Reviews

MOGUL / THE TROUBLESHOOTERS (1964)

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Show ImageYears before US TV viewers were introduced to the immoral exploits of the mega-rich oil barons of Dallas, the UK presented the day-to-day boardroom dramas of the high-powered executives of Mogul. Mogul International was a major commercial oil corporation with worldwide interests. At the head of its board of directors was no-nonsense managing director Brian Stead, who, with financial advice from right-hand-man Willy Izard, maintained the company's interests in a fiercely competitive market. Due to its attention to detail, the studio-bound Mogul was much admired in the real oil world and won many fans. As the series progressed the attention shifted to the newer more dynamic members of Mogul's staff. With this move came a new focus and a new title. When the series returned for its second season it was renamed The Troubleshooters and concentrated on the exploits of Peter Thornton and Alec Stewart, chief 'fix-it' men for the company. The duos troubleshooting activities took them (and therefore the viewers) around the globe, onto oil rigs and oil fields as far apart as Antarctica and Venezuela. Sharp writing from the likes of James Mitchell, Roy Clarke and Ian Kennedy Martin enabled the series to run for a total of seven years and during that time it managed to mirror -as well as predict, many real life events within the oil industry including disasters, racial tensions, political drama and industrial intrigue. Mogul (and the The Troubleshooters format) was created by writer-producer John Elliot who allegedly based the fictional company on a real life one; BP. As well as a distinguished cast of actors and actresses the series also had the benefit of fine production work by Peter Graham Scott and Anthony Read. Those sitting in the directors chair included Ridley Scott.

THE MOLLY WOPSIES (1976)

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Show ImageWartime drama series set in an Oxford village about the light-hearted adventures of four children who are living under the shadow of WWII -even though it doesn't stop them from getting up to all sorts of mischief. The Molly Wopsy first appeared on television in 1974 it being the fifth in a series of single comedic dramas that went out under the banner Funny Ha Ha. Viewers were asked to name their favourite episode and this was the one they chose, hence, 18 months later Thames commissioned a full series of adventures. The story was written by car production-line worker Ron Smith who had grown up in the 1940s in a small village where local legend spoke of a ghost, 'The Molly Wopsy,' which Ron and his friends then adopted for the name of their gang. Drawing on personal experience Ron used that storyline for the first episode before moving on to write about the gang and all they got up to. The best story was one concerning the discovery in of a German pilot who had bailed out of his plane over the village. The series was notable for the first starring role (but not the first TV appearance) of nine-year old Phil Daniels who would go on to bigger and better things, especially the cult British movies Scum and Quadrophenia. The theme tune to the series was an old wartime favourite, Run Rabbit Run, and was sung by Arthur Askey.

THE MONKEES (1966)

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Show ImageIn an attempt to cash in on the popularity of The Beatles movies A Hard Day's Night and Help! US producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson interviewed no less than 400 applicants for a fast moving madcap thirty minute series based on the day to day life of a pop group. The successful applicants were Mickey Dolenz (formerly Mickey Braddock of Circus Boy fame), Michael Nesmith (whose mother invented the correcting fluid used on typing errors), Peter Tork, and British actor Davy Jones (formerly Ena Sharples' grandson in Coronation Street). The series won the 1966 Emmy for Outstanding Comedy and the group became world wide chart toppers with songs such as Last Train To Clarkville, Daydream Believer and I'm a Believer (the latter composed by the still unknown Neil Diamond). The group starred in their own movie in 1968 entitled Head which was co-written by Rafelson and Jack Nicholson (who would go on to co-write the blockbuster Five Easy Pieces) but it died at the box office. The group's last single to enter the British popular music charts was in 1969, but by that time they had already split up and gone their separate ways. Mickey Dolenz turned TV producer and in 1980 had a minor hit in Britain with a series called Metal Mickey, a children's comedy about a robot that bore a startling resemblance to Star Wars' R2D2. In 1997 the Monkees, who still had a massive following on both sides of the Atlantic re-formed for a time to do a series of concerts. Davy Jones passed away in February 2012 and in August of that year the remaining members of the group announced they would reunite for a 12-date US tour.

