Reviews

RADISSON (1957)

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Show ImageThe first major dramatic series to be filmed in Canada, Radisson starred Jacques Godin as true-to-life Pierre-Esprit Radisson a French explorer and soldier of fortune who lived between 1636-1710. He arrived in Canada in 1651. His journals, first published as the Voyages of Peter Esprit Radisson (1885), tells of his capture (1652-53) by the Iroquois. Another asserts that he made a trip to the West with his brother-in-law, Medard Chouart, sieur des Groseilliers (played by Rene Caron in the series). However, the journals are confusing, often leaving great doubt as to the location of places and the time of events. Perfect material, therefore, to be given the full Western adventure treatment. Written by John Lucarotti, Jean Desprez and Renee Normand the series premiered on French Stations on February 3, 1957 and told the continuing story of Radisson's journey up the Hudson during the 17th Century. Filmed on location at Ile Perrot on the St. Lawrence River, the series was the brainchild of Monica Clare, the CBC's national organiser of children's programming. It sold to the USA and Britain (where it first aired in 1959) but not before changing its title outside of Canada to Tomahawk.

RAFFLES (1977)

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Show ImageOne of the best-known characters in English fiction, created in 1899 by E(renest) W(illiam) Hornung, Raffles played cricket for England, had bachelor chambers in the Albany Hotel, was an all-round gentleman and burgled houses in Mayfair. The original play, made by Yorkshire Television in 1975, proved a popular vehicle for the understated talents of Anthony Valentine and was set against a period backdrop of late Victorian England. The title for this pilot was taken from the title of Hornung's original Raffles tale, Raffles - The Amateur Cracksman and told of the thrill-seeking gentleman A J Raffles who moves freely among the social elite of London whilst remaining one step ahead of the law-robbing the rich to finance his lavish lifestyle. Aided and abetted by Bunny Manners (Christopher Strauli), his "fag" at university and now resident partner-in-crime in much the same way as Watson was to Sherlock Holmes, only in this case, on the other side of the law. The comparative 'flip-side' to the master detective and his able assistant was no doubt an intentional one - Hornung was married to Arthur Conan Doyle's sister!

This Yorkshire TV Production proved popular enough to be made into a lavish five-million-pound series in 1977 devised and created by Philip Mackie, although it was the original brainchild of series producer Jacky Stoller and then Head of Drama Serials Peter Willes (who had produced the original play). By the end of its 13-hour long episodes the series could boast a viewing audience of 6.5 million. Each episode was based on Hornung's original scripts and adapted for television by Mackie. Raffles' nefarious nocturnal plans didn't always run true to course and on many occasions he had to rely on his wits and various costume and facial disguises in order to extricate himself from a difficult situation and escape the clutches of the law unscathed. To this end, his Moriarty, and in constant pursuit of Raffles was the diligent Inspector Mackenzie of Scotland Yard (portrayed by James Maxwell in the play and Victor Carin in the series), who was always determined to catch Raffles in the act. Hornung wrote a number of crime stories, usually with a tendency to take the side of the criminal. His justification in Raffles case was that his victims are usually boorish, greedy or in some way deserving of being separated from their valuable possessions. But he was no Robin Hood-what he stole from the rich he didn't give to the poor. The series may have proved popular with viewers but not so with the owners of the Albany Hotel who refused Yorkshire Television permission to film on their grounds. Instead the production team had to build their own exterior. Raffles took six months to film and was shot on a mixture of video and film leaving the overall 'feel' a little uneven at times. This was compensated by the excellent scripts, which attracted large overseas sales and a DVD release of all the episodes except, incomprehensibly, the play/pilot. A later adaptation entitled Gentleman Thief (2001) was made by BBC Television and starred Nigel Havers.

