Reviews

THE ROARING TWENTIES (1960)

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Show ImageSet in New York City in the roaring 1920's this adventure series starred Rex Reason and Donald May as two hard hitting reporters for the New York Daily Record, who tried to discover the big scoops of the day by infiltrating the underworld and exposing the crime bosses who were running the city during the Prohibition era. The Roaring Twenties tried to recapture the action, humour, the music and the razzle-dazzle that was so typical of that turbulent era in US history, with daring exploits, Park Avenue scandals, jazz, dance marathons, flappers, speakeasies and bootleggers. Or at least that's how its makers, Warner Brothers, described it at the time. The main characters were Scott Norris and Pat Garrison, who were often aided as well as hindered by cub reporter Chris Higbee (Gary Vinson) and Charleston Club singer Delaware 'Pinky' Pinkham (Dorothy Provine). Most of the shows sparkle came from its dance routines and use of authentic newsreel footage from the era it depicted. A dinner jacket and wig once used by Al Jolson were altered to fit Dorothy Provine for one particular musical number and on one occasion a supporting player discovered, on examining the inside label of a suit he was wearing, that it had been worn by James Cagney 22 years earlier in a full-length film called...The Roaring Twenties.

ROBIN HOOD (1953)

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Show ImagePresented under the Children's Television banner Robin Hood was the first serialised TV outing for Sherwood Forest's most famous inhabitant. Written by Max Kester and broadcast over six weeks in 30-minute episodes from 17th March 1953, Robin Hood was thought to be, like many series of the day, broadcast live, shown once and then lost forever. However, the BBC was just beginning to experiment with a method whereby televised material could be preserved by filming it from a specially adapted monitor. As a result of this, in what is possibly the earliest example of these 'telerecording' experiments, an entire episode ('The Abbot of St Mary') exists in the BBC archives. Future Doctor Who Patrick Troughton played Robin, with Kenneth MacKintosh as Little John, Wensley Pithey as Friar Tuck and David Kossoff as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

ROBIN OF SHERWOOD (1984)

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Show ImageOne of the most romantic heroes in English legend and a favourite of both the silver and small screen was revived in 1984 by Catweazle creator Richard Carpenter and given a new twist: -that of sword and sorcery. For in this tale, Robin of Loxley was said to have possessed spiritual powers in his bid to fight the good fight and rob the rich to feed the poor. At the series outset Ailric of Loxley, Guardian of the Silver Arrow, an ancient symbol of pre-Christian England, had led a rebellion against his Anglo-Norman masters. Ailric's home at Loxley Mill was then destroyed by Norman pillagers and he was murdered. His son, Robin (Michael Praed), was adopted by the local miller and swore to one day avenge his father's death. Some years later Robin encountered Herne the Hunter, a forest spirit possessed with the powers of light and goodness, who appeared before him in the form of a man with a stags head. He endowed Robin with Albion, one of the Seven Swords of Wayland, and thus equipped, Robin donned a disguise as Robin in the Hood thereby realising the prophecy of the Silver Arrow. Along the way Robin met up with his legendary band of merry men including Little John, Maid Marion, Friar Tuck and a delightfully psychopathic Will Scarlet. There was also a Carpenter created character (the Saracen -Nasir). In fact, the series creator also had a track record that included the creation for television such popular shows as Black Beauty, The Ghosts of Motley Hall, Dick Turpin and Smuggler. By the end of the second series Michael Praed had decided to answer the call of Broadway where he was being offered the leading role in 'The Three Musketeers' as D'Artagnan. Rather than write the series off or recast the lead character, the producers allowed Robin of Loxley to meet a heroes death in the episode "The Greatest Enemy" before Herne chose another, Robert of Huntingdon (played by Jason Connery, son of screen legend Sean), to lead the outlaws for one more series of noble adventuring. Combining the various facets of the Robin Hood legend with the mystery of Pagan sorcery, Robin of Sherwood, with its haunting theme tune (courtesy of Irish family group Clannad), was a new twist on an old legend that was well written by its prolific creator -and well loved by it's viewing audience.

