Reviews

SUGARFOOT (1957)

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Show Image Western series starring Will Hutchins that had its roots as a one-off story in an anthology series called Conflict shown between September 1956 and September 1957 on ABC television and one that itself rotated on alternate weeks with Cheyenne. As Western's go this one was a little different in as much as the hero, Tom Brewster, preferred to talk himself rather than shoot himself out of trouble and shunned away from any form of physical violence. The series was devised for Hutchins after the young actor was put under contract to Warner Bros. and ran on an alternate week basis with Cheyenne (after Conflict was cancelled) from 1957-1959, with Bronco from 1959-1960 and finally became one of three rotating shows for its last season (1960-61). Conflict spawned one other successful series, 77 Sunset Strip.

SUNDAY BREAK (1958)

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Show Image Television had little or no time to devote to religion when the BBC began transmitting the first regular television service in 1936 and indeed this remained so until the advent of Commercial Television in 1955. Although church services were broadcast on radio both the Church and the BBC felt that the act of worship would be devalued by television coverage, and similarly people would be encouraged to stay away from evening services by having any type of programming whatsoever. Therefore, a 'closed period' was in place every Sunday between 6pm and 7.30pm and remained so until 19th January 1972 when the Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, Christopher Chataway, a former ITN newscaster, withdrew government restrictions on the hours of broadcasting. However, the Government were prepare to "ignore" the restrictions as long as the programmes transmitted between these hours were of a religious nature, and therefore, on 8th January 1956 at 7pm, About Religion, the first Sunday evening religious programme on British television was born as was a period of television that would become known irreverently as "the God slot." But by 1957 it was felt by many that the youth of the day were more interested in Rock n' Roll or Skiffle music than staying at home to watch religious programmes. So, in the Autumn of that year, Howard Thomas, ABC Television's Managing Director, presented an idea for a religious programme to the Central Religious Advisory Committee, which governed all religious programmes. His idea was for a programme to be transmitted during the evening break in Sunday programming and bring together in an informal atmosphere a true cross section of youth.

The Sunday Break's producer, Ben Churchill, wrote in a contemporary article; "We wondered whether they (the youngsters featured in the programme) would, in fact, talk together and be prepared to hold serious discussions. For this reason we organised in Birmingham, where the programme is produced, a meeting before the first programme (which went out at 6.15pm - 7.00pm in March 1958). After the first get-together there was no problem. Part of the programme is devoted to music, and this means meeting the tastes of most young people with Jazz and Skiffle. The teenagers dance as they do in any club. No special effort is made to play religious popular songs. The idea is to help the musical appreciation of young people so far as this can be applied to the kind of music they like, and also to ask them to be open-minded about other kinds of music." The discussions that took place during the course of the programme included the morality of Western films, the role of the Christian in the Army, sport, politics, big business, gambling and smoking and teenagers were encouraged to Bible reading by way of competitions for modern versions, written by themselves, of selected Bible stories. A painting competition bought forth a very large entry, many of them good enough to win the praise of professional artists. And it was quite noticeable that from its initial broadcast the adult religious programmes that followed The Sunday Break almost doubled its audience.

With jazz, Rock n' Roll, and Skiffle, discussions on subjects ranging from Christian doctrine to sex and science, set in a club atmosphere, transmitted for 45 minutes three times a month, The Sunday Break was one of the most controversial and adventurous religious programmes of it's era. As Ben Churchill wrote in 1958: "The Sunday Break, whatever it may be doing spiritually, has helped make that worthwhile discovery about Britain's youth today. In fact, we who work on this programme believe that it is reaching young people in a way that the church alone cannot reach them; and that it is helping them to face up to their biggest problem, that of living to their own good." (Sources of reference for this article: 'The Guiness Book of TV Facts and Feats' and 'The Television Annual for 1959'.)

SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM (1955)

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Variety and light entertainment featuring an international all-star guest cast from the stage of London's premier theatre. Click Here for review

SUPERCAR (1962)

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Show Image Although Gerry Anderson's involvement with the creation and production of television puppet series had already commenced some five years earlier, 1962 saw Anderson's company, AP Films, release a new series which was fated to be the first true step on the former film cutting room assistant's pathway to legendary status. The series in question was Supercar, and with its premiere both Anderson's long and incredibly fruitful association with Lew Grade's ITC company, and the process known as Supermarionation, took centre stage for the first time. The genesis of Gerry Anderson's relationship with the already hugely successful Grade, which was to culminate in the realisation of Supercar and its money-spinning line of descendants, began when Frank Sherwin Green, an old friend of Anderson's working at Beaconsfield Studios, introduced the financially troubled producer to Connery Chapel in the hope that he could provide help in keeping the seriously ailing AP Films in business. In exchange for a number of shares in AP, Chapel arranged what was to prove a fateful meeting between Anderson and the then Deputy Managing Director of the Independent Television Company ATV.

A genuine business genius, with his finger almost supernaturally on the pulse of popular taste in the entertainment field, Lew Grade was quick to see the possibilities in the young producer's new concept, and placed an immediate order for an initial twenty-six thirty minute episodes. The deal was closed and Supercar entered production. The first in what was destined to be a long parade of versatile, technologically superior craft, foreshadowing the later Stingray and the fabulous Thunderbirds craft themselves, Supercar was equipped, ready and able to travel over everywhere and anywhere, be it on land, both on or under the sea, as well as through the air. The regular cast of early animatronic actors included square-jawed heroic test pilot, Mike Mercury (voiced by Graydon Gould), Supercar's endearingly dotty father-like inventor, Professor Rudolph Popkiss -a comically accented mid-European scientist, (voiced by George Murcell in season one, with Anderson regular Cyril Shaps taking on the role in season two), Popkiss' assistant Dr Horatio Beaker -the bald, stammering British scientist, Jimmy Gibson -a ten year old rescued following a plane crash (voiced in season one by Anderson's then wife Sylvia, and from season two by David Graham), and his extraordinary pet Mitch, a talking Monkey. On the lawless side, chief villain was Masterspy, a clear prototype for the Tracy family's later arch nemesis in Thunderbirds (the Hood), and his accomplice Zarin, along with their British counterparts Harper and Judd.

Supercar itself was a seven-foot craft made mostly of lightweight balsa wood, designed by Reg Hill at a cost of one thousand pounds; a small fortune at the time, especially for a company in such dire financial trouble. In fact money was so tight at that time that the company had to resort to using 1500 empty egg cartons, stuck on the walls of its new studio in a disused factory in Slough, as soundproofing. Nevertheless, despite all the problems which come with the production of any new series Supercar went on to vindicate Grade's initial faith in the project by a becoming both a personal triumphant success as well as a sound investment for ITC. Its thirty-nine episodes ultimately went on to turn the financial tide for Anderson, selling to more than one hundred stations in the lucrative U.S. markets and more than forty more countries worldwide. Simplistic and quaintly primitive when compared with Anderson's later Supermarionation series, Supercar nevertheless possesses an enjoyable quality of good natured entertainment, and much more importantly, the first evocative hints of the world-spanning, breathtaking adventure and excitement which was destined to become both the Gerry Anderson trademark and the promise of pleasure for millions.

SURVIVAL (1961)

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Show Image Of all Anglia’s television programmes the most celebrated is, without doubt, Survival. The programme sprang from a 15-minute natural history programme called Countryman which Aubrey Buxton, a dedicated naturalist with a particular interest in ornithology, had started in June 1960 and presented on screen himself. At that time Granada Television began to wind down its unit based at the London Zoo which made animal programmes, such as Zoo Time, for the network. Buxton saw an opportunity to offer ITV a new wildlife series. As a pilot for the series he made a programme about the copyu, a rodent from South America that caused much destruction in the region. Associated-Rediffusion, then the London weekday broadcaster, agreed to back Survival provided the first programme was about wildlife in Central London. Colin Willock, then deputy editor of the current affairs series This Week worked on the show. The second programme was filmed in East Anglia but with the third edition Wilcock and a cameraman travelled to Uganda to do an edition on the almost extinct white rhino. From that show on, Survival travelled the world producing six half-hour programmes a year. The basic theme of each production was the conflict between man and nature with the programme coming down firmly on the side of conservation.

