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!

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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DVD Review: Shelley – The Complete Series Five

Returning for a fifth series of less-than-heroic adventures in 1980s Britain, James Shelley (Hywel Bennett) is a man of his time. Or rather, he’s a man of every time, particularly if that time involves a Tory Government, unemployment and an economy that’s well and truly knackered. Sound familiar?

With his wife and landlady long gone, Shelley decides to rent his mate’s (Warren Clarke) flat, instantly falling foul of the doorman (Garfield Morgan) before realising that the single life he had once tried to leave behind has now well and truly returned.

Like that other comedy stalwart, Frank Spencer, Shelley is constantly on the lookout for new work. However, while Frank would happily go for an interview and end up roller skating down the local high street, Shelley is more likely to end up debating the state of the nation or bunking off down the pub for a booze-sodden afternoon of despair.

The plight of the (not) working man is very much at the heart of the series, Bennett’s incomparably bemused look and stinging replies to those in authority as important a record of the social disquiet of the era as any contemporary newspaper report or documentary.

Perhaps the highlight of the series is Shelley’s new temp job, filing: it’s one so menial that the viewer instantly knows it can’t last. His reaction to the instructions are classic Shelley.

With most episodes taking a while to gain momentum – this is a series that revels in dialogue rather than sight gags – this could be too slow for modern viewers, but stick with it. With its themes as relevant in 2011 as they were in 1982, this really does feel like timeless comedy: quite whether we should be glad of that or not is another matter.

When you coming back, Shelley?

Shelley: The Complete Series Five is available from Network DVD

DVD Review: Cannon and Ball – Complete Series Two

Pulling in 12 million viewers a week during their 1980s heyday, some easily imitable catchphrases and a cheeky chappies routine making them popular with both older and younger viewers (a weekly strip in junior TV Times, Look-In, helped the latter) Cannon and Ball were ITV’s golden boys for over a decade.

This release of their second series sees a change in title sequence and set but the same old set-up which proved so successful in series one: have the boys take centre stage and engage in some banter before acting out a few sketches, invariably involving one or both of them trying to pull a bird or outwit some new foe.

A quick scan through the guest list reveals names such as Diana Dors and Peggy Mount, about as ITV as one could get at the time, and hardly likely to lead to controversial television.

Indeed, writer Sid Green, perhaps best known for his work with Morcambe and Wise, sticks to traditional set-ups and pay-offs and the half hours are all the better for it, with the performers even struggling to keep a straight face at times.

Those looking for anything deep and meaningful will be disappointed, but then they’re unlikely to have picked up this set in the first place. For a trip down memory lane, and a glimpse at how simplicity is often best, Cannon and Ball really can’t be faulted.

Cannon and Ball: The Complete Series Two is available now from Network DVD

DVD Review: Super Gran – Complete Series Two


Arriving DVD almost two years after series one appeared, Super Gran: The Complete Series Two, mirrors the programme’s original transmission: it was in January 1985 that Forrest Wilson’s eponymous heroine made it to ITV screens courtesy of Tyne Tees, but it wasn’t until March 1987 that she returned.

A quick scan of IMDb reveals some upheaval behind the scenes, with the change of three young leads, a new producer in Graham Williams and a new composer in the shape of Dudley Simpson.

At first glance nothing much has changed, with Gudrun Ure back as super granny Smith and Iain Cuthbertson stealing every scene as Roderick “Scunner” Campbell, a baddie so useless that he spends most of his time plotting naff money-making schemes rather than carrying them out.

Filmed on location in Tyneside in clearly freezing weather, with a smattering of thick Geordie accents in amongst the Scottish brogues of the leads, there does seem to have been a decision to add more comic book elements to proceedings, various animated inserts making an appearance.

Ahead of series two making it to screens, Supergran-starved fans were treated to a 1986 Christmas special, a 50-minute romp set during the festive period in which the town of Chisleton becomes the backdrop for a Battle of the Circus’s, a chance for the locals to show off their skills as Scottish circus entrepreneur, Mac McLock (Rikki Fulton), arrives in competition.

An excuse to put Supergran through her paces on the trapeze, the episode has little to distinguish it from the rest of the run, bar the opportunity to see Fulton and Cuthbertson reunited on-screen eight years after the glorious Charles Endell, Esquire.

For the full 1987 series we’re back to special guest appearances – Barbara Windsor, Leslie Phillips, Bernard Cribbins and Ken Campbell just some of those heading to windy Newcastle for a few days filming – and plots which don’t stand up to much scrutiny.

Whether they’re setting out on the annual Chisleton treasure hunt, becoming snooker playing celebrities or trying to get the Scunner back onto the list of top criminals, it’s the bad guys that provide most of the best moments here, Iain Cuthbertson appearing to relish the chance to wring out every available joke from the script.

Indeed, Ure may be the supposed star of the series, but Cuthbertson gets more screen time, even allowed a few flashbacks and dream sequences here and there. The final episode, in which the Scunner must try to prove that he’s the long-lost son of Patrick Troughton’s Roderick of Roderick, Great Sporran of the Isles, is one of the most memorable of the lot for the Scunner, and makes one wonder if a spin-off wasn’t deserved for the tartan terror.

The scripts from one-time comics writer, Jenny McDade, have enough incident to keep the kids entertained for 25 minutes, the meagre budget just about stretching to meet her demands.

Also included on this two disc set is a documentary made during the first series in which the cast and crew appear a happy, if cold, family. It’s also nice to hear Cuthbertson speaking without gruff affectation for once.

Quite why Super Gran didn’t make it to a third series is a mystery, but in just 27 episodes it managed to leave an indelible mark on popular British culture and give us a theme tune that remains a bit of a classic:

Super Gran: The Complete Series Two is out on Monday 16 May from Network DVD.