ROBIN'S NEST (1977)

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Show Image Having successfully spun off Man About The House into George and Mildred, writers Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke next turned their attention to the male star of their original creation, Richard O'Sulivan, and treated viewers to another highly successful sitcom in which the fortunes of the former resident of 6 Myddleton Crescent, Robin Tripp, are followed into the next phase of his life. Robin has finally passed his exams and qualified as a chef and by the time we meet up with him again he is living with another female; although this time it is not a platonic relationship. Vicky is Robin's live-in lover and together they are planning to open a bistro below the Fulham based flat where they are living. However, with Robin only recently out of college the couple need a financial backer. The bank won't lend them the money they need, but Vicky's father just might. James Nicholls is the far from approving father, who thinks that his only daughter Victoria can do far better than Robin, a situation that is exacerbated by the fact that he frowns on their living arrangements and would be far happier if Robin made an honest woman of her. (Little does he know that nothing would make Robin happier-except in this case it is Vicky who is reluctant to make the commitment). However, when he realises that his daughter's mind is made up, he decides to relent and becomes a far from sleeping partner in the business. So, the scene is set. We have a couple striving to make their way in a brand new business, a disapproving father who is just waiting to say "I told you so", and the occasional appearance of the girl's mother to stir things up even more. What is missing? How about a one-armed Irish washer-upper? Enter Albert Riddle, an ex-con with an endless line in blarney.

Apart from sharp and witty scripts from Mortimer and Cooke, the main strength of this series lay in the casting of the principle players. The amiable Richard O'Sullivan was well practised as Robin Tripp after six series and a feature film of Man About The House, Tessa Wyatt as Victoria was suitably adept at playing light comedy (and was pretty nice to look at, too), Tony Briton, in his first regular sitcom role gave off just the right air of disapproval and superiority as the caring but snooty father, James, and Honor Blackman, always a joy to watch, guested occasionally as Vicky's mother (although she was replaced in later series' by Barbara Murray). But it was David Kelly as the one-armed Albert Riddle who stole many of the scenes he appeared in, his logic perhaps not being seen these days as quite politically correct, but nevertheless the cause of much mirth. (Robin: Where are we going to put the one-armed bandit? Albert: What do you want with me now?). Kelly went on to become one of the most prolific of Irish actors not only on television but also on the big screen where he was very much in demand having played starring roles in Waking Ned and the more recent version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. One fact that is not widely known is that Richard O'Sullivan is an accomplished musician and he composed the theme music for the series. Interviewed in 1979 Richard said; "I get more of a kick when I see the words 'Theme music by Richard O'Sullivan' than when I see my own star billing."

The series broke new ground in the UK when it was screened because never before had comedic characters been shown in a Britcom as 'living in sin', and here it was made clear that they were not just living but also sleeping together. The writers had to get approval from no higher source than the Independent Broadcasting Authority before they could write about the relationship. Without that permission Robin and Vicky would have to have been married from the start, something that didn't happen until the second series. By the time the series finished (at the end of season six), they were not just married but also the proud parents of twins, although by that time writers Mortimer and Cooke had moved on to pastures new. Just as Man About The House and George and Mildred were spun off for American TV so was Robin's Nest -appearing there as Three's A Crowd, making Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke (in writing terms) one of British sitcoms most successful exports.