As he was launching Survival, Aubrey Buxton also helped to found the World Wildlife Fund along with Peter Scott and others, including David Attenborough. "When we founded WWF nobody knew what conservation meant," Buxton recalled. "But today everybody at every bus stop, in every school, in every street, is aware of it." Prince Phillip became chairman of the British appeal of the WWF introducing an hour-long special about conservation in Africa, The New Ark, which won Survival's first international award, the Golden Nymph of the Monte Carlo Film Festival in 1963. The original series ran for 40 years during which nearly 1000 shows were produced. It was also one of the UK's most lucrative television exports, with sales to 112 countries. In its prime, it achieved the highest overseas sales of any British documentary programme and, in 1974, gained a Queen's Award for export success. It became the first British programme sold to China (1979), the first to be broadcast simultaneously across the continent of North America (1987) and its camera teams were the first to shoot a major wildlife series in the former Soviet Union (1989–91). Survival films and film-makers won more than 250 awards worldwide, including four Emmy Awards and a BAFTA. Buxton, producer of Survival for most of its life, also received a Royal Television Society silver medal in 1968 for outstanding artistic achievement, and a gold medal in 1977.

Commentary for Survival shows was voiced by many leading actors over the years, including Orson Welles, Henry Fonda, David Niven, Sir Anthony Hopkins, John Forsythe, Stefanie Powers, Gene Kelly, Timothy Dalton, Jason Robards, Sir Peter Ustinov and Richard Widmark. Almost all the narrators were heard but not seen. The series did, however, break with tradition and engaged an on-camera presenter when Gaby Roslin fronted a six-part series of half-hour shows in 1995 under the title Predators.

Following the takeover of Anglia in 1994, Survival's survival as a documentary series was brought into doubt, although Survival Specials continued to be commissioned. A later acquisition by Granada and an announcement, days before Survival's 40th birthday of plans to close the Norwich operation with the loss of up to 35 jobs, resulted in Wildlife programming being consolidated under Granada Wild and moved to Bristol. The decision, Granada said, was due to "the changing demands of UK and international broadcasters". It added that markets were "hungry for popular documentary techniques, the use of presenters and the inclusion of more science". In 2006, however, ITV announced the return of wildlife programming to Norwich along with the re-location of the Granada Wild film library, including the Survival catalogue. In spring 2009 ITV said the Survival title was returning. The resulting three-part series was rebranded Survival with Ray Mears and broadcast on ITV1 in 2010. (Review: Marc Saul)

SURVIVORS (1975)

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Show Image Inspiration for Survivors came, according to series creator Terry Nation, from the realisation that he -in fact everyone in modern society, had become totally reliant on technology. "I was aware of how little I knew." He said in a 1992 interview. "If I had to make an axe I wouldn't know how take the ore from the ground, turn it into iron and make an axe head. So in a way I, who live in an era where we've landed men on the Moon, am actually more primitive than stone-age man." This was the inspiration for his 1975 series in which a virus had wiped out 95 per cent of the world's population in just a few weeks, leaving the remaining 5 per cent to stay alive in a world devoid of the most basic things we take for granted -electricity, transport, medicine for example, and the few survivors of the human race are forced to fall back on the most primitive skills in order to live and re-establish some semblance of law and order. Avoiding the trappings of cliched science fiction, the story begins with a series of images in the opening credits that set the scene for the entire three series. A scientist drops a test tube and then a montage of planes and passport stamps illustrate how the deadly plague is spread around the world. By the credits end we are placed quite firmly in the middle of the nightmare, which we share with secretary Jenny Richards, upper class Abby Grant, self interested scrounging poacher Tom Price and -from episode two onwards, engineer Greg Preston.

"Those who survived were either genetic freaks because they had come through it," said Nation -"or they were terrified because they hadn't come into contact with it yet. You couldn't go into the cities because the moment the dead became more numerous than the living, they stayed where they fell, and the cities became terrible cess-pits that you couldn't go into." Another problem facing the survivors was a food famine. "All the frozen food we lived on was gone within a week the moment the electricity quit." It wouldn't be long before petrol supplies were also diminished. "I wanted to see a world under those circumstances, and that's what the show was about. It wasn't about boy scouts learning to survive for three days in the woods. It was about people learning how to survive for the rest of their lives." Of all the characters in the first series it is Abby who turns out to be the most resilient. This was a deliberate ploy by Nation who was conscious that there were very few strong female leads on television at that time. "She is driving around her village and there's nothing -just parked cars on the side of the road, and the people she knows are sitting in them dead. She finally goes to the church, she goes inside, and near the altar are ten or twelve dead people. She comes out and she stares up at heaven and says, 'Dear God, don't let me be the only one!' Then she begins to change." In this first two episodes the principal characters find each other as they wander round derelict towns and villages searching for food, shelter and other survivors. By episode eight they have found a small farm and have been joined by a group that included wheelchair-bound Vic Thatcher, financier Arthur Russell, and ex-commune dweller Paul Pitman. The second half of the series concentrates on this band of survivors having to learn to live with, and rely on each other.

