Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's first full attempt at real-life action was much more adult orientated than their previous offerings. Under threat from a mysterious green skinned, liquid breathing alien race, Earth set up SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation) under the leadership of former USAF commander Ed Straker. Not wishing to cause wide spread panic amongst the public, SHADO's secret headquarters was buried deep below the Harlington-Straker film studios on the outskirts of London. From here, Straker, assisted by Colonel Alec Freeman , Captain Peter Carlin, and Colonel Paul Foster, ran operations and kept in touch with the planet's first line of defence which was situated on Moonbase, where response to an alien attack came in the form of typical Anderson gadgetry, namely the Interceptor Spacecraft. If this line of defence were breached then SHADO could still call on Skydivers, nuclear crafts capable of either underwater or aerial combat. The organisations female staff were clad in white cat suits and had purple hair, the most famous of them being Gabrielle Drake and Wanda Ventham.
The series was developed by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and Reg Hill in the autumn of 1968 while production of the mostly forgotten puppet series The Secret Service was still in progress. The Anderson's were also completing production on their first live-action feature film Doppelganger. Around that time ATV supremo Lew Grade agreed to finance UFO to the tune of £100,000 per episode. Filmed over a period of 18 months the series used the facilities offered by three studios starting with the MGM British Studios in Boreham Wood followed by the Anderson's own Century 21 Studios in Slough and finally to ATV's Elstree Studios. Towards the end of 1969 MGM decided to close down the Boreham Wood studios and production on UFO came to an enforced halt. By that time only 17 episodes of the 26 had been completed and it wasn't until May 1970 that the production of the full run was finally finished. UFO had all the elements for a successful series; a good strong storyline, plenty of action and the wonderful Anderson models. Where the show failed was in the uncertainty of programme schedulers who couldn't make up their mind if the series should be aimed at children or adults, and as a result it meandered between Saturday morning and late night 'graveyard' slots until, eventually, a planned second season was cancelled to make way for the Andersons' next project, Space 1999.
Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge is a fictional character from the short stories and novels of P. G. Wodehouse. And while Ukbridge (pronounced Ewkridge) never enjoyed the same popularity as Bertie Wooster and Jeeves here was another of the author's amiable eccentric characters from the 1920s bought to life in exemplary style by the BBC. Ukridge is a bounder, a schemer and an outrageous conman who will do anything for financial gain - as long as it doesn't involve working. He is an opportunist who never passes up a chance to exploit any kindness shown to him. And yet, as with so many other television rogues down the years, the viewing public took him straight to their collective heart, due in no small part to the amiable performance of Anton Rodgers in the lead role, suitably accompanied by Julian Holloway as his chum, Corky, and Marian Spencer as Aunt Julia. Richard Waring adapted Wodehouse's scripts for television. Wodehouse must have retained a certain fondness for him; his last appearance in a Wodehouse story being was as late as 1966.
