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, 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, 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!


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…

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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Freaks and Geeks reunion at the Paley Centre

It was in Australia in 2000, while I was backpacking for a year and had very little chance to watch much new TV, that I stumbled across an episode of Freaks and Geeks for the first time.

It wasn’t immediately clear what year it was set in or if there was any arc to the series which meant I wouldn’t be able to work out what was going on with just one episode, but what was obvious was that this was Something Different.

Set in Michigan in 1980, the series follows the lives of schoolkids who are simply trying to get their grades and avoid the humiliation that comes with being a teenager. Split roughly into two groups of the freaks (those kids who were always smoking in the toilets and who never bothered to study) and the geeks (the Bionic Woman-loving kids who watch from the sidelines as their cooler contemporaries got drunk and got the girls), the series was created by Paul Feig and executive produced by Judd Apatow. Yes, that Judd Apatow.

Though Freaks and Geeks must rank as one of the most acutely observed, beautifully written, well acted and all round near-perfect series made for television, it only lasted 12 episodes before it was pulled from the air. The other six episodes eventually made it to TV, but it was too late. The series, like so many teenage dreams before it, had died.

A funny thing happened though. In 2007, Time magazine added it to their 100 Greatest Shows of All Time, as well as placing it third on their list of the greatest television shows of the 2000s, just behind The Wire and Lost. In 2008, Entertainment Weekly ranked it the 13th-best series of the past 25 years.

Many of its stars, including James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segal and Linda Cardellini went on to have bigger careers and Apatow created a comedy genre of his own.

Elsewhere, TV fans around the globe heard it was pretty good and bought the DVDs or borrowed them off their friends. At least, any friends that were brave enough to let their Freaks and Geeks DVDs out of their site. I think I’ve only managed it once, and that was before I hassled Judd Apatow to sign the set while he was in Edinburgh a few years ago.

The point of all this was really just to say that some video from a recent reunion at the Paley Centre in Los Angeles is now online, both official and fan made over on YouTube. Only 11 minutes of the official stuff can be seen on the Paley website, but it’s better than nothing.

Enjoy, and please head over to Amazon to buy the DVDs (if you can afford them, sadly they rarely come down in price).

There’s also some footage from the Freaks and Geeks “sequel” series, Undeclared:

Remembering Stephen J Cannell

“So that’s it. Cue the end music. Roll the production logos. Bring up the final end card and we’re at: The End.” The final words in Stephen J Cannell’s last novel, The Prostitutes’ Ball

There’s been something missing on this blog for a while now, something I’ve been acutely aware of but which, thanks to time pressures, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do justice to: a tribute to TV producer Stephen J Cannell.

It was last September that the man who created/co-created/produced/wrote/directed series such as The A-Team, The Rockford Files, Hunter, The Greatest American Hero, Stingray, Wiseguy, The Commish and many, many more died at the age of 69.

I’ve noted before that one of my earliest TV memories is watching The Greatest American Hero at the age of five while in Brisbane, Australia. My family had emigrated there in 1982 for what would turn out to be a very short time (we didn’t see the year out Down Under), but certain things linger in the mind. Barbeques. School assemblies. Ralph Hinkley in the red jammies.

A combination of Joey Scarbury’s annoyingly brilliant music and some fast-paced action with a healthy dose of humour meant that to my mind it was televisual manna from heaven, far better than most of the cartoons being thrown my way. At least, I assume that was the thought process. After thirty years things get a little hazy.

A few years later, now back in Scotland, we had a weekly adventure for The A-Team on ITV to look forward too. These days I’m a big Doctor Who fan and I now realise that I was missing the good Doctor each Saturday on BBC1 as I waded through the adverts on The Other Side to see what Hannibal, Faceman, BA and Murdock were getting up to. But The A-Team was shiny and fresh and you could play with the toys in the garden or at being the characters at school. Nobody spoke about Doctor Who back then.

Since then I’ve stumbled across various US series that grabbed my attention and stuck in the mind, usually thanks to their wit and action scenes. Episodes of Hunter and Renegade, mostly only half-watched, screened late night while at school. James Garner in the Rockford Files on weekday afternoons while at university. Repeats of Riptide at 3am on weekends on Channel 5, again while at uni.

What I didn’t realise for a long time was that all of these programmes had something in common, namely Stephen J Cannell. Born in Los Angeles in 1941, Cannell may have had severe dyslexia but he graduated from the University of Oregon in 1964 with a degree in journalism.

