READY STEADY GO (1963)
Pop music show that epitomised the swinging 60s. "The Weekend Starts Here" Click Here for review
Record Breakers was the BBC's successful attempt to transfer The Guinness Book of Records to television. Being backed by the book's founders, Norris and Ross McWhirter, certainly gave it the authenticity it required, but more important to its success was the decision by the BBC to appoint all-round entertainer Roy Castle as its host. Castle was no mere front-man. Records weren't always of a sporting variety and, just like in the book, featured the unusual, the quirky and often the downright comic, and Roy threw himself into each one with unbounded enthusiasm. In the very first programme he set a record himself by performing as the world's biggest one-man-band playing over 43 instruments in four minutes (including a kettle and a kitchen sink). Roy went on to set numerous records of his own (during the life of the series over 300 new records were set) such as the world's fastest tap-dance, the River Thames bridge parascending record and leaping from the top of Blackpool Tower. Largely studio based in its early days Record Breakers soon ventured out into the big wide world and from 1974 undertook expeditions to New York, California, Canada, Hawaii and Australia. The 1977 All-Star Record Breakers included the world's largest tap troupe dancing in formation outside BBC Television Centre. The McWhirter twins regularly appeared on the programme, Norris astounding everyone with his encyclopaedic knowledge of world records as displayed in his 'On The Spot' quiz. (Only one question ever caught him out - "Which tree has the most leaves?") The McWhirter's continued to appear until November 1975 when Ross was murdered by IRA gunmen after offering a £50,000 reward for their capture. Norris passed away in April 2004.
The programme was rested in 1983 but came back just as strong two years later. In 1987 Roy Castle was joined by ex Bucks Fizz pop singer turned presenter Cheryl Baker. In 1992, Roy, a non-smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy before going into remission in the autumn of that year. On 26th November 1993, Roy announced that his illness had returned, and once again underwent treatment in the hope of overcoming it. Several months later, he carried out the high profile Tour of Hope to raise funds for the erection of the building that would become the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, which was - and still is - the only British charity entirely dedicated to defeating lung cancer. His final contribution to Record Breakers was aired over the summer of 1994; he died on 2nd September, two days after his 62nd birthday. Record Breakers continued with Baker as host and joined by former Olympic athlete Kriss Akabusi, former Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry, and, for two seasons, Ron Reagan Jnr (son of the former US President) who presented a report from the USA each week. The programme was revamped in 1998 and returned as Linford's Record Breakers, now hosted by another Olympic athlete; Linford Christie. The original title returned in 2001 but only lasted for one season. The show's theme was (played originally by Roy Castle) 'Dedication.'
The television situation comedy format, coupled with the established genre conventions of science fiction, have a less than distinguished history. Within the confined and mostly staid traditional environment of the sitcom universe, the science fictional element is often reduced to a one-note riff on which various comedic scenarios are played out in a more or less traditional and predictable pattern. Until the initially low-key arrival on BBC2 of a series named...Red Dwarf. Aboard the deep space mining vessel Red Dwarf, third-class technician Dave Lister is placed in suspended animation as punishment for smuggling a cat aboard. During this period of 'stasis', a radiation leak caused by his obnoxious and inept roommate, Arnold Rimmer, kills all 168 crew members and causes Lister to remain asleep for three million years. Finally re-animated by the ship's computer, Holly, Lister discovers that his only company aboard the five mile long vessel are a hologram of Rimmer; which manages to be every bit as annoying, pompous and cowardly as the original, and Cat; a cool dude "human-like" creature that is profoundly narcissistic, and has in fact evolved during his period of inertia, from Lister's pet.
The cast were made up of Liverpool born poet/comedian Craig Charles and former Spitting Image impressionist Chris Barrie. The two characters constant bickering and comedic interchanges were reminiscent of another great love hate relationship in another BBC classic Steptoe and Son. Whilst Lister constantly referred to Rimmer as a 'smeg-head', and derided his obvious ineptitude, he wasn't exactly a prime example of human culture himself, wearing his socks until they stuck to the wall, dining on his favourite food of Pot Noodle and constantly dreaming about his long dead fantasy girl, former crew member Christine Kochanski. Danny John-Jules played the cat character who forever preened himself in the mirror, cleaned his clothes by licking them and sprayed perfume from an aerosol to mark out his territory in true cat fashion. Holly appeared simply as a deadpan face on a screen, that face originally belonging to Norman Lovett before changing to Hattie Hayridge in subsequent series and, eventually, back to Lovett again.
