HE Cooper takes a time machine back to 1-7 April 1963 for a look at what was on the telly
My ITV programmes for 1963 are coming from ATV and ABC.
Fireball XL5 ‘Spy in Space’
We’ve moved on from Gerry Anderson’s earlier series, Four Feather Falls, and the puppets of Fireball XL5 do have moving eyes, even if they don’t blink. it makes a big difference as they’re considerably less frightening. Fireball XL5 follows Steve Zodiac, scientist Venus, the Professor and Robert the Robot as they travel through space, facing off against various villains. Since first discovering the series a few years ago, I have found it great fun. The various alien worlds and space stations provide plenty of opportunities for superb model work – including blowing them up. The theme tune is also brilliant.
Crane is a cafe bar owner/smuggler based in Casablanca. This series is one of the huge victims of wiping and as a result I’m having to watch an episode from 1965 – one of only a couple to exist. Tonight should actually be the opening episode so we’ll just to have to hope and imagine it was as good as this one. It’s the only episode of anything from my time travels that I have actually seen before.
Crane is offered a job smuggling corn flour and is highly suspicious that he is being duped into smuggling drugs. The plot takes numerous turns and Crane can’t be sure who to trust. One person the audience is sure he shouldn’t trust is Peter Bowles, who plays one of the episode’s baddies. I have seen him play a couple of other dodgy characters in drama series and I think he does an excellent job at portraying charming, posh villainy. Crane also comes up against the local police chief, with whom he has an ongoing strained relationship. I suppose this is something of an occupational hazard for a smuggler.
Among the highlights of Crane is the location filming, which surprised me as it can’t have been cheap. Something as simple as footage of boats that are clearly in the water – not simply half-constructed in a studio – feels momentous compared to many other series. It really helps to give the series a sense of place.
It’s one year and one week since I last visited Wetherfield. The main event tonight is Christine breaking off her engagement with Frank Barlow. Last I knew, he was still married to Mrs Barlow but presumably she has passed away. I don’t know what drew Frank and Christine together but it doesn’t appear to be much as Frank talks of them giving it a go and hoping their love will grow. Not unreasonably, Christine wants to actually be in love on her wedding day, something that her uncle thinks is absurd. She should take what she’s got offered. Overall, it’s a moving episode as there are no slanging matches, no big fights. It’s just rather sad. To liven things up, the episode ends with Elsie getting a visit from the landlord’s man who gives her threats of the bailiffs if she doesn’t pay the rent. We’ve learned that the landlord has been neglecting numerous housing complaints in Coronation Street and presumably Elsie is withholding payment in protest. She’s a tough one though and the threats don’t scare her. She tells him to bring it on.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ‘Don’t Look Behind You’
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this programme and it seems that Hitchcock’s contribution is simply that of a presenter, with presentation bookending the programme. Some research shows he did direct a small number of episodes but really, he’s here for the undoubted prestige his name brings to the series. I don’t have all that much experience of anthology series but I find it intriguing to see what can be done with a single play. This one is a psychological thriller and there is a killer about. The tension built up during the episode and I was drawn in as more than one of the characters began acting suspiciously. It seems unfair to call this a play as it hardly seems theatre-like. There are numerous sets and some of them are huge.
Supercar ‘High Tension’
It’s puppet time again. Supercar is about a supercar and this week a villain decides to try to obtain it, demanding the vehicle as ransom for a kidnap. Said villain has the wonderful moniker of Master Spy. He is foiled as the good guys trick him because Supercar can be controlled remotely. I’m not quite as taken with this as some of the other puppet series but may still explore more.
Maverick ‘Triple Indemnity’
I last watched Maverick back in 1960 and really liked the lead, Brett. But I was confused when I began this episode and there was no sign of him. Instead, our lead for this episode is Bart and the dialogue later revealed to me that he is Brett’s brother. It turns out they vary who appears in each episode and occasionally team up, which I would now love to see. I soon warmed to Bart too, who wins a game of cards but has his winnings stolen back by a guy who then tries to drive him out of the town he owns most of. Bart eventually teams up with the guy’s own mother to outwit him.
Space Patrol ‘The Swamps of Jupiter’
Tonight is the very first episode of this new puppet series. This isn’t actually a Gerry Anderson produced series and there are a couple of notable things that set it apart. There is a great lack of incidental music and the series doesn’t open with a distinctive theme. It’s all rather quiet with subtle drum beats and electronic noises, making the opening seem rather ominous. A voice-over explains what Space Patrol is; a combination of men from Earth, Mars and Venus, keeping space safe. We meet some characters and combined with the music I am quite freaked out for a while because, like our old friends from Four Feather Falls, they don’t blink or move their bloody eyes. It’s like going backwards. The sole exception to this is a brief appearance from one female Venusian, who bats her long lashes. The Venusians have high-pitched voices and I didn’t initially realise that one was a male – I just thought this Venusian had short hair.
The plot for this story sees a Space Patrol team sent off to try to contact some scientists on Jupiter, who ceased communications two months ago. This seems a considerably long time to wait before mounting a rescue mission, especially when we then discover it takes several weeks for a team to reach Jupiter from the Space Patrol station. The team consist of Captain Dart, an Earthling, Slim, a Venusian, and Husky, a Martian. On Jupiter, the Captain and Husky discover some invaders have killed all of the scientists. They are also slaughtering the local population, bird-like creatures called Loomi, for their furs, which contain properties that enable them to stay warm. It’s actually a pretty grim thought that someone would be wearing a fur that still contains the warmth of a dead animal. Overall, this is pretty heavy stuff for a children’s programme! To top it off, the two baddies this week come from Mars and in a blatant piece of racism, we discover that all Martians look virtually identical.
What you could have won – missing and unavailable
Here are some of the listings that intrigued me but I was unable to watch this week.
UNKNOWN Overkill: Part 1: The Balance of Fear – looking at nuclear weapons, including ‘the precarious balance of terror under which we all live, and at possible ways in which this balance could be upset’. I would be very interested in the tone of a programme that casually drops ‘ terror under which we all live’ into a description., especially as the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred only six months before.
UNKNOWN Sooty: Sooty in the Garden – I’ve had difficultly establishing the archival status of this particular episode and though it’s a mixed bag of which episodes of the show exist, there is a decent amount. I grew up with the later incarnation of the programme, Sooty & Co., which was presented by Matthew Corbett, son of the original writer and presenter, Harry Corbett. I’ve seen a Christmas episode of the original show and still find watching Sooty and Sweep great fun.
UNKNOWN Keep It Clean – I can’t find anything about this programme, which went out late on a Friday on ATV Midlands, yet the title has intrigued that one tiny mucky corner of my mind.
UNAVAILABLE Comedy Playhouse: A Clerical Error – Galton and Simpson, John Le Mesurier and Yootha Joyce. Yes please.