MONTY PYTHON'S FYING CIRCUS (1969)

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Show Image For thirty minutes every Sunday night the Monty Python team were unleashed on an (at first), unsuspecting British audience, in the slot that had previously been reserved for religious programmes. Irreverent, offbeat, manic, unstructured, at times incomprehensible, and most certainly in the worst possible taste, Monty Python's Flying Circus became the biggest cult hit ever seen on television. Although described now as a truly innovative show, Python's roots can be traced back to shows like It's A Square World and That Was The Week That Was, both of which broke new ground on television in the early 1960's, where, for the first time, established institutions such as the Royal Family, the Church and leading politicians were held up to close scrutiny in a satirical manner. This trend continued in shows such as The Frost Report, which employed a writing team that included Eric Idle, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Terry Jones, as well as future star names like Tim Brooke-Taylor and Marty Feldman. At about the same time that 'Frost' was coming to the end of its run, ITV producer Humphrey Barclay offered most of the team the chance to stick together in a children's series Do Not Adjust Your Set. Joined by comic actress Denise Coffey and newcomer David Jason, this series gave a number of the writing team the opportunity to appear in front of the cameras for the first time, and it was in this series that the team tested the water for the type of manic humour that was to come next. It was also on this series that they met American animator Terry Gilliam.

Again as one door closed another opened and when 'DNAYS' was cancelled in 1968, the team were offered a contract (at the instigation of Barry Took), with the BBC to do an adult version for late night viewing. Originally to be called (amongst many other titles bandied about at the time) 'Owl Stretching Time', the series was to feature a compilation of sketches most of which poked fun at bureaucracy and the upper classes, although from the 'Upper Class Twit of the Year' to 'The Gumbies,' no section of the public was left un-insulted. Although many of their sketches have now gone down in television comedy legend, there were plenty that were instantly forgettable. However, the rate at which these short skits were delivered to Python's audience meant that the series as a whole was a major success, and as such 'The Dead Parrot Sketch,' 'The Ministry Of Silly Walks' and 'Is This The Right Room For An Argument?,' have gone down in Python, and thereby television legend. Between these sketches were Gilliam's Dali-esque surreal cartoons which sometimes linked sketches together, the famous military style theme tune (Sousa's Liberty Bell), and Cleese's memorable line, "And now for something completely different." itself a fitting description of the show. The Python Team continued for 45 shows and five years (sans Cleese in the last series which was now simply titled Monty Python), until they broke up the partnership to pursue individual careers. Eric Idle created and starred in Rutland Weekend Television, Michael Palin, in collaboration with Terry Jones made Ripping Yarns, as well as writing sketches for The Two Ronnies and appearing in Alan Bleasdale's GBH, and Cleese went on to co-write and star in another memorable sitcom, Fawlty Towers. However, this wasn't the end for Python, and the team got together again to write and star in several movie projects, the most controversial of which was 'The Life Of Brian' in 1979, before the sad and premature death of Graham Chapman in 1989.

By turns irreverent, surreal, chaotic and at times simply silly in a way which is uniquely and quintessentially British, the series became a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Its comedic influence echoing down the decades and in the process helping to redefine the boundaries of televisual comedy, Monty Python's Flying Circus has more than earned its place in television history. At its most sublime, it was daring zany humour on a school-boy level, performed expertly by a group of grown up children for a grown up audience ready and eager to once again recapture the (unfettered by logic) humour of their lost childhood. (Co-writer: Stephen R. Hulse)

MOODY AND PEGG (1974)

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Show Image 1970s series that successfully mixed comedy and drama, starring Derek Waring as antique dealer Roland Moody and Judy Cornwell as civil servant Daphne Pegg. Both move into a new property with the intention of leaving their past behind them. He is escaping from matrimonial disharmony that ended in divorce whilst she has made for London after realising that her boss has no intention of marrying her. But they soon discover that they have fallen foul of a disreputable estate agent who has sold them both the same lease. Unable to work out who is the rightful owner they reluctantly agree to share, but it is not a happy compromise. At the end of the first series Moody loses his right to live in the flat in a 'winner-takes-all' poker game. However, he returns at the start of series two.

