Innovative Saturday morning children's programme where young viewers, for the first time, took an integral part in the events, being encouraged to phone in as well as turn up at different locations around the country, only revealed in the first few minutes of the show going out live. Sometimes as many as 2,000 children and their parents would turn up. Multi-Coloured Swap Shop featured cartoons, pop artistes, sports stars and celebrity guests viewers could phone-in and talk to while the 'swapping' theme involved kids phoning up to swap old toys, books, clothes-just about anything other than pets (or kid sisters) for items that they'd like in return. The most interesting of these were highlighted in a Top Ten Swaps feature while the invited guests were asked to bring an item as a competition prize. The most sought after of these was undoubtedly drawings created in front of the camera by the artist Tony Hart who would pop in from time to time. The series was a vehicle for former Pirate Radio / Radio One DJ Noel Edmonds and was intended to run for just six weeks. In the end it ran for six years. Noel was ably assisted by roving reporters/presenters Maggie Philbin and Keith Chegwin (who married in 1982) and John Craven presented News Swap which gave viewers a chance to speak about current events. Feature items and prizes were delivered to Noel's desk from on high by 'crane' operated by the unseen Eric and pride of place on Noel's desk was taken by a dinosaur mascot called Posh Paws (an anagram of Swap Shop). For the last two years the series was known simply as Swap Shop. It was replaced by Saturday Superstore in 1982. A special show commemorating Swap Shop's 30th anniversary was made in 2006 reuniting the original team - and Posh Paws.
THE MUNSTERS (1964)
Ghoulish family try to fit in with the outside world. Click Here for review
Seen in more than 100 countries by an estimated audience of 235 million dedicated viewers world-wide between September 1976 and its final edition in 1981, The Muppet Show was the grand tradition of variety given a green felt twist and a foam rubber punch courtesy of creator Jim Henson's manically misfit band of phenomenally popular puppet performers. The genesis of the Muppet's lay in Jim Henson's life long love affair with the art of puppetry which had began with his childhood fascination in such early US Shows as Kukia, Fran & Ollie and The Baird Puppets. Henson went on to create his own early short-lived TV puppet show for a local station in Maryland, while still a high school senior. In 1955, as a freshman at he University of Maryland, he and his future wife, Jane Nebel, teamed up to present a regular show for local television station WRC-TV Washington, called Sam and Friends. It was also at about this time that the young Henson coined the phrase Muppet to describe his unique combination of marionette and puppetry. Sam and Friends soon led to his doing commercials and from there to making his national network debut on shows such as Tonight, Today, Ed Sullivan, Jimmy Dean (where Muppet pianist Rowlf was a regular), and The Perry Como Show. But it was on Steve Allen's Tonight Show in 1957 that Henson's most famous future star made his first appearance as the then one year-old Kermit the Frog sang 'I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face' to a purple monster named Nebel, which was so overcome with emotion that it proceeded to eat its own face and then attempt to follow that up by eating Kermit to boot.
But the Muppets true lasting impact was sealed by the creation of the legendary pre-school learning programme, Sesame Street, which they have featured in since 1969. Despite their popularity in the series and Henson's firm belief in his creation's potential, the concept of a wider audience based show of their own was rejected by the network officials, who deemed the Muppets appeal as being limited strictly to children. However, a means of wider exposure was granted to Henson in the larger than life form of legendary British TV mogul and showman, Lew Grade, who stepped in and offered to back the puppeteer's concept for a syndicated series. As had so often proved to be the case in the past, Grade's keen instinct for quality and potential assured the birth of a series which would ultimately prove to be a much bigger hit than many of the networks' own shows. Kermit, as host, attempted to maintain control over a weekly half-hour of chaos and confusion as his motley cast of unruly animals, monsters, out of control humanoid compatriots and an often bemused human guest star, threatened to reduce every big production number into a chaotic shambles. Regulars included the loud and karate chop inclined wannabe star Miss Piggy, Rowlf, the shaggy canine piano-player, comically challenged stand up comedian Fozzie Bear, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem -the resident band which included the coolly spaced-out guitarist cum Sax player Floyd, and the homicidally monosyllabic drummer, Animal. Also amongst viewer favourites were the maniacal and totally incomprehensible Swedish chef, Gonzo, the...whatever, who always tried to open the show with a trumpet fanfare only to see his efforts stymied as the trumpet would break, explode, or perform in a totally unexpected, non-musical way, and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, the short, balding, crackpot scientist who held the distinction of actually being modelled after the show's Sir Lew Grade himself. Observing the on-stage antics with a vocal mixture of scorn and disdain from their box seats were the two old geezers, Statler and Waldorf.