THE RAG TRADE (1961)

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Show ImageClassic, and in many ways groundbreaking comedy series that had its roots in the Boulting Brothers hilarious 1959 cinema released satire of British trade unionism, I'm All Right Jack. The series was groundbreaking in as much as the best lines all went to the female members who made up a majority of the cast. Set within the working class environs of Fenner Fashions, an East End sweat-shop owned by Harold Fenner (Peter Jones) that turned out coats, dresses or just about anything else 'the client' wanted in the way of women's apparel, but run by feisty shop steward Paddy (Miriam Karlin) who could bring production to a stand-still with a cry of "Everybody Out!" a call that became so popular that it was adopted as a national catchphrase. Trying to mediate between the shop floor and the management but with little success was Reg (Reg Varney) whilst Sheila Hancock and Esma Cannon added equally wonderful comic support. The series was a runaway success but that success was somewhat short lived. Cast changes meant that by season three Barbara Windsor, Wanda Ventham and Irene Handl were brought in to replace outgoing cast members, but by that time the edge had gone and the true-to-life ability of the unions to bring industry to a stand-still was no longer cannon fodder for situation comedy. The scriptwriters (Ronald's Wolfe and Chesney) went on to create a new series for Varney (On The Buses), before returning with a revival in 1977. However, after making a pilot (which was never shown) the BBC decided to reject a new series and so the writers defected with it to LWT. Only Karlin and Jones returned in their original roles aided and abetted this time by former On The Buses star Anna Karen (reprising her role of Olive - busdriver Stan's frumpy sister), Gillian Taylforth (who, like Karen went on to star in EastEnders), Diane Langton and Christopher Beeny (after Upstairs Downstairs). That's not quite the end of the story as far as The Rag Trade goes, because the series has been remade around the world under various other titles, the most successful being Scandinavia's Fredericksson's Fabriks (1989-94) and the most recent Portugal's Trapos and Company in 1995. A 1978 version for US television failed to go beyond the pilot.

RAINBOW (1971)

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Show Image Pre-school fun, songs and learning with a dedicated hard core adult following, Rainbow ran for almost twenty years on the ITV network as a production of Thames Television. starring Bungle the Bear (actor and voice artist, Roy Skelton, who had also supplied the grating, memorable voice of a Dalek more than once in the BBC's Doctor Who), alongside puppets George, a mild mannered, pink hippopotamus and the gruff, sarcastic and zip-mouthed creature know as Zippy, as well as human co-star, Geoffrey Hayes, formerly Detective Constable Scatliff at Newtown CID, in the BBC's classic Z-cars. However, the original, now almost forgotten line-up when the series first appeared on the nation's TV screens in 1971, consisted of actor David Cook as the host along with Moony, a meek mauve puppet, and Sunshine, an aggressive yellow one. Another well loved element which contributed greatly to Rainbow's enduring success was the resident musical trio of Rod, Jane and...Matthew. Future custodian of the mighty Sooty franchise, Matthew Corbett was one-third of the shows original musical trio before being replaced by the person who's name helped immortalise the threesome, Freddy! In its early days Rainbow attracted a superb roster of talent for its rotating band of guest storytellers, including Dame Judi Dench and Stephanie Beacham. Charming, innocent and a mainstay of pre-school programming, Rainbow continues to be a fondly remembered and much admired example of the very best television for the very young...as well as the very young at heart.

RAUMPATROUILLE ORION (1966)

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The first German science fiction television series Click Here for review.

RANDALL AND HOPKIRK (DECEASED) (1969)

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Show ImageThe idea of an earthbound spirit lingering to make life difficult for a particular hapless member of the still living wasn't exactly original, even in 1969 when Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)-US title: My Partner the Ghost-joined ITC's successful stable. In fact productions such as Noel Coward's stage play and movie Blithe Spirit, and in Hollywood the series of Topper films and their later TV spin-off series had already mined the comedic possibilities of such an haunting situation with varying degree of success. However, Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman's touch of brilliance with Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) was in marrying the comedic possibilities inherent in this aspect of one-on-one haunting to the classic private eye format, to create a pleasing hybrid imbued with a unique charm all of its own. Indeed, the most successful aspect of the series was the totally believable core relationship between experienced comedy actor Kenneth Cope as the ghostly Marty Hopkirk, struggling to come to terms with his new, non corporeal existence and Mike Pratt's consummate performance as the hang dog, slightly seedy, resolutely world-weary, Jeff Randall. An ordinary man plunged into an anything but ordinary situation.