ROCK FOLLIES (1976)

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Show Image Innovative and groundbreaking musical comedy drama with a storyline that was almost as sensational off the screen as it was on. Rock Follies began with three struggling actresses deciding to audition for a west-end style play entitled 'Broadway Annie.' Although they are successfully cast the show itself only ever rises to the dizzying heights of mediocrity and, unsurprisingly, closes leaving the trio out of work. More out of necessity than friendship and a little encouragement from the show's musical director, Derek Huggins, the girls decide to form their own rock band called the Little Ladies. The band goes on a tour playing pubs, clubs and bars around provincial Britain, which soon places a strain on their relationships with partners, business contacts and each other. As their fortunes rise and fall they come into contact with fortune hunters, sleazy industry types and manipulators, and end up at one point performing in a soft-core porn film. The group was made up of Nancy (Rula Lenska), Dee (Julie Covington) and Anna (Charlotte Cornwell) after the producers had tried out endless combinations of trios in order to find the right chemistry. It worked; because the series became a smash hit and, in a case of life imitating art, the Little Ladies had a top ten hit with a single called 'OK?' and between seasons (the second was called Rock Follies of '77) Julie Covington had a number one hit with 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina'.

Rock Follies was groundbreaking in so much as it was the first musical drama in serial form and featured all original songs and music, with Busby Berkeley inspired fantasy sequences that laid the groundwork for the later series Pennies From Heaven by Dennis Potter. It was also unusual in portraying strong female central characters, and having an overtly feminist message. The format also anticipated the age of the music video and MTV, being made at a time when the music video itself was in its extreme infancy. The original music was penned by Roxy Music saxophonist Andy Mackay. The show won a BAFTA award in 1976. Industrial action during May 1977 threatened production of the second series causing the last few episodes to be postponed until November. But this series pushed the style further in an experimental direction focusing more on the music and fantasy sequences and sophisticated video effects. The group were joined by Rox (Sue Jones-Davies) and guest actors included Tim Curry and Bob Hoskins. Rock Follies was shown in the USA on public service television, and rapidly became something of a cult, but the second series was felt to be too raunchy for sensitive American tastes with its frank portrayal of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. As a result the second series wasn't shown on US television until 15 years later. In the UK there was a storm of controversy when another all-girl group claimed that ITV had stolen their original idea for the series. Annabel Leventon, Diane Langton and Gaye Brown, the all-girl group called Rock Bottom and their former manager Donald Fraser gave the idea to Thames television who signed them under contract. The series was to be part fact and part fiction, the factual part being based on the actresses' own experiences, and was to focus on both the group and the individual members' lives to contrast their collective character with their individual characters.

A confirming letter was sent to the parties involved stating that Thames was to 'acquire an option on your services in connection with a possible new series'; that the actresses were to have first refusal should the series be proceeded with; and that if they declined the offer Thames was to have the right to make the series with three other actresses. However, when the idea was accepted ITV recast the group without offering the actresses the agreed option. It was a move that cost the company a £250,000 out-of-court settlement.


THE ROCKFORD FILES (1977)

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Show ImageTrading heavily on the genially infectious natural charisma and star quality of its leading actor, the ever excellent James Garner (born James Baumgarner, the winner of two Purple Hearts in the Korean War), The Rockford Files quickly established itself as one of US television's most popular entries in the firmly established and perennially popular private eye sub genre. Created by Roy Huggins, who had earlier created the hugely influential running man series The Fugitive and the western series Maverick, (also with Garner in the lead role), and prolific writer/producer Stephen J. Cannell. In the pilot episode, the viewing public was introduced to Jim Rockford, a private detective who had served time for a crime which he hadn't committed, but who had been eventually cleared when new evidence of his innocence had come to light. Living and working out of his beachfront trailer home in the Los Angeles area, and charging $200 per day plus expenses, Rockford's speciality, one which didn't particularly endear him to the police, was taking on cases marked as satisfactorily closed, and unearthing new evidence which would bring the true culprit to justice. Jim Rockford was ably supported by his ex truck driver father, Joseph "Rocky" Rockford, Det Sgt. Dennis Becker, Jim's long time friend in the LAPD who was continually torn between his friendship to the ex con and his duty as a police officer, and Evelyn "Angel" Martin, Rockford's devious, forever on the make, but likeable former cell mate. Another questionable associate was Bo Hopkins, a disgraced former lawyer whose ties to the Corporation for Legal Research often proved useful. There was also tough guy Gandy Fitch (played by Issac Hayes) and rounding out the core character set was Jim's on-off girl-friend, attorney Beth Davenport who could always be counted on to bail him out following his frequent brushes with the law.

