First TV series for one of Britain's most popular comedians, which mixed variety, Ray's excellent stand-up comedy routine and, later on, a selection of sketches including a series of domestic situations with Diane Hart as his wife and Kenneth Williams as his interfering brother-in-law. Born Charles Olden in Wigan in 1905 Ted Ray entered showbiz as a violinist by the name of Nedlo the Gypsy. In the early thirties he developed a style that mixed his playing with comedy ('fiddling and fooling' is how he was billed) and built up a good enough reputation for himself that by 1935 he landed his first film role. Influenced by a style favoured by US comedians Ted dropped the violin playing as his main speciality (although it still remained a part of his act) to concentrate on his comedy, delivering a fine line in steady quips and patter. He was one of the first (if not the first) British comedian to appear on stage in an ordinary lounge suit. In 1949 he became a household name when he was given his own BBC radio show "Ray's a Laugh", which was a combination of comedy and music. The series ran until 1961 and even after it ended Ted remained in demand. He performed at the London Palladium more times than anyone (except comedian Joe Church), was a regular guest on TV variety shows and the linchpin of the radio panel game "Does The Team Think?" Ted died in November 1977 less than two weeks before his 72nd birthday. His two sons followed him into show business; Andrew Ray an actor and Robin Ray a popular radio presenter.
Puppet version of radio's immortal Goon Show written by Spike Milligan and voiced by the original show's members, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Milligan. This TV version was mostly made up of scripts from the old radio series, edited down to 15 minutes by Maurice Wiltshire. The sound tracks were freshly recorded by The Goons in early 1963, which brought them back together again for the first time in several years. The television series finally put faces to the voices that had been enthralling the radio fans for years and won a new, younger generation of followers, from the ages of 7 to 17.
From the outset it was the intention of the show's producers to re-use the original radio series recordings until the BBC scuppered this idea by refusing permission. However, due to the fact that a recording of the radio show, 'Tales of Manhattan', was used as the soundtrack of the initial 31-minute version of The Telegoons pilot film, many TV historians were misled into believing that the original soundtracks had been used with all of the episodes, with new material being recorded only where needed. In the absence of good historical information about The Telegoons this rumour had persisted for many years. We now know that prior to being transmitted as the second episode, the pilot film, 'The Lost Colony' was heavily edited, and the soundtrack completely replaced by a new recording. The other episodes all had brand new recordings from the outset. This new information came to light due to the excellent research of Alastair Roxburgh, (owner of www.telegoons.org -see links page), who managed to track down six of the original crew. Neither was the radio series simply transferred to television without some changes taking place. Television script writer Maurice Wiltshire added a good amount of visual humour as suited the TV medium, the musical interludes were deleted, and a brand new theme and musical effects were written by Ed White. A humorous opening scene was placed ahead of the main story, which usually had very little to do with the main plot. The job of announcer (which was usually done by Wallace (Bill) Greenslade in The Goon Show) fell to Grytpype-Thynne.
Contrary to several published histories, we also now know that Spike Milligan gave final approval to the look of the puppets, which were designed and built by Ron Field (who also invented the electronic lip synch system used in the later episodes), and Ralph Young. On the subject of the puppets, one further interesting point is that the rate of delivery used in the radio show had to be slowed down to match the speed of the puppets. All told, twenty-six of the more popular Goon Shows, such as 'China Story,' were translated quite successfully to the television puppet format.
The original stars of the Goon Show have since passed into comedic legend. Spike Milligan went on to star in a series of manic sketch shows under the title Q, starting with Q5 and working his way up in subsequent series to Q9. He also wrote a number of sketch shows as starring vehicles for fellow Goon Peter Sellers (see reviews of The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d and A Show Called Fred). Milligan starred in the Johnny Speight sitcom Curry and Chips, and wrote a mini-saga for The Two Ronnies called 'The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town'.
