Mike Connors starred as a fast-talking undercover agent whose only way to tackle organised crime was to stay completely anonymous, even from the law enforcement agencies he helped out as he infiltrated the underworld. This was the "tightrope" he walked. He was as likely to be shot by the police as the criminal underworld. He never used the same name twice and his identity changed with each episode. The undercover agent was going to be called Nick Stone, but this idea was dropped and he would only ocassionally be referred to as Nick. The show was to have originally been titled Undercover Man but it was changed before the first episode aired. To give Nick an an edge, in addition to a gun in a shoulder holster, he carried a second holstered gun hidden behind his back. Although the show was very popular it was also criticised for its excessive use of violence. The first seven episodes featured enough hardware to equip a small army; three sawn-off shotguns, fourteen .32 caliber snub-nosed police revolvers, two army-issue .45 caliber automatic pistols, one Thompson sub-machine gun, one .25 caliber Beretta automatic pistol, four tear-gas guns, one razor, twelve switchblades, four pairs of knuckledusters, two hypodermic needles and five gallons of theatrical blood. Despite consistently high ratings Tightrope was dropped after just one season because the sponsor didn't want to be associated with a programme that seemed to sanction violence. There was briefly a plan to create a different version of the show called The Expendables, but it did not survive past the pilot stage. Connors later went on to star as another popular TV cop, Joe Mannix, in the long-running CBS television series, Mannix. Tightrope was so popular in Mexico during the early 1960s that a local recording company, Discos Orfeon, released a 45 rpm single of Connors singing in Spanish.
At first sight there appears to be no apparent reason why Redlow Comprehensive School should be different from any other school of its kind. Until, that is, a strange television transmission has one pupil walking a tightrope of fear. The sixth form students are busy studying for their exams when a television broadcast they are watching is interrupted by a picture of their school and the following announcement is heard: "I have a message for you. How well do you know your staff?...Who and what are they?...Can you trust them?...I am the voice of truth." Tightrope (from ATV) was the creation of Victor Pemberton whose previous writing credits included Dr. Who and Ace of Wands, and starred 18 year-old Spencer Banks as Martin Clifford, a sixth form student who unwillingly becomes involved in the ruthless world of espionage from the moment he is knocked from his bicycle as he returns to school one afternoon. Banks had previously scored with younger viewers as young Simon Randall in the Sci-Fi series Timeslip. The two other main characters in Tightrope were Forrester (played by John Savident, later to star as butcher Fred Elliot in Coronation Street), a somewhat eccentric character who kept the viewers wondering just which side he worked for, and Harvey (David Munro) -a teacher of sixth form pupils. Also appearing is a young Sue Holderness, later famous as Boycie's other half, Marlene in Only Fools and Horses and Green, Green Grass. Adding to the drama was an isolated Airforce base where unusual activities seemed to have some link with the mysterious happenings at Redlow School and a local shop-keeper who also hid a mysterious secret. The questions that arose from this tense and exciting serial were littered with red herrings and each episode ended on a cliffhanger, the truth not being unearthed until the final episode. The series was originally made in colour, but copies of these were lost or destroyed. However, in 2011, Network DVD released the complete series of episodes from available film elements, sadly all in monochrome. However, it does give viewers a chance to view this children's drama series once again.
TILL DEATH US DO PART (1966)
Sitcom about a bigotted Cockney in the 1960s. Click Here for review
THE TIME TUNNEL (1966)
Two American scientists working on a secret project are lost in time. Click Here for review
In 1970 Ruth Boswell suggested a mid-week teatime sci-fi series to ITV that could possibly rival the BBC's immensely popular Doctor Who. That series came in the form of 26 back to back episodes; Timeslip. Arguably the most ambitiously sophisticated science fiction series in terms of writing and performances ever produced for a children's audience, the story centred around two children, Simon Randall and Liz Skinner, who, whilst on holiday in St. Oswald, investigate the disappearance of a young girl at the ruins of a nearby naval base. Also interested in the disappearance is a man called Traynor.