By the end of series one tension's between series creator Terry Nation and series producer Terence Dudley had reached breaking point. Dissatisfied with the direction the series was taking it was Nation who walked out. "He (Dudley) wanted to get the electricity turned back on by the third episode. Finally, I couldn't handle it. I was gone, and was terribly disappointed by the way the show went." Said Nation. Another problem arose when actor Terry Scully, who played Vic, had a nervous breakdown during filming and had to be replaced by another actor. Press reaction to the series was mixed. The Observer felt that 'Doctor Who was more adult' whilst The Evening News thought the series 'made the Daleks look like Wombles.' The Daily Mail said it was 'well thought out, but banal' but The Financial Times said the series was 'credible, professional and worrying!" Viewers reaction though was far more positive judging by the letters column in the Radio Times. Before season two started Carolyn Seymour (Abby) decided to move on, leaving the series without one of its strong lead characters. There were further complications when the recording location was no longer available and as a result, season two opens with a fire which claims the lives most of the supporting cast. Location filming moved on to Callow Hill in Monmouthshire where a real life self-sufficient commune was living. However, the commune soon found the BBC's OB team too intrusive and they were asked to leave.

Season three was shorter than the previous two running out at only 12 episodes. Pennant Roberts who worked as director on the series felt that by that time the show had become too 'soapy'. Years later he also became sceptical of the series ability to stand up to more sophisticated productions. Yet fans of the series remember it with great fondness as one of the better dramas of the period. If Terry Nation had got his way Survivors wouldn't have ended there. "I came very close to doing it in the United States," he said. "We were so close to getting it on one occasion, and then the AIDS virus reared it's head, and everyone was terrified to do anything with it. They didn't want to be associated with it, but I think it would be a wonderful story to do in the US. A good story is a good story."

THE SWEENEY (1975)

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Show Image Tough, hard-hitting, uncompromising and the show which redefined the quaintly reassuring image of British television police forever, The Sweeney evolved from a play by the prolific Ian Kennedy Martin entitled Regan, which premiered on the ITV network in June 1974 as part of Armchair Cinema.

The show's title was derived from Cockney rhyming slang - Sweeney Todd = Flying Squad, and over the course of four staggeringly successful seasons between 1975-1978 and two spin-off feature films, helped transform experienced lead actors John Thaw and Dennis Waterman from mere household name's into genuine icons of a decade where dubious fashion sense held equal sway with a cynically violent grittiness, formerly unheard of in the genre of the TV police drama.

Unlike their higher budgeted glossy US TV counterparts, Detective Inspector Jack Regan and Detective Sgt George Carter were troubled heroes with feet of clay, as hard drinking, excessively violent and ruthless as the criminals they stalked. So successful was the chemistry between the two stars that the producers saw fit to kill off Carter's wife early on to enable him to spend more time with his 'guvnor.' Following creator Kennedy Martin's stark 'warts and all' original format undeviatingly, the series time and again took delight in shattering the cosy illusion of the guardians of law and order as reassuringly avuncular Dixon of Dock Green figures, which had dominated television screens for decades, and instead presented the viewers with police who were forced to fight fire with fire. Although the authorities tried to deny that such characters existed within the police force there were many who acknowledged the series realism, and indeed the series technical advisor was former Flying Squad officer Jack Quarrie.

Adding to the over-all reality of the series was the decision by Thames Television subsidiary, Euston Films, to shoot entirely on film at a modest budget of £40,000 per episode. This basic economy, allied to the imaginative early use of hand held cameras to put the viewers in the middle of the action, gave the series an immediacy and intimacy of action which was almost documentary-like in its illusion of reality. At the height of its popularity the series was attracting a weekly audience of 19 million viewers and attracting guest stars who represented the cream of the British acting profession such as Diana Dors, John Hurt, Brian Blessed, Russell Hunter, George Cole and astonishingly, the beloved and legendary Morecambe and Wise.