The show's writers clearly had a lot of fun during the course of the series by utilising a variety of plots and story devices which enabled them to exploit and showcase Garner's understatedly innate sense of comedic timing to the fullest. These included such private eye staples as Jim impersonating others in order to gain information, a variety of amusingly cheap disguises, the obligatory acts of petty bribery and shameless eavesdropping. But at the end of the day it was always clear that it was the detective's sharp powers of reasoning and persistent hard work that ultimately solved the case. Another aspect that added a very human appeal to the character was his all to believable aversion to violence. Rockford was no superhero. He frequently he got beaten up, suffered damage to his car, and actually got seriously injured on more than one occasion. During the final season a further element of humour was added to the ingredients by having him display open jealousy and resentment for the newly introduced character of fellow private investigator Lance White (a pre Magnum, P.I. Tom Selleck), who, apart from being handsome, seemed to possess an intuitive grasp of a case's complexities as well as the good luck to have everything fall into his lap without undue effort. The series final season caused a wholly unexpected disappointment to the show's world-wide legion of admirers, when it was cut short due to star Garner's shock announcement that a combination of boredom with the role and a number of long standing injuries had led to his decision to abruptly quit the show. Garner would revisit the Rockford character in three well received TV movies during the 1990's, while the instantly recognisable theme music from the series composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter made the US music charts in mid 1975. (Co-writer: Stephen R Hulse)

ROOTS (1977)

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Show Image Based on the novel by Alex Haley, Roots chronicled the 100-year history of a black family, from capture in Africa by slave-traders to eventual emancipation in post Civil War America. The series picked up the action around 1750 with the capture of Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton), and followed him on his journey to the US where he was forced to adopt the new name of Toby (now played by John Amos). Later, his daughter, Kizzy was raped by her white plantation owner and gave birth to a son, who was eventually known as Chicken George. George's son, Tom then fought in the American Civil War before moving to Tennessee to be 'freed'. However, freedom involved very few civil rights, grim poverty and poor education. 5 years later, Roots: The Next Generation picked up the story once again, this time around 1880 and continued through to the late 1960's, finishing with Alex (James Earl Jones), a noted writer returning to Africa to discover his roots. The impact that the original series had on the American television audience was nothing short of phenomenal, with over half of the country's population tuning in to the last episode and eventually earning over 30 Emmy Awards. Roots was the show that established the consecutive-night mini-series as a staple diet for television viewers for years to come although, initially, TV executives were much more apprehensive about broadcasting the series. ABC programming chief Fred Silverman hoped that by airing the series on consecutive nights should it prove to be a flop it would cut the network's losses--and get Roots off the air before too many viewers had taken notice of it. But take notice of it they did. The series drew rave reviews from black and white critics alike even if some of them suggested that as a version of true history, the series was questionable to say the least, and that most of America watched in order to repent the sins of their ancestors. Even if true, the fact remains that Roots was the most convincingly honest depiction of slavery that had been seen on our TV screens before.

ROSEANNE (1988)

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Show Image Roseanne was probably the most realistic sitcom portrayal of a blue-collar family in US television history up to its time. The closest America had to a real working-class comedy was Jackie Gleason's brilliant The Honeymooners, in the early and mid-1950's. But while Ralph Kramden was the boss of his Brooklyn flat (with wife Alice to keep him in line), Roseanne Conner was the queen of her Lanford, Illinois home, and called the shots. Roseanne was a force to be reckoned with. She was loud, boisterous, and sarcastic-but there was a smile behind every putdown. The show itself was a true departure from the sweeter and warmer Cosby Show. But viewers liked what they saw; Roseanne ended its first season as the second most-popular series on US television. A year later, it tied for first place with The Cosby Show, proving that a different type of family sitcom could work in America. Roseanne depicted the struggles of the lower middle class in the post-Ronald Reagan America, which never really benefited during the go- go 1980's. Over the years, the Conners faced major setbacks as the real-life U.S. economy slipped into a recession. Roseanne quit her job and took a series of jobs, ranging from cleaning a beauty shop to working in a fast-food restaurant. Her husband, Dan (John Goodman) tried to start a motorcycle sales and repair shop in Lanford, but the business failed despite his hard efforts.

