, Cool Million and Madigan. None of them faired as well as their predecessors and only six episodes of Madigan were made. Several of these took Dan Madigan out of the country ('The Lisbon Beat', 'The London Beat' and 'The Naples Beat' give a clue to their location) but as a quintessential New York creation Madigan only ever worked well when seen on home ground. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Widmark has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 2002 he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He last worked professionally in 1996 just a year before his wife of 55 years, writer Jean Hazlewood, passed away. Now retired, Widmark resides in Roxbury, Connecticut, where he has lived since the 1950s.

THE MAGIC BOOMERANG (1964)

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Show ImageOutdoor fantasy/adventure series for children produced in Australia by Pacific Films about 13-year old Tom Thumbleton (David Morgan) who discovers a boomerang among some Aboriginal relics his great-great-grandfather left in the attic of their home; a sheep farm near the fictitious town of Gunnaganoo. Tom discovers that when he throws the boomerang time stands still until it returns to him. This opens up all sorts of possibilities and the adventures come thick and fast as the lad uses the boomerang to foil the plans of any sinister baddie-of whom there appear to be many in this part of Australia! The only other person who knows of the magic boomerang is Tom's friend Wombat (Rodney Pearlman) who is more inclined to want to use its amazing properties to have mischievous fun, but Tom, being a level headed and mature sort of lad, makes sure that it is only used when needed the most. The effect of the boomerang stopping time was very basic, sometimes using the freeze-frame method and at other times simply getting the other actors to stand rigidly still. 39 half-hour episodes were produced in black and white and the series was sold overseas to countries that included Britain and Canada. Oddly, it appeared on Australian TV after it appeared in those other countries. A year after production finished Pacific Films decided to bring the series back in a new location and with a new cast. The new custodian of the boomerang was 15-year old Robert Brockman (Nugget Morris) and the series was now made in colour. However, only six episodes were ever made.

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (1967)

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The Beatles set off in a large coach on a tour to they know not where... "Away in the sky, beyond the clouds, live 4 or 5 magicians..." Click Here for review

THE MAGNIFICENT EVANS (1984)

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Show Image Another fine comedy starring Ronnie Barker in a series of scripts from the pen of Roy Clarke, who had first tried out the idea of using a photographer as the central character in a 1974 Comedy Playhouse presentation called Pygmalion Smith, which starred the late Leonard Rossiter. Ten years later Clarke dusted down the idea and approached Barker, for whom he'd already created the character of Arkwright in Open All Hours. "I have always wanted to play a Welsh character." Barker told Radio Times interviewer and reporter Renate Kohler in 1984. "The sound is so attractive and there are so many more things you can say in a Welsh accent. There's a rich vein of comedy to be tapped there." The Magnificent Evans was set in rural Wales and Barker's character, Plantagenet Evans, described himself modestly in his own publicity as a 'Genius, Photographer and Man of Letters.' Kohler described Plantagenet Evans as a 'grandiose, hectoring Scaramouch driven by sordid motive and lust, but who is, ultimately lovable.' Lovable enough to be ably assisted by his long-standing fiance Rachel (played by Sharon Morgan) although one would suspect that her motive for working so closely with him was to ensure his wandering hands did not wander too far and his wandering eye didn't wander too wide. When Evans wasn't at the lens of a camera he could be found dealing in a somewhat dubious sideline of wood burning stoves and antiques of debatable origin. Kohler also made a very astute observation when she noted that Evans was a familiar Barker characterisation "-a bully, but a memorably witty one." It was the type of quality that Barker bought to the roles of his most famous sitcom characters such as the aforementioned Arkwright and Norman Stanley Fletcher in Porridge. In fact, on the one occasion that his character didn't have that rough, almost masochistic edge -in Clarence, Barker failed to capture the hearts of his adoring public, proving that in sitcom land, at least, no one loves a nice guy.