Harry Secombe starred in his own mixture of song and sketch shows for both ITV and BBC (the British Film Institute recently acquired a recording of a previously unbroadcast Harry Secombe and Friends show featuring both Milligan and Sellers in a twenty-eight minute edition of The Goons - search YouTube for it) the most popular of which was The Harry Secombe Show, before hosting the Sunday night religious travelogue Highway. He also appeared in Lionel Bart's Oscar winning movie 'Oliver' playing the part of Mr. Bumble the Beadle. He was later knighted. Peter Sellers went on to win world-wide acclaim with a succession of famous movie roles, not least of which was Inspector Clousseau in the 'Pink Panther' series. In a television interview with Michael Parkinson a short time before he died Sellers recalled his time spent on the Goon Show as "the happiest of my life." (Co-writer: Alastair Roxburgh )
1950s children's magazine programme which was shown on alternate Saturday's sharing the spot with Whirligig. Timothy Telescope was a sailor glove puppet who shared the limelight with a human presenter, Valerie Hobson. The series featured a wealth of personalities, small characters, adventures and sound, with a wholesome and practical education slant. Telescope focused the youngsters' attention on handicrafts as well as fairy tales; on painting and even dolls' dress design, as well as the outrageous adventures of Hank, the kindest little cowboy who ever galloped out of the Wild West on a wooden hoss. And when Telescope veered towards the historical it was out of the classroom into every child's home, where teapots and clothes were made to tell the history. Telescope was replaced by The Saturday Special in 1951 while Whirligig continued until 1956.
Set in a Japanese women's internment camp on the island of Sumatra, after the fall of Singapore in 1942, Tenko first appeared on BBC 1 on Saturday nights in 1981, and starred a mainly female cast led by Ann Bell, Stephanie Cole and Stephanie Beacham. The show was created by Lavinia Warner after she was working on the This is Your Life series researching Margot Turner, who was herself a prisoner in an internment camp. The series tells the harrowing story of the treatment and conditions that the women had to endure while they were held captive and makes for powerful and compelling drama and a story that had been forgotten and untold. Tenko was written by Jill Hyem, Anne Valery and Paul Wheeler and ran for three ten-episode series. There was also a feature length episode called Tenko Reunion. The majority of the first two series were filmed at a specially constructed camp in Dorset, with only the first two episodes actually shot in Singapore.
Tenko focused on a small band of prisoners from Britain, Australia and
the Netherlands, who all come from a mix of backgrounds, from bored military housewives, to nuns,
nurses and prostitutes. The first series tells of their capture and how they come to terms with
their situation, the tensions that build and the bonds that are formed amongst the them. It was a
hard-hitting drama that did not shy away from showing what the female prisoners had to endure at
the hands of their captors. There was only a small group of characters that featured in all three
series and included, Marion Jefferson played by Ann Bell-a colonel's wife in Singapore who becomes
the British prisoners natural leader, Stephanie Cole played Dr Beatrice Mason, who struggled to
look after the health of the women despite limited medical facilities, and Kate Norris was an
Australian nurse played by Claire Oberman. Despite what she has to endure she
tries her best to remain upbeat. Burt Kwouk played the camp commandant Major Yamauchi, a proud
soldier who would much rather be fighting the war than guarding the women in the camp. Lieutenant
Sato is the sadistic second-in-command at the camp who holds the women internees with utter
contempt. The second series saw the camp split up with some inmates moving to another camp that is
not so much ran by its commandant, but by the scheming interpreter Miss Hasan played by Josephine
Welcome. She is assisted by Verna Johnson and between them they control food supplies to the
women in the camp. This is probably the most harrowing of the three series as the women in the
camp become increasingly desperate, forcing some to betray their friends. The end of the series
sees the camp mistakenly bombed by the allies, injuring some of the prisoners and killing Miss
Hasan. The third and final series sees the women prisoners liberated by the allies after the
surrender of the Japanese and their return to Singapore. But the drama does not end there as they
struggle to come to terms with their freedom. Marion is reunited with her husband, but her
marriage has become strained after what she has endured as a prisoner. Before the remaining women
depart Singapore they agree to a reunion five years later and that was the basis of the one-off
Tenko Reunion special. Tenko was one of the most watched dramas of the eighties and
despite being first broadcast over thirty years ago, it still is avidly watched whenever it has
been repeated on digital channels or released on DVD.
(Review: Glyn Howells)
THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (1961)
1960s pop music show featuring the latest single releases. Click Here for review
Ground breaking, hard hitting, biting satire that week by week examined the major news events of the past seven days and held them up to close public scrutiny and made them the objects fun and derision in a way that had previously been unheard of, or unseen on television. It was the BBC's Director General Hugh Carlton Greene who, in 1962, decided to shake up the channel's news coverage. Greene, a former journalist, was keen that the BBC keep pace with the major social changes in 1960's Britain and in particular wanted to get rid of the stuffy image associated with the Corporation and bring it down from the ivory tower mentality it had adopted and not shaken off since its early Reithian days. He tasked Ned Sherrin with the job of devising, producing and directing the format for the new series. The series was to be produced by the News and Current Affairs Department within the BBC rather than Light Entertainment as it was felt that the former had more experience in dealing with political issues, and it was these that were to be held up to scrutiny more than any others.