Actress Roseanne Barr's real-life antics made for great tabloid material. She was blasted for singing "The Star Spangled Banner" off-key during a baseball game in 1990; she divorced husband Bill Pentland and married fellow comic Tom Arnold, who became a semi-regular and later producer on the series. Roseanne was also well known for turmoil behind the scenes of her show. During the first season, she managed to win a battle with creator and head writer Matt Williams, who was fired after clashing with Roseanne over the show's direction. Over the years, there was plenty of turmoil and changes in the writing and producing staff. They didn't make Roseanne any friends in notably chummy Hollywood, but the staff changes did help keep the show's quality at a high level. And to her credit, Roseanne was not afraid to deal with issues many other comedies refused to tackle-teenage sex; adultery; homosexuality; economic setbacks; and so forth. Despite the show's popularity, Roseanne never won an Emmy for Best Comedy Series. (Review: Mike Spadoni)

ROUTE 66 (1974)

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Show Image Capturing the early emerging free roaming spirit of American youth at the beginning of the decade that would eventually come to be known as the "Swinging Sixties", Route 66 was an hour-long adventure series that ran on the CBS network between 1960 and 1964. Produced by Herbert B. Leonard, the show took the lessons of successful television location filming learned by the producer during the course of his ground-breaking earlier hit The Naked City, and applied them to the much wider canvas afforded by a format which saw the central characters exploring the country in a cool red 1960 Corvette, via what was then the U.S.'s premiere highway, "America's Main Street", the historic Route 66 of the title. The series featured Martin Milner as Tod Stiles, a wealthy Yale graduate, and George Maharis as Buz Murdock the tough kid from New York's notorious Hell's Kitchen. The two young men of radically differing backgrounds nonetheless formed a strong bond of friendship, which enticed them out on the road in search of adventure and excitement. George Maharis was forced to leave the series in November 1962 due to the unfortunate lingering after-effects of a case of hepatitis. However, he continued to appear intermittently in episodes that aired throughout to the March of 1963. In that same month Maharis' replacement as Milner's full-time travelling companion debuted in the form of Glenn Corbett's directionless former Vietnam war-hero from Huston, Texas, Linc Case. Notable guest appearances on the series included a youthful Alan Alda, Joey Heatherton (in her first TV dramatic role), Robert Redford, Rod Steiger, and perhaps most importantly, Ethel Waters in the 6th October 1961 episode "Goodnight Sweet Blues", a performance that led to Ms. Waters being nominated for an Emmy award, the first such nomination for a black actress. A direct forerunner of the rebellious, more overtly anti- establishment feeling of American youth which would find its ultimate expression in movies such as Easy Rider, Route 66 was a slick, well made and viewer pleasing series, which not only helped free US TV from the confines of the Hollywood back-lots, but also succeeded in capturing and mirroring the changing mood of a nation's youth in the process. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)

ROWAN AND MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN (1968)

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Show Image Coming to you from "Beautiful Downtown Burbank," Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In was a madcap hour of slapstick comedy, stand-up gags and satirical sketches all set against a flower power influenced backdrop of vivid colours, and in the process it made major names of its large, but hitherto unknown cast of characters which included Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn. Hosted by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin the show started as a one-off special on September 9th 1967, winning instant audience approval. Not all of the jokes were terribly funny and not all of the sketches worked, but they came at the speed of an express train, the likes of which had not been witnessed on television before. Catchphrases were seemingly invented on a weekly basis, the most memorable of which were "You bet your sweet bippy," "Here come de judge" and "Sock it to me," which was usually the cue for Judy Carne to get doused in water. Other stars included Ruth Buzzi as Gladys, a vicious senior citizen who would constantly beat Arte Johnson's Tyrone with her umbrella, in response to his advances from a park bench. Johnson also appeared from behind a large pot plant as a German soldier to inform the audience that the last sketch was "Very interesting...but stupid!" Lily Tomlin played Ernestine, the switchboard operator with attitude and Goldie Hawn was the archetypal dumb blonde, a wholly misleading persona that she shrewdly exploited as an all- important stepping stone to major super-stardom.