The key to their mutually interdependent relationship, cleverly given centre stage by the series writers, was the conceit that apart from the single fantasy element of Marty being dead, it was business as usual for the partnership. The two investigators bicker, disagree, fight and fall out during the course of an investigation, but the bond of friendship between them is obviously deep, warm and strong beyond the limitations of mere mortality. Never is this more apparent than in the understated, amusingly omnipresent romantic triangle which simmers as a constant undercurrent throughout the series. Marty may indeed be dead but his love for his beautiful young window, Jeannie, remains intact. Jeff's love for her is an unspoken given, as is her obvious attraction for him. But their mutual attraction is doomed to remain unfulfilled due to her deep grief for the untimely loss of her husband, and Jeff's loyalty to a friend who, although dead, is still very much in every day evidence. Although a popular series both in its day as much as now, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) was destined never to progress past a single season. Perhaps this is just as well, as the planned season two would have seen the format altered to a much heavier emphasis on broad comedy, which would have fatally flawed the delicate balance which on the whole, season one had walked with genial aplomb. That the format is a strong one can be attested to by the decision to revive the show some 30 years later as a high budget, glossily produced starring vehicle for the comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. Consideration of the merits of Randall and Hopkirk 2000 aside for the moment, it should be remembered that without the trail blazed so successfully by the original, its entirely possible that the latest incarnation wouldn't have stood the ghost of a chance. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)

RANDALL AND HOPKIRK (DECEASED) (2000)

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Show Image Whether termed remake or revival, the resurrection of a well-loved series from the past is at best dangerous, and at worst disastrous. However, BBC television's lavish prime-time Saturday night incarnation of the fondly remembered ITC series originally starring Kenneth Cope and the late Mike Pratt, is that most rarest of televisual beast's; the revival done right. Retaining all the core ingredients which made the original a success, yet infusing them with a knowingly affectionate nod towards the basic absurdity of the concept, writer/producer Charlie Higson remoulded Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) into a consistently amusing romp which unashamedly sets out to offer its audience light-hearted, purely escapist entertainment, which is a direct hark back to the less cynical decade that spawned the original. Unlike the original, the new version, with it's state-of-the-art special effects, became an instant hit.

In the central roles of ghost and detective respectively, comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer exhibit their inexperience as actors, but these dramatic shortcomings on the duo's part are most successfully negated by the wise decision to surround them with a plethora of seasoned guest stars. Alongside regular support from the talented Emilia Fox as Jeannie Hurst, (Marty's widow in the original, now his fiancee) and reinvented as a kick-boxing equal to her male co-stars, is the effortlessly charismatic presence of former Doctor Who Tom Baker, as Wyvern, Marty's spectral mentor. And as usual, Baker's performance is a delight to behold.

In its two seasons both the series, it's stars and the production team as a whole made a massive leap forwards in terms of confidence in the ability of the series to step out of the impressive shadow cast by its sixties counterpart. Both Reeves and Mortimer made genuine progress in their acting ability, and grew comfortable enough with their interpretations of the characters of Marty and Jeff to dispel unfavourable comparisons with the Cope and Pratt incarnations. Their new found relaxation and obvious enjoyment of the roles resulted in the characters taking on a new depth and comedically humorous subtly of shading that went a long way to making them both more believable as a team, as well as endearing for the viewer. Slick, glossy and with a genuine sixties feel to the supporting characters which is almost Avengers-like in its eccentricity, the fledgling series proved an instant ratings winner for the corporation in its first season, and succeeded in impressing even more in its second. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)


THE RANGE RIDER (1951)

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Show Image The Range Rider was a kids' Western series from Gene Autry's Flying A Productions company that produced many other series of the genre around this time. The Range Rider himself (he was not known by any other name) was played by six foot four inch former stuntman Jock Mahoney. Partnered by Dick West (actor Dick Jones), the duo helped right wrongs without hardly drawing their pistols from their holsters, which was just as well for anyone who opposed them because The Rider's accuracy with his guns was known far and wide. There were no other regular characters. The Rider's trusty steed was Rawhide while Dick rode Lucky. The series theme tune was Home on the Range. The series aired on British television in the 1960s but by that time the pair had ridden off into the sunset. Mahoney later starred in CBS's Yancy Derringer while Dick Jones saddled up once more for the syndicated series Buffalo Bill Jr.