Undermind was a very unusual British science fiction thriller series for its time in that there wasn't a rocket, flying saucer or extraterrestrial to appear at all over the course of its run. Over its eleven episodes Undermind told a story about alien subversion where an alien force, that was never identified by name or location, sought to establish a foothold in Britain by undermining society and morale. These aliens had sent high frequency signals from space that are picked up by people who become brainwashed into subversive acts to create a climate of social unrest. The series villains ended up being everyday people who suddenly underwent a dramatic change in their personality, and behaving or acting in ways totally foreign to all those that knew them. But they all shared one small thing in common - an acute susceptibility to high frequency signals. Undermind was created by writer Robert Banks-Stewart and was produced by Michael Chapman. The series main cast consisted of two regular players - Jeremy Wilkin as Drew Herriot and Rosemary Nicols (who'd later go on to star in Department S) as Anne Herriot - while each episode featured new characters and guest stars suited to that weeks story. In the series premiere episode "Instance 1" (a.k.a. "Onset Of Fear") written by Robert Banks-Stewart, Drew Herriot (Jeremy Wilkins) returned from Australia to find his policeman brother Frank (Jeremy Kemp) had provoked a scandal involving a top politician. Appalled by this uncharacteristic behavior, Drew and his brother's estranged wife Anne (Rosemary Nicols) searched for the cause behind Frank's strange actions. With the help of a psychiatrist, they discovered that Frank had become 'emotionless' and uncover a web of similar cases - the victims all being susceptible to high frequency signals. Frank killed the psychiatrist, Dr. Poulson (Paul Maxwell) and tried to have Drew and Anne eliminated. But in the end, it was he who was shot, and as he died, he told Drew: "There are more of us..." (Review: Bob Furnell)
One of the true greats from the golden age of US dramatic television, The Untouchables was a glorious hark back to the classic Warner Bros gangster movies of the 1930's in its harsh, brutally unstinting depiction of a violent era and the battle to recapture a nation's self respect from the bloody taint of mobsterism run riot. Beginning life as a two part TV Movie presentation on CBS's Desilu Playhouse in April, 1959, The Scarface Mob related real life Treasury agent Eliot Ness' fight to smash legendary gang lord Al Capone's infamous Chicago syndicate. Ness and his band of agents were said to be incorruptible, thereby earning themselves their nickname. The series that followed between October 1959 to September 1963, although a consistent top ten ratings hit, was plagued by controversy and threats from certain quarters. The USA's Italian community complained strongly that the series was 'dragging their names through the mud', in response to this charge, the producers added a disclaimer to the end of each show admitting that much of the action was fictional. Indeed, most of the criminals that Ness and his 'Untouchables' came up against in the series, he never even met in real life. Originally to have starred long time MGM movie star Van Johnson in the Ness role, the part was eventually accepted by Robert Stack, whose powerful performance and commanding screen presence elevated the television incarnation of the real life Ness into a charismatic, iconic symbol of justice which foreshadowed and paved the way for Jack Lord's much later success with Hawaii Five-O's Steve McGarret. Another reason for the show's success was the inspired decision to have veteran 30's and 40's "Voice of the Newsreels", Walter Winchell, as the series narrator. His distinctive vocal style and accepted air of authority imbued the events of an episode with an innate realism which effortlessly glossed over any dramatic liberties taken with historical fact, and convinced the viewer utterly that what they were watching actually took place. The series also attracted a plethora of top flight guest stars, amongst the ranks of which Neville Brand's excellent Al Capone, Bruce Gordon's Frank Nitti and Clu Gulagher's "Mad Dog" Coll, were just a few of the highlight performances. The series finally succumbed by the fourth season, to the toll taken on it by the myriad outside controversies which it had attracted and the resultant fall in ratings. However, as a prime example of top flight, expertly produced, exciting crime drama, The Untouchables more than lived up to its illustrious name and reputation. A 1987 movie featured Kevin Costner and Sean Connery. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)
The bawdy tales of ancient Rome as told by Lurcio (Frankie Howerd), slave to the womanising senator Ludicrus Sextus. The show was loosely based on the Burt Shevelove, Larry Gelbhart and Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, in which Howerd had starred on the London stage. Written by Carry On stalwart Talbot Rothwell, the series featured lots of women showing lots of cleavage, awful puns and smutty asides crudely but brilliantly delivered by Howerd, who 'oohed' and 'aahed' through every episode in the camp comic style that made him a cult figure in his later years. Howerd was a past master at the double entendre and in this series he had the chance to relish in it. Each show started with 'The Prologue', where Howerd participated with his audience and let them in to his confidence whilst bringing them up to date with the comings and goings in Ancient Rome, until he was interrupted by Senna, The Soothsayer, who would reveal that weeks plot in the form of a prediction. From that moment on Howerd would have to contend with his master, his master's wife and their offspring as poor Lurcio became the innocent pawn in their lusty machinations. Popular enough on television to generate a 1975 feature film and a 45 minute Easter special (Further Up Pompeii) in the same year. LWT made a one-off special in 1991 (Up Pompeii's Missus), a revival that failed to recapture the feel of the original. A sequel, Whoops Baghdad, followed Pompeii in 1973.