This space-age sitcom originated as a Radio 4 sketch before transferring to BBC2 under the creative writing talents of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor (who had been part of the Spitting Image writing team), to be greeted by indifferent critical reaction and far from spectacular ratings. However, the series did score high in audience appreciation, which was enough for the BBC to continue commissioning it, until a raising of production values and the introduction of the android butler, Kryten, lifted it out of the doldrums and into the area of 'Cult Classic'. In 1994 the series was awarded an International Emmy, but it was to disappear for three years after Rob Grant decided to jump ship. In 1997 the crew were re-united and joined by actress Chloe Annett as the resurrected Kochanski, this was mainly to make up for the fact that Chris Barrie had decided he'd had enough. Although Barrie returned for the next season by that time the series was beginning to look a little short on ideas or comedic situations, although it did have its moments. It became the fourth best selling BBC programme of all time and BBC2's longest running sitcom.
John Thaw got his first starring role as Sergeant Mann of the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police (nicknamed a 'Redcap'), after being spotted by the producers in an episode of The Avengers. His forceful investigations concerned British troops accused of anything from rape, murder or simple desertion from places as far flung as Cyprus to Borneo, and many of the characteristics he portrayed (tough, no-nonsense) were re-employed when he became The Sweeney's Jack Reagan. The series was remade in 2001 with a female lead.
Following its success with Flight Of The Heron in 1968, Scottish Television took another excursion into children's drama with this adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's 1824 novel. Redgauntlet was set some years after 1745 and the events depicted in Flight Of The Heron and concerns itself with the fortunes of Mr Darsie Latimer (James Grant), who is given an allowance by a mother he never sees and orders not to step foot on English soil until he is twenty-five. The lack of an explanation only fuels his curiosity until it eventually gets the better of him and he sets off for the Solway Firth and Cumberland. Once there he is kidnapped by Cristal Nixon (Roddy McMillan) on the orders of Redgauntlet (Jack Watson), a fanatical Jacobite leader who is also known as Herries of Birrenswork. Darsie's young friend, Alan Fairford (Andrew Robertson), sets out to rescue him and it is eventually revealed by Greenmantle (Isobel Black) that Darsie is the son of the previous Laird of Redgauntlet who was killed at the battle of Culloden, and is therefore the rightful heir to the Redgauntlet fortune, which his uncle had usurped in order to fund another Jacobite uprising. Scott's novel had previously been adapted by the BBC in 1959 when it was filmed extensively, as in Flight Of The Heron, in many of the genuine locations from the book. This version was adapted by Ian Stuart Black whose daughter played the mysterious Greenmantle. The novel also contains many other colourful characters and is generally regarded as one of the finest examples of Scott's writing.
Nine years after the halo had faded from above Roger Moore's head in the last episode of The Saint, producer Bob Baker approached ITV chief, Lew Grade, and suggested that the time was right for Simon Templar to return to the small screen. Grade's reaction was; 'okay, now find me an actor to play The Saint.' Baker already had an actor in mind, and Ian Ogilvy was signed to do six series. Only one was ever made.
Ian Ogilvy was under no illusions when he took over the role of Simon Templar that he was following in the footsteps of one of the most charismatic actors to have appeared on our screens throughout the 1960s. The original series was still playing and drawing respectable ratings around the world. Comparisons would inevitably be drawn. However, there were very few actors who were better suited in the 1970s than Ogilvy to play the part of Simon Templar and make it their own. Ogilvy was in his mid-thirties; good-looking with a distinct upper crust Britishness about him that suited the part. Physically he was not dissimilar to Roger Moore even if he lacked Roger's charisma. In Bob Baker's opinion he was a better actor than Roger Moore.