THE RAT CATCHERS (1966)

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Show Image Based in Whitehall, The Rat Catchers were a highly secretive band of men who officially didn't exist, but whose job it was to ensure the security of Britain and the Western Alliance. The three main characters were international playboy Peregrine Pascale Smith (Gerald Flood) an Oxford educated managing director and cold bloodied, but expert spy, Brigadier Davidson (Philip Stone) the analytical brains behind the organisation, and newcomer Richard Hurst (Glyn Owen) a former Scotland Yard Superintendent. The series was a far cry from the glitzy world of the superspy as being portrayed in the cinema at that time, and more like the bleak underground world seen through the eyes of James Mitchell's Callan, which began its televisual life just around the time that The Rat Catchers was ending its. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)

THE RAT PATROL (1966)

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Show Image More a case of "The Dirty Quartet" than "The Dirty Dozen", the World War Two action/adventure series The Rat Patrol ran on the ABC network in the US from September 12th 1966 to September 16th 1968. With an utter disregard for historical accuracy, the unruly elite team of misfits consisted of four young men, (three Americans and one Englishman), fighting General Rommel's elite Afrika Korps in the North African desert as part of the Long Range Desert Group. Tough, unorthodox, Sgt. Sam Troy (the excellent and charismatic Christopher George) was the head rat, Jack Moffit, the team's British demolitions expert was played by Jason and the Argonauts co-star Garry Raymond, whilst the remainder of the US contingent was made up of Lawrence P. Casey as the young private, Mark Hitchcock, (a man trying hard to live down a reputation for being a "sissy") and Justin Tarr's Tully Pettigrew, a charming con-man with a decidedly deadly edge. The Patrol's main mode of transport were two machine-gun-mounted jeeps, while the on-going villainy was supplied by the character of Capt. Hauptman Hans Dietrich, C.O. of a German armoured unit, played by German actor Hans Gudegast (who, following a name change to Eric Braden would go on to enjoy a successful movie and TV career ranging from the on-going central character of Victor Newmann in popular daytime soap The Young and the Restless to a featured role in James Cameron's water-logged movie blockbuster Titanic). Variety was sometimes added to the dramatic mix by means of having the two antagonistic groups of combatants join forces against the common enemy, the bloodthirsty native Arab tribes who inhabited the region. Bringing an added element of authenticity to the series was the fact that it was filmed far away from the overly familiar backdrop of the LA studios back-lot, in the actual deserts of Spain where a great deal of war material left over from the filming of the movies Battle of the Bulge and The Great Escape further enhanced the show's air of reality. Although very much riding to success on the blood-spattered coat-tails of the then current vogue set by the big screen war movies, The Rat Patrol benefited from a potent combination of good acting, tough, hard edged writing, and the sun drenched desert locations, which aided immeasurably in providing a persuasive air of action packed believability to the series.(Review: Stephen R Hulse)

RAWHIDE (1959)

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Show Image Based on George Dutfield's 1866 diary, Rawhide told the tale of a team of cowboys on a cattle drive from San Antonio, Texas, to Sedalia, Kansas, during the same period. The drovers were led by Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) but the series is probably best remembered these days for the character Rowdy Yates, a part played by up and coming mega-star Clint Eastwood. (It was this role that brought Eastwood to the attention of spaghetti western director Sergio Leone). Other characters included Wishbone (Paul Brinegar), Mushy (James Murdock), and Pete Nolan (country singer Sheb Wooley, who had a 1958 hit with 'Purple People Eater'). In the fall of 1965 Yates took over as trail boss and organised his own team of drovers - but it was a short lived drive for the new boss as the series was cancelled in January 1966. The stirring Rawhide theme tune was written by eleven-time Academy Award nominee Ned Washington and twenty-two time Academy Award nominee (4 wins) Dmitri Tiomkin and sung over the opening credits by Frankie Laine.

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