In 1968 writer Peter Spence wrote a radio series for Penelope Keith and Bernard Braden in which she played a superior upper-class widow who has to move out of her stately manor when her husband dies, leaving her with mounting debts, and he as the American businessman who purchases her former home. To make matters worse, Keith's character, Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, can only afford to live, rent-free, within the grounds of her former estate in a humble coach-house. A pilot show was recorded and in due course...completely forgotten about (never even being aired) for almost eleven years. During that time Penelope Keith was elevated to national celebrity status by the hit BBC sitcom The Good Life, in which her character, Margo, was no doubt based (if only in part) on the fforbes-Hamilton role that almost never was. When The Good Life finally ended in 1978, the BBC, eager to cash in on Penelope Keith's popularity, wiped the dust off To The Manor Born, brought in experience comedy producer Christopher Bond, and made one or two character changes in order to transfer the sitcom (which had by now appeared in printed form) to television. The first change was the character of Richard Devere (superbly realised by the super-smooth Peter Bowles), who changed nationality from American to English -but with distant Czech ancestry. Accompanying fforbes-Hamilton is her loyal but decrepit butler, Brabinger (John Rudling) and her close friend Marjory Frobisher (Angela Thorne), who is far more tolerant of Devere, who Audrey sees as both common and vulgar. Eventually though, as in all good love stories, the two antagonists mellow towards each other and fall in love, until, in the final episode (three series later), they get married and go off to live happily ever-after. To the Manor Born was another comedic resounding success for the channel that specialised in comedic resounding successes, attracting audiences of up to and sometimes over 20 million viewers. The final episode, aired on 29th November 1981, pulled in an audience of 24 million, a record for a sitcom that stood for fifteen years before being overtaken by Only Fools and Horses. In January 1997 To the Manor Born came full circle when ten episodes (six adaptations and four specially written) aired on BBC Radio 2, with both Keith and Thorn reprising their roles, and Keith Baron stepping in for Peter Bowles.
Another quality offering from the golden age of teenage television drama, Tom Grattan's War was a period piece, set at the time of the First World War and told the tale of a 16 year-old London lad who is too young to help his country in the far off fields of Flanders, so is therefore set to work on a farm to help with the nation's food production. While Tom's father is fighting in Europe his mother is helping the war effort by working in a munitions factory. For his part, Tom is sent on a long journey to Yorkshire where he will learn the ways of the country. Upon his arrival at the Kirkby's moorland farm Tom discovers that it is situated near a prisoner of war camp where many German captives are put to work in the local quarries. It's not long before Tom witnesses a number of locals venting their anger on the prisoners and the youngster is faced with a number of moral dilemmas. Are the locals justified in their actions? Should Tom help these POWs when he discovers a planned attack in retaliation for the death of a local on the battlefield? Along with the Kirkby's daughter, Julie, Tom shares numerous adventures involving espionage, kidnapping and plain old skulduggery. For the last episode Yorkshire television pulled out all the stops to end the series with a spectacular plane crash.
TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN (1968)
A young lad travels back in time to Victorian England Click Here for review
Like The Flinstones before it, Top Cat was based on a successful US sitcom. Whereas Fred and Barney were the animated versions of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, so TC and his gang were the feline equivalents of Sgt. Ernie Bilko and the gang of Fort Baxter. Like the Phil Silvers character, Top Cat was always wheeling, dealing and scheming, looking for a fast buck and hoping to hit 'the big one', much to the consternation of local neighbourhood cop Officer Dibble. Arnold Stang supplied the Phil Silvers imitated voice for 'the indisputable leader of the gang', whilst Benny the Ball was voiced by none other than Private Duane Doberman himself, actor Maurice Gosfield. Other characters included Choo Choo, Spook, The Brain and Fancy Fancy. The series was renamed for British audiences to Boss Cat because there was a cat food called Top Cat on sale in the UK.