The Muppet Show attracted a plethora of genuinely top flight guests during the course of its 130 episodes ranging from George Burns, Zero Mostel, and Steve Martin to Rudolf Nureyev, Roger Moore, Elton John, and a memorable appearance by Peter Sellers as respectively, a mad German chiropractor who tied a pig in knots, and a pompous actor reciting lines from 'Richard lll' while squeezing a clucking chicken tightly under each arm. The real secret of The Muppet Show's success lay not so much in the anarchic humour or the big production set pieces, but rather in the almost human warmth, wit and charm of the Muppet characters themselves. A genuine tribute to Henson and his skilled team of performers, who's own personalities were memorably reflected by their puppet counterparts. The series spun off five feature films ('The Muppet Movie,' 'The Great Muppet Caper,' 'The Muppets Take Manhattan,' 'Muppet Christmas Carol' and Muppet's Treasure Island) and on the wave of its success also spawned a television sequel, Fraggle Rock (1984-89), and then in 1996, six years after the untimely death of Henson, the show was revived as Muppets Tonight! Which saw the introduction of several new characters.
Funny, frenetic, wild and almost wilfully witty, The Muppet Show stands not only as a great example of great televisual entertainment, but more importantly as a warm and enduring reminder of the inspired inventive genius of the late and sadly missed Jim Henson.
Inspired by the sensational O.J. Simpson murder trial of the mid-1990's, this Steven Bochco legal drama followed the twists and turns of a fictional high profile homicide case for an entire season. Despite its high quality, Murder One was thwarted by bad scheduling and only lasted two years. The series began with the gruesome murder of 15-year-old Jessica Costello, and the arrest of her lover, film star Neil Avedon. Defending Neil was the Hoffman and Associates legal firm, led by attorney Theodore (Ted) Hoffman and his team of associates, including Arnold Spivak and Justine Appleton. Challenging Ted's case was Assistant District Attorney Miriam Grasso (played by Bochco's now ex-wife Barbara Bosson). Philanthropist Richard Cross, who had his fingers in the Costello murder case, was portrayed by Stanley Tucci in a scene-stealing role that raised his profile in both film and television. But ABC made the fatal mistake in slotting Murder One against NBC's formidable medical drama ER (which was entering its second season). The results were no surprise: ER easily doubled Murder One's audience. By mid-season, ABC moved the show to Monday nights, but new viewers didn't tune in, largely because of "Murder's" serialized format. Even though viewers were given a recap of previous events at the start of every episode, ratings remained marginal. Still, the network renewed the series for the second (and final) season, Bochco changed the format to focus on several separate cases instead of one case over an entire season. Also gone were several regulars, including Hoffman. His place at the head of the legal firm was Jimmy Wyler (played by a pre-Without A Trace Anthony LaPaglia); the reason given on the show was that Hoffman retired to save his shaky marriage. Wyler had his own problems, including finding money to save the legal firm from closure. But despite the changes, ratings fell even further, and ABC pulled the plug. (The final episodes were aired over three consecutive nights after the conclusion of the May 1997 ratings sweeps.) Murder One had all of Bochco's trademark plot devices, plus stellar acting and writing. Sadly, it wasn't enough for the show to make its own case with the viewing public. (Review: Mike Spadoni)
MURDER ROOMS: THE DARK BEGINNINGS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (2000)
Victorian pathologist proves to be the inspiration for a young doctor's literary creation. Click Here for review
Owing more than a nod to Agatha Christie's famed fictional character Miss Marple, Murder, She Wrote was a traditional mystery from the Universal Television factory that allowed the viewer to play along and guess the culprit. Its success as the longest-running mystery drama on American television also proved that shows starring older, vital women could draw large audiences. Created by the team of Richard Levinson, William Link and Peter S. Fischer (Levinson and Link were responsible for the now-classic Columbo and Mannix), Murder, She Wrote centered on mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, a widow and former high school teacher who became a best-selling author but still lived in the quiet community of Cabot Cove, Maine. She didn't drive and typed all her manuscripts on an ancient manual typewriter. But somehow, Jessica always found herself in the middle of a murder investigation. (There seemed to be an unusual number of homicides in Cabot Cove!) The formula was always the same: A friend/relative of Jessica's is accused of murder (viewers see the murder taking place but don't see the killer); the police seem to be clueless. Jessica uses her fictional murder writing skills to do her own investigation and solve the murder mystery. Always in the last few minutes-just before the final commercial-Jessica explains the circumstances leading up to the killing and announces the identity of the culprit. Case closed, until next week.