It was in 1968 that Cannell sold his first TV script to Universal for the Robert Wagner series, To Catch a Thief. After a few years as a jobbing scriptwriter, Cannell rose through the ranks of TV to end up one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, running his own independent studio and bringing numerous hit series to our screens.

I spent some of Christmas 2010 watching the Archive of American Television’s excellent interview with Cannell, which takes around three hours to get through but which offers a fascinating look into the mind of the man and his dedication to the writing process.

I could go on for multiple blog posts about the skill behind Cannell’s work and the way he makes it all look so simple. He admitted that much of his action/adventure output was targeted at the average Joe who gets home after a hard days work and who wants to be entertained by his TV set. Cannell was happy with being part of mainstream and so were his viewers.

Interestingly, while my love of Cannell shows hasn’t wavered over the years, my own interest in the mainstream has. It’s dangerous to generalise about TV in 2011, but I’ll have a go anyway. While the odd piece of scripted television still comes along that has the power to entertain, excite, scare, chill or in some other way engage the audience, much of it is simplified to the point of being offensive.

A Cannell show may have been dumb fun, but it was never dumbed down. Cannell was happy to keep things looking simple on the surface, but there was usually something more going on beneath. Just watch one of his Rockford’s, where a plot may begin like a standard private eye show before spiralling off into something much odder and always unique.

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STV celebrates its Hogmanay legacy on YouTube


As the last few hours of 2010 ebb away and revellers around the globe prepare to enjoy New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay as it’s known officially here in Scotland (it’s against the law to call it anything else – do so and you’re force-fed battered Mars Bars and cans of Irn Bru for the first week of the new year), I thought I’d share with you some examples of past celebrations from Scottish broadcaster, STV.

I’ve mentioned here before that for the past few months I’ve been working with the channel to bring some archive series to YouTube, and a few weeks ago I was able to witness some scenes of revelry from bygone eras as Hogmanay specials were liberated from the vaults and digitised.

The first programme available to watch in full comes from STV’s first year of service in 1957, as producer Rai Purdy and presenter Gordon Arnold give viewers “a wee peek” of the live broadcast from Glasgow Cross in A Guid New Year from Glasgow. Purdy, a newcomer to Scotland, offers an insight into what Hogmanay is all about while seemingly directing proceedings from the STV nerve centre in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal.

With a look back at news footage from 1957, music from the Phoenix Choir, interviews with members of the public, an appearance from comedy due Mike and Bernie Winters and a glimpse of a Glasgow tram, this is a fascinating glimpse of the past which it’s hard to believe still exists.

From 1957 we jump forward to 1978 for Out With the Old in With the New, a frankly astonishing disco-infused concoction hosted by former-Saint, Ian Ogilvy, who introduces us to some “wonderful Scottish girls” in the shape of Janet Brown, Beryl Reid, Amy MacDonald, Una McLean, Marie Gordon Price, Annie Ross, Molly Weir and the lovely Lulu. There are also appearances from Rikki Fulton and Johnny Vivian, the latter introduced in a rather unique way.

With a few comedy sketches (look out for Rikki Fulton at 23.45) and some song and dance routines which are so OTT that they make Strictly Come Dancing look like a dull weekend in Bognor, this is the sort of programme you knew probably existed but didn’t quite believe ever did.

It all ends with a mass dance number headed up by Molly Weir, with Ogilvy given a ribbing by a few of “the girls” for not being Roger Moore. Brilliant. No, really it is.

Moving onwards to 1983 and we’ve got a The New Year Show hosted by comedian Andy Cameron in front of a bemused audience. Kenneth McKellar, The Alexander Brothers and The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra are on hand for musical entertainment, all held together by Cameron’s jokes.

We’re on the set of STV show Thingummyjig for The New Year Show 1985 as Russ Abbott makes an appearance with a song which screams 1985 from every syllable. Allan Stewart tells a few gags while Lena Zavaroni and Sydney Devine are on hand for a few more songs. Abbott returns to close the show with a rendition of You Cannae Push Your Granny Off A Bus (yes, really) before the whole thing implodes and a nation weeps.

The three most interesting Hogmanay shows come in the shape of the 1990, 1991 and 1992 programmes. Clearly tired of the perception of Hogmanay as an excuse for fiddle music, STV took a new approach by creating mini dramas around the festivities, recruiting actor and writer Alex Norton for script duties.