TOP OF THE POPS (1964)
Long running British music show featuring the top pop music chart acts. "It's number one...it's Top of the Pops!" Click Here for review
William Franklyn as Peter Dallas, an Englishman brought up in Argentina and now a British Intelligence agent. He has been granted a year's leave and is engaged by South American businessman Miguel Garetta (Patrick Cargill) to act wherever the official forces of law and order cannot or will not do so. Dallas, usually aided by Garetta's nephew (Alan Rothwell) travels all over the picturesque Pampas pitting his wits against villians in cities and villages. To bring beautiful backgrounds to the ITV screen, a film unit headed by director Ian Fordyce went out to Argentina with Franklyn, a 35-year old ex-paratrooper. They spent eight weeks in the most exciting locations they could visit. They started in Buenos Aires. "The hardest thing there was crossing the road," said Franklyn. "It's a city where the insurance premiums for pedestrians should be higher than for motorists." Meanwhile, on the French Riviera, Patrick Cargill was relaxing, getting himself fit for the series. "Garetta is extremely rich," he said, "and as I'm far from rich a certain amount of acting will be required!" This is the show that turned William Franklin into a star and eventually made him one of the most familiar faces on British television through a series of advertisements for the soft drink company Schweppes. The commercial's 'Shh! You know who' cathphrase immediately caught on and proved to be one of the most successful advertising campaigns of the 1960s. Patrick Cargill went on to specialise in TV sitcom and is especially remembered as the father in Father, Dear Father and Alan Rothwell starred in Coronation Street as Ken Barlow's brother, David. The serial's catchy South American sounding theme tune, 'Sucu Sucu', became a top ten hit in 1961 for composer Laurie Johnson.
David Jason starred as the hapless and equally hopeless espionage agent Edgar Briggs, who is transferred to the Secret Intelligence Service as result of an administrative error. The first episode set the tone for what was to follow with Briggs falling over furniture and getting soaked whilst fully clothed in a Turkish bath. What set the series apart was the weekly dose of stunts, many of which Jason insisted on doing himself, including taking a dive from several storeys up to the ground. The series was specially written for Jason by Bernard McKenna and Richard Laing at the behest of producer Humphrey Barclay, who had 'discovered' David performing in a theatre on Bournemouth pier and introduced him to the British public via Do Not Adjust Your Set. With a little luck, a lot of patriotism and the love of his wife, Jennifer, Edgar Briggs, assistant to the Commander, bumbled his way through 13 episodes. It led the Daily Mirror's then TV critic Stan Sayer to declare, "David is a modern Buster Keaton with most of that great silent film actor's gift of timing, rhythm and skill." The series was not, as often stated, inspired by the US sitcom Get Smart, as Bernard McKenna told Television Heaven: "We'd never seen 'Get Smart.' However I had written a TV play for Ronnie Barker and David Jason called 'The Odd Job.' "I was dying to write for DJ again and was encouraged to come up with an idea. What I came up with was a silly version of The Three Musketeers lots of stuff for DJ to do with swords and hats etc. Humphrey Barclay said it would be too expensive to make, we then thought of an inept Security Service man as the D'Artagnan character who always won his case. We gave him a boss (King Louis) and three assistants (musketeers) including a fat one (Porthos). "We only made one series of The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs and Get Smart was always mentioned, it was only years later I saw it and didn't think they were similar at all!"
The first fantasy series to appear on US television found its way to the small screen from a 1930's novel, The Jovial Ghosts, by Thorne Smith, via a big screen production by the legendary Hal Roach Studios starring Cary Grant ('Topper'-1937), two subsequent sequels ('Topper Takes a Trip'-1938, 'Topper Returns'-1941), and an NBC radio series ('The Adventures of Topper'). The story centred around ageing bank clerk Cosmo Topper, who, at the beginning of the tale was considering the purchase of a house previously owned by George and Marion Kerby; a fun loving couple that had been tragically killed on a skiing holiday in Switzerland. As they passed to the other side the two of them, and their pet St Bernard dog, Neil, returned to their home in spirit form making themselves visible to Cosmo, in order to convince him to stay. And stay he did for 78 episodes between 1953 and 1955 as the dull banker who gradually discovered a lighter side to life under the influence and company of George and Marion. British born actor Leo G. Carroll starred as Cosmo Topper, years before returning to television as Mr Waverly in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys (real-life newlyweds as the series started) appeared as the fun-loving and sometimes mischievous ghosts. Lee Patrick was Cosmo's poor and sometimes bemused wife, Henrietta, whilst bank manager Mr Schuyler (Thurston Hall), and maids Katie (Kathleen Freeman) and Maggie (Edna Skinner) all had occasion to question Topper's sanity. The early use of trick camera techniques gave George, Marion and Neil ghostly effects and objects moved seemingly of their own accord. The series was a hit with viewers and was also shown in Britain in the early days of ITV, although only 36 episodes were purchased. There have been several attempts to revive the series on TV, all unsuccessful.