At a time when the new-wave crime dramas such as Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice were attracting critical attention, Murder, She Wrote proved to be a good alternative for viewers-especially older ones-who wanted a more familiar format. And Lansbury refused to play a dottering old lady. She was seen as vital, active, interested in her world. Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher paved the way for more active senior women on television (especially on the very successful sitcom The Golden Girls). It also sparked similar shows with older veteran actors, such as the Perry Mason television movie revival and the Andy Griffith legal drama Matlock. After five years as Jessica Fletcher, Lansbury threatened to leave the show after the 1988-89 season. CBS, not wanting to lose one of its biggest hits, allowed Lansbury to cut back on her schedule; there were episodes where she only appeared at the beginning and end, having other guest sleuths handle the show that week. Eventually, Lansbury returned to the show in full force. Starting in the fall of 1991, a trimmer and more youthful-looking Jessica moved to New York City where she began teaching a criminology course at Manhattan University-and not surprisingly, murder seemed to follow the still spry writer wherever she went.
Angela Lansbury was better-known as a Oscar-nominated and Tony-winning actress before accepting the Murder, She Wrote episode. But her importance to the television industry can not be understated. Murder, She Wrote may not have been everybody's cup of tea, but it was Lansbury's talent and instinct that made it one of the most successful dramatic series of the 1980's and 90's. A pretty good legacy, by any measure.
(Review: Mike Spadoni)
Every year, for the sake of his health, Ambrose Ashley has wintered happily abroad. By chance, one year he meets a distant relation, the Contessa Sangalletti - his cousin Rachel - and tragedy strikes. Based on Daphne du Maurier's gothic novel of suspicion, mistrust and murder, the story concerns itself with the affairs of Philip Ashley, a wealthy young man in 19th-century England who, having been orphaned at an early age, is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose, who delights in Philip as his heir. But their cosy world is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence where he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. In almost no time at all, the new widow - Philip's cousin Rachel - turns up in England. Philip immediately suspects Rachel - and goes on suspecting her even after he falls in love with her, giving her everything he owns, even though she refuses his entreaties of marriage. His suspicions revive, with catastrophic consequences when her lawyer arrives at the estate, and coaxes Philip into trying some of Rachel's tea. He soon falls ill, and it is whispered that Rachel has poisoned him.