Originally, Ogilvy was to play the son of Simon Templar and the series was to be called The Son of the Saint, but that idea was quickly dropped. A deal was struck up between Baker, Lew Grade and the character's original creator Leslie Charteris. However, there was one more vital deal that needed to be struck first before the series was commissioned: The American deal. Years earlier Grade had said; "When you decide to do a production of major significance it's the quality and idea of the product that counts -not what it's going to cost. That you face afterwards." But in this case, for the type of budget that Grade was to lavish on the series it was vital that the series be sold to the USA. "No one but a fool makes television for the British market alone," said Grade. "Without the guarantee of an American outlet he will lose his shirt." In order to ensure success in the USA, Hollywood producer Anthony Spinner, who had worked on such hit American prime-time shows such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Cannon was bought in with the sole purpose of tailoring the series for the US market. As it turned out, this was a huge mistake.
American television was, at this time, turning away from excessive violence in direct contrast to British series' such as The Sweeney and Minder which had a much harder edge. Spinner demanded that scenes of violence be cut leaving Ogilvy to complain about the lack of realism on the series. "I'd hit them once and they'd fall over" he complained. "Just once I wanted to hit them with an iron bar or something." Clearly there was a conflict of interest behind the scenes leading Spinner to complain at that time to The Hollywood Reporter "I kept telling them, you can't have ten murders and five rapes in each episode. Sometimes they believe me and sometimes they don't. It depends on the day." Ogilvy is convinced that a watered down Saint at a time when British viewers were expecting grittier, tougher storylines did the series no favours at all. But he drew the line when Spinner wrote an episode about Simon Templar fighting vampires. He went straight to Leslie Charteris who put a stop to that particular episode once and for all.
The British press were less than enthralled with the series. "The show has been castrated to comply with what the American network deemed acceptable fodder, with the result that it was the worst of both worlds," reported The Daily Express. "The character of the new Saint has been as thinly drawn as his matchstick man trademark," wrote The Sun. However, in spite of the critical mauling the show got it didn't effect the ratings and viewers tuned in in their millions, and it became a massive hit. Not, it would seem, with Lew Grade. 73 countries bought The Return Of The Saint and it became one of ITC's most profitable shows of all time. Then Lew Grade cancelled it. That decision is still a mystery to Ian Ogilvy. "I'm pretty sure he didn't like me. I never met him." The Return Of The Saint was the last big budget production for ITC, the company that had been the byword for style and quality for almost three decades on British television.
After four seasons as Mary Richards' best friend on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper) escaped Minneapolis and returned to the surroundings of her native New York City. Rhoda was the first official MTM spin-off; Phyllis and Lou Grant would soon follow. When Rhoda premiered on September 9th, 1974, she returned to New York City for a vacation and to see her younger sister Brenda, a spitting image of Rhoda four years earlier-overweight, lacking in confidence and suffering through one bad date after another. By this time, MTM fans were familiar with Rhoda's overbearing, manipulative Jewish mother Ida, thanks to occasional guest appearances by comic and dancer Nancy Walker; she became a regular on Rhoda. During her vacation, Rhoda met Joe Gerard (David Groh), a divorced dad. Instantly, sparks flew. Rhoda extended her vacation to be with Joe; finally she decided to move back to New York City to pursue the relationship. Right from the first episode, Rhoda was a top ten smash and rating even higher than The Mary Tyler Moore Show. On October 28th, 1974, more than 50 million viewers tuned to watch the wedding of Rhoda and Joe. Even though Rhoda was a top ten hit for its first two seasons, the shows writers were becoming increasingly unhappy with the shows direction. Producer Charlotte Brown told the US listings magazine TV Guide in 1976 the marriage of Rhoda and Joe may not have been the best idea: "We all suddenly realized we were getting bored with our show. Maybe the audience wasn't bored - yet - but we figured that at some time in the future it was inevitable the way we were going. Everything was so nice for our Rhoda in her happily married life." As the show's third season began, Rhoda and Joe began fighting more until the couple separated and divorced. Instead of giving new life to Rhoda, all the changes hastened the shows demise. Ratings fell sharply; by its final season, it ranked 105th among all series aired by the three major television networks. CBS cancelled Rhoda on December 9th, 1978; four unaired episodes were later seen in syndication. (Review: Mike Spadoni)