MOODY IN... (1961)

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Show ImageBorn on 8th January 1924 in Tottenham, North London (as Ronald Moodnick), Ron Moody is perhaps best known to generations of filmgoers as the villainous yet lovable rogue Fagin in Lionel Bart's Academy Award winning Oliver! On stage from 1952, he specialised in revue and first played Fagin in the original stage version in 1960. The following year the BBC offered Moody his own musical sitcom series in which he appeared with a small company of players; actors, singers and dancers. The series ran for six weeks and each was a self contained programme that featured a different setting - those settings being Moody In...Storeland, Tin Pan Alley (pictured), Clock Factory Land, Theatreland, Musketeerland and Teleland. It was the only British sitcom that Moody appeared in and he only appeared in one other, the 1980 US sitcom Nobody's Perfect (retitled Hart of the Yard in the UK). The US title was more apt, though. The series was simply awful. Unfortunate indeed as a performer of Ron Moody's talent deserved far better.

MOONBASE 3 (1973)

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Show Image In the early part of the decade following man's landing on the moon optimism regarding humanity's future in space was still running relatively high. The prototype US space station Skylab had been successfully launched was looked upon as the next small step towards our exploration of the heavens. In was within this atmosphere of as yet undimmed expectation that on 9th September 1973, the BBC launched its new space based drama series, Moonbase 3. The brainchild of former Doctor Who alumni, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks, the series chronicled in a semi- documentary style the trials and tribulations of the highly trained men and women populating one of a number of permanent Lunar bases in the year 2003. Against the backdrop of political tensions both on Earth and on the Moon, coping with insufficiently meager budgets and non-stop technical and psychological problems, the large cast of characters lead by scientific troubleshooter and new European Moonbase director David Caulder, (Donald Houston) his deputy Michel Lebrun, (Ralph Bates), struggled to live and work in the hostile environment which marked the then farthest outpost of the final frontier.

Although originally envisioned as providing intelligent, realistic drama rather than science fantasy, despite the best intentions of Letts, Dicks and script consultant James Burk, the lynchpin of the BBC's Apollo coverage and star of his own Burke Special series of applied science programmes, Moonbase 3 was doomed to a run of a mere six episodes rather than the intended thirteen. With hindsight, the reason for the show's failure can be laid squarely with the lack of genuine dramatic tension to the majority of the stories, which fatally undermined the inherent potential of the series' basic format. Given the enviable track record of Letts and Dick's during their association with the revitalised Doctor Who at the time, their decision to reject injecting even the slightest of science fiction/fantasy elements into the fledgling series can be seen now as the gravest of miscalculations. This squandering of dramatic potential resulted in a total failure to engage viewer empathy with either the characters or their situations, and ensured that Moonbase 3 was destined to fade away on the 14th October 1973 following its short and ignoble run. A promising premise, first rate cast and production personnel notwithstanding, Moonbase 3 is best remembered as a noble failure that ultimately promised so much more than it eventually delivered. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)

MOONLIGHTING (1985)

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Show Image Slick, shamelessly self-aware and referential, creator Glen Gordon Caron's Moonlighting was the launching pad to mega-stardom for Bruce Willis and the restoration of model turned actress Cybil Shepherd's career. On the surface a glossy romantic comedy-drama set within the familiar conventions of the detective show format, Moonlighting soon became a world-wide smash between March 1985 to May 1989, due to the genuinely ground-breaking approach of literally sledge-hammering the infamous "Fourth Wall" (which traditionally separates viewers from the characters in a series), into a million tiny pieces. Constantly anarchic, littered with movie and TV allusions, filled with razor-honed one-liners and breathlessly delivered over-lapping dialogue which would have made Howard Hawkes happy, the core cast threw themselves into the spirit of the proceedings with an energy and abandon which effortlessly carried the viewers along with the staff of the Blue Moon detective agency through an ever increasingly unlikely series of adventures. The success - and also the eventual downfall of the series - was the will-they-won't-they?, romantic aspect of the relationship between Willis' cocky, brash, David Addison and Shepherd's more straight-laced, up-tight, model turned detective, Maddie Hayes. While the romance remained unfulfilled, unrequited, the show was at it's peak. The eventual consummation of their desire, along with the drawn out story arc culminating in Maddie giving birth to a baby, which was stillborn, was a miscalculation from which the show was never to recover. However at its peak Moonlighting was a screwball delight of the highest order. Genuinely innovative, it rose above its troubled and chaotic production history to emerge as a key show in the evolution of US television comedy-drama. Without the hip, fast-talking, lunacy of Moonlighting at its best, later series such as Ally McBeal might well never have arisen from its ashes. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)