Yet another in UK television's long and illustrious history of producing period drama of the very highest quality, Upstairs Downstairs was originally conceived as a comedy vehicle for co-creators, actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins. However, on approaching experienced producer's John Hawkesworth and John Whitney, the seasoned veterans reworked the premise, wisely promoting the dramatic elements of the format to centre stage and relocating the main settings to an Edwardian town house in London. Eventually the show went into production at London Weekend Television, who, following a change in the company's management, lost faith in the fledgling series potential. The programme was left languishing on the shelf for six months before eventually being allocated a 10.15pm Sunday night slot. However, it quickly confounded expectations by gathering both viewers and critical acclaim from the outset. In addition to excellent production design and first class writing, the series boasted an impressive cast headed by Gordon Jackson as Hudson, the loyal and conscientious butler to the Bellamy family. Jean Marsh herself played Rose, the upstairs parlour maid, while Pauline Collins was outstanding as feisty, fiery, maid Sarah. (A role originally earmarked for Atkins, but one which she was unable to take due to prior stage commitments.) Along with the more overtly traditional emotional turmoils which are a dramatic staple of television period drama, the series elevated itself to classic status by highlighting the effects of a social order and way of life doomed to extinction by the after-effects of the Great War and the end of the Victorian way of life. During its successful run the series won a number of prestigious awards, both in Britain and the US where it netted an impressive seven Emmys and a Golden Globe. An Ivor Novello award was bestowed on composer Alexander Faris for his theme tune, 'The Edwardians.' Upstairs, Downstairs was shown in over 70 countries to a cumulative audience of over one billion viewers and spawned a spin-off series (Thomas and Sarah), which starred Collins with real life husband, John Alderton. As elegant and sophisticated as the age it portrayed, Upstairs, Downstairs was a classic series which stands as yet another landmark of quality British drama.
British made detective series starring Barry Foster in the title role as Dutch detective Commissaris Piet Van der Valk. The series was based on the novels of Nicolas Freeling (the first of which was published in 1962) but this was not the detective's first screen outing, having first appeared in a 1968 British made b-movie entitled Amsterdam Affair featuring German actor Wolfgang Kieling in the main role. Following the TV series debut in 1972 a Dutch language version was made by Filmking in 1973, Because of the Cats was a Dutch/Belgian co-production starring British actor Bryan Marshall and there was also a Franco-German series of made-for-TV movies starring Frank Finlay: Van der Valk und das Madchen (1972), Van der Valk und die Reichen (1973), and Pas de frontieres pour l'inspecteur: Le bouc emissaire (1975). But it is Barry Foster's portrayal which is best remembered as the moody blond, curly haired detective who works for the local CID. Also memorable was the beautifully filmed extensive Amsterdam location shots which acted as a backdrop for the investigation of such gritty cases of drugs, prostitution and murder. After an initial two-year run (6 episodes in 1972 and 7 episodes in 1973) the series disappeared from our screen for four years returning in 1977 in a longer, twelve-episode, third series made by Thames Television's subsidary, Euston Films. The format was revived once again towards the end of Thames' life as a part of the ITV network, with four two-hour episodes of the fourth series in January and February 1991, and the fifth series three two-hour episodes in February 1992 in a longer two-hour format. The series signature tune, Eye Level played by the Simon Park Orchestra, reached number one in the UK singles charts in 1973.
