Robert Banks Stewart on Charles Endell, Esquire

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It’s been a rough week in the entertainment world, the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman filling news channels, while in the last few days we also heard of the passing of veteran TV screenwriter/producer, Robert Banks Stewart.

Born here in Edinburgh in 1931, Banks Stewart’s lengthy career included work in newspapers and magazines before he moved in screenwriting for series such as Danger Man, Lovejoy and Doctor Whothere’s an obituary over on The Guardian that goes into more detail.

Although I own many of Banks Stewart’s work on DVD, it was a series of his that isn’t currently available to buy that I contacted him about back in 2010, the 1979 STV production of Charles Endell, Esquire.

I was working with STV at the time on a project to bring various archive series back to life via YouTube. They were in the process of uploading shows such as Take the High Road, Dramarama and some top-notch Hogmanay specials, and I got in touch to offer my services as a freelance…well, freelance archive TV fan, if such a thing exists.

During our first chat I mentioned a series I’d read about in dusty corners of the internet, a spin-off from 1970s ITV drama Budgie, which starred Adam Faith as small-time crook Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird, and Iain Cuthbertson as dodgy Soho businessman, Charlie Endell.

Seven years after Budgie‘s last episode, Charles Endell, Esquire arrived on STV screens, a comedy-drama that took Endell out of Soho and sent him back to Glasgow to try and rebuild his empire that had fallen while he was in jail. Robert Banks Stewart was a key part in its creation, setting the tone for the scripts.

As part of my role at STV I was building up some additional material for the website, a kind of DVD extra for when Endell arrived on YouTube. I contacted Banks Stewart for an interview and he was happy to discuss his time working on the show. I also spoke to series star, Tony Osoba, and filmed an interview with director David Andrews about the series.

Sadly, six years on, STV has seen fit to remove all traces of Charles Endell, Esquire (and almost all of the shows they uploaded) from YouTube and their website, so the Banks Stewart interview was gone when I went to find it earlier today. Thankfully, some traces of it remain on the internet if you know where to look, and I’ve retrieved the following for anyone interested in the development of a six episode Scottish TV series that few seem to remember.

I still have hopes Endell appears on DVD one day as I think it’s a terrific piece of TV that deserves a place on our shelves. STV has repeated the show on its STV Glasgow channel in recent years, but it needs a wider audience. You can read more on the show on this blog, over on Cathode Ray Tube and on Lady Don’t Fall Backwards.

In the meantime, here’s that interview with Bob Banks Stewart – I feel privileged to have spoken to him and can heartily recommend checking out his recently published autobiography if you want to know more about his life and work.

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Interview: John Paesano on Dragons: Riders of Berk

John Paesano at the Annie Awards

Back in March I mentioned on this blog that one of my favourite films in recent years, How to Train Your Dragon, had been spun-off into a TV version, Dragons: Riders of Berk. Airing on the UK’s Cartoon Network, the series has proved to be a fine addition to the Dragon universe and I was keen to find out more about one its most important aspects, the score by composer John Paseano.

Here, Paseano explains his musical background and inspirations before going on to discuss his work on Riders of Berk, which will soon have a sequel series in Defenders of Berk.

Jonathan Melville: Over the last few years you’ve worked on a number of TV and film projects. How did you come to work in this area? 

John Paseano: I really love it all. I have wanted to be a film composer as far back as I can remember. It really hit me about the age of 10 after seeing Steven Spielberg’s Empire Of the Sun. I was so drawn to that film, and of course to John Williams amazing score. There was just something very magical about that film, which sounds strange considering the content of the story. A young English boy who struggles to survive after being separated from his parents during Japanese occupation during World War II.

The main character in that film, Jim Graham (young Christian Bale), had a fantastic imagination, and had uncanny ability to always find adventure in whatever task or circumstance he was put too or up against. I was so amazed how John Williams was able to use his music to show the viewer how a 10-year-old boy would view the events of that war say vs. an adult.

I was amazed how the music functioned in that film, and how integral it was in order to help the viewer see this story through Jim’s eyes. The score really grabbed me and I remember having a conversation with myself and said “that’s what I want to try to do when I get older!”, and I stress the word TRY.

So private music lessons started around the age of 12-13 (Piano), music school after formal school (Berklee College Of Music), and then out to Los Angeles to start the long road to become a film composer. So it was a very premeditated music journey, it was never about anything else besides scoring film. People always say “oh you are in the music business”, and always have to correct them and say “actually, I consider myself more a part of the film business”.