THE MORECAMBE AND WISE SHOW (1968)

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Sketches, stand-up comedy and musical numbers featuring Britain's best loved double-act. "What do you think of it so far?" Click Here for review

MORK AND MINDY (1978)

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Alien being comes to earth to learn more about humans. Click Here for review

MR. AITCH (1967)

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Show Image Starring vehicle for Harry H Corbett in an attempt to break away from his most renowned role as Harold Steptoe. With scripts by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, amongst others, and starring one of Britain's best loved actors, this series had the perfect pedigree for success. It lasted only one series. "Mr. Aitch is really an extension of part of me." Corbett wrote in a 1967 TV Times article. "Although, unlike Mr. Aitch, I wasn't found in a bag in Harrods. This is why Harry Aitch wants status more than money. If status means he's got to have money then he'll go out and get the money. Any way that's practically legal. But he spends most of the time conning himself...

"He is a "manufactured" man. He has no real background. He would like one, but he hasn't got it. Therefore he is behoven only to himself and his ego. But he's never a moron and the only way he's a fool is to himself. He doesn't drop his 'h's,' does our Mr. Aitch. He's far too well educated. The rest of the world is only there to dance attendance to him, as long as he can con them into paying the piper to play the tune. For instance, there was a time-and there still is in most people's morality-where a debt incurred would have to be repaid. Mr. Aitch doesn't like to pay his debts. Not because he's bad and nasty. The thing that caused the debt is gone and finished and not worth the bother. It's much easier to go on from where you are than it is to go back to a fresh beginning. With Mr. Aitch I feel I've reproduced a character which has been boiling up in my mind for a long time now. Most of my life I have been lucky. I've not always had the money, but I have always been able to act out any part I want to play, whether it's professional on stage or before a real camera; or what passes for real life. And this is probably where Mr. Aitch and Harry H. Corbett come closest together: we are both dedicated to slaving ourselves to death-just so we can be lazy..."

The series also starred Norman Chappell as Mr. Aitch's chauffeur, Albie, and Gordon Gostelow as 'Leftie' was the only other regular cast member. Guest stars included Rita Webb, Bernard Cribbins and John Junkin (who also wrote one episode). Barry Cryer did the studio warm-up act for the live audience but it seemed that no amount of warming was enough for the TV audience who failed to tune in regularly. Three years later Harry H. Corbett would return to Steptoe and Son and help create some of British television's most enduring comedy half hours.

MR. BENN (1971)

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Show Image Classic series of animated adventures about bowler-hatted Mr. Benn of 52 Festive Road, London, who visited a rather special costume shop where he was greeted by the owner who arrived 'as if by magic.' The shop keeper then allowed Mr. Benn to try on any costume in the changing room from which he would proceed through 'the door that always led to adventure', and emerge in the world that related to the outfit he was wearing. As a caveman, an astronaut, a pirate or a cowboy, Mr. Benn would always come to the aid of some poor unfortunate before the shopkeeper suddenly re-appeared to escort him back to the shop. Created by David McKee and narrated by Ray Brooks, only 13 episodes were ever made, but the series has been repeated every year since it's original transmission, making it a firm children's favourite over several generations.