Yet another swashbuckler in ITV's endeavour to bring just about every romantic British historical figure to the small screen. But in this case a fair bit of poetic licence was required. Richard the First, king, soldier, poet and political intriguer - and one of the most romantic figures in history - was the hero of Richard the Lionheart, a series from Granada that was first aired in February 1962. The producers claimed that the series was based on fact as far as possible but in spite of Richard's fame little is known of his personal life, "...so we have taken some liberties here and there," said associate producer Brian Taylor in a TV Times article that heralded the start of the series. Richard was played by Irish actor Dermot Walsh who added, "he (Richard) was not always all one would like to see as a man. We have concentrated on his good side." In doing so, the production team would have had their hands full. King Richard I was a typical product of his time. A man brimful of contradictions. A brilliant general but a bad ruler. A sensitive poet and singer...yet bloodthirsty and fearless in battle. By selling honours and titles and imposing crushing taxes Richard was able to finance an army of 4,000 men-at-arms, 4,000 foot soldiers and a fleet of 100 ships to launch a crusade against the Saracens, the Mohammedan rulers of the Holy Land. But Richard fell out with fellow generals, Philip of France and Leopold, Duke of Austria who both returned to Europe. And when Richard became worried about the intrigues of his younger Brother, Prince John, who was seeking to usurp the English throne, he hurried home alone through Austria. Leopold, still furious at Richard's behaviour in Palestine, arrested him in Vienna and had him imprisoned in Durrenstein castle. Richard was ransomed in 1193, arrived in England in 1194 and returned almost immediately to France. He never set foot in England again and was fatally wounded in 1199 fighting a French viscount.
So, Richard the Lionheart, the series, was firmly set in that short period in 1194 and follows the king as he tries to thwart Prince John's attempt to hold onto power by joining forces with Richard's enemies. Naturally, this results in a series of swashbuckling adventures as Richard is constantly in fear for his life from the likes of Leopold, Philip of France and the Saracen, Saladin. Richard does, of course, have his allies. Actor and singer Iain Gregory played one of them; the musician Blondel. Blondel first met Richard on the road. He was so rude to the King that he was challenged to a fight. Blondel almost beat the King and as Richard admired strength of arms more than anything else, he immediately made him his court musician. "So Blondel became the first pop singer in popular history" said Gregory. The trouble with Blondel was that he never bothered to write down any of his music. "The only complete tune I played on the lute was 'Greensleeves'" (which was actually written several hundred years later). "The other pieces in the series were variations on a blues theme which I devised with the help of jazzman Bill le Sage, musical advisor to the series. "What I'd like to know is how Blondel managed to keep his lute intact while he fought. In the series I had a lot of broadsword fights and in the end my real lute got so badly damaged that I had a number of hardboard lutes made, and they all got bashed eventually. One day at the studio I asked a stage hand to bring me my lute. He returned a few minutes later with my pay packet. "I had to explain that I did not mean l-o-o-t. But I suppose you could say I was acting for the loot, because I was only 19 years old and very well paid."
RIPPER STRRET (2012)
Whitechapel in London's East End, 1889, six months after the infamous Jack the Ripper murders. Click Here for review
RIPPING YARNS (1977)
Series of individual comedies in the style of Boys Own adventure stories starring Michael Palin Click Here for review
Beginning life as a stage play called The Banana Box, Eric Chappell, a former Electricity Board employee, adapted his stage play about people living in a shabby tenement, changed the name of the landlord from Rooksby to Rigsby, and created one of television's all-time immortal characters as well as a series that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best of British situation comedies. Rupert Rigsby was in many ways a cross between Albert Steptoe (in fact Wilfrid Brambell played the original Rooksby on stage) and Alf Garnett in as much as he was a truly sleazy and obnoxious character who had very few redeeming features. He was snide, racist, miserly and sexually frustrated and yet, as portrayed by the incomparable Leonard Rossiter he became somehow lovable. It was Rossiter's comedy debut and he took over the lead from Brambell after the play finished it's first run in Leicester and went on tour. Rigsby's manner was perfectly offset by two male boarders, Alan (Paul Jones -former lead singer with sixties pop group Manfred Mann), and Philip (Don Warrington) who both aided and hindered his attempts to woo the middle-aged spinster Miss Jones (Francis de la Tour).