Norton decided to go a bit meta for these, with 1990’s A Guid New Year opening on a traditional scene of wee Stewart Anderson performing from the Cowcaddens studios, before pulling back into the flat of old Granny McFaddyn where she’s enduring Hogmanay on her own.

Granny is then awoken by the arrival of actor James Macpherson (Taggart’s Mike Jardine) at her door, who invites her downstairs to a party attended by various STV celebrities of the day, including Mark McManus, Elaine C Smith, Forbes Masson, Johnny Beattie and The Corries. And Sydney Devine.

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Custard creams, mafia hits and dragons: The BBC James Bond Archive

Thanks to my interest in just about anything that resides in an archive and has a connection to film and TV (see my Charles Endell, Esquire post for more on that), the BBC Archive website is one I try to keep an eye on, mainly relying on their regularly updated Twitter feed.

Over the last year or so they’ve brought us some fantastic collections, with their Genesis of Doctor Who and British Novelists sections of particular interest. The chance to listen to some radio interviews, read a memo or watch a clip from a BBC long gone is the closest I’ll get to having my own Tardis, and it’s one to savour.

Last week saw the Archive team add a rather substantial early Christmas present to the site in the shape of a James Bond collection, a mixture of 15 radio and TV broadcasts and an image gallery making up the new section. While I’m not quite sure of the significance of December 2010 as a Bond anniversary, that doesn’t really matter when the content is this good.

While most readers of this post can simply take a look around the site, I couldn’t resist jotting down my own thoughts on the collection. I also know that not all of the material can be seen/heard outside the UK, so perhaps it will be of some use to those not fortunate to be served by the BBC.

Starting with the filmed content, the earliest footage on here is from the set of Goldfinger, Time Out – The Guns of James Bond from September 1964. After a very brief introduction from Sean Connery on the Fort Knox set of Goldfinger, we’re introduced to the man who was the inspiration for Q, pistol expert Geoffrey Boothroyd, who takes us through his range of guns and ammunition.

For some reason Connery introduces Boothroyd as a Scotsman from Glasgow, only for Boothroyd to state a few moments later that the BBC have got it wrong and that he’s not Scottish at all. Whether Connery was fed duff information or the script is trying to emphasise the myths that surround Boothroyd I’m not sure (it appears to be the former) but this is still an interesting look into the world of a man who had such a major impact on the world of Bond.

The Tonight programme from September 1964 is a fun four-minute clip in which presenter Kenneth Alsopp is invited to swap his E-Type Jaguar for Bond’s tricked-up Aston Martin DB5. At one point we see the revolving scanner in the driver’s wing mirror, which I don’t recall from the final film – has this been seen on screen since?

Perhaps the jewel of this archive is Whicker’s World: Bond Wants a Woman They Said…But Three Would Be Better!, a documentary from March 1967 filmed on and around the set of You Only Live Twice. Around five minutes of this episode made it onto the two disc Ultimate Edition DVD, but here we get 53 minutes worth of solid gold documentary.

This is an intimate look at the film’s production, with Whicker and his camera crew allowed to mingle with the producers, most notably Cubby Broccoli, and cast as they go about their work in Japan. Broccoli comes across as a shrewd-yet-friendly sort of chap, clearly revelling in the fame and fortune Bond has brought to his world, and he seems to have few worries, save for the fact that Connery had decided he’d soon be hanging up his Walther PPK for good.

There are some classic moments captured on film, including a Japanese press conference which is thrown into confusion when an English-speaking journalist asks a question, only for Connery’s interpreter to insist on translating it anyway. Connery looks bemused by the whole thing and it no doubt added to his distaste of the Bondwagon he was riding at this time.

We also see Connery and his colleagues partaking of custard creams on a small boat, an incongruous sight which shatters any illusion of a suave secret agent. Later we see the actor filming on Ken Adams’ impressive volcano set, while moments before Whicker was standing beside the real volcano in Japan.

As an aside, while watching Connery running about Blofeld’s base in black and white I felt I was glimpsing some sort of alternate universe Bond, one which might have been had another set of producers got hold of the rights and decided to make B-movie versions of the Fleming novels. With his background in TV and smaller films, there’s a good chance Connery would have starred in those as well: this is as close as we’re likely to get to seeing how a series of Bond’s filmed entirely on the backlot of Pinewood or Shepperton might have looked.