Do you have a preference for live action or animation?

Live action, animation, video games, commercials, trailers…anything where you write music to moving pictures, I love.

Which one is more difficult?

Sometimes doing a 20 second advertisement can be more challenging than doing a 10 minute action sequence. I think that is the beauty of this job. It’s never about the complexity of the music, or elaborate counterpoint and harmony. It’s about what fits the picture. Sometimes intricate counterpoint, harmony, rhythm, orchestration works great in a scene, other times three piano notes work much better.

How did you get involved with Dragons: Riders of Berk? Were you approached or did you audition?

I have always been a huge John Powell fan going pretty far back as well. When I heard that they were doing a TV series based on How To Train Your Dragon I called my agent and said “let’s try to go after this”. I had worked on another Powell property prior to this, an Ice Age short called Ice Age: Mammoth Christmas, so it just seemed like Dragons might be a pretty good fit.

So, we started working the channels to try to get music in front of the right folks at DreamWorks. They interviewed a couple of composers that they were interested in. I am sure from that point they developed a “short list” of composers that they liked, based off music reels and interviews, then we all had to demo a couple of scenes for show, and by some miracle I ended up with the show.

Dragons: Riders of Berk

Ad for Dragons: Riders of Berk

Had you seen How to Train Your Dragon before you discussed working on Riders of Berk?

Let’s see…about 1,000 times.

John Powell’s original score for the film is one of the finest in recent years, winning various awards and being nominated for an Oscar.

Was it daunting knowing you would be effectively “inheriting” the score?

I remember when I booked the Ice Age short. I said to myself “sweet i get to try to be like John Powell” and then almost immediately after that thought i said “Oh shit, I have to try to be like John Powell”. Nothing makes you feel smaller than listening to John’s Ice Age scores, How To Train Your Dragon and some of John’s other scores.

He is one of the best in the business live action or animation, and when it comes to animation, in my eyes, he is the best.

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Dragons: Riders of Berk arrives on UK TV

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There was some good news at the weekend for British fans of 2010’s animated film, How to Train Your Dragon, as the TV spin-off arrived on the Cartoon Network.

Dragons: Riders of Berk picks up a short time after the events of the Dreamworks film, when (and this is a spoiler if you haven’t seen How to Train Your Dragon) the Vikings of Berk and their dragon neighbours are living in harmony.

Well, as harmoniously as can be expected when you’re talking about flying beasties that breathe fire.

Now it’s up to the humans to stop killing the dragons and train them to help them in their daily chores, with the first double bill of episodes neatly reminding fans what had gone before while informing newbies what they’ve missed.

The young voice cast from the film has been retained for the TV series, including Jay Baruchel as lead Hiccup, while the adult actors are now Americans pretending to be Scottish as Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson are off doing bigger things.

Thomas Wilson (Biff from the Back to the Future series) is Bucket while ex-Doctor Who David Tennant is also due to pop-up in a future episode as Spitelout Jorgenson, recreating his role from the movie.

The series retains the computer generated look of the feature film and much of John Powell’s terrific score, a soundtrack I’ve been listening to regularly for a few years now. Composer John Paesano joins the series for weekly scoring duties.

Two seasons have been commissioned and 40 episodes are in the works, with season two to be called Defenders of Berk. Season one began in the US in August 2012 so we’re a bit behind, but judging by these first episodes it’s a programme worth sticking with and I can’t wait to follow the adventures of Hiccup, Toothless and co.

We’re also promised two new feature films in 2014 and 2016, meaning the How to Train Your Dragon franchise should be a long and fruitful one, something worth celebrating in this world of soulless sequels.

Dragons: Riders of Berk airs on the Cartoon Network on Saturdays at 10.30am and 6.30pm.

Anthony Newley podcast

The Small World of Sammy Lee

It was over a year ago that I mentioned the Network DVD release of 1960s oddity, The Strange World of Gurney Slade, a title I soon came to cherish and recommend to anyone who’d listen.

Having become slightly obsessed with the work of the series star, Anthony Newley, since that release, I decided to join with some friends to record a podcast celebrating his career.