When both Brian Redhead and John Bird declined to take the chair as host of the
show, the opportunity fell to young Cambridge graduate David Frost. His calm unflappability on the
live TW3 (as it became more commonly known) made him an instant hit with the studio and
television audience alike. However, the show was not without its critics, although these were
mainly from the accepted "establishment" who could not deal with such emotive subjects such as
religion, sex and racism being spoken about in public, and on one occasion in particular the
journalist Bernard Levin was attacked by a member of the studio audience, who had been unhappy
with a comment made the previous week. The series even derided the Corporation's own sacred cows,
one sketch on the popular light entertainment series The Black and White Minstrel Show was
used to highlight racial attacks in America's Deep South, although the irony appears to have been
lost on a majority of the viewers at the time. Sketches like this only went further to alienate
the shows critics, however, the series had a staunch supporter from perhaps the most unexpected of
places; 10 Downing Street, where the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan believed it was much
better to be criticised than ignored. It was not an opinion that his colleagues shared. Reginald
Bevins the then Postmaster General made moves promising to stop the programme, but rumour has it
that Macmillan sent him a private memo which said 'Oh no you're not!'
It was not uncommon for editions of the show to overrun its alloted time slot, but as it was the last programme to be broadcast on a Saturday evening Sherrin decided that, as it was not delaying anything to follow, this was quite acceptable. The BBC shot back by scheduling late night repeats of the popular thriller series The Third Man but TW3 played its trump card by having David Frost read out a detailed synopsis of the episode about to be broadcast and the BBC very quickly pulled The Third Man from the schedule. Another innovation of TW3 was in its presentation, which for the first time on British television made visible the sets scaffolding, cameras moved in and out of shot and the cast often read from scripts in front of camera. The effect gave the show a very informal relaxed feel, in total contrast to anything else the BBC was putting out at that time.
A number of sketches featured on the show were written by the likes of Keith Waterhouse, Kenneth Tynan, Jack Rosenthal and Dennis Potter, whilst its successors BBC3 and The Frost Report would bring together future stars like John Cleese and the rest of the Monty Python team, as well as Ronnie's Barker and Corbett. TW3 also made household names of Willie Rushton, Roy Kinnear, Lance Percival, Kenneth Cope, Roy Hudd and Eleanor Bron. Millicent Martin would start the show each week with a musical rendition (normally written by Percival), of the week's news.
The only occasion when the series dropped its irreverence was on the edition broadcast on 23rd November 1963, the night after the assassination in Dallas, Texas of US President John F. Kennedy. The whole show, including a tribute song sung by Millicent Martin was later released on a soundtrack LP in the USA entitled 'The British Broadcasting Corporation's Tribute to John Fitzgerald Kennedy'. The show was successful enough for it to transfer across the Atlantic to the US where Frost was joined by co-hosts Alan Alda and Tom Bosley. Like the British version the show was no stranger to controversy. In 1964, with a General Election looming, the BBC panicked and, worried that the series and therefore the broadcaster itself would be accused trying to influence voters; they cancelled the series. David Frost bought the final show to a close by telling viewers, "that was That Was The Week That Was, that was."
This hugely enjoyable ITV sitcom from the prolific writing team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais came about when BBC producer Jimmy Gilbert commissioned from them a single 30-minute episode for the Ronnie Barker series Seven of One. The title of the BBC/Barker show was called 'Prisoner and Escort' and was later developed into a series that has now become one of British TV's all-time greats; Porridge. The idea behind 'Prisoner and Escort' was based on life in a prison, but when Clement and La Frenais originally wrote it they found themselves moving in a different direction from the one planned. In their book "Porridge: The Inside Story" (Richard Webber, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais published by Headline in 2001) the authors explained; "We started writing the piece for Ronnie and found we couldn't stop; it went beyond just one episode and before we knew it we'd written an entire series.'
Rather than being about a man on his way to prison, Thick as Thieves was about a man who had just been released. George Dobbs, a small time felon who has a history of housebreaking, is released from prison a day earlier than expected. At least it's a day earlier than his wife, Annie, expected because on his return home George is greeted on the doorstep by his best friend, Stan, who is topless, covered (around the face) with shaving foam, and sporting George's best pyjama trousers. It soon becomes apparent that during the three years that George has been away 'doing time' Stan has been playing away 'doing his missus!' However, rather than punch each others lights out the two men agree to a truce while they try to come to terms with the uneasy situation that they find themselves in, which is not helped by Annie who declares affections for both of them. "Before long we'd written fifty pages on this situation" said Ian La Frenais. "As we knew we had an entire series here, we put it aside." However, they only put it aside long enough to rewrite the 'Prisoner and Escort' episode for Six of One before selling Thick as Thieves to London Weekend Television.