Broccoli’s back a few years later on the set of 1979’s Moonraker in Barry Norman’s Film 79. The producer is this time accompanied by the self-deprecating Roger Moore. Barry Norman pushes Moore on why he continually puts himself down in front of the cameras, and its fascinating to hear his response.

The penultimate reel of Bond footage is from a November 1999 episode of the BBC’s long-running science series, Tomorrow’s World, screened a week before The World is Not Enough arrived in UK cinemas.

A clunky looking backpack helicopter, a video camera which looked sophisticated 11 years ago and a robot which can help you mix a perfect dry martini are some of the goodies on offer, and the presenters enter into the spirit of it all (in particular Peter Snow who has a touch of the Q about him) but it’s pretty missable all round.

Finally, on the eve of publication of Sebastian Faulks Devil May Care in 2008, BBC Breakfast invited Young Bond author Charlie Higson and novelist Kate Mosse in to discuss Fleming’s legacy.

Radio-wise, the selection kicks-off with a cracking interview between Ian Fleming and fellow thriller writer, Raymond Chandler, from July 1958. The pair appear to have been left in a BBC studio with a packet of cigarettes and bottle of whisky between them, conversation shifting from their favourite novels to the differences in their writing styles.

Things get very interesting when Fleming quizzes Chandler on how to set up a real-life mafia hit before asking him if he’d ever considered killing anyone himself. Chandler’s matter-of-fact response is a joy to listen to and takes Fleming slightly by surprise. I can’t praise this programme highly enough and it’s the one every Bond (and Chandler) fan should listen to if they want to get more of a feel for the man.

From December 1974 there’s an overview of director Guy Hamilton’s career, including a brief interview with him. As well as insisting that a film’s budget should be seen on the screen and that on-set collaboration is vital, Hamilton has an interesting take on the character of Bond: he’s a latter-day Saint George, with the villains cast as the dragon.

Broadcast in November 1990, a year after Licence to Kill had been released and five years before GoldenEye would arrive in cinemas, Radio 5’s Cult Heroes – James Bond wasn’t promoting anything (though the VHS of Licence may well have been hitting the shops) but Bond himself.

There’s also a brief soundbite from Bond producer Michael G Wilson who states that everything is looking rosy for Bond at this point, though clearly that wasn’t to be the case for much longer. Legal battles would keep Bond off our screens for a while longer, but whether Wilson knew that or not is hard to know.

Speaking of the 17th Bond movie, the original Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell, was drafted onto Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour along with journalist Anne Billson in December 1995 to discuss feminism in the series. This followed the arrival of Judi Dench as the first M in GoldenEye, something which put a new spin on the treatment of women in Bond.

Maxwell explains her theory on the relationship between Moneypenny and Bond and agrees that the girls in the films needed updating. I liked Billson’s idea of a period version of the Bond films, once more setting them in the cigarette-smoke filled clubs of 1950s or 60s London rather than the rather dull present day of Facebook, X-Factor and iPads.

Rather wonderfully, Maxwell, Lois Maxwell returns for Radio 2’s For Your Ears Only, again from December 1995. With the world clearly going Bond crazy again after a long wait for new Bond, the BBC this time decided to take listeners on a tour of the music archives.

Beginning with a clip from the Fleming/Chandler interview mentioned above, Maxwell then introduces us to John Barry, Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney and more, with soundbites from other interested parties. It’s a cheesy script but Maxwell seems to be having fun with it, and it’s great to hear her again, perhaps the most important Bond girl of them all.

While most of the clips in this archive tend to play up to Bond’s penchant for bad one-liners, 1997’s Radio 4’s Books & Company goes one step further by employing a Sean Connery soundalike to introduce guests such as Bond author Raymond Benson, novelist Beryl Bainbridge and Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett. It’s a pointless gimmick but the content of this 8 minute feature is quite nice, with mentions of Kingsley Amis and some shattering of Bond myths.

Describing Madonna’s Die Another Day theme as a “gimmicky, stuttering, forgettable mess,” before going on to interview former KGB man Oleg Gordievsky about potential terrorist scenarios for the Bond movies, only to have him provide one so realistic they couldn’t actually broadcast it, Joe Cornish’s Back Row programme on David Arnold is another highlight of the collection. Mark Gatiss also pops up to give the name of his ultimate Bond girl.