The podcast was hastily recorded – we made the decision over Twitter one morning and recorded it the same night – but if you’re a fan of Gurney Slade, The Small World of Sammy Lee, Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? or a number of other titles, you may enjoy this hour of chat.

Head over to the first Four Men Just Anthony Newley podcast to hear it.

Knightmare celebrates 25 years

Knightmare at 25

With most old TV shows I find it hard to believe I was watching them 25 years ago; surely I was far too young to even know what a TV was 25 years ago?! Sadly, I was probably happily watching telly 35 years ago, I just don’t like to admit it to myself.

Anyway, the point of this brief post is to point you in the direction of a nice little reminder of days gone by, when after school TV consisted of series like Blue Peter, Tony Hart in his gallery, Grange Hill and some teenage reporters on the Junior Gazette (I will get around to a Press Gang post one day).

Joining their ranks was ITV’s Knightmare, a fantasy adventure game which took invited children to don a helmet and make their way through a cunningly designed dungeon, under the guidance of Treguard (Hugo Myatt), a friendly(ish) dungeon master.

Each week a team would move from room to room, with the helmet-clad child, the dungeoneer, taking instructions from his or her teammates in another room. They watched proceedings from a monitor and advised their friend which direction to take or how best to interact with the various denizens of the dungeon.

It was a simple enough premise but one which was captivating. Judging from an article on Knightmare.com, I probably watched every season of the show, I certainly remember most of the characters and changes to the basic set-up. I’ve not seen an episode years but would welcome an extras-laden DVD set of the first series if anybody fancies making one.

In the meantime, the owner of Knightmare.com, James Aukett, has done fans proud by making his own documentary to celebrate the programme’s 25th anniversary. James has interviewed many of the cast and crew, including Myatt and creator Tim Child, for this internet-only production, and he’s done a grand job with zero budget and a lot of love for the subject.

Thanks James, you’ve made an old(ish) fan very happy!

Introducing Cannell Channel Day

“I sit down and I try really hard to do something I’d want to go home and watch myself. How could I know what 30 million people want? I didn’t, but I know what Steve Cannell wants. If I sat in a screening room looking at an hour of television that was really good I’d go “yes, that’s what we’re trying to do!” Stephen J Cannell, Pioneers of Television

Stephen J Cannell was the guy who brought us such TV classics as The A-Team, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, Hunter, Wiseguy and The Greatest American Hero back in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Here are a few more of his series to jog your memory:

Cannell knew he wasn’t writing Shakespeare but he also knew that popular hour-long dramas didn’t have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. He entertained the masses and is still doing so years after his biggest hits have left prime time TV schedules, these days through DVD releases, cable channel reruns and YouTube clips.

Sadly, Stephen J Cannell passed away on 30 September 2010 at the age of 69, soon after a film adaptation of The A-Team had hit cinemas and a 21 Jump Street adaptation was being mulled over in another part of Hollywood.

I’ve written on this blog before about Cannell’s influence on my life and my love of TV and film, with one of my earliest memories involving the watching of The Greatest American Hero on Australian TV in 1982, at the age of five. Those memories mainly involve Ralph (William Katt) flying into walls and hearing the incredibly catchy theme tune over and over again…

With The A-Team pulling in audiences around the globe during the mid-80s, Cannell cemented the reputation he’d built up with his earlier award-winning drama, The Rockford Files, as one of the most successful, and most prolific, creator/writer/producer/directors in the business.

He not only made deals with the networks to make his shows, he made a deal with the viewer. We gave him an hour of our time and he gave us some dramatic, funny, smart, knowing and memorable TV in return. Everyone was a winner.

OK, so what’s the point of this lengthy preamble?

Well, with Sunday marking the second anniversary of Cannell’s passing, I wanted to celebrate his life by rewatching some old episodes of his TV series, as I’ve got a fair few in the house…

Part of my Cannell collection

Part of my Cannell collection

But, in this age of social media (if Cannell was making The A-Team now you could probably tweet the guys for help), I realised I could spread the word a bit further than my living room, alerting a few others to the fact that Sunday is a day for sticking on an episode of a Cannell production, effectively tuning it into the Cannell Channel for 50 minutes.

As a result, I’ll be sending out a few tweets from now until Sunday using the #cannellchannel hashtag, advising that anyone with a passing interest in Stephen J Cannell take some time to remember his legacy by creating their own Cannell Channell.