Drawn to the outer barrier of the base by a screeching noise, the children find a gap between two concrete posts and on passing through it they discover that they have been transported back to 1940. Here they meet Liz's father as a young naval rating who in turn introduces them to his CO -Traynor. In this adventure Simon and Liz help Skinner to dismantle a secret laser before it falls into the hands of the Germans. On returning to the barrier they find themselves transported, not back to 1970 but to 1990 and to an Arctic research station where experiments are being carried out on human guinea pigs in order to develop a drug; HA57, that will prolong life. After a series of adventures and near misses the children return to their own time only to be persuaded by Traynor to return to the future. This time they arrive in a tropically hot Britain after a failed experiment in climate control. In their last adventure Simon and Liz travel back to 1965 where they discover that Traynor is not all he seems to be. The first episode was introduced by ITN's science correspondent, Peter Fairley, who was called upon to explain to the programmes young audience the concept of time travel, and how events in the past could influence events in the future. The series tried and indeed memorably succeeded in tackling the theories of cause and effect and the unavoidable interdependence of the past and future, whilst at the same time maintaining a high sense of drama and impressive production values.
Timeslip boasted a consistent uniformly high level of performance from the entire principal cast. With particularly engaging playing from both Cheryl Burfield and Spencer Banks in the pivotal lead roles of the time travelling children, and an absolutely spell-binding performance from seasoned veteran Denis Quilley, who was quite simply superb as five different incarnations of the ambiguously motivated Commander Traynor. Intelligent, sophisticated and exciting, Timeslip was more than a supremely realised example of children's dramatic television of the highest order. It was quite simply an excellent series which effortlessly matched even the very best of adult science fiction series produced at that time. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)
Based on the fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, The Tinderbox tells the story of a poor soldier who meets a witch on his return from battle. The witch promises him gold if he recovers an old tinderbox from a hollow tree. After a quarrel he makes off with the gold without handing over the tinderbox and sets himself up in a neighbouring town. His generosity enables the town to flourish but when his fortune dwindles he is left only with the friendship of the poor and the tinderbox. He uses the tinderbox to summon three hounds who are ready to grant his wishes and sets about helping a princess, imprisoned in the castle by the king because she would marry a humble soldier rather than a noble prince. The series originated from Germany in 1959 (titled Das Feuerzeug) and was shown in the UK on the BBC under the umbrella title Tales from Europe. A special-edition DVD featuring the original German version with English subtitles together with the previously unreleased English dubbed version, and prepared using remastered transfers, was released by Network in 2011. (Review: Network DVD)
The struggle behind a country's negotiations to gain independence from Britain forms the unusual theme for this late 1960s 7-part drama serial. The Tingaree Affair is packed with mystery and action as two young people fight to ensure that the British state of Tingaree gains her indepenence but does not fall under the dictatorship of neighbouring Caris. Eager to exploit Tingaree's valuable mineral sources, Caris plans to wreck the independence talks in London. A tramp hanging around the Tingaree High Commission in England first alerts the suspicions of the High Commissioner's son Martin (David Ballantyne), and with the help of Sandy (Vivienne Cohen), daughter of the Commission chauffeur, he sets out to investigate. They are to need all their inventiveness as they match wits with the sinister Torres (Leon Lissek) and the murderously clever Drew (Valentine Palmer). And the High Commissioner (Peter Arne) has engaged a new handyman - but there is something suspicious about him... Episode three was noteworthy for featuring legendary BBC sound broadcaster Alvar Lidell, then just recently departed from the BBC as head announcer. In a career spanning many years, he had become the epitome of polished newscasting and interviewing. It was during the Second World War that the BBC named its previously anonymous announcers and newsreaders - to distinguish them from enemy propagandists. "Here is the News, and this is Alvar Lidell reading it" became an inadvertent catchphrase. Recordings of Lidell's news bulletins have been included in many films set in Britain during WW2, such as Battle of Britain. He added his legendary tones to The Tingaree Affair as a TV interviewer speaking to the High Commissioner.
Former ATV continuity announcer Jean Morton received two koala-bear stuffed toys in 1962 and created a series around them that became a massive success. When The Tingha and Tucker Club was formed it attracted 750,000 members until finally, ATV, unable to cope with the volume of mail, were forced to close it. The original toys were replaced by puppets and Peter Harris, one of the puppeteers, went on to direct The Muppet Show as well as creating another children's favourite Tiswas. In 1970 the show was finally cancelled and soon after Tingha and Tucker were stolen from a store cupboard at ATV, never to be seen again. Very few tapes of the original series, which varied in length from ten to twenty minutes and preceded early afternoon children's programmes, five days a week, have survived.