The final two audios are a five-minute piece from Radio 4 to mark Ian Fleming’s 100th birthday, in which Gordon Corera goes to Fleming’s Goldeneye estate in Jamaica where he interviews the author’s gardener, and a 26 minute Radio 4 documentary entitled James Bond – The Last Englishman.

This last piece is hosted by Professor David Cannadine, who reports from The Imperial War Museum’s 2008 Ian Fleming exhibition on the real-life inspiration for the Bond novels. Cannadine pinpoints two men, Wilfred ‘Biffy’ Dunderdale and Patrick Dalzel-Job, who may have impressed Fleming enough for him to write his books.

It’s a nice potted history of Fleming’s early life and career, one of the more substantial pieces on here. Long time Bond fans will know most of this, but there are some nice soundbites from Andrew Lycett and Simon Winder, the latter the author of the controversial The Man Who Saved Britain.

Finally, there’s a photo gallery from behind-the-scenes of 1976’s The Spy Who Loved Me, with roving reporter John Snagge shown meeting Roger Moore, Ken Adam and Barbara Bach on the film’s submarine set.

So what can we learn from this little lot apart from the fact that Radio 4 loves James Bond and that Alan Whicker needs his own archive collection pretty sharpish? We certainly get to see Connery and Moore drop their guard and realise how disposable the actors playing Bond are, with Whicker and Norman keen to push Broccoli on the how soon they could be replaced on subsequent films.

We also get a feeling for how important Fleming’s novels are to the literary establishment, even if they were looked down upon in their day, critics happy to brand them sadistic and nasty. Everyone has a view on them, positive or not, and the opportunity to hear Fleming in conversation in 1958 is almost all you need if you just want to dip in and out of this treasure trove.

I do wish there had been something about George Lazenby’s time as Bond in the much maligned On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, along with something relating to Timothy Dalton. Something on the critical reception to each of the films on their original release would be welcome.

Until any of that comes along I suspect this archive needs to be a moderate success, so I’d urge you to visit the James Bond collection and to enjoy at least one item, then to tell your friends about it on Twitter and Facebook – give a little Bond for Christmas.

Right, now I’m off to enjoy the almost as vital Hollywood Voices collection which arrived while I was putting this piece together…

Visit the BBC Archive or follow them on Twitter.

Robert Culp and more remembered by TCM

The annual TCM Remembers video has been released, a montage of stills and clips of film professionals who passed away over the last 12 months.

The death of actor Robert Culp was the big one for me this year, someone I’ve admired for the last 30 years in one way or another. I started out as a fan of the knockabout humour of The Greatest American Hero in 1982 before going on to recognise his more nuanced performances in films such as Hickey & Boggs and Hannie Caulder.

The death of Greatest American Hero creator Stephen J Cannell has meant it’s been a double blow this year for fans of that particular show.

Watch the full video, which also contains nods to Leslie Neilsen, Kevin McCarthy, Irvin Kershner and more, below:

Thank you kindly to the BBC’s Due South website

Just a passing thank you to the nice folk at the BBC who have linked back to my earlier post on the return of Due South to our screens – and to the BBC iPlayer – in early afternoon slots.

I’d noticed a fair few visits to the post in my blog statistics, but on closer inspection discovered a link on the right hand side of the Due South website.

OK, it’s a small thing, but as a huge fan of the series it’s nice to be associated with it, nevermind that it’s pretty tangential. If you haven’t watched any of the episodes yet then please do, it deserves to be discovered all over again by UK audiences.

Due South returns to the BBC

Due South

It’s good news this week for fans of the Canadian Mountie who always got his man (and more than a few women) in the mid-1990s: Paul Gross, aka Benton Fraser, is back on the BBC in a repeat run of the comedy-drama, Due South.

Due South followed the exploits of Fraser as he left the far north of Canada on the trail of his father’s killer and headed to the mean streets of Chicago. On his arrival, Fraser finds himself unwittingly teamed up with a fast-talking cop, Ray Vecchio (David Marciano), the pair searching Chicago’s seamier side to uncover the truth.

Created by Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis (Crash), Due South was an instant hit in the UK when it first aired here in 1995. The mixture of clever scripts, witty dialogue and genuinely heartfelt moments as Fraser discovered a new connection with his dead dad (Gordon Pinsent) and attempted to understand life in the big city, made it unmissable telly.