Regular sketches included the 'Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award,' 'Laugh-In News' and "A poem, by Henry Gibson". There was also Pigmeat Markham's judge sketches (so successful that he had a hit single with his catchphrase in the UK charts in 1968) and the gags written on the body of a bikini-clad dancer. Alan Sues played a gormless sports presenter and Gary Owens, hand cupped over his ear, was the programme announcer. Rowan and Martin signed off with a parody of the old Burns and Allen farewell, "Say goodnight, Dick." To which Dick would reply "goodnight, Dick". Cast members sticking their heads through the windows of a joke wall to shoot one-liners at each other rounded off the entire proceedings. The show ran until 1973 but by then only four of the original cast members were left (Rowan, Martin, Owens and Buzzi). During its run Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In attracted a number of guest stars in cameo appearances and these included John Wayne and the President of the United States; Richard Nixon, who uttered the famous Carne catchphrase. In 1977 Laugh-In (minus hosts Rowan and Martin) returned to NBC as a series of specials, however, the attempt to revive the format seemed outdated and the new show flopped, the only notable fact being that Robin Williams appeared as one of the supporting performers. The format for Laugh-In was universally copied but only occasionally succeeded and normally in children's shows like the British series TISWAS. Laugh-In was very much a product of its time that caught and reflected the new liberated mood of the late sixties perfectly, and as such it has become one of TV's all-time classics.

THE ROY ROGERS SHOW (1951)

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Show Image Known as "The King of the Cowboys" Roy Rogers was a clean-cut singing Western movie actor from Cincinnati, Ohio. Transferring to the small screen, Roy lived on the Double R Bar Ranch in Paradise Valley, near Mineral City. From here he maintained law and order in the contemporary west with help from his bumbling sidekick, Pat Brady. Roy's wife, "Queen of the West", Dale Evans, helped him run a diner called the Eureka Cafe. Pat drove an unreliable jeep known as Nellybelle whilst Roy rode his trusty Palomino stallion, Trigger. As special trappings for the famous horse Roy had a hand-tooled set of saddle, martingale and bridle made (plus chaps and spurs for himself), which were valued at an estimated $50,000. Dale rode the more modest Buttermilk and they also owned a dog called Bullet. Musical accompaniment came from the Sons of the Pioneers.' Evans sang the series' theme song, 'Happy Trails to You,' and the show was broadcast from 1951 to 1957 in the early evening children's slot on Sunday's by NBC, repeated in syndication on Saturday mornings from 1961 to 1964.

THE ROYAL VARIETY PERFORMANCE

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Annual variety show performed before Royalty. Click Here for review

RUGRATS (1995)

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Show Image Thanks to a winning combination of knowing, multi-levelled writing and perfectly cast vocal performances from an experienced and talented cast, this latter day entry into the ever-expanding field of high quality children's TV animation gave us the world as seen from the all-accepting innocence of a child's-eye point of view. Nappy wearing toddler Tommy Pickles is the central character of this adventurous infant ensemble. Along with fuzzy-haired, perpetually scared friend Chuckie, and twins Phil and Lil, Tommy shares a playpen and endless adventures crawling around the house and neighbourhood, while indulging in a non-stop series of adventures which deftly parodies everyday life with the wide-eyed innocence of childhood, which belies the decidedly wry, adult sensibilities which informs the show's scripting.