TORCHY THE BATTERY BOY (1959)
A wind-up puppet boy is created in order to find all the lost toys. Click Here for review
Better-known as the birthplace of The Simpsons, this half-hour comedy sketch show was also a wonderful showcase for the talents of its British-born star. Tracy Ullman first came to America’s attention as a singer with her 1984 top-ten single 'They Don’t Know.' Although Ullman rejected a number of proposals for an American series, her agent sent copies of her TV work in the UK (including Three Of A Kind and Girls On Top) to producer James L. Brooks. He was taken with her abilities and struck a deal with the new Fox network for a series built around Ullman. The result was a variety programme featuring sketches and musical numbers with a regular supporting cast–Dan Casttellaneta, Sam McMurray, Anna Levine, Joseph Malone and Julie Kavner (the best known of the group, thanks to her role as sister Brenda on Rhoda). Each week, Ullman portrayed various characters in a variety of skits. Among some of her recurring characters was Francesca, a 14-year-old girl raised by two gay dads; aging actress Sandra Decker; Australian pro golfer Kiki Howard-Smith; radio announcer Summer Storm; and singer Angel Tish. (Ullman eventually performed a total of 108 characters!) The Tracey Ullman Show made its debut the same night as Married...With Children, as the first prime time offerings of Fox Broadcasting in the spring of 1987. But the series was more of a prestige vehicle than a rating draw; it was the first Fox series to win a major Emmy award. The show’s choreographer, Paula Abdul (before her success on records and her stint as an American Idol judge) also won an Emmy. Every week, the show ended with Ullman wearing a bathrobe, telling her live studio audience to Go home! After she series ended in 1990, Ullman became an American citizen and went on to roles in a number of films; she also had her own sketch comedy series on pay cable networks HBO and Showtime, continuing to win audience favour and Emmy awards.
Tracey Ullman was also the incubator for cartoonist Matt Groening’s strange yellow family. The Simpsons started as animated bumpers that ran between the skits and the commercials. They were upgraded to short features in the second and third seasons; by Season Four, Brooks finally talked Fox into spinning off the characters into their own series–first with a Christmas special in late 1989, followed by the regular series a few weeks later. And so a television legend was born. Ullman–who famously said she had breast-fed those little devils on her show-- later sued for a portion of The Simpsons’ considerable profits. A settlement was eventually reached but terms were never disclosed.
In the early 1960s the Beeching Report recommended wholesale closure of little-used and unprofitable railway lines and closure of local stations along those and many other routes. In the decade that followed the report more than 4,000 miles of railway and 3,000 stations were closed. But not Burberry Halt, a decrepit stop on the Milchester line of the Great Western Railway. Helping to preserve this little piece of old England is the station master of 30 years standing, Hedley Green, played by the incomparable Bill Fraser, late of The Army Game and Bootsie and Snudge. Still sporting his GWR uniform and a 1933 rule book, Green has little to do other than bully his young porter Peter Pringle and ensure the station is presentable, running smoothly and ready for the three trains a day that stop here. Maintenance is low and the only thing here that is automated is an old penny chocolate machine that supplies Green with a supply free bars when kicked in the right place. A veteran of the Second World War who is comfortable with the past, uneasy with the present and suspicious of the future, the only crises Green is likely to encounter are caused by the manager Mr Potts and his eventual replacement Mr Pitts. The series outdoor scenes were shot at Bodiam station in East Sussex, itself a victim of successive governments' cuts, but given a makeover and made to look as good as new. Series one aired on a Saturday evening at 5.10pm from May to June, 1972. Series two, the following year, was moved to a later slot on a Sunday night (9.30pm). Britsh sitcom wasn't finished with the subject after this and returned to it in 1995 with the BBC series Oh, Doctor Beeching!
"This is the clock, the Trumpton clock, telling the time, never too quickly, never too slowly..." These are the words that introduced Gordon Murray's stop-motion puppet series sequel to Camberwick Green. Set in the larger town of Trumpton the series mainly featured Captain Flack and his intrepid crew of fire-fighters, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb. Trumpton was narrated by Brian Cant, animation was by Bob Bura, John Hardwick and Pasquale Ferrari. Shown as part of Watch With Mother, Trumpton survived for 13 episodes before moving on to tales of the next town in Trumptonshire, Chigley.