MAGNUM PI (1980)

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Show ImageAnother polished and glossy entry in the much mined "Private Eye" genre so beloved by television producers the world over, Magnum PI hit the CBS network in the US on December 11th 1980, and continued to be a firm audience favourite until it's final episode on September 12th 1988. The genesis of the series came from the prolific mind of veteran writer/producer Donald P. Bellisario in nineteen seventy-nine. However, although Bellisario's original script for a new TV series about an easy-going PI, contained what would become the familiar Magnum elements of a central character living in a guest house and driving the red Ferrari of the house owner for his investigation jobs, the actual location for the adventures was the exclusive money drenched area of LA known as Bel Air. The potential of Bellisario's concept was immediately apparent to the legendary action series producer Glenn A. Larson, who succeeded in interesting CBS executives in commissioning a series. The pitch paid off, but to get the go ahead, a number of key changes had to be made to the idea. Changes that ultimately, not only benefited CBS, but also helped ensure that Magnum PI became one of eighties television's greatest worldwide success stories. The first of these changes was the relocation of the central setting from the sophisticated Bel Air to the equally sun-drenched, breath-taking tropical beauty of Hawaii. At the time, following a sensationally influential twelve-year run, which had helped transform the face of the police drama series and produced a genuinely iconic character in the form of Jack Lord's Steve McGarrett, Hawaii Five-O had finally reached the end of its televisual life and CBS wanted an immediate replacement series which could continue to use the extensive, and expensive, custom-built Hawaiian production facilities which the network had had constructed in the mid seventies for the out-going series. The second key element was that of the selection of lead actor for the show. CBS had had the tall, dark, handsome and very personable actor Tom Selleck under contract for a TV series lead for sometime, the actor having caught their eye when playing smug gumshoe Lance White in The Rockford Files. With this new property, CBS executive's finally felt that they had the perfect vehicle for him. They were right. With the approval of both Larson and Bellisario, Selleck was handed a role that fit him from the outset as snugly as a well-tailored glove, and a pilot, "Don't Eat the Snow in Hawaii" proved successful enough for a series to enter full production.

The same canny casting extended to the other regular characters with the key role of Jonathan Quayle Higgins lll, the arch and regimented English Major-domo at the estate of wealthy reclusive writer Robin Masters, going to veteran Texan character actor, John Hillerman, whilst the roles of Thomas Sullivan, Magnum's old army buddies Rick "Orville" Wright and Theodore "T.C." Calvin, were handled with wit and style by Larry Manetti and Roger E. Mosley respectively, and between 1981-1985 the voice of screen legend Orson Welles breathed telephonic life into the character of the oft-mentioned, but never seen estate owner, Robin Masters. The chemistry between the core characters was another winning aspect to a series that could switch effortlessly between high comedy and surprisingly serious and thoughtful drama. Indeed, the consistently high standard of performance amongst the leads was reflected by both Selleck and Hillerman receiving the prestigious Golden Globe Awards for their work on the series. Magnum PI was a prime example of the successfully glossy product being produced at the time. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)

MAGPIE (1968)

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Show ImageTransmitted live twice a week from Thames Television's Teddington studios, Magpie was ITV's answer to Blue Peter, given a groovy image and focusing more on pop music, fashion and fun. Initially presented by Susan Stranks, Tony Bastable and former Radio 1 DJ, Pete Brady, the series broke away from its rival's middle-class image right from the opening credits with its rock based theme music, itself based on an old rhyme: "One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told." (The show's mascot was a fat Magpie by the name of Murgatroyd). According to Susan Stranks, a former child actor and RADA graduate who had previously appeared on Emergency-Ward 10, the title for Magpie was chosen from 'mag' to indicated the magazine side of the show and 'pie' to represent the surprise element. "At first the show was presented live," recalled Stranks some years later. This led to a series of mishaps that were likely to befall any live broadcast. One incident involved trying to whip cream to a peak during a cookery demonstration but under the hot studio lights it just dissolved. Other incidents were a little more serious, recalled Stranks: "I took part in a balloon race in Sussex. We landed safely, but before I could climb out of the basket the balloon exploded. I was knocked out by the sound box strapped to me and still have the scar today."