The play finally ended up in London (at the Apollo Theatre) where it was seen by Yorkshire Television executives who ordered a one-off pilot. Replacing Jones in the role of the sexually naive university student, Alan, was Richard Beckinsale who had previously starred alongside Paula Wilcox in the comedy The Lovers, and was at this time appearing alongside Ronnie Barker in another classic Britcom; Porridge. Three months after the pilot was aired the first series hit the screens to instant acclaim and Rossiter, a former insurance salesman, quickly rose to fame with his often imitated 'My-y-y-y God!' and his trademark sleeveless cardigan. He too appeared in a BBC comedy, which ran concurrently with Rising Damp, another fondly remembered series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. In spite of his best efforts Rigsby never did achieve marital bliss with Miss Jones and was left with his only form of permanent companionship, a mangy cat called Vienna. 28 episodes were made in total although Richard Beckinsale did not appear in all of them, having left before the final series. Tragically, a short time after leaving, Beckinsale died of a heart attack. He was only 31. In 1980 a full-length feature film was made with the role of Alan played by Christopher Strauli, who also starred in the comedy series Only When I Laugh and the period drama Raffles. The format for Rising Damp was sold to the USA where it was completely re-written by Peter Stone as 27 Joy Street. Jack Weston played the lead in the pilot which failed to impress CBS to such an extent that it never even made it to the screen.
This 1971-73 Thames anthology series was based on the collected works of former BBC Director General Sir Hugh Carleton Greene, and each story was prefaced with the explanation: "During the years 1891 to 1914, when the Sherlock Holmes series were serialised in 'Strand Magazine', Conan Doyle's hero was not the only detective operating in London, he had rivals..." Indeed, the gas lit, fog shrouded, streets of the Victorian world's most atmospheric and moody city was home to more detectives than just Baker Street's most famous resident, and under the expert eyes of executive producers Lloyd Shirley and Kim Mills and series producers Robert Love, Jonathan Alwyn, and Reginald Collin, viewers were presented with a satisfying stream of top-notch adaptations from the mystery and suspense works of celebrated period authors. R. Austin Freeman's masterful creation, Doctor Thorndyke, was represented by two adaptations, 'A Message from the Deep Sea' with the great John Neville essaying the title role, and 'The Moabite Cipher' with Barry Ingham taking on the mantle of Freeman's character. Others of note included Arthur Morrison's 'The Affair of the Tortoise', and 'The Case of Laker Absconded' with both Peter Barkworth and Peter Vaughan excellent as Arthur Hewitt. The under-appreciated Ronald Hines also appeared as Morrison's other successful (if little known) creation, Jonathan Pride. French mystery writer Jacques Futrelle's 'Cell Thirteen', and 'The Superfluous Finger' starred ex BBC Sherlock Holmes, Douglas Wilmer, as Professor Van Dusen and William Hope Hodgson's tale of the near supernatural, 'The Horse of the Invisible', featured the incomparable Donald Pleasance as Carnicki, the ghost hunter. In fact, one of this now sadly neglected series' greatest claims to fame was the quite superb quality of the acting talent assembled to breath life into these often forgotten fictional characters. 'Scarlet Pimpernel' creator Baroness Orczy's female sleuth, Polly Burton, was memorably given substance by the consistently excellent Judy Geeson, while other performances of note came in the welcome forms of John Thaw as Det. Lt Holst, Sir Robert Stephens as the blind, yet insightful detective Max Carrados, Derek Jacobi portrayed William Le Queux's character, William Drew, and most unusually Sara Kestleman's appearance as Hagar, a gypsy detective. Of the other characters showcased during the series two-season run, the high profile faces on parade also included such reliable dramatic stalwarts as Roy Dotrice, Donald Sinden, Bernard Hepton, Charles Gray and Ronald Fraser. Carefully adapted and produced, boasting top-flight performances and first class production values, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes provided quality television entertainment, and in the process it served as a welcome reminder that the detection and solving of crime in Victorian literature, whilst almost always finishing behind the door of 221B Baker Street, most certainly wasn't limited to that esteemed address.(Co-writer: Stephen R Hulse)