Picture if you will, a man...a writer, -a weaver of words, purveyor of monochromatic morality tales, and if you feel in the mood to travel, journey with us now into the depths of that man's mind. For it was within the creative byways and moral highways of the mind of the aforementioned writer that our story has its true beginnings...and where ultimately, our story ends. -The mind of a writer named Rod Serling, a mind which was the gateway to a place destined to attain television immortality, -a place known only as...The Twilight Zone.
Born out of three-time Emmy award winning writer Serling's need to circumnavigate the creative strictures imposed upon him by the over cautious needs of the advertising agencies, which represented the megalithic corporations that sponsored (as they continue to do to this day), the vast majority of US television output, The Twilight Zone presented a weekly diet of quality morality tales disguised within the safe, protective camouflage of the fantasy genre format. Always a prodigious talent, between the series premier in 1959 and its final curtain call in 1965, Serling penned an impressive number of the 156 stories which hallmarked the series as the stylish template for almost all future fantasy shows utilising the anthology format. (The notable exception being, of course, Joseph Stefano's memorable Outer Limits). The Twilight Zone's brief half-hour of weekly air-time acted as a showcase not only for Serling's innovative imaginative storytelling, but also such diverse styles as the darkly disturbing, pessimistically overtoned works of Charles Beaumont and the razor sharp suspense and subtly witty storytelling of the prolifically excellent Richard Matheson. But if The Twilight Zone was blessed with an overabundance of creative talent behind the camera, the situation was happily mirrored by the sheer top of the range quality of the performers who gave flesh to the overall brilliance of the writing which shaped the show's legend. Names such as Roddy McDowall, Lee Marvin, James Coburn, Robert Redford, Burgess Meredith, Dennis Hopper, Gladys Cooper, and individually the future Star Trek triumvirate of Shatner, Nimoy and Takei, make up just the most partial list of the various performers who graced the series-and reads like a veritable roll-call of the great and soon to be great of the Hollywood film/TV acting fraternity. But if there is one true star in The Twilight Zone firmament which outshines even such luminaries, then that star is Rod Serling himself. For it was Serling's memorable top and tail appearances for each show with that much imitated ironically measured, memorably wry vocal commentary, which is the most enduring image of The Twilight Zone's legacy.
Much more than merely the omnipresent narrator originally intended, Serling quite literally, for entire generations of viewers, became the embodiment of that televisual middle ground between light and shadow, between merely adequate, and truly great television story telling. Although both creator and creation are now nothing more than flickering images whose substance has long since passed, The Twilight Zone will continue to offer a gateway to wonder, fear and excitement for as long as great television story telling finds a place within viewers minds and hearts, for Rod Serling held the answer to a mystery which has puzzled many a fan of the series he fashioned.
Where exactly IS The Twilight Zone?
The answer, as Serling realised only to well; is within us all.
(Review: Stephen R. Hulse 1999)
TWIN PEAKS (1990)
A 17-year old homecoming queen is murdered and the FBI send an officer to investigate. Click Here for review
Quite possibly the only legitimate pretenders to the crown of the nation's best loved comedy double act held for so long by the legendary and incomparable Morecambe and Wise, was the amazingly successful pairing of polished comedy veterans Messer's Barker and Corbett, aka as 'The Two Ronnies.'
The duo first worked together in the mid sixties on the classic, The Frost Report, where their participation in short sketches alongside the likes of John Cleese became their first taste of joint success. But it wasn't until 1971, when Barker and Corbett signed up with the BBC to record a series of shows called The Two Ronnies that their fifteen year long, phenomenally successful partnership came into full comedy bloom and cemented their cherished place within the affections of the viewing public.
Amongst the vast catalogue of brilliantly conceived sketches and musical numbers, an enduring highlight was Ronnie Barker's solo spot, which featured spoonerisms, the minister for mispronunciation and various appeals in which the ever versatile Mr. B displayed his amazing gift of characterisation. Ronnie Corbett's equally accomplished solo spot was the sit down monologue, which showcased the diminutive Scot's near genius at going off on interminably convoluted tangents before finally delivering the gag's long awaited punchline. The majority of the humour on offer was along the lines of the smutty postcard variety so beloved by the British, and Barker himself, who was a keen collector of such items. But great care was taken never to cross the fine line into the overtly smutty.