The series included special educational features such as the historical segment 'A Date With Tony' and the 'ABC Of Space' with ITN's science correspondent Peter Fairley, but maintained a balance with the adventures of 'Captain Fantastic,' (which had been imported from the hit comedy show Do Not Adjust Your Set), and its ability to tap in to the latest trends. The series began on 30th July 1968, which was also Thames Television's first day of broadcasting, and initially only went out once a week before changing to Tuesday's and Thursday's in 1969, then Tuesday's and Friday's from 1972. In 1971 Magpie made newspaper headlines when a teenager saved a boy by giving him the kiss of life as he'd seen it demonstrated on the show. "Some parents disapproved of us because we were raw and racy, and wouldn't let their children watch," recalled Susan Stranks. "But we got plenty of fan mail and were often recognised in the street. Lots of adults watched the show, too. Even now men say they fancied me and some say they watched because I didn't wear a bra!" Like Blue Peter, Magpie also ran an annual charity appeal, but whereas the BBC show got contributions in old books and milk bottle tops, the ITV show had no qualms about asking its young audience for hard cash. Thus was born the 'Magpie Sixpence Appeal' and the amount collected was indicated by a red line running first around Studio 3, then (depending on the amount collected), out into the corridor and around the entire Teddington Studio complex. Magpie also awarded badges, although they offered ten different types depending on the achievement of the recipient. Both Brady and Bastable left in 1972 to be replaced by Marc Bolan lookalike Mick Robertson, and Scotsman Douglas Rae. Jenny Hanley took over from Susan Stranks in 1974. "I left because I felt we were starting to do items we'd done before" said Stranks, who created and presented another show for young children called Paperplay. She later quit television to bring up her young son. The only other change to Magpie came when Tommy Boyd replaced Rae in 1977. All three original presenters were invited back for Magpie's last show on 6th June 1980. Mick Robertson went on to present Freetime and later to produce Channel 4's Wise Up. Susan Stranks began writing books and poetry for children before starting up AbracaDABra, a children's digital radio station in 2002. Tony Bastable passed away in 2007 aged 62 years.

MAIGRET (1960)

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Show Image With its haunting Ron Grainer theme tune and classic opening sequence showing Maigret striking a match on a wall before lighting his pipe, Belgian novelist George Simenon's Parisian detective came to life on British television screens in 1960 and soon became a firm television favourite. Already immortalised in some 150 stories and having previously been given a cinema release in a 1957 France/Italy co-production starring Jean Gabin ('Maigret Sets a Trap'), Simenon approached the BBC with a view to selling the TV rights for his famous policeman on the grounds that they were the only company that could do it justice. Cast in the part of the down to earth Surete detective, a compassionate yet implacable hunter who worked the streets of Paris among the squalid bistros and sordid apartments, was ex-prisoner of war hero Rupert Davies, a choice that Simenon himself wholeheartedly approved of. Remembering the role in a 1964 interview Davies said "When Andrew Osborn, the producer of the show, offered me the part on Good Friday in 1960, I knew very little about Maigret. I knew he was a famous French fictional detective, but that was all." Rather than read the books to get the character Davies thought it would be much better to meet Maigret's creator and hear from him what he was like. The BBC agreed and a meeting was set up with Simenon in Luasanne.

"The moment Simenon saw me he shouted: "C'est Maigret, c'est Maigret. You are the flesh and bones of Maigret!" Recalled Davies. "That was a wonderful beginning. Then he drove us to his lovely chateau in the village of Enchandens, where I met his wife. Later he began to coach me in Maigret's idiosyncrasies." Some months later, with the completion of thirteen episodes, Davies took two films over to Simenon for his first view of the series. "Both Georges and his wife were delighted," exclaimed the actor. However, Davies was to be disappointed by the BBC's inability to sell the series to America. "It seems we were too naughty for them," he said. "They considered Maigret too casual about sex. One American TV boss said that a sexual sin must never be shown to pay and that this was not emphasized in Maigret. Ladies of easy virtue were shown as quite delightful young people and Maigret not only spoke to them politely, he even bought them the occasional drink. I'm afraid the Americans thought Maigret's manner much too free and easy, and they were quite shocked when he would ask a girl a straight question like: "Did you go to bed with this man?" So although the Canadians bought the series the American's didn't."