This four-part BBC serialisation dramatised by Hugh Whitmore debuted on BBC2 on Monday 7th March 1983 at 8.30pm and starred one of the most famous names in cinema history. Playing the central role of the young widow Rachel was Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of the king of silent silver-screen comedy, Charlie. In an exclusive Radio Times interview dated 5th March 1983, Richard Beynon, producer of My Cousin Rachel, stated that Chaplin was perfect for the role due to the 'air of mystery' that surrounded her and 'an undeniable star quality' that effortlessly projected the secrecy contiguous with the young widow who 'impels disaster.' Beynon noted that she (Chaplin) had never worked in a television studio before, or on location with video cameras. But she leapt at the opportunity in spite of being struck by-what she herself called-'hysterical nervousness.' Richard Beynon recalled her once telling him that she was expecting the sack at any moment. But, in common with all her work, Geraldine said there was love as well as hate. "I got hooked on the rush, the pandemonium," she freely admitted. "Even changing your clothes, you have to run to your dressing room and back. And, unlike film, you can't do a scene again if you're no good. But the danger of it all became like a drug to me." Geraldine enjoyed immersing herself in the character of Rachel, a process she found particularly easy among the wild cliffs and roaring winds on location. "Cornwall was everything I expected from reading the novels of Daphne du Maurier. Romantic but darkly so." It wasn't just Cornwall itself that captivated Geraldine. Local people were employed on the production as 'extras'. "One man looked exactly like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights," she recalled. "I couldn't take my eyes off him."
My Cousin Rachel had previously appeared on the big screen in 1952 and starred Richard Burton as Philip and Olivia De Havilland who returned to the screen after a three-year absence to take the role of the murderously attractive widow, Rachel. In this small screen version Christopher Guard played Philip and a strong supporting cast included Charles Kay as Rachel's lawyer, Rainaldi, and John Stratton as Nick, Philip's godfather who examines the letters that Ambrose posts home from Italy and declares them to have been written by a man of unsound mind. My Cousin Rachel keeps the viewers guessing and the bitter-sweet agony of the drama is drawn out over confusion of Ambrose's will, as well as by hints that it was Rachel who poisoned him. It's a period drama that the BBC has a reputation for producing and is a superb example of how to transfer a classic novel into an enthralling four episodes of televisual production. That this splendid and absorbing drama was produced over thirty years ago speaks as loudly for the quality of the golden age of BBC costume drama. (Excerpts quoted from original Radio Times article.)
En route to his office, LA journalist Tim O'Hara witnesses the crash landing of a space ship. On further investigation he discovers that the UFO's pilot has survived the crash and is in fact an anthropologist from the planet Mars. O'Hara takes the stranded Martian home in order that he may carry out repairs to his spaceship, and this gives rise to a number of comic situations as the journalist tries to hide the truth from friends and nosy neighbours, during the alien's elongated stay. O'Hara was played by Bill Bixby who would go on to star in a number of TV roles, most notably The Magician and David Banner, the mild mannered but troubled alter-ego of The Incredible Hulk. Ray Walston, a star of the movie South Pacific played the Martian (referred to as O'Hara's Uncle Martin), the human looking alien with the ability of levitating objects, turning invisible and reading minds. At the time the series began there was much enthusiasm and interest in America's Apollo space program that would eventually put man on the moon, and this probably contributed to the shows success as it shot to the top ten of the Nielsens ratings. A spin-off animated series of 16 episodes was made between 1973-5 and in 1999 a movie version starred Christopher Lloyd was released to lukewarm reception (and that was being generous). Walston made a cameo appearance in the movie.
Sylvia Gibbons is a fanatical charity fund raiser. Much to the displeasure and frustration of her antique dealing husband, Clive, all she ever collects is donated to good causes and all the spare time she has is used for helping the less fortunate. As a result, their life together is somewhat barren and Clive seeks solace in the company of his next-door neighbour, Philip Broadmore, and later with skirt-chasing bachelor friend and darts player Bob Berris. But Clive does not seek comfort from other female company because in spite of it all he is still very much in love with his wife. My Good Woman was the first ITV sitcom for Leslie Crowther who to a generation of children was the perenial host of the long-running children's institution, Crackerjack. Born in Nottingham on 6th February 1933, Leslie was the son of a stage actor by the same name. At an early age he learned to play the piano and soon found work on BBC radio before going on to become one of the famous 'Ovaltiney's. In 1960 he joined the Crackerjack team and built up something of a comedy double-act with Peter Glaze that lasted until he quit the series in 1968. At this point he broke away from being a children's presenter and increased his reputation as an all-round entertainer by hosting the BBC's popular variety The Black and White Minstrel Show.