Although the writers had envisaged Ronnie Barker as the ex-prisoner, his contract to the BBC precluded him from the LWT series. Instead, Clement and La Frenais personally chose two actors to play the key roles of Stan and George: John Thaw and Bob Hoskins, respectively. Thaw was already an established TV star having landed the lead role in Red Cap some ten years before but Hoskins was still relatively unknown having only played a number of bit parts. Thaw also had another series in the pipeline with The Sweeney beckoning him (in fact the pilot aired the exact same week as Thick as Thieves debuted) but Hoskins had to wait another five years before winning international acclaim as East End villain Harold Shand in the internationally acclaimed movie 'The Long Good Friday.' Although the writers planned to send the two protagonists back 'inside' in the second series, only eight episodes of Thick as Thieves were made. By the time series one had reached its end the BBC had decided to develop 'Prisoner and Escort' into a full series and Porridge aired just seven weeks later.
Thirtysomething was a drama series aimed squarely at the "Baby-Boomer" generation which had given rise to the elusive, supposedly heavy consuming, audience segment which was perceived by the US networks as the then desired holy grail of advertising revenue, the "Yuppies". Created by the team of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, for 85 episodes (including the pilot) over four seasons, the series followed the complexly interwoven personal and professional lives of a group of upwardly mobile friends, two couples and three singles, living and working in the city of Philadelphia. Michael Steadman is initially a creatively successful advertising executive working closely with his best friend, Elliot Weston in a high profile agency, before they eventually break away from the company to form their own business partnership. Michael's wife, Hope Murdoch Steadman, an ambitious graduate of Princeton, had set aside her career in publishing in order to raise their newly born baby daughter, Janey, while Nancy Weston, a former 60's "Flower Child", had lost sight of her driving ambition to be a successful artist in the practical day-to-day problems of raising the couple's two children. Alongside their own daily affairs, the close knit couples also found themselves involved in the often demanding and intimate problems of their three single friends, Gary Shepherd, a free wheeling college professor and Michael's oldest friend, Melissa Steadman, Michael's love starved, selfish single cousin and Ellyn, Hope's girlhood friend, now a lonely and confused career woman. Although the series was capable of delivering a finely written and performed undercurrent of pleasing comedy, its real forte lay in the lengthy debates about everything from the characters self absorbed, near constant emotional angst, and their almost driven need to fulfil their individual dreams irrespective of the cost to those around them. In this respect, the characters displayed all the faults and flaws endemic to a decade where success and money took precedence over the more traditional perceived values of the generation that had preceded them. Apart from a consistent excellence in production and writing, the main ensemble cast delivered uniformly expertly judged performances, which succeeded in creating multi-layered characters, which the audience could like and in many cases sympathise with, in spite of the often-unattractive traits they sometimes exhibited. In turns amusing and emotional, well written, sharply acted and expertly produced (giving the series a grand total of ten Emmy wins and an impressive sixteen further nominations), Thirtysomething was a high quality drama series, which accurately reflected the particular preoccupations of a glossily self-obsessed decade. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)
THIS LIFE (1996)
Stark, sometimes shocking drama series about five young Londoners. Click Here for review
When the saga of the upstairs Bellamy family and their downstairs servants in the BAFTA Award- winning series Upstairs Downstairs finally ended in 1975 there were, understandably, many ideas bandied about for spin-off series'. Two of the characters that the public had taken to heart were Thomas Watkins, the Bellamy's chauffeur, and Sarah, their nursery maid (played by real-life husband and wife John Alderton and Pauline Collins). At a memorial service for Cyril Bennett, the LWT Controller who had died in November 1976, his successor Michael Grade agreed to do a programme with Alderton and Collins. Former Upstairs Downstairs script editor Alfred Shaughnessy and series producer John Hawkesworth put forward the idea for Thomas and Sarah originally to be called In Confidence. Hawkesworth was commissioned to write a synopsis for the programme which became the only spin-off from Upstairs, Downstairs. In turns humorous, surreal and dramatic, with sharp, entertaining scripts Thomas and Sarah proved to be yet another success when first broadcast in 1979. Alfred Shaughnessy later wrote episodes for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Cedar Tree, The Irish R.M. and All Creatures Great and Small. John Hawkesworth produced the BBC drama The Duchess of Duke Street, and created as well as produced the 1979 Euston Films series Danger UXB for Thames Television. During the 1980s, he produced many television programmes including The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Alderton and Collins later teamed up for another ITV series, Forever Green.