The launch of Britain's first official colour television service on BBC2 on 2nd December 1967 included a visit to Billy Smarts Circus, a new series featuring globetrotting reporter Alan Whicker, and the first colour drama series; Vanity Fair. Hot on the heels of her success in The Forsyte Saga, Susan Hampshire was cast as the manipulative, selfish and deceitful Becky Sharp, the anti-heroine of Thackery's 19th century novel ('Vanity Fair: A Novel Without A Hero'), which is set in the time of the Napoleonic wars, and is itself based on an idea by John Bunyan (in his allegory 'Pilgrim's Progress'), where he created a mythical fair in the city of Vanity, which had been established by Beelzebub. Thackery's inspiration is taken from the description of the fair being a place that never closes and where all manner of temptations are on offer, including titles, kingdoms, pleasures and lusts. Originally published as a serial before being sold in book form; 'Vanity Fair' was printed in 20 monthly parts between January 1847 and July 1848 and was meant as a satirical look at a sophisticated and materialistic society in early 19th-century England. It was the first work that Thackeray published under his own name, and was extremely well-received at the time although in some quarters it was heavily criticised for having structural problems with accusations that Thackeray sometimes lost track of the huge scope of his work, mixing up characters' names and minor plot details.
The story opens when Amelia Sedley (Marilyn Taylerson), the kind hearted but sheltered child of a rich city merchant, invites Rebecca (Becky) Sharp, the penniless orphaned daughter of an artist and French opera dancer, to come home for a visit. The two sharply contrasting characters had been resident at Miss Pinkerton's Academy for young ladies, where Amelia's student fees were paid by her father and where Becky paid for her education by teaching French to the other girls. Becky is portrayed as a strong-willed and cunning young woman determined to make her way in society and was based in part on Thackeray's maternal grandmother who abandoned her husband and children when she eloped with an Army captain. With her eye on the Sedley family assets Becky tries to force Amelia's oversized brother into a marriage, but when she is unsuccessful she turns her charms on Sir Pitt Crawley and becomes governess to his children. Becky becomes a favourite of Pitt's rich and capricious sister, Miss Crawley. When the old man's wife dies he proposes to Becky who then has to admit that she is already married to his younger son, Rawdon. The young couple immediately fall from favour with Miss Crawley, and have to learn to live on Becky's wits. In the meantime, Amelia's lifestyle takes a downturn when her father loses all her money and her engagement to the vain and shallow George Osborne (Roy Marsden) breaks down as a consequence. William Dobbin (Bryan Marshall), who is George's friend and who is secretly in love with Amelia, persuades George to defy his father and go on with the marriage. This he does and is summarily disinherited. George, Rawdon and William are all in the army and when news reaches them of Napoleon's escape from exile, they are called to duty in Brussels, where Becky has an affair with George and quickly becomes the toast of the town. This leads to arguably the big scene of the entire series, where the Duchess of Richmond arrives in Brussels for a great ball. The scene is recreated by the BBC in a way that is entirely representative of their deserved reputation for lavish costume drama during this golden television era. The scene is brought to an abrupt end by the sound of cannon fire and the news that Napoleon's army is at the gates.
For those looking for the moral in this story there is a disappointment. There is no moral, no hero and ultimately it is the untrustworthy, self-centred and scheming Becky who triumphs. And whilst the compassionate Amelia finally marries Dobbin, by the time they come together his love for her has lost much of its intensity. The series was shown in the US under the Masterpiece Theatre banner in 1972 and Susan Hampshire won a deserved Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance in a Leading Role, Drama/Comedy Within a Limited Series. Eve Matheson starred as Becky in a 1987 remake and yet another version, starring Natasha Little, appeared in 1998 (each by the BBC).