The real centrepiece of each show was the wonderfully produced and lovingly written spoof serials, which would be in the form of a continuing thread throughout any given season. Notable amongst them was the beautifully filmed, and very funny, Jack The Ripper pastiche, 'The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town,' which was written with all his usual trademark inspired insanity by Spike Milligan, whilst 'The Worm That Turned' told the story of a Britain where women ruled the country and ran a militaristic police force, and men were made to stay at home, house-keep and wear women's clothing. Another pair of expertly realised Barker and Corbett characters were Piggy Malone and Charlie (one time hit man for the Brownies), Farley. Musical guests ranged from middle-of-the-road groups such as The Nolan Sisters to pop icons of the day like Elton John.
Amongst the series pantheon of scriptwriters were the cream of British comedy talent, including David Knobbs, David Renwick, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and the young (destined for a prolific television career), John Sullivan. However, one major contributor to the show was the shadowy figure of one Gerald Wiley, a writer unknown to any of the production staff. After years of receiving high quality material from the mysterious Wiley, a meeting was set up with him and the rest of the team (including Ronnie Corbett) in a restaurant. It was only here that his true identity was revealed: Gerald Wiley was Ronnie Barker! Always blessed with a prolific amount of creative energy, Ronnie Barker has estimated that he wrote around 75 per cent of the material for each weekly show, as well as taking an active part in the editing process.
The series finally came to an end while still very much at the peak of its popularity (it was very much considered to be one of the BBC's flagship show's enjoying an average audience of 15 million viewers) in 1986, when Ronnie Barker finally decided to retire because he was finding it evermore difficult to come up with fresh, new, funny material, added to which he considered that the standard from the series other writers was no longer meeting the exacting standards for quality, which had helped make it a success in the beginning. Another point of interest was the fact that both performers had managed to sustain successful solo careers both during and after their partnership, a rare and enviable feat in the show business world.
A full scale BBC retrospective was mounted in 1999, in which Ronnie Barker agreed, much to the delight of millions, to come out of retirement (albeit temporarily) to record some new "News" items which had famously opened and closed each show. Barker explained that the genesis of these items came about because initially they couldn't think of anything else, and didn't want to start and end each show with a 'Morecambe and Wise' style routine. During the Two Ronnies Night viewers were asked to vote for their favourite sketch and the one they ultimately opted for was the hilarious one set in a hardware shop, which opens with Barker asking for "Four candles". Corbett, as the shop assistant, puts four candles on the counter. "No," says Barker "Four candles!" The bemused Corbett looks at him and tells him that's what he's got. "No," Insists Barker, "four candles...'andles for forks."
Inventive, inspired, expertly delivered comedy of the very highest standard ensured that The Two Ronnies is a shining example of entertainment at its most polished. It also more than ably illustrates the reason these two performers hold a special place in the exclusive hall of genuine comedy greats.
Mystery thriller in which three children and their dog track a villian around London after finding an empty wallet in a dark old house and overhearing a strange telephone call about the mysterious "Uncle Gerry". The children involved are Peter Thorne, Bill Hallen and his sister Charlotte. Philip Madoc starred as "Scarface". The series was adapted for television by Trevor Preston from a book by Aylmer Hall, the full title of which is The Tyrant King a London Adventure, which was published by British Transport! Indeed, one can only wonder if they (or the London Tourist Board) commisioned it in the first place as the adventure takes in all the London sites one might be able to travel to by bus or underground train - such as Buckingham Palace, down the Mall to St. James's Park, Westminster Abbey and The War Museum. The series is memorable for those who watched it for its contemporary soundtrack which included music from The Rolling Stones, The Nice, The Moody Blues and Pink Floyd. And there the tale might end, except The Tyrant King has a very significant place in British television history. It was the first of three series produced by the newly formed Thames Television to be shot on location on 16mm film as an experiment to test the viability of setting up a small film production unit within the company. The subsidary company would eventually be called Euston Films and would go on to produce some of Britain's best loved drama series such as The Sweeney, Minder and Widows. Although originally shown in black and white, Network DVD released this in December 2011 in colour for the first time, having transferred it from original film materials.