Superior television adaptation of John le Carre's spy novel about a retired spymaster, George Smiley (played by Alec Guinness), who is called out of retirement to unearth a double agent among the top ranks of the British Secret Service. As far as the BBC was concerned, the timing of this series couldn't have been any better. The initial broadcast coincided with the British Government announcing that Anthony Blunt, the keeper of the Queen's Pictures, was one of the Cambridge Five, a ring of spies recruited as traitors by the Soviet Union during and after the Second World War. It is against this background that Arthur Hopcraft's seven-part BBC adaptaion is based. The cold war is at its height and British agents are at risk from a mole, working within the highest levels of the Secret Intelligence Service (known as the Circus). But who can spy on the spies? George Smiley, former Deputy Head of the Service, who had retired under mysterious circumstances some years earlier, is brought back to investigate. But he must tread carefully and covertly because the double agent could be any of his former colleagues.
As Smiley, Alec Guiness gives one of his finest performances. His outwardly placid and composed demeanor masks a mixture of emotions and a seething hatred as the realisation dawns on him that the double agent he is trying to uncover is not only the same man responsible for Smiley's sudden departure from the SIS, but also for his domestic betrayal. Sian Phillips also shines in the series' final scene as Smiley's unfaithful wife Ann. There are also some fine cameos from the likes of Joss Ackland, Ian Bannen, Hywel Bennett, Nigel Stock, Ian Richardson, and Beryl Reid. The series was an immediate success and Guinness returned in the sequel Smiley's People in 1982. A 2011 big screen version was also received with equal enthusiasm.
TISWAS (Today Is Saturday Wake And Smile) was the show that revolutionised British Saturday morning children's television in the mid 1970's, by taking the tried and tested format of wholesome family fare and replacing it with two hours of raucous slap-stick, manic humour and risque jokes. Beginning in the Midlands in 1974 it was several years before the show gained full network coverage, with many ITV regions opting out of various segments to replace them with cartoons. Hosted by producer Chris Tarrant, the show featured such unforgettable characters as the Phantom Flan Flinger and his lovely wife Flanella, Bob Carlogees and his punk dog, Spit, (a glove puppet with a wonderfully defined non-verbal character and genuine personality), and a then up-and-coming young comedian who had found fame on the talent show New Faces, Lenny Henry, as newscaster Trevor McDonut. (Based on real life newsreader Trevor McDonald). Aided and abetted by the delicious Sally James, former Scaffold group member John Gorman and Trevor East took great pleasure in dousing the TISWAS audience in buckets of water, (most of whom were the adult parents of the shows younger audience who had been locked in "The Cage"), or pouring cold spaghetti and baked beans over them (even the shows guests and presenters rarely finished the show with dry clothing), in between the various pop acts of the day and star interviews.
Bob Carolgees' gradually introduced other pets Charlie the Monkey and Cough the Cat as well as adopting the alter ego of Houdi-elbow (a take on Houdini). Other semi-regulars were Paul Henry (Benny from Crossroads), who used to read Shakespeare in a posh accent, and David Rapperport who used to introduce Green Nigel (a send-up of Blue Peter). The series gained such a cult following that a late night adult version, OTT (Over The Top) hosted by the same team, (with the addition of Helen Atkinson-Wood and Alexi Sayle), was born in 1982. However, the show received much criticism for being far too over the top, and was subsequently cancelled.
A genuine breath of anarchic fresh air in the otherwise cosy, safe and comfortable Saturday slot which had long been dominated by the BBC's Multi Coloured Swap Shop, (hosted by the equally multi coloured sweater wearing DJ Noel Edmonds), TISWAS struck genuine gold by making the all important cross-over between the child and adult audience. TISWAS was fun, insanity, and crowd-pleasing programme making which bravely opened up previously uncharted territory in the field of children's entertainment on television. In its day, the show was unquestionably unique, and we the viewers loved it dearly for daring to be so.