A show of which very little is known. It doesn't appear on IMDb and there does not seem to be any reference to it elsewhere - except the accompanying photograph from The Television Annual for 1955. From what we can make out Variety on Parade was steeped in the old muic-hall tradition and was a showcase for stars of stage, television and radio. Its intention was to recreate and reinvigorate that same music-hall spirit which had dwindled over the previous thirty years. It was produced by the prolific Bill Lyon-Shaw, the man who produced and directed Sunday Night at the London Palladium in 1956, was credited with discovering Benny Hill and became head of light entertainment at the BBC. He later became the programme controller of Tyne Tees Television in the North-East and passed away in May 2010 at the grand old age of 96. Lyon-Shaw intended to work as a surveyor but went into repertory and ran his own company at Margate. He joined TV after working as production manager to Jack Payne. "“When I produced Sunday Night at the London Palladium we had 18 million viewers. Now there are hundreds of channels, not 18 million between the lot of them," he said in 2009, adding, "Now it’s (television) ceased to be an entertainment industry and become a business." (Pictured are Syd Seymour and his comical Mad Hatters Band as they appeared on Variety Parade).
Underworld investigations series based on an idea and format by writers Brian Degas (co-creator of Colditz) and Tudor Gates and starring Italian actor Stelio Candelli as ex-Mafia man turned investigator, Danny Scipio. The series, produced by the BBC, ran for two seasons (between 1966 and 1968) and was filmed mainly on location in Malta, which doubled (trebled or even quadrupled for that matter) for any of the foreign locations where the particular episode was meant to be set. Scipio was aided by fellow crime-busting partner Angelo James, and the series featured a number of British actors in supporting roles. (Kenneth Cope is featured in the above photograph with Candelli and McCallum from left to right). Kieron Moore took over as Mike Hammond, a District Attorney, half-way through the last series when Neil McCallum's character Angelo James was badly wounded in an ambush. All 36 episodes were produced by William Slater whose other TV credits include Maigret, Drama Playhouse and The Onedin Line.
A VERY PECULIAR PRACTICE (1986)
BBC comedy-drama series by Andrew Davies inspired by his experiences as a lecturer at the University of Warwick. Click Here for review
Vic Reeves Big Night Out was perhaps one of the most weird and wonderful comedies to come out of the 1990s, but the origins of the show started way before that. The original concept for the Big Night Out began back in the 80s when Vic Reeves, or Jim Muir as he is really called, started a show for a friend in a pub in London. At first only friends attended, but soon word spread of the ever changing show that had its roots in the variety shows of years gone by. By 1986 Vic, or Jim's night was a regular fixture at the Goldsmith's Tavern. From only having a handful of audience members its popularity grew until the numbers trying to get in were more than the pub could handle. One of these was Bob Mortimer who was a solicitor with a surreal sense of humour and soon he was up on stage with Vic. In 1988 the show had moved to the Albany Empire and by 1990 the first TV series of Vic Reeves Big Night Out was aired on channel 4.
The show was met by a mixed reaction - people either 'got it' or didn't, but those who did couldn't wait for their weekly half hour of crazy characters, novelty acts and songs, in the main performed by Vic and Bob. Each show would open with a song, sung by Vic in a typically surreal way. One episode began with Vic climbing out of a top loading washing machine singing 'Stay with Me' by the Faces. In each show Vic would be sitting behind a huge desk decorated with fake horse brasses on the front and a collection of clutter on the top - much of this he managed to work into the show for comedic effect. He would then welcome on a range of acts to perform for the audience. But unlike the usual variety shows that you have probably seen, the acts Vic had were anything but conventional.
The acts that were seen on the show frequently included: the Ponderers who pondered over things, Graham Lister a jobsworth whose main aim was to ruin Vic in any way possible (he was played by Bob), Wavey Davey who waved at people (often as something terrible was happening to them), The Living Carpets, Tinker's Rucksack and Judge Lionel Nutmeg, played once again by Bob who would preside over any 'crimes' that might have been committed by a person watching the show. He would use his 'wheel of justice' to decide on the fate of any unfortunate audience member who was brave enough to get up on stage with them and 'confess' to their crimes. The show also featured Les who was played by Fred Aylward, with a shaved head and vacant expression Les didn't say much, but he was scared of chives and loved spirit levels. When he came on stage, dressed in a lab coat Vic would tell the audience a Les fact which became more and more bizarre as the series went on. Morrissey the Consumer Monkey was one of the many puppets that Vic Reeves has used throughout the years and he was always popping up on The Big Night Out. He would come up from underneath the desk as Vic would control him, while Bob did the voice (he didn't sound anything like Morrissey by the way). He would tell the audience about faulty goods that he had encountered that week and more often than not they would be an item from the extensive Reeves and Mortimer range. This led to Vic and Bob trying to cover up their tracks. Much of the fun of Vic Reeves Big Night Out came from the fact that no one knew what was going to happen next, and in some cases it looks like Vic and Bob aren't too sure either! The result of this was a fun mix of humour, song, dance and pretty much everything else in between. While the show on DVD was given a 15 rating it was actually a PG programme, the fact that it was on after 10.30 was more to do with how many people channel 4 thought would watch it rather than concerns over the content.