Sadly, audiences in the US, where series need to do well if they’re going to survive, never quite got Due South: producers noted that for many people it wasn’t gritty enough to be a “proper” cop show and not overtly funny enough to be a comedy, falling somewhere between the two. The fact was that Due South wasn’t really either, a bizarre mash-up of genres which somehow just worked.

Viewer and TV Network confusion led to numerous cancellations and revivals for the programme over the years, which led to the departure of  Marciano between seasons two and three and the arrival of Callum Keith Rennie as Stanley Kowalski, the ersatz Vecchio. For me, the series became a shadow of its former self around this time, the humour levels taken to ludicrous heights and the drama lost in the mix. To this day I still haven’t watched many of the episodes such is the stark difference between these and the glory days of Hawk and a Handsaw and Victoria’s Secret.

I still maintain that this first season is one of the strongest of any series I’ve seen, the actors, writers, directors and entire team pulling together to make TV gold. There’s barely a dud in this run, even the weaker scripts benefitting from the pairing of Gross and Marciano, the latter’s constant disgust at his friend’s behaviour always a delight.

Interestingly, Due South began trending over on Twitter this afternoon, as the nation began realising that the programme was back. I can’t help but wonder if the BBC are missing a trick by not scheduling it later in the evening, but for the moment you can find it on BBC 2 for the next month or so, or you can bookmark the BBC iPlayer page to see what I’m going on about.

I’ll also be mentioning Due South on Twitter in the coming weeks, so please come and say hello.

Finally, for the hardcore fans out there, I’ll mention that a Due South convention, Duesers Day Off, recently took place in Toronto. The organisers have just made available a DVD of the event, featuring Paul Gross and various other actors/production team members, which can be bought from the website.

Here’s a trailer:

Thank you kindly.

Image copyright BBC

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Revisitations Box Set


Spruced up with improved picture quality and beefed up with enough extras to fill the Pandorica a few times over, three classic Doctor Who stories are now back to entertain fans all over again.

The Talons of Weng Chiang sees Tom Baker’s Sherlock Holmes-inspired Fourth Doctor roaming the foggy streets of Victorian London with his very on Eliza Doolittle in the shape of Leela (Louise Jameson) while aliens and rogues get in his way.

Peter Davison’s swansong, The Caves of Androzani, is the type of multi-layered, fast moving and near perfect romp that we remember all of his stories to be (at least until we see Time Flight again), a doom-laden epic which pits the Doctor and Peri (Nicola Bryant) against Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable) and a gaggle of mercenaries.

Doctor Who: Revisitations Box Set

Finally, the 1996 TV Movie stars Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, destined to enjoy just one night only on our TV screens before vanishing off onto audio adventures for an eternity. The San Francisco of 1999 was the backdrop for his battle against Eric Roberts’ Master, an intermittently threatening presence with a great line in evening wear.

The downer for long-term fans with this set is the fact that they’ve all been released before, though that was near the start of the range, the technology and ambition available to the Restoration Team who put the DVDs together clearly improving over the years.

Now, in addition to all the previous extras, we get a bundle more, a substantial haul which it’s hard to fault. Talons is awarded three discs this time around, with a typically bonkers Tom Baker meeting ex-producer Philip Hinchcliffe in his kitchen to discuss their time on the story and a number of mini-documentaries examining every aspect of this much-loved tale.

Caves gets an informative new documentary from TV and film historian, and über-fan, Matthew Sweet plus an odd appearance on Russell Harty from Davison and the incoming Colin Baker, while the picture quality on the story itself is impressively clear.

The TV Movie does the best out of the bunch, with three in-depth documentaries: the first looks at the so-called Wilderness Years that lasted between the end of the series proper in 1989 and it’s rebirth in 2005; the second goes behind-the-scenes of the TV Movie’s pre-production; and the third is the second part of a series which shows how Who was depicted on kids’ magazine show, Blue Peter. Continue reading

Interview: Bill Maynard

Bill Maynard

Though perhaps best known to today’s viewers as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass in the ITV drama, Heartbeat, actor and comedian Bill Maynard has a long list of theatre, TV and film appearances to his name. The release of a number of his series on DVD seemed to be the perfect excuse for a chat with the man who has specialised in loveable rogues and larger-than-life characters.

“I did a Greek anti-war play called Stand Up and Retreat Onwards about 40 years ago during the Edinburgh Festival. On opening night there were two men at the door in black suits from the Greek Embassy, I think because it was written by a dissident. They were about the only audience we had.”