Perhaps you have The A-Team on DVD (TV show or film) or fancy downloading an episode from iTunes, have Netflix in the US to watch The Rockford Files or want to sample an episode of his series via YouTube, including:

Then simply tweet your thoughts on the show using the #cannellchannel hashtag or leave a comment below, including suggestions for any other videos worth checking out. On the off chance that anyone who worked with Cannell is reading this, please feel free to leave a memory of him in the comments.

You can also find out more about Cannell over on IMDb or hear him discuss his career on the excellent Archive of American Television website.

In the event that nobody else wants to join in on Sunday I’ll watch a few episodes of Cannell series I haven’t got around to yet, mainly from the Prime Time Crime Collection.

Of course I do hope a few others can find the time to remember Cannell, after all I love it when a plan comes together…

The Search for Fraggle Rock

It shouldn’t happen to a TV show. The result of months of work by a team of professionals, who then pass it on to a broadcaster to transmit to a few million viewers who then (hopefully) embrace it to their collective bosoms, a great TV programme should then be allowed to retire to an archive somewhere, occasionally receiving visitors in the shape of satellite channels or a DVD company.

In the case of Fraggle Rock, Jim Henson’s 1980s series which brought weird puppets and conflict resolution to teatime telly, something seems to have gone badly wrong in those archives.

Henson’s dream was to have series that appeared to be small-scale to the casual observer, but which underneath was a complex network of international co-production deals and filming schedules. The theory was that children would react better to a series made in their language and with references they understood.

Each episode would start in the “real” world with some business about an old man called The Captain (Fulton Mackay) living in Fraggle Rock lighthouse with his dog, Sprocket. After a few minutes the scene would then switch to an underground world of Fraggles, led obstensibly by young Gobo (Jerry Nelson). There would then follow an adventure in which one Fraggle would get into trouble and the others would save him/her while learning a valuable lesson about life.

If you watched Fraggle Rock in the UK then the lighthouse “wraparound” bit will sound familiar, though Fulton Mackay was replaced by John Gordon Sinclair and Simon O’Brien in later years. If you lived in America, Australia, Scandinavia, Spain or numerous other countries you would have seen Doc (Gerry Parkes), an inventor, interact with Sprocket. Doc’s mini-adventures took place in his garage.

French and German audiences again got their own wraparounds with local actors playing Doc.

Though Fraggle Rock went on to become a huge success around the world, spawning 96 episodes in total, that simple idea involving co-production deals would be the series downfall when it came to repeats, at least it was here in the UK thanks to TVS, a now defunct TV station, producing the UK wraparounds.

When TVS lost their licence in 1992, their back catalogue, and the documentation detailing it, was a victim of massive upheaval behind the scenes, resulting in only 12 episodes of the UK Fraggle Rock now officially remaining in the vaults. These were released on DVD a few years ago from HIT Entertainment on Region 2.

A bit of research (well, Googling) over the years from yours truly leads me to believe that, despite HIT contacting The Jim Henson Company to enquire about the episodes, the original master tapes are indeed missing. As is usually the way of these things, the fans are also doing a bit of digging around and, according to some recent posts on a missing episodes forum, we can add a further 17 broadcast quality episodes held by the BFI to the 12 that came out on DVD.

According to that post, fan Alex Taylor has a further 28 episode recorded off air (on his own video recorder), bringing the total number of Fraggle Rock UK episodes known to exist up to 57 – he’s kindly listed them all over on his own website.

I was fortunate enough to interview the producer of the UK wraparounds, Victor Pemberton, a few years ago and he mentioned that he at one time had every episode on VHS but that he wasn’t sure if he still had them in the basement.

The reason for my summing all of this up is that this week saw The Jim Henson Company upload six new clips to their excellent YouTube channel featuring Fulton Mackay as The Captain. Of the six clips, three now only exist as fan owned, off air, non broadcast quality episodes – The Trash Heap Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Sir Hubris and the Gorgs and The Garden Plot – and yet they all look in perfect condition to me:

So what does this mean for the existence of more UK episodes at The Jim Henson Company? Are these merely clips that have been lying around that have now been put online in isolation? Or are these excerpts from full episodes held by Henson that could, theoretically, be released in full? Do they have more clips still to be put online?

I’ve been holding back publishing this post for a few days as I’ve emailed the team at Henson to ask what the situation is, but assuming they’re busy with more pressing issues I may not hear back for a while.