Some of the episodes featured some names that would go on to be big names in the world of comedy including Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson and Caroline Aherne. They would come on dressed up as various characters and have to put up with whatever Vic deemed fit to subject them to. In most cases it was standing in the tiny section of fenced in grass which was called Novelty Island and was used as an area for acts to perform. Such was the popularity of the show that it was commissioned for a second series. Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer went on to have several other popular shows including - Shooting Stars, Reeves and Mortimer and the recent House of Fools. Each show ended with a song - usually Mr Songwriter, sung by Vic as he tried to avoid being put off by Bob (sometimes as himself, sometimes as someone like Graham Lister), Les or anyone else who came on stage.
Review: Joanne Kerrigan. 2014
THE VICAR OF DIBLEY (1994)
Sitcom set in the fictional village of Dibley, which is assigned a female vicar, much to the consternation of the Chairman of the Parish Council. Click Here for review
Although not particularly a new theme now, the original tale of one person swapping bodies with another was written in 1882 by F. Anstey, the pseudonym of Thomas Anstey Guthrie, author of many novels of fantasy and humour. Hugely popular in its day, Vice Versa, the tale of a father becoming his son and the son becoming the father, has now been serialised on British television 3 times. Dick Bultitude wishes that he didn't have to return to school, and having made his wish over a stone talisman that his Uncle Marmaduke gave him he is magically transformed into his dad, Paul, a no nonsense business man. The body swap has consequences for both father and son. Paul (as Dick) finds it difficult to adapt to school life and earns a reputation with his fellow pupils as both a sneak and a coward, whilst Dick (as Paul) almost ruins his father's business. These are problems that they both have to deal with at the time-as well as later when they are returned to their own bodies. The first small screen version Vice Versa or A Lesson to Fathers (2 episodes) was broadcast in 1953 on BBC television and starred a young Anthony Valentine as Dick (later his father, Paul) and George Benson as Paul (later his son, Dick). The next version came along in 1961, Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers (3 episodes) starred Graham Aza as Dick and William Mervyn as Paul. Michelle Dotrice also starred and this version was adapted for television by C.E. Webber, who played a part in realising the concept of Doctor Who when it first came to the small screen in 1963. The most recent version, Vice Versa, made by ATV in 1981 starred Peter Bowles (Paul), Paul Spurrier (Dick) and Iain Cuthbertson as schoolmaster Dr. Grimstone. This version received much publicity at the time due to the fact that both adult actors were well known figures on British TV and Bowles in particular was at the height of his fame in To The Manor Born, which began its third and final series during the seven-episode run of Vice Versa.
Crime drama series with a difference, as it follows the exploits of nine bank robbers, beginning from the moment of their escape from imprisonment. The stories of the men, their accomplices, their women and the robbery unfold week by week in 13 one-hour episodes. They called it the "Bog Robbery." A gang of villains audaciously tunnelled from a disused lavatory into a bank in the city. When they walked out they were clutching a third of a million pounds. But things went wrong and most were caught. Nine were sentenced to terms ranging from 6 to 20 years. Now, a year after the robbery, they come together for their appeals. And they take the opportunity to escape. The series follows the activities of each villain such as William Whittaker, played by William Marlowe, who was the brains behind the Bog Robbery, and a successful criminal until this job. Now he is serving a sentence of 20 years. There's Peter Glazebrook (Michael Carver). Comes from a good family but lives in a fantasy world. He was one of two drivers on the robbery. And there is the callous, tough Montgomery Parkin (Martin Shaw) who helped tunnel the gang into the bank; and Charles Grindley (Bob Hoskins), nicknamed "Knocker" because of his fancy for women and his expertise as a safe-cracker.