Davies was keen to break away from the terminal (in career terms) type-casting that his three-year stint on the show had brought him, claiming that he felt as though it had made him a prisoner for the second time in his life. However, it was a part that he reluctantly returned to in 1964 as host of the series Detective and in spite of a disastrous attempt to make another cinema release (Davies walked off the set in disgust) he returned to the role yet again for a one-off 1969 production (Maigret at Bay), and prior to that he supplied the voice of Professor McClaine in the Gerry Anderson puppet series Joe 90. Rupert Davies died in 1976 just 60 years of age, having given life to one of television's most famous and enduring detective creations. And to this date it his portrayal has been the definitive. The character was revived for two ill-advised TV revivals, the first an HTV produced 120 minute TV Movie starring a disastrously miscast Richard Harris and then as a short-lived series from Granada in 1992, starring the usually excellent Michael Gambon. However, this series suffered from changes to the character, which transformed the implacable hunter of criminals into little more than a stolid, workmanlike and uninspired plodder. Often described as the thinking man's detective, and vividly drawn in the Davis interpretation of the character, Maigret solved crimes (aided and abetted by his sidekick Lucas) by analysing character, interviewing his suspects and getting to know every aspect of them intimately. John Thaw recreated the same style years later to great effect with his memorable performance as a certain opera-loving, crossword solving Oxford Chief Inspector. But before there was Inspector Morse and murder amongst the dreaming spires of the great university city of Oxford, there was Rupert Davis' definitive portrayal of the pipe smoking, relentless hunter of post war Parisian crime. Maigret's striking of a match on a wall not only represented the light of justice being brought to bear on the darkness of crime, but for millions of avid television viewers in the sixties, it also gave the promise of superlative BBC produced crime drama of the highest order. As creator George Simenon so accurately pronounced: "C'est Maigret, c'est Maigret", indeed. (Co-writer Stephen R Hulse)

THE MAIN CHANCE (1969)

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Show Image John Stride starred as David Main, a social-climbing, success-hungry young lawyer whose career is definitely on the way up despite a tendency to take on underdog cases for free, in this quality legal drama, which topped the audience ratings in October 1970. David Main was brash, calculating and yet brilliant which was just as well because on numerous occasions his impulsiveness led him into all manner of precarious situations. He was a man of the times, though and liked to keep afoot of all the latest technology in order to stay one step ahead of the opposition. And his no-nonsense attitude and great attention to detail made him much sought after by prospective clients. Kate Omara appeared in the first series as Main's wife, Julia, but in later series she was replaced by his wealthy secretary Sarah Courtnay (actress Anna Palk) who later became Lady Radchester. The Main Chance, created by Edmund Ward, remained a firm audience favourite for 6 years. (Network DVD)

MAKE A DATE (1960)

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Show Image Perhaps better remembered as the producer, director, choreographer and creator of some of the most memorable musical comedy for The Morecambe and Wise Show, Ernest Maxin enjoyed a long and successful career in showbusiness, and had produced in excess of 200 TV variety shows by 1960, when ABC asked him to host his own music and variety series, Make A Date. Maxin was behind the scenes to produce the series but also stepped in front of the camera to act, sing, dance, conduct a 42-piece orchestra and play host to a number of popular guest stars that included Charlie Drake, Petula Clark, Craig Douglas, Adam Faith, Alma Cogan, Dave King and Anna Neagle.