It’s also useful to raise the subject once again in case any reader of this post has an episode on VHS that is missing, presumed gone. If so, feel free to let me know in the comments and we can try to get it into some new archive…

Tom Baker returns as The Doctor

A friend pointed me in the direction of this Doctor Who-themed clip over the weekend, a series of short ads for New Zealand superannuation services featuring Tom Baker in full-on Fourth Doctor mode.

The ads were made in 1997, long before the return of the show to BBC One in 2005, and I wonder how much they had to pay for the rights to use the character and the music.

Tom’s on fantastic form and it’s evidence, if it was needed, that he’s still got what it takes to play the role. Here’s hoping the BBC decide to bring him back for next year’s 50th anniversary celebrations…

Blu-ray Review: Robin of Sherwood – Jason Connery

Robin of Sherwood

Building up a loyal following in its mid-1980s Saturday teatime slot, Robin of Sherwood, Richard Carpenter’s bold reimagining of the Robin Hood legend, could do no wrong. That is until Robin himself, Michael Praed, decided to abandon Sherwood for Hollywood, leaving the Merrie Men without a leader and the fans without a hero.

Carpenter returned once again to the legends that had originally inspired him, deciding that if they told of more than one origin for the Robin Hood character, so would he. Series three saw the introduction of Robert of Huntingdon (Jason Connery), a wealthy member of the gentry chosen by Herne the Hunter (John Abineri) to take on the mantle of Herne’s son and lead the fight against injustice.

Just as Robert’s background was the polar opposite of Robin of Loxley, so Connery was very different to Praed, both in hair colour and personality. While Robin had the classic brooding hero character down pat, Robert seemed to be more of a spoiled rich kid rebelling from his parents, at least in the opening episodes.

The two-part Herne’s Son sets things in motion once again, reminding viewers of the tragic events that closed season two before introducing Robert properly. With the old gang of outlaws now scattered far and wide, only Tuck (Phil Rose) left living in Sherwood, Robert must gather them together when Lord Owen of Clun (Oliver Cotton) takes up residence near Nottingham and sets his sights on the Lady Marion (Judi Trott).

Also back on the scene is the scene chewing Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace) and his dimwitted assistant, Gisburne (Robert Addy), while Clun gains something of a right-hand man in Gulnar (Richard O’Brien), a sorcerer with an evil streak.

With much to pack in to these episodes, Connery isn’t given a lot of space to prove himself other than in the action stakes, where he does a good job of showing the character’s physicality.

Luckily the young actor is surrounded by performers such as Ray Winstone and Clive Mantle; while Connery reads his lines well, Winstone and Mantle ensure you believe they’ve lived wild and killed out of necessity.

This 13 episode run takes the characters into new territory, introducing them to a once and future king, a village that spells danger for Robin and his men, an increasingly desperate Sheriff whose methods get more inventive every time.

This year saw Carpenter divide writing duties with Anthony Horowitz, episodes such as Cromm Cruac, The Betrayal, Adam Bell and Rutterkin  pushing the characters and giving guest stars, including Phil Davis, Bryan Marshall and Ian Ogilvy, something to get their teeth into.

The downside to this need to try new things, not dwelling too much on the Sheriff’s failure each week to kill any of the outlaws, does mean that plot points are introduced and forgotten about with haste, more so than in the first two seasons. The Sheriff gains a nephew one week while Little John suddenly plans to get married another, while characters who aid Robin are seemingly forgiven as soon as they escape from the Sheriff’s clutches.

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DVD Review: Doctor Who – Day of the Daleks

Although the idea of kicking off Doctor Who’s ninth season with the ratings-grabbing return of the Daleks must have seemed like a good idea in 1971, the fact that the metal foes barely appear in Day of the Daleks thankfully doesn’t stop the story, now out on DVD, from being one of the Third Doctor’s most memorable outings.

Called in to investigate sightings of ghosts at the home of diplomat, Sir Reginald Styles (Wilfrid Carter), just ahead of a world peace conference, the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo (Katy Manning) become involved in a plot to change the course of history thanks to guerillas from another time.

As if that wasn’t enough to cope with, the Daleks turn out to be part of the 22nd century plot, with the Doctor forced to move back and forth between modern-day Earth and the future as the safety of the universe hangs in the balance.