The man behind Villians was producer Andrew Brown who was responsible, among other things, for the Manhunt and The Guardians series. The three directors on Villains - Tony Wharmby, Jimmy Goddard and Robert Tronson - also worked with the producer on these two series. Working out the individual stories so they fitted an overall pattern for Villains was, Brown says, a complicated business. "We even had to work out a careful timetable to fit in the actors. For example, an actor playing a major role in one episode would be needed for a small part in another story. What we are particularly trying to do is present a crime series from the point of view of the criminals. "Usually, crime series concern themselves with the police and detection. This one concerns itself with crime from the criminals' side. It's a line not often explored in television." Brown, who was in his early 30's, also scripted three of the stories. Other writers are Ray Jenkins, Keith Dewhurst, Robin Chapman, Jonathan Hales and John Bowen. Filming was done on location, mainly in London, but a lot of it ranges through the country, particularly the Peak District. (Adapted from the original TV Times review)
Welsh-born Clinton Greyn played the very English agent Captain Robert Virgin of the Royal Dragoons, who was intent on defending the British Empire, or what little remained of it, on behalf of the British Secret Service. But for 007 read 1907 as the series was set in a time when it was "not quite the thing" to have spies working for you - even if they were both an officer and a gentleman. Greyn had previously gone to Loughborough College to study for a B.Sc. but resigned after a year when he realised he was doing more acting than studying. He took himself off to R.A.D.A., where his fellow pupils included Diana Rigg and Albert Finney. As Captain Virgin he was accompanied by Col. Shaw-Camberley played by Noel Coleman and Mrs Virginia Cortez (Veronica Strong), one of the Edwardian women who used emancipation to become a photographer. The glamorous lady was (fictionally) a well known figure in London society of the early 1900s. Diplomats, statesmen and royalty visited her studio - and often uttered useful indiscretions during their sittings. Then there was the faithful Fred Doublett (John Cater). He was Virgin's batman, an amateur escapologist, expert at picking locks and a man who enjoyed a bet or two. Finally, there was Karl Von Brauner, Virgin's constant enemy (Alexander Dore). Brauner is cruel, ruthless, indefatigable, brilliant and ingenious and a worthy match to his opponent. But unlike Virgin, he would descend to lies and all mannner of ungentlemanly conduct to attain his objectives. But then again, he wasn't British, was he? Nothing was too much for Virgin, whether it be travelling by balloon to the North-West Frontier in a bid to outwit an old adversary and save India and the Empire, crossing the burning sands of Arabia alone, to meet a cruel usurper face to face or travelling to St. Petersburg to face a web of villainy. Guest stars - villians and heroes - included Desmond Llewelyn, Gabrielle Drake, Jenny Linden, Roger Delgado, Rodney Bewes and John Challis.
Based on a 1901 Owen Wister novel of the same name, The Virginian was TV's first feature length Western series, running at 90 minutes per episode and previously told thrice on the big screen, the most notable being a 1929 production that kick-started the career of Gary Cooper. Set on the Shiloh Ranch in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, the stories centred around the ranch foreman known only as The Virginian (James Drury) and his impulsive young friend Trampas (Doug McClure), one of a supporting cast of ranch hands. Originally Judge Henry Garth owned the ranch, (Hollywood screen star Lee J. Cobb) before passing into the hands of brothers John and Clay Grainger (Charles Bickford and John McIntire, respectively). With the arrival of the next owner (Colonel Alan McKenzie-another big Hollywood name-Stewart Grainger), the series setting was moved on to the 1890's and the show was re-titled The Men From Shiloh. Many other top stars of the day passed through and these included George C Scott, Robert Redford, Bette Davis, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, Lee Marvin and Ryan O'Neal. Even the production and writing teams were littered with famous names such as Sam Fuller, Ida Lupino and Glen A Larson.