Leslie had appeared in a Comedy Playhouse episode The Reluctant Romeo in 1966 and this was later made into a full series but it didn't click with the viewers. Then in 1970 he was lured away from the BBC by London Weekend Television and given a series of 'stand-up' shows called Crowther's In Town. This was followed the next year by The Leslie Crowther Show in which the amiable host would perform a number of sketch routines alongside Arthur English, Chic Murray and Albert Modley ("Eee it's grand to be daft!"). The series also boasted a number of guest stars such as Dickie Henderson, Jimmy Edwards, Dora Bryan and Larry Grayson (who was making his TV debut). From the 1970s, Leslie also achieved renown as the face of Stork SB Margarine for whom he appeared in a number of memorable television commercials. Always a great supporter of charities, Leslie met Sylvia Syms at a fund raising event and this was the basis for the sitcom that proved popular enough to run for five series from 1972 to 1974. It was Syms first TV comedy of any kind and it also gave a debut to Richard Wilson, who as the Reverend Martin Hooper was always the beneficiary of Sylvia's tireless charity work in the series.
In the 1980's Leslie Crowther became known as a games show host being chosen as the personality to introduce the British public to the US import The Price is Right and later still he introduced viewers to musical soundalikes in Stars In Their Eyes. But two years into the series Leslie was returning home late at night from a charity event when he was almost killed in a car crash. The accident was so serious that he remained in a coma for 17 days and required brain surgery to remove blood two clots. Although he appeared occasionally on television after that it was quite clear that his days as a performer were over. In 1993 Leslie was awarded the CBE in the New Year's Honours list in recognition of his years of charity work and went to Buckingham Palace to collect it in July on that year. Then, in 1994, shortly after publishing his autobiography, "The Bonus of Laughter", Leslie retired from show business. He died from heart failure on 29th September 1996, aged 63, with his wife Jean and family at his side. In October the BBC screened Leslie Crowther - A Tribute, which remembered both his versatility and likeability. In the hearts of the British public, to a generation and more, Leslie Crowther was one of our best-loved performers.
Bob Cummings played the part of Robert S. Beanblossom, a well-meaning but not very successful real estate salesman for the Thackery Realty Company. Actor Cummings, who had served during the war as a flying instructor, had previously appeared in the Hollywood movie Dial M for Murder. In this filmed series he managed to avoid the wrath of his boss, Willis Thackery , for all his shortcomings, by virtue of his pleasing nature and the help he received from office secretary (and his girlfriend) Julie Marshall (Julie Bishop), who went out of her way to straighten out his mistakes in the belief that he would always emerge triumphant. The series was broadcast by the NBC Network between November 1952 and August 1953, and was also sold to the UK where it was aired on the new Independent channel, ATV, on 24 September 1955, making it the first US sitcom to be seen on Commercial Television, preceding I Love Lucy by a day, and becoming only the second US import to be seen on British screens behind Amos n' Andy which was shown on BBC in 1954.
Following on from the success of I Love Lucy, ATV television in the UK purchased another US sitcom in the form of My Little Margie, which centred around 21 year-old Margie Albright and her widower father, Vernon. Gale Storm, who played the lead, began her stage career by winning the Texas branch of a competition to play in 'Gateway to Hollywood.' She met the winner of the same contest from Indiana and a year later they were married. Gale then decided to concentrate on raising a family before returning to the silver screen, where she appeared alongside well-known names of the day such as Donald O'Connor and Audie Murphy. Her co-star in the TV series was former silent movie star Charles Farrel who had appeared opposite Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven. In an unusual move, My Little Margie began a radio series in December 1952, a little more than two months after the first TV series had finished, and then continued on both mediums throughout the rest of its run. Not, as one might imagine in radio versions of the TV episodes, but in completely new stories. Co-stars Storm and Farrell played the leads in both. The first episode of the TV series was transmitted on CBS in 1952 and the last one was seen on NBC in 1955.