Running to just four episodes, writer Louis Marks manages to set up the story and involve viewers in the action with little delay, ensuring that time travelling soldiers of fortune, Ogron bodyguards and a dystopian future are introduced without anybody really missing the Daleks, who finally pop up at the close of episode one.

Jon Pertwee glides through the story with ease, clearly relishing the opportunity to be a man of action, while the regular UNIT cast don’t hamper things too much. Aubrey Woods’ Controller is a decent match for the Doctor, though the assorted guerillas don’t make too much of an impact.

Let down by the Daleks themselves, who neither sound as scary as they should or mark themselves out as being worthy of ruling the universe, the adventure does benefit from frequent pauses to contemplate the merits (or lack-of) of time travel and the consequences it can bring. The episodes also look good, in both time periods, the odd duff effect forgivable when everything else works so well.

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Chris Jury on Lovejoy: ‘It was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic’

Dudley Sutton, Ian McShane, Chris Jury and Pyllis Logan

As an actor, writer, director and producer, Chris Jury may have worked extensively in film, theatre and televison, with directors as diverse as Anthony Minghella and Danny Boyle and on series such as Doctor Who and EastEnders, but it’s as Eric Catchpole on BBC One’s Lovejoy that he’s perhaps best remembered by the British public.

Having recently reviewed the re-released complete Lovejoy on DVD, I spoke to Chris about his memories of working on the top-rated programme which baffled TV producers but viewers couldn’t get enough of.

Jonathan Melville: How did you first come to audition for Lovejoy?

Chris Jury: In 1985 I was in a play at The Bush Theatre on Shepherds Bush Green next to the BBC drama offices. They couldn’t find Eric and a secretary in the office saw me in the play and suggested they came and saw me. I was then interviewed by the director Baz Taylor. I heard nothing for three weeks so assumed I had not got the part and accepted a job in Glasgow as Assistant Director to David Hayman for theatre company 7:84.

I was then called back into meet Ian McShane, producer Bob Banks-Stewart, writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, executive producer Alan McKeown and director Ken Hannam. It was terrifying! I was offered the job the next day and had to drop out of the directing gig with 7:84.

The rapport between yourself, Ian McShane, Dudley Sutton and Phyllis Logan seems genuine – did you enjoy making series one?

Chris Jury todayAll the series were a joy to make. Ian, Dudley, Phylis, Malcolm Tierney and I got on like a house on fire. My abiding memory of filming Lovejoy is laughter and friendship. It doesn’t happen very often. I was very lucky. To this day I regard all four of the regulars as among my dearest friends.

Were you all set to return for a second series in 1987 or was it clear early on that the first series might be the only one?

We were hopeful of a second series in ’87 (which would have been filmed in ’86) but the BBC made Executive Producer Alan McKeown an offer he couldn’t accept and all power to him he walked away. The deal’s the thing you see. That’s why Alan is as rich as Croesus and I’m skint.

When did you learn that the programme would finally be returning?

In spring 1989 Michael Grade left the BBC to go to Channel 4 and within three weeks Witzend, Alan’s company, contacted my agent and we were back on. The deal was finally done in the Autumn of ’89 to start filming 10 eps from Easter 1990.

1993 saw two seasons and a Christmas special air, quite unusual for a BBC drama. Did you sense the BBC were particularly fond of the show at that time?

No. I always felt many of the metropolitan TV industry types were slightly embarrassed by Lovejoy. It wasn’t cynical, urban, edgy or cool enough for them. like Heartbeat and Last Of The Summer Wine, it was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic – and of course immensely popular with the public! My own taste is for drama that engages more directly with the contemporary world but I could appreciate Lovejoy for what it was and that it was done extremely well. The scripts were brilliant!

This sneering metropolitan attitude crops up even now and the show is the butt of jokes from the likes of Catherine Tate and Little Britain who portray the show as a talisman of an unsophisticated middle-England. Very patronising.

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DVD Review: Lovejoy The Complete Collection

With scripts as well crafted as a Chippendale, performances as finely tuned as a Stradivarius and a production history more complex than the workings of a Thomas Earnshaw timepiece, Lovejoy arrives on DVD to once more charm viewers who have missed the series since its departure from TV screens in 1994.

Adapted for the small screen by veteran scriptwriter Ian La Frenais, who took Jonathan Gash’s rather earthy novels and made them acceptable for a mainstream audience, season one aired on BBC One in 1986.