To the Rugrats, the world is a place full of mysteries; such ordinary sights as a garbage truck chewing up refuse in the early morning effortlessly transforms in to a terrifying monster on the street outside, as their rich and active imaginations reworks the world around them into a frame of reference which they can readily grasp, if only imperfectly understand. Of course, there's a truly wonderful master-villain in the form of Angelica, Tommy's malevolent three-year- old cousin who constantly delights in terrorising the mini quartet with all the gleefully open cruelty that is such a naturally accepted part of childhood. Angelica is a masterful creation; a pint-sized Wicked Witch of the West with a post-modern hard-nosed LA attitude still being shaped by exposure to all pervading outside social influences, of which she isn't even aware, much less can she comprehend. Smart, consistently funny, with a warm heart and a genuine sense of affection for the many small sorrows and joys which comprise childhood, Rugrats is that all too rare event; a children's animated series that appeals to adults by cocking a sophisticated snook at grown up conventions, while reminding us of all what we lost when we made the transition from little to large.

RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY (1975)

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Show Image Acidly acerbic, subtly anti-authoritarian, crusty yet compassionate with an acutely developed sense of justice, barrister, writer and author John Mortimer's wily, determinedly eccentric "Old Bailey hack," Horace Rumpole, made his television debut in a 1975 Play for Today, for the BBC -before transferring across to the independent network for a hugely successful series for Thames Television, when the powers that be at the BBC dithered and delayed the decision to commission an on-going series. Allied to Mortimer's witty, intelligent and socially aware scripts, (which earned him a prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award for crime and mystery writing) was the subtly perceptive and muti-facetted performance of Australian actor Leo McKern. And although Alistair Sim was reputedly up for the role originally (this at the wishes of the TV company and not John Mortimer), it was McKern who effortlessly imbued the larger than life, cigar smoking, red wine imbibing defender of the downtrodden with a sly warmth and abrasive humanity which successfully elevated Rumpole far beyond the character's more obvious Dickensian traits. Indeed, such was the show's success that Rumpole became the first British television series to attract sponsorship for the purposes of advertising.

In the beginning Horace Rumpole was offered the opportunity to take charge of his father-in-law's law firm. Instead he decided to indulge himself in his love of courtroom drama and thereby became the scourge of the judges (whom he openly called 'Old Darling') and his opponents of whom he took great delight in confounding at the last minute by turning the tables in favour of his clients, when all had seemed but lost. For entertainment he would often be found quaffing Pomeroy's Wine Bar claret (which he referred to as Chateau Fleet Street) whilst quoting the Oxford Book of English Verse. However, his professional bluster was brought crashing down to Earth and Horace became the stereotyped hen-pecked husband whenever he spoke to Mrs. Rumpole, the original "she who must be obeyed." The first series following the move to Thames saw transmission in April 1978, and was produced by the distinguished Irene Shubik with equally noteworthy direction from the likes of Herbert Wise and Graham Evans. Interestingly, the first series, unlike those that followed, was not contemporary but instead covered a period between the years 1967 and 1977. Another plus for the series was the quality of its supporting players and guest stars, with the likes of Patricia Hodge, Peter Bowles, Samantha Bond, Peter Childs, Jane Asher, Liz Fraser, Anton Rodgers, Phyllida Law and Ken Jones, and especially Peggy Thorpe-Bates and Marion Mathie respectively, as the formidable wife of Rumpole, Hilda. The part of junior barrister Liz Probert was filled (after a change of actress) by McKern's true-life daughter, Abigail.

Although Rumpole retired to Florida in 1979 he returned for a Christmas special in 1980, a complete new series in 1983, more between 1987 and 1988 and for a final run between 1991 and 1992. Warm, witty, insightful and unafraid to address the myriad of social problems that confront the cloistered world of the legal profession, between 1975-1992, John Mortimer's classics quoting, plonk swigging nemesis of injustice, Horace Rumpole was a memorable high-water mark in the annals British television drama's on-going affair with the dramatic tension of the halls of justice. (Co-writer: Stephen R Hulse)