I’m talking to veteran actor Bill Maynard over the phone from Edinburgh as he recalls one of his many appearances on stage in the Scottish Capital, part a of a career which stretches back to the mid-1930s and his time touring men’s working clubs in his native Midlands.

Bill’s on good form. After enquiring how he’s keeping – “It’s best not to ask. When you get to my age you’re just happy to get up in the morning,” – I ask how he got into the profession.

“I started at the age of eight as a turn in the clubs, and the day after my first performance I was carted off to a sanitorium with scarlet fever. Whilst I was there my dad brought me a ukulele which I learned to play. When I came out about four months later, leaving the ukulele behind because it was contaminated, I was ready to be released on the unsuspecting British public.

“By the time I was nine I was doing nine entirely different acts, including being in drag singing a song called I’m Knitting a Singlet for Cecil then doing a routine about my boyfriend. I also did an act with a guitar playing cowboy songs and one as a soldier, plus one about a QC with a few jokes about judges.

“We didn’t have to be PC back then, so one was about a cross-eyed judge who has three defendants in front of him. He says to the first one “What’s your name?” and the second one says, “Smith.” Judge says, “I wasn’t talking to you,” and the third one says, “I haven’t opened my mouth yet.” Then he has two in front of him and he says to the first, “Where do you live?” and he says “No fixed abode, Your Honour.” He says to the second one, “What about you?” and he says, “In the flat above him.”

“My first series was in 1955, when I did Great Scott! It’s Maynard with Terry Scott, similar to The Two Ronnies, and then in 1957 I decided I wanted to be a film star – and still do! – and realised I needed to learn to act. I didn’t know you didn’t have to. After a number of years in the theatre, I did my first TV drama as the lead in Dennis Potter’s Paper Roses, then six months later I did Kisses at Fifty at the BBC which won a BAFTA.”

So is it fair to say that most of his work has been in the theatre? “Well, quite a bit has been the theatre, but there’s been a mixture of music hall, TV and around 35 films, most of them forgettable. I try to do as much as possible and bring in to the characters things I’ve learnt.

“For example, when I did Davies in The Caretaker, he wore an army greatcoat and when I went into Heartbeat they wanted me to wear a long black Crombie overcoat. I said it was too sombre and, remembering The Caretaker, I said get him an army greatcoat, because in many ways Davies was like Greengrass, an old rogue and a con merchant.”

I note that for much of the 1970s he was best known as a regular in British sitcoms.

“If producers know they can rely on you then they’ll ask you back and if you’re spending money you can’t take chances. With dramas you don’t need much expertise: a gentlemen much greater than me once said all you have to do is learn the lines and try not trip over the furniture.”

One of Bill’s biggest hits was The Gaffer, which ran from 1981 until 1983. Was it an enjoyable series to make? “Oh yes, I mean it was shot in front of a live audience every week, and to do a sitcom is really hard work, not like doing a drama which are the easiest things to do in the world. To do comedy is fifty times harder than any drama, you’ve got to be a specialist to do comedy but not drama. Anyone can do drama but not everyone can do comedy.”

Bill starred alongside Callan’s Russell Hunter in The Gaffer. “Russell was wonderful, absolutely wonderful, and became a very good friend. The last time I saw Russell he was in pantomime in Perth, and I went to see him. The one thing I remember about Russell is that he had the greatest collection of whiskies of any man I know.”

Bill was also known to younger audiences as Sergeant Beetroot in Worzel Gummidge, a show he remembers with fondness. “That was great fun to make, the only problem was having to get made up. Jon Pertwee would be in the make-up chair for two hours every morning before he could even speak, and I had to have purple make-up and green leaves stuck on me.”

Worzel also occasionally featured appearance from Barbara Windsor, while Bill also starred in some of the Carry On films. What were the Carry On team like on set? “Barbara’s a love. Sid James used to love playing poker, so whenever we had a break we’d sit down and have a poker school, but it was great fun. If you got it wrong you could do it 20 times till you got it right, not like a sitcom when you have to do it all in one night in about 50 minutes.”

The main reason for our chat is the release on DVD of Heartbeat, which recently ended its run on ITV1 after an impressive 18 years. Bill was one of the original cast members, the unforgettable rogue, Claude Jeremiah Greengrass.

Continue reading