That series introduced the character of East Anglian antiques dealer and ‘divvie’, Lovejoy, as played by Ian McShane in full-on rogue mode. Aiding and abetting are wily Tinker (Dudley Sutton), nice-but-dim Eric (Chris Jury) and the delectable Lady Jane Felsham (Phyllis Logan), while hindering Lovejoy in his plans to make a tidy profit on each deal is the panto villainesque Charlie Gimbert (Malcolm Tierney).

Slightly closer to the books in those first 10 episodes, the first year established the type of story offered up by La Frenais and his fellow writers; a mystery involving a rare antique draws in Lovejoy, with a dash of humour and the odd aside to camera helping things rattle along at a fair old lick.

Thanks to an unfortunate rights snafu, and a short trip to Dallas for McShane, season two didn’t appear until 1991, by which time Gimbert had gone but the rest of the gang were still available for more of the same. For the next few years it was as if nothing had happened, Sunday nights enlivened by preposterous plots and a cast of recognisable British thespians – including Sir John Gielgud, Brian Blessed, Bill Travers, Joanna Lumley, Richard Griffiths, Michael Kitchen and Donald Pleasance – drifting in and out of each episode to add a touch of class to proceedings.

By 1993 the series was a bone fide BBC hit, with season four running from January until April and season five from September until November, with a US-set Christmas special thrown in for good measure. Sadly, nothing lasts forever, and season five would see two of the leads leave, only for a new cast to be phased in and the dynamic change. Lovejoy may still have been loveable but the world around him was different.

Comprised of self-contained episodes for the majority of its run, the last year would see the makers build on the romance between Lovejoy and Charlotte (Caroline Langrishe), even if his heart was always with Lady Jane.

Bringing every episode together, with the original music present and correct for the first time, this set takes the viewer into a world where it’s permanently summer, every antique shop hides a lost treasure and friends conspire to help and hinder each other before making up with a pint in the pub and move on to the next dodgy deal.

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Maverick returns to British TV

James Garner as Maverick

Great news for fans of Maverick, the 1950s TV series starring James Garner and Jack Kelly as Bret and Bart Maverick: it’s finally back on UK television, every day at 12.30 on TCM UK.

I say “fans” of Maverick but in reality I mean “those perhaps aware of the 1994 movie but who are unlikely to ever have seen an episode of the TV show as it hasn’t been shown here in decades,” but that’s a bit clunky.

I only noticed the repeat run after a bit of scrolling through the cable channels and a run through the TCM line-up, even though it’s not one I subscribe to. A quick email to TCM confirms that they have the rights to at least the first season, which debuted on US TV on 22 September, 1957. Although the website doesn’t make it clear where they’re up to, they will at some point be repeating the season again, going back to the first episode, The War of the Silver Kings.

I’ve been slowly making my way through the series on DVD (sadly, it’s not officially available anywhere, these are off-air copies) and this initial run is hugely enjoyable stuff, with Garner finding his feet straight away as the charming gambler travelling the old West and finding trouble in every town.

The series, created by Roy Huggins, who also gave us The Fugitive, was the first TV Western to add humour to its scripts, making it stand out from the glut of serious cowboy shows on American television.

Rather than start a fight, Maverick will try to talk his way out of a bad situation, looking after himself as much as possible. Sure, he’s a coward, but he’s a living coward, which beats being a dead one.

After a few episodes we’re also introduced to Bret’s brother, Bart, who’s up to the same game, only a few hundred miles down the road. Once in a while the Maverick’s team up to take on a particularly tricky foe, episodes such as The Wrecker and Trail West to Fury allowing Garner and Kelly to bounce off each other with the programmes trademark humour.

The latter episode also features a guest appearance by Dandy Jim Buckley (Efrem Zimbalist Jnr), one of many fellow con men encountered by the pair during their adventures.

Warner Bros stage 25The first few episodes are notable for the fact they were directed by Budd Boetticher, the famed B-movie Western director who reused many of the guest cast in his Randolph Scott collaborations, something I noticed while watching the Budd Boetticher Collection earlier in the year. The series isn’t just a series of one-liners, with a hefty dose of drama in amongst the humour and more than a few dead bodies.

The show would also go on to inspire the creation of The Rockford Files in the 1970s and Garner played the character of Maverick in a sequel series, Bret Maverick, as well as making an appearance in Richard Donner’s 1994 big screen version, with Mel Gibson making a decent addition to the Maverick clan.