Blu-ray Review: Robin of Sherwood – Michael Praed

Nothing’s forgotten, nothing’s ever forgotten. That’s the case for fans of the most original telling of the Robin Hood story, 1984’s Robin of Sherwood, which now receives a welcome re-release on Blu-ray and DVD following extensive restoration work.

For the last 26 years viewers have been revelling in the adventures of Robin of Loxley, aka Robin i’ the Hood, as portrayed by Michael Praed in Richard Carpenter’s version of the legend which this time weaves magic and paganism into hour-long stories of derring-do.

Robin is the sole survivor of the village of Loxley, who finds himself England’s best hope against the corrupt authorities, led locally by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace) and his often bumbling right-hand man, Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addy).

Robin of SherwoodAmong those aiding Robin are the hard-nut Will Scarlett (Ray Winstone), gentle giant Little John (Clive Mantle), the simple-yet-loyal Much (Peter Llewellyn Williams) and Friar Tuck (Phil Rose).

This time around there’s a new addition to the team in the shape of Saracen assassin, Nasir (Mar Ryan) and, most importantly, the figure of Herne the Hunter (John Abineri), a pagan god given to appear in human form when his help is needed most.

Topped and tailed by the somewhat epic Swords of Wayland and The Greatest Enemy, these Boys Own adventures manage to remain fresh each week, despite the unavoidable fact that the Sheriff always has to lose. Or does he?

Robin may have been screened in a teatime slot on ITV, but its makers had always aimed for evening showings, meaning there’s a darkness and adult feel lacking in other Robin Hood series. Death hangs heavy over the programme, evil and spiritualism never far from scripts which would otherwise be straightforward teatime romps.

Inevitably there’s the odd misfire, the first season’s Alan a Dale not the most inspiring story, while second season episode Lord of the Trees is hampered by having too much ambition and not enough time to do the story justice, but otherwise there’s a fantastically strong run of episodes in each series.

Intrinsic to Robin of Sherwood’s success is its sumptuous look, the standard set early on by director Ian Sharp as the forrest is bathed in a dreamlike haze, where it’s always summer and shafts of light are forever piercing the woodland canopy. Finally, there’s the music from Irish folk rock group, Clannad, their use of both traditional and modern instruments, as well as recurring songs and character themes, adding yet another layer which rewards loyal viewers.

For anyone who has invested in previous versions of the series, whether on VHS or DVD (or in the case of this reviewer, both), be aware that this isn’t merely a repackaging but a whole new proposition from Network DVD. While the DVD made the episodes appear as if they’d been shot through a thick mesh, this time everything appears crystal clear.

Extras here are mainly ported over from the previous set, the commentaries, from various members of the production team, offering a valuable insight into the making of the series. There are also some in-depth documentaries featuring the cast which cover series one and two and an extended version of the Grampian-made Electric Theatre Show documentary present on the first release.


Robin of Sherwood is available now from Network DVD.

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.

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DVD Review: Manhunt – The Complete Series: Part One



Following an abortive attempt to breathe new life into this blog back in January (my time has been spent over on and with my Edinburgh Evening News work),  I’ve now realised that the current dire state of UK television means we all need more pointers towards decent new and classic television than ever before.

To this end I recently asked friend, neighbour and TV guru Walter Dunlop to cast his trained eye over 1969 ITV series Manhunt, out now on DVD, and tell me what he thought of it.

Rather than write a few hundred words on this near-forgotten show, Walter sent me over 2,500, devoted to the first seven (out of 26) episodes…

Strange thing, the way television gets remembered. It seems almost random sometimes. A handful of series get chosen for posterity, and repeated into oblivion while others, despite their own merits, languish after their initial broadcast, watched by millions but remembered by a few.

There are any number of shows that deserve another airing, to be enjoyed all over again. I’m slightly Reithian in my view of television and radio – sometimes, people don’t know that they want something. But if they get the chance to sample it, they’ll find that they do. So don’t give ‘em what they want, give ‘em what they don’t know they want yet as well.

If only there was some sort of durable, mass-produced, commercially viable format onto which these series could be placed, and unleashed upon a hungry public!

Hello then to Network and their marvellously eclectic collection of DVD releases.

Network has probably attacked my credit card more often than any other company. Every new release seems to bring even more television arcana shuffling back into the light, blinking sleepily and ready to be enjoyed again. I’ve lost count of the number of shows I’ve discovered, rediscovered or simply caught up with thanks to them. Not all of them have been undiscovered gems, but most of them have had something to recommend them.

Occasionally, they’ve been so good, so heartstoppingly compulsive that it beggars belief that they’ve slipped from the public consciousness so completely. ITV drama, especially – the thing that ITV were always fantastic at was that particular strand of drama that everybody watched. Your Sherlock Holmes’s, your Brideshead’s.

But for every series that sticks in the mind, there’s one that wiped the floor with the opposition and then disappeared.

Public Eye, for example, effortlessly brilliant for nearly ten years, top of the ratings or thereabouts every season. Now, apart from a repeat of the colour seasons back at the dawn of UK Gold, it’s only thanks to the DVDs that anyone’s had the chance to appreciate it at all.

Which brings me to Manhunt.  Made in 1969 for LWT, and broadcast from January of the following year, to the best of my knowledge it’s only had a single repeat since when the hugely uncharacteristic episode, Intent To Steal, was aired as part of TV Heaven in the early nineties. Manhunt  was (so I’m told, Frank Muir said so on TV Heaven, and who am I to argue?) compulsive viewing for the entire nation, and yet it disappeared without trace. I’ve spoken to numerous people about it over the last few weeks and without exception the response has been a blank stare and a query of “what’s that? Never heard of it…”

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