MR DIGBY, DARLING (1969)

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Show Image Mr Digby, Darling reunited Peter Jones and Sheila Hancock, two of the most popular characters from the hit sitcom The Rag Trade as well as bringing together again Jones with writers Ken Hoare and Mike Sharland, who had scripted Beggar My Neighbour. Hancock (wife of actor John Thaw) plays Thelma Teesdale, Personal Assistant to Roland Digby, the PR manager for pesticide manufacturers Rid-O-Rat. She is totally devoted to him. From the time he arrives in the office in the morning until the time he leaves in the evening she caters for his every need; providing a cooked breakfast for him (in a stove hidden in his office filing cabinet), darning his socks and providing him with slippers so he can work in comfort. Thelma pulls out all the stops in the vain, and ultimately doomed hope, that he will respond to her advances but alas, he remains totally oblivious. For Digby, the office becomes home-from-home and is a welcome escape from a domineering wife (the unseen Eleanor) and his three children whose names he can never remember (they are in fact Dominic, Robin and Gwendolyn). But it is only due to Thelma's heroic efforts that the incompetant Digby manages to survive in the cut-throat business world. Impressionist Janet Brown and Michael Bates (It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Last Of The Summer Wine) appeared in later episodes and the series ran for 3 seasons, switching to colour from episode 4 of series 2.

MR. PASTRY (1966)

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Show Image Played by Richard Hearne in a 1936 stage show Big Boy, Mr Pastry was one of British TV's first clowns, appearing on the small screen since 1946. He was an accident prone but surprisingly nimble old man (although Hearne was only 28-years old when he first created him) whose trademark appearance of bowler hat, white walrus moustache and long coat-tails was still captivating and amusing young audiences in the 1960's with his own series, as well as appearances on Crackerjack and Sunday Night at the London Palladium. His theme tune was Pop Goes the Weasel. In 1963 Hearne became President of the Lord's Taverners charity and he subsequently raised money for hundreds of hydrotherapy pools. In 1970 he was awarded the OBE for his charitable work. He was also considered, at one time, for the title role in Doctor Who.

MR ROSE (1967)

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William Mervyn starring as Inspector Rose. See The Odd Man for review

MRS. THURSDAY (1966)

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Show Image A gentle comedy/drama from the prolific (Lord) Ted Willis, Mrs. Thursday became the surprise hit of 1966, even managing to knock Coronation Street off the top of the ratings, and making a late star of Katherine Harrison. Cockney charlady Alice Thursday worked for retired business tycoon George Dunrich until the day he died. But rather than find herself unemployed and having to look for a new job following her boss's demise, Alice discovered that she was the main beneficiary to his estate which included his money, his multi-national business empire, his Rolls Royce and his Mayfair mansion. All this to the disgust of his four money-grasping ex-wives and, more surprisingly, to Alice's own small circle of friends. It took a while before Alice distinguished her true friends from her true enemies, but fortunately she was supported along the way by her genial business advisor and right hand man Richard Byron Hunter. Determined to flesh out the character of Alice Thursday so she would seem believable to the viewing public, Ted Willis created an entire history for her on paper, so that everyone concerned with making the series would come to know the fictitious cleaner as if she were the woman next door.

Willis wrote: "Alice May Lee was born the daughter of a general labourer in Kensington and left school at 14 to work in a paper mill. At 16 she went into service with a vicar's family at Basingstoke -her first experience of life away from home. She met Bert Thursday at Hampstead Heath fair and married him the following year. They had four children. When Bert died in 1958 he left no means of support for Alice, so she went to work -determined to be independent of her children. She turned to 'charring' and got a job as a cleaner at the Dunrich Group of Companies at Dunrich House in the City. There she met George Dunrich, the self-made founder of the group. When George retired Alice went to work for him at his Mayfair home. Alice likes television, light music -especially operatic arias -bingo and music hall. She takes a week's holiday in Southend every year and enjoys it. Her upbringing has been tough, and she has known real poverty and hardship. Although she is warm-hearted and impulsively generous, she has learned to read a phoney on sight. Her greatest assets are her common sense and fundamental optimism which carry her through the most difficult situations."

The part of Alice Thursday was allegedly written specifically for Kathleen Harrison who had become familiar to British cinemagoers as Mrs Huggett, cockney wife of Jack Warner in a film (and later radio) series, which was very popular a few years before. Hugh Manning, who played Mrs Thursday's well-meaning financial advisor, was a popular television actor who had previously starred in The Sullavan Brothers and would later become a regular on the popular soap Emmerdale. The series ran for two seasons until the writers (who included Jack Rosenthal among their number) had explored all the "what would you do if you inherited a fortune" situations to their fullest, and Mrs Thursday slipped quietly away to enjoy her (good) fortunes.