Born on 22nd August 1923 in Upton Park, East London, at the age of five Maxin visited his grandmother who ran a boarding house in Leeds. Through her the Maxin family became friends of a well-known theatrical comedy act called Scott and Whaley. Ernest was a shy five-year old and to help get over that shyness Eddie Whaley said he would teach him to dance. Whaley's assessment was "the boy's a natural" and young Ernest immediately got the showbiz bug. Leaving school Maxin decided not to follow in his father's footsteps and work in the family gown shop. Instead, he answered an advertisement he saw in a theatrical variety paper for a juvenile lead. He was 14 years old, but big for his age and equipped with a pair of broad shoulders that had developed as a useful amateur boxer. "I applied for that job," said Maxin, "and with the only 3s 6d (about 17p in today's money) I had in the world I bought myself a trilby hat to make myself look older. I told the woman who interviewed me that I was 19 years old and a song and dance man. She seemed to doubt both statements. I kept my hat on while I talked to her. She told me to take it off. But I felt I would look too young without my trilby, and I said it was too cold - even though it was summer. She probably thought I was crazy, but she listened when I began to sing "I'll String Along With You. Halfway through, my voice broke. She turned me down as a singer, but she let me dance and gave me a job on the strict understanding that I did not sing! I was to open at Ryde, Isle of Wight. I had stars in my eyes and began wondering how I would be billed - 'Ernest Maxin in...' or 'Starring Ernest Maxin'? My parents didn't want me to go, but agreed at last. When I got to Ryde I was looking for posters, theatre signs and my picture. Instead I saw four elderly people waiting. They were my co-stars! When I asked where I would be opening, one of them pointed to the sand and said: 'There. On the beach, on Monday morning."

Nearly in tears, young Ernest decided that even if it wasn't Broadway it was showbusiness. He remembered his first performance for all the wrong reasons. First a beach ball hit him in the face and toy boomerangs whizzed round his head. Distraught, young Ernest got straight on the phone to his father begging him to come and take him home. His dad responded: "You wanted to go; now you're going to stick with it for a fortnight. I'll collect you then and maybe we won't hear so much about show business in the future." Clearly Ernest Maxin had other plans...

MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE (2000)

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Show Image One of the better examples of how the traditional American family sitcom has been remodelled for a new century, Malcolm In The Middle centres on the title character (Frankie Muniz), the second-youngest of four boys who also happens to have a high IQ and is considered a gifted student. Instead of being with normal kids at a normal school, Malcolm is stuck in a class for exceptional students (known as the Krelboynes) with other socially-challenged kids, including Stevie, Malcolm's African-American, wheelchair-bound, asthmatic best friend. Malcolm's biggest problem is his family, which consists of younger brother Dewey; older brother Reese; his no-nonsense hot-tempered mum Lois; and his laid-back "Peter Pan" father Hal. Also in the family is Malcolm's oldest brother Francis who spent his first few seasons at a military academy before finding work in Alaska, marrying a girl of Inuit heritage, and working on a dude ranch. The family lives in your typical messy and disorganized suburban home. Lois works at a chain drug store; Hal works in an office; nobody has time to clean. Unlike many of her sitcom mum predecessors, Lois seems to love disciplining her boys; making love to her husband; and living on the financial edge. Hal basically lets Lois do much of the disciplining; he's too soft on the boys. And Hal himself is a boy who never grew up emotionally. As a result, he usually ends up in the same doghouse with his sons. Malcolm became more of a middle-man in the 2002-03 season, as Lois and Hal became parents again (prompted by Jane Kaczmarek's real-life pregnancy). On most episodes, Malcolm comments on the plot's action to viewers. It may be an overused gimmick on some shows, but the on-screen asides give "Malcolm" a context and dimension missing from many other family sitcoms.

Malcolm In The Middle comes from the mind of Lynwood Boomer, a former actor on the drama Little House On The Prairie who later became a television writer and producer. Boomer originally pitched the show to UPN; when the network passed on "Malcolm", it was picked up by Fox and premiered in the USA in January 2000. It was the second most-watched series premiere in Fox history at the time. The series quirky format and subject matter led to such failed copycats as NBC's Tucker and WB's Maybe It's Me. (Review: Mike Spadoni)