MY OLD MAN (1974)
Pensioner is forced to leave his house and live in a high-rise block. Click Here for review
There's no love, they say, like a mother's love; and no strings like those on a mother's apron. When it comes to mums, Reuben Greenberg (Bernard Spear) is unlikely ever to master his own affairs. Any affair he might care to master romantically is guaranteed a veto - Momma (Lila Kaye) will see to that. Reuben runs a successful laundry business...but if he were ever to press his suit elsewhere - other than to a nice Jewish girl of his mother's choice - mother would move heaven and earth to repel his advances. Momma's Jewish neighbour Vera Caplan (Stella Tanner) has a daughter, Ruth (Caroline Bernstein), who has all the qualifications for an ideal match. Unfortunately for her - or him, Rueben has fallen for Betty Smith (Jo Rowbottom). "If you ever get any ideas about marriage" Momma tells Reuben "I'll give you a wedding present you won't forget - an inviation to your mother's funeral!" Writer Vince Powell who had co-written Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width, presented another cross-culture ethnic comedy - the star of this series (Spear) had also appeared in that one, too. (Review based on original TV Times article)
Long running (1960-72) US series which enjoyed huge popularity as a family comedy with a difference, that difference being that it starred a generally all-male cast headed by Fred McMurray as widower Steve Douglas bringing up a family of three sons, 18 year-old Mike, 14 year-old Robbie, and 7 year-old Chip, with the aid of their grandfather, Michael Francis "Bub" O'Casey, and Tramp, the family dog. Steve worked as a consulting aviation engineer but seemed to spend most of his time bringing up the kids and fending off the attentions of attractive women. In 1965 "Bub" left the series to take a trip to Ireland (actor William Frawley had in fact become too ill to continue working) and was replaced by his brother Charley. For the 1965-66 season the show moved from ABC to CBS. In 1967 the family were uprooted from their Midwest home at 837 Mill Street and moved to California. The following year, one of the "son's" became a father himself to triplets thereby providing another three sons.
When George Bassett (John Alderton) divorced his wife, Suzy (Hannah Gordon), he decided to make a new life for himself outside of London. So George moved to an idyllic cottage in the countryside at number 1 Copse Cottages, near Stoke Poges. Suzy also decided to move to the countryside. Unfortunately she had purchased the property at number 2 Copse Cottages!
Thus was the premise for Brian Clemens' and Richard Waring's award winning sitcom about a divorced couple who despised the fact that they were living next to each other, in spite of the overriding fact (that soon became clear to the audience)...that they were still in love with each other. For thirteen episodes George tried to win Suzy back, but in the end the situation remained unresolved, for in spite of the fact that the series received the Society of Film and Television Award for the year's best sitcom, writer Waring felt as though he'd explored the couples relationship as far as he could and the series never returned for a second outing. Two unsuccessful attempts were made to adapt the series for US television. The first starred James Farentino andJulie Somers in 1975 and the second starred Granville Van Dusen and Lee Purcell. The latter was written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.
Six-part, early evening drama series from Southern Television about a boy and his dog, a dead man walking and buried treasure. Jeremy Brent (Mark Colleano) is spending his summer holiday at a remote fifteenth century Dorset hotel when he witnesses a guest shoot the hotel's owner. He tells all and sundry what he has seen only for the hotel owner to turn up later perfectly well and unharmed. With his credibility shot down, Jeremy has no one to turn to when he later stumbles across a story of lost treasure from a sunken Spanish galleon that may be hidden in a secret passage somewhere beneath the hotel. His only allies appear to be his faithful canine companion, Solo, and an odd-job man by the name of Zebediah Gast (Philip Newman). But is Gast all he claims to be? Or should Jeremy put his trust in pretty hotel receptionist Jane (Paddy Glynn) or one of the other hotel guests? All in all quite a dilemma for the youngster.
MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION (1966)
Anthology series of Victorian chillers. Click Here for review