In April 2011 I toured the Warner Bros set in Los Angeles, home to Maverick in the 1950s, and made a point of looking out for any signs of the show. If you enlarge the photo on the right you’ll find a mention, along with some of the distinguished films and series which were crafted on Stage 25.

Garner’s hat from the series is also on display in another part of the complex, but photos were banned

That’s a long way of saying that if you have TCM I’d recommend tuning in one of these days. Unlike today’s TV series there’s no arc or ongoing plot that you won’t understand if you miss an episode, just good, old-fashioned, entertainment that hasn’t dated too badly.

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DVD Review: Doctor Who – The Sun Makers

Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor finds himself in a rather taxing situation in The Sun Makers, landing on Pluto in the far future with Leela (Louise Jameson) in tow as he discovers the planet’s populace is being kept in its place by The Collector (Henry Woolf).

The Sun MakersAssisting the rebels fighting to overthrow their oppressors, the Doctor discovers the true nature of The Collector’s origins and that sometimes money is the root of all evil.

Written by Robert Holmes, perhaps Doctor Who’s most celebrated scriptwriter and also its script editor at the time of The Sun Makers, the story is packed with the type of humour rarely seen in the series.

With overt references to the British tax system, this was never going to be your typical Saturday tea time romp, but social commentary doesn’t overwhelm the science fiction at the script’s core.

Baker and Jameson are both on fine form and it’s a joy to see them take on Woolf and Richard Leech as Gatherer Hade, even if things do get slightly heightened as the story goes on. The guest cast are uniformly excellent, particularly Michael Keating and William Simons as Goudry and Mandrel respectively.

Clever, challenging and always entertaining, The Sun Makers is a welcome DVD release which shows once again just how diverse the series has been over the years.

Extras on this single disc edition include an informative commentary from Baker, Jameson, Keating and director, Pennant Robert, and a new documentary, Running from the Tax Man, which looks back at the story’s development and production.

Yet more fact-filled production notes can be switched on to aid enjoyment while the usual PDF documents and a photo gallery are available.

Story ★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

ITV turned down the return of Ray Winstone and Robin of Sherwood

Nothing’s forgotten. Nothing’s ever forgotten. Those words will be recognisable to any fans of the hit 1980s TV show, Robin of Sherwood, which ran for three years on ITV from 1984 to 1986 and captivated a generation in the process.

With the highest TV budget of the period, Michael Praed made for a dashing Robin i’ the Hood, but one whose fate never looked to be to a happy one, at least as long as he and his followers, including a young Ray Winstone as Will Scarlett, lived in an England ruled by men who put land and money before the welfare of the populace. At least that’s something which we could never say is the case today…

The series came to an abrupt end after the third series, when the company behind it, Goldcrest, went belly up, leaving viewers wondering what might have happened next. Rumours surfaced in the 90s that a film version might appear, but that was scuppered by Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which “borrowed” a number of elements from Carpenter’s series.

Today I had the opportunity to meet with Clive Mantle, Little John in Robin, thanks to his presence in Edinburgh for the Fringe. He’s here with his stage show, Jus’ Like That, in which he portrays comedian Tommy Cooper, and it’s a fantastic performance that he’s honed to perfection. I wanted to discuss the show but I couldn’t help mentioning Robin of Sherwood and had to ask if there were any plans for the upcoming 30th anniversary.

His response was as follows, and you can hear it in full over on audioboo:

“We wanted to do a television update and we submitted to ITV, 18 months or two years ago, [the idea of] a two hour special or a couple of specials, [with] all the original team, Ray back, Jason [Connery] and Michael [Praed], and ITV turned us down. We couldn’t believe it, especially with Ray on board. Kip Carpenter had written a fantastic idea and when I heard they’d turned it down, I stood there open mouthed and thought “I think that’s a mistake,”. Ray loves it so much that if he had a gap in his schedule and we were all available, I’m sure he’d give it another go.”

So there it is. Everyone wants to make it but nobody wants to fund it. ITV were offered, on a plate, the return of one of its most popular series, plus a star name in Ray Winstone, and they turned it down. It’s no secret that series such as X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent cost pennies to make and pull in large audiences, so it’s understandable that ITV would want to keep churning out the cheap stuff as long as they can.

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