Back in time for TV: 4-10 March 1961


HE Cooper takes a time machine back to 4-10 March for a look at what was on the telly

Back in Time for TV indexI’m travelling through the 1960s by spending a week with each year’s telly – this week, that year.


I’ve found a few things I know this week but most of the schedule is still alien to me.

This week my ITV programmes are coming from ATV Midlands.

4th March
Perry Mason ‘The Case of the Restless Redhead’
BBC Television

IMDB lists this as the first episode of Perry Mason but the BBC have actually been showing the US series for several weeks. Our eponymous lead is a law attorney investigator and this week his client is a woman falsely accused of murder. The plot for this is not overly complex but I felt like I was missing bits until everything all came out in the courtroom near the end. I feel that Perry Mason needs a sidekick so he can explain what his line of thought is during some of the investigation. He has a wife who could take this role but she doesn’t have much to do and we don’t see her away from their home.

I was struck by the huge cars in this. They don’t scream ‘Sixties’ to me so much as they shout ‘America’ – and as this went out in the US four years earlier, that seems more suited. Even considering that though Mason is an attorney, it seems like such affluence, which I just don’t associate with the UK at this time. Some of the blokes in this are huge – both in height and shoulder width. It all speaks of a population well-fed and doing well.

5th March
Elsa the Lioness
BBC Television

This documentary follows Elsa, a lion who was orphaned as a cub. She was raised by humans, George and Joy, who trained her so she could be released back into the wild. The story would become well-known in the film Born Free. Elsa has had cubs of her own and in the documentary we see her visiting Joy and George in Kenya. While she is completely at ease with the humans, her cubs are not and one acts rather protectively.

David Attenborough narrates this and we see him briefly at the start. I’ve previously watched a few episodes of his Zoo Quest series, which began in the 1950s. It’s interesting to see and hear a younger version of someone that you feel you know so well. Attenborough’s voice sounds different yet it is still instantly recognisable.

6th March
Picture Book
BBC Television

The Watch with Mother strand for very young children ran for many years with a different programme each day of the week. Today is Monday so we’re watching Picture Book, although as I’m limited by available choice, this episode is from 1963.

I have written before about how I became familiar with the Watch with Mother programmes. Initially, I didn’t actually remember Picture Book – the title certainly didn’t ring any bells from my childhood. However, with the appearance of a little nodding wooden sausage dog, something tinkled. Then when the lady started making paper lanterns I knew I had seen this before.

I was pleasantly surprised when we got a cartoon, even if it was incredibly basic. Bizzy Lizzy is a small girl with short blonde hair, who wears a dress with a flower on it. When she touches the flower, she can have up to four wishes. She asks for curly hair, then for longer hair, even longer hair and soon it won’t stop growing. She wishes for it to stop but she’s wished too much and it all disappears. I am aware Bizzy Lizzy got her own programme a few years later so I’d be curious to see what that was like.

7th March
The Perry Como Music Hall
BBC Television

The BBC are showing another US programme with a man called Perry. I managed to find an episode from almost a year earlier. In the US, it’s called Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall because Kraft is the sponsor and therefore their adverts suddenly appear throughout the show. The BBC would obviously have taken these out but it gave me an interesting look at why people didn’t want British television advertising to be like the US. There is no clear cut of ‘we’re going to take a short ad break’ or even a title card – it just cuts straight into another Kraft product.

The words ‘Music Hall’ should probably have set my alarm bells off that this was not going to be my thing but I decided to give it a go anyway. An hour of singing and dancing and everything sounded a bit samey to me. The redeeming factor for me was that the host, Perry Como, was excellent. He had a great voice and was wonderfully charismatic. It feels like a big Saturday night entertainment show, yet the 1961 audience is getting it on a Tuesday.

8th March
Saber of London
ATV Midlands

The title made me think sabre-tooth tigers so I was sure this would be an exciting show. The title is also a confusing point as my research shows that the programme has several. Our central character is a detective called Mark Saber and over on TWW, at roughly the same time, they are showing Mark Saber. It may well have been the same episode or possibly not. It doesn’t matter because I don’t know which episode ATV are showing either – I’ve found a random one, first broadcast in the US in 1957.

A man is found dead, from what appears to be a heart attack but Saber eventually figures out that he was in fact murdered with a poisoned dart after a phone call. It seemed so utterly ludicrous that someone could have rigged a telephone to fire a poisoned dart that it kept me watching purely to find out what really happened.

10th March
No Hiding Place ‘The Widower’
ATV Midlands

It wouldn’t matter who I was getting my ITV programmes from tonight because all of them are showing Rediffusion’s No Hiding Place. Over eight years, 236 episodes were made but only 25 exist now, making it something of a minor miracle that this week’s episode happens to be one of them. I’d seen two others in the last couple of years and loved them both so I had high hopes for this.

After a neighbour reports that she believes a man murdered his wife, the police decide to investigate. We will gloss over this first most unrealistic of circumstances because there are enough to come. The police focus on tracking down the husband and it seems he’s got various names and various wives. They keep dropping down dead from heart attacks.

The police manage to speak to a doctor, who describes the man, then adds that he ‘had a thing about tobacco smoke’. The way he says it implies that this is very strange. I’m not particularly trusting of 1961 doctors after this programme though. This doctor offers the policeman a cigarette, a different doctor advises someone to ‘have a good stiff whisky and relax’ but later refuses to accept a chocolate liqueur because he’s driving.

It emerges that the bigamist is killing people with nicotine. In You Only Live Twice, Blofeld allows 007 to light up and says, ‘it won’t be the nicotine that kills you, Mr Bond’. This always irritates me because the nicotine in cigarettes doesn’t kill you – you don’t ingest enough of it. However, pure nicotine is much more lethal and our man here has been poisoning his wives. He’s been putting it in chocolates and then directly on their skin. Despite managing to get away with murder and maintain multiple identities (one of his wives believes he’s a spy, allowing him to apparently disappear for months at a time without questions!), for reasons never explained, our bigamist/poisoner/amateur tobacco grower keeps a list in his desk drawer of all his wives and the dates he married them. Presumably, he had found it difficult to keep track of all the anniversaries.

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.

UNAVAILABLE Danger Is My Business – ‘A film series telling the story of people whose work involves physical danger. Major ‘Robby’ Robinson of the U.S.A.F. leads a team of supersonic acrobats known as the ‘Thunderbirds’.’ Well this just sounds incredibly cool.

UNKNOWN Rooms in View: 2: The Kitchen – Kenneth Horne is among the people discussing kitchen planning and what equipment to buy. I’m mostly intrigued as to what items would be deemed essential in a 1961 kitchen.

UNKNOWN On the Spot – The Daily Mail is offering £7,500 to whoever best demonstrates that they deserve it for their business. This listing caught my eye as among the judges is a Mrs John Profumo, also known as actress Valerie Hobson. About four months later, her husband would meet Christine Keeler and set the wheels in motion for one of British politics greatest ever scandals.

MISSING Knight Errant Limited – Only a couple of episodes of this exist and I’ve seen it under various titles: Knight Errant ’59, Knight Errant ’60 or just Knight Errant. A young man sets up a detective agency, displaying the advertisement: ‘Knight Errant ’59. Quests undertaken, dragons defeated, damsels rescued. Anything, anywhere, for anyone, so long as it helps. Fees according to means.’

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