Apart from the fact that The Sweeney was a prime example of consistently exciting, expertly produced, written and acted police series at its finest, it was even more important as the catalyst for an entirely new direction in the evolution of dramatic programming in this genre. And that in itself is about as good a definition of the term 'classic' as you're likely to find on this particular manor, squire. (Co-writer: Stephen R. Hulse)

SWORD OF FREEDOM (1958)

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Show Image Edmund Purdom starred as Marco del Monte, a 15th century painter, also a master swordsman, living in Florence where he leads a fight against the oppressive ruling family, the Medici's, and their political henchman, Machiavelli (Kenneth Hyde). ITC's Italian version of their own immensely successful Robin Hood, who was both aided and opposed by very similar characters. For help there was a Maid Marian in the form of Angelica (Adrienne Corri), a former pick-pocket turned model and a gentle-giant Little John type called Sandro (the wonderfully named Rowland Bartrop), while evil Prince John was Duke de Medici (Martin Benson). Quite clearly aimed at cashing in on the current trend for swashbucklers with one eye on the lucrative American market, the series went into production in 1957 under the working title 'Sword for Hire' and was then called 'The Blade' until Sword of Freedom was settled on. The series included scripts from blacklisted American writer Ring Lardner Jnr.

SYKES AND A... / SYKES (1960 / 1972)

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Show Image Classic British sitcom in which the irrepressible comedian got himself involved with all manner of new technology in order to improve his lifestyle. Of course, this being the 1960's, new technology to Eric meant everyday objects such as the telephone. The highlight of the series, apart from the sharp and well-observed comedic routines, was the perfect combination of Sykes and comedy actress Hattie Jacques (as his spinster sister) both of whom forged a relationship so convincing that a large section the viewing public thought that they really were siblings. Eric and writer Johnny Speight originally devised the series, although it was Eric's idea to have Jacques play his sister rather than his wife in order to break the mould of the usual domestic sitcom scenario. Together they shared a house at 24 Sebastopol Terrace, East Acton, where they lived on our TV screens for the next five years. The series was called "Sykes and a..." with the object that was about to cause havoc inserted into the title. Eric took over writing from series two onwards, although John Antrobus and Spike Milligan scripted some, and Speight continued to work on the storylines until the end of series three, when it became Eric's sole responsibility. Speight, Sykes and Milligan teamed up again for the controversial 1969 series Curry and Chips. Apart from having to contend with snooty next-door neighbour Mr. Brown (Richard Wattis), Eric and 'Hat' managed to get themselves into all sorts of difficulty, including episodes which found them accidentally handcuffed together, running a bus route minus the bus, or trying to transport a piece of wood from a timber yard to the home of a friend -in a classic episode that was later remade as a 54 minute film for cinema release.

After a break of seven years the series returned under the title of Sykes for an even longer run of 68 colour episodes. By now Eric and 'Hat' had moved -to 28 Sebastopol Terrace, but continued to find difficulty in the everyday goings on of life. Returning to the series was Mr Brown (who had left at the end of the original series' third season to emigrate to Australia), and another regular was added, local policeman Corky Turnbull (Deryck Guyler -who had played an irate bobby in Sykes And A Plank). Eric and Hattie also became the proud owners of a cuckoo clock, naming the temperamental bird inside, Peter. It was the closest they came to a pet and they spoke to it as if it were real. Many of the earlier scripts were re-workings from the original series, including an episode in which Peter Sellers appeared as an ex-convict who arrived on their doorstep claiming Hattie as his fiancé. (Leo McKern had previously played the character).

A number of guest stars appeared in the series from time to time such as Joan Simms and Les Dawson, but by and large it was the magic combination of Sykes and Jacques that kept the series flying, even if by the end of its run it was beginning to look a little dated. However, the show was brought to an enforced conclusion after its 1979 series following the sudden death of Hattie Jacques in 1980. Simple, yet richly observed and consummately performed, both series successfully managed to maintain a winning 'child-like' innocence in its central characters that endeared both it, and its core group of actors to the entire nation.

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