*Owen Wister's book was the first Western novel to be published, spurring a revolution in publishing that has not stopped to this day. The Western novel business has turned out more pages and earned more revenue than any other genre!
*"The Virginian" hotel in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, literally filled with antiques, was named after the novel in honour of Owen Wister.
(*Additional information Scott deBeaubien of Denver, Colorado)
VISION ON (1964)
British children's television programme designed specifically for deaf and hearing children. Click Here for review
Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea inspired two productions from Irwin Allen. The first was a 1961 movie starring Walter Pidgeon as retired Admiral Harriman Nelson, the creator and commander of the world's most advanced nuclear submarine, the 400-foot Seaview; its mission to explore the underwater world for the purposes of scientific research. Three years later, Allen approached 20th Century Fox Television with a spin-off TV version. Fortunately, the original 18-foot model of the Seaview craft (built for the princely sum of $400,000 - which included control room, viewing room, missile and torpedo rooms) still existed, giving the TV series possibly the most expensive prop in TV history. A number of new models were made for the series; an 8-foot model which was fully automated with engines, lights and fully working torpedoes, and a 4-foot version as well as 1 and 2-foot versions of the mini-subs that were housed in Seaview. The cost of these were a further $200,000. Bill Abbott, the special effects chief at Fox won two Emmys for the subs and other special effects he created for the show. Not much footage was wasted from the original movie-shoot, either, and Allen had reels of unused underwater material to work with. Cast in the role of Admiral Nelson was former Shakespearian actor Richard Baseheart who bought an air of quiet authority to the role. He was aided and abetted by his equally competent second-in-command, Lee Crane, played by David Hedison.
In the pilot episode "Eleven Days to Zero", which was filmed in colour (the only episode of that first season to be done so), Commander Lee Crane becomes the Seaview's Captain after the murder of her original commanding officer, Commander John Phillips. At the end of the episode (set some 13-years into the future), we learn about Seaview's mission to roam the seven seas and probe the mysteries of nature and fight forces that threaten the survival of the United States and the entire world. Most of those threats came from enemy agents, would-be saboteurs and natural disasters. Unfortunately, from season two the series quickly descended into cheap pulp sci-fi as Seaview came under threat from aliens, humanoid amphibians, ice creatures, werewolves and one particular episode featured guest star Vincent Price as Professor Multiple, who tries to take over the Seaview using life-like puppets! While the special effects weren't low budget the scripts most definitely were. But the blame for this should not be placed at the feet of the series creator. It is understood that following the first season ABC Television were demanding the series be given a "lighter" tone. By the time season two arrived Irwin Allen had another major television series on the screen; the highly acclaimed Lost In Space (which in later series, due to Network interference suffered the same fate as "Voyage"). The series had now switched to colour and some additional props were introduced. A slightly redesigned Seaview was accompanied by the Flying Sub a yellow, two-man mini-submarine with passenger capacity, that could leave the ocean and function as an airplane. The Seaview's private observation deck from the first season was never seen again and its eight observation windows were reduced to four. By season three (1966-67) Allen also had The Time Tunnel in production (his only series not to be a commercial hit). In spite of ratings for Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea falling to an all-time low by season four, ABC were still prepared to renew it until Allen suggested Land of the Giants (1968) as a replacement and the Seaview had sailed its last.
In the 1970s, Allen returned to cinema screens and was the most popular name associated with the decade's fad for the disaster film genre, producing The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974), which he co-directed. But for most of the 1960s Irwin Allen was known as the dean of TV science fiction. (Review: Marc Saul)