realised and intense drama-documentary that harrowingly depicted the unimaginably grim events of
the aftermath of a nuclear attack on Britain. Concentrating on a single city, Sheffield, the
production presented the all too grim story of the nuclear strike from the a trio of viewpoints,
two ordinary Sheffield families, the Beckett's and the Kemp's, and that of the city's peacetime
Chief Executive and harried wartime controller, Clive Sutton. As the story unfolded, it deftly
backtracked to trace the events of the four weeks that led up to the devastating nuclear exchange,
as the East and West power blocs all too believably became drawn into war due to a crisis of
control in the Middle East. In disturbingly, but never sensationally, graphic detail, it depicted
the nightmarishly plausible inferno of suffering and chaos inflicted on the city and its
population, before taking the scenario through the first post holocaust decade as the 'threads' of
civilisation slowly unravelled before the audience's eyes. Writer Barry Hines and
producer/director Mick Jackson employed masses of detailed scientific studies to chillingly
telling effect to ensure that the production emerged as factual and starkly realistic as possible,
in contrast to the high profile gloss of the similarly themed, American TV movie
Comedy series that chronicled the merry misadventures of the employees of a London based TV sales and repair shop. Most of the stories revolved around chief technician Mike, actor Michael Medwin, who had sprung to fame as Springer in the popular Granada series The Army Game. His two co-workers were fellow Londoner George played by George Roderick and Northerner Malcolm, played by Bernard Fox who later gained TV fame in the USA, first as Malcolm Meriwether on The Andy Griffith Show and then as the bumbling Col. Crittenden on Hogan's Heroes. All three actors had appeared in an earlier sitcom called The Love Of Mike. A fourth TV repairman was Higgenbottom played by Derek Benfield and Deryck Guyler (most famously the school caretaker, Potter, in Please Sir!) was the shop manager. Unusually for a British sitcom the series ran to a continuous 26 episodes and each of them featured a special guest star of the calibre of Peter Vaughan, Dudley Moore, Dickie Henderson, Arthur Lowe, and a young Ronnie Corbett.
THREE'S COMPANY (1977)
US sitcom about a young man sharing an apartment with two girls - based on the UK's Man About The House. Click Here for review
Series of twist-in-the-tail dramas designed to keep its viewing audience guessing and at the edge of their seat right up to the final scene, Thriller was devised by Brian Clemens and offered to Michael Grade who initially turned it down but suggested that his uncle, Lew, might be interested. The series outline was sent to the elder Grade but Clemens heard nothing for months. When the call finally came Clemens was summoned to the ATV chief's office and, as was customary with Grade, a contract was agreed on the strength of a handshake. When Clemens enquired about how much money was to be spent on the series, and indeed how much he himself would make out of it, Lew Grade simply told him, "I promise you - you won't be disappointed." And according to Clemens, he wasn't! The deal that Grade struck involved the sale of the show to the USA for $100,000 per showing from the ABC Network. Each show was then budgeted at $100,000 per episode which meant that the series had broken even before it had been sold anywhere else. With so much money coming from the USA it was only right that each show would have a star approved by ABC, and that meant that either an American or a well-known European star was cast as the main character each week. When the series was shown in the USA it went out under the title of ABC Mystery Movie and the distinctive opening titles and moody Laurie Johnson theme music which helped set the atmosphere were inexplicably dropped, even so it was still a big hit and a second series was promptly ordered. Brian Clemens believes that the strength of the series lay in the fact that it avoided any form of overt terror or graphic violence, relying on the simple premise of allowing the imagination of the viewer to create it's own terrors. And the series certainly ran the whole gamut of horrors be they supernatural, murder or straightforward thrillers. Stars who appeared included Britain's own Helen Mirren, Diana Dors, Denholm Elliot and Stanley Baxter. British born actress Judy Carne, who had made a name for herself on the American comedy series Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, also appeared, as did international film star Diane Cilento. Thriller was a superior anthology series of the 1970s and through Network DVD viewers can chill and thrill once more to the complete series. It is highly recommended.
Classic Gerry Anderson puppet series featuring the exploits of International Rescue and their fantastic Thunderbird crafts. "Thunderbirds are go!" Click Here for review