HE Cooper takes a time machine back to 5-11 May 1966 for a look at what was on the telly
I’m feeling remarkably settled in the 1960s now. I’ve even managed to find a couple of things to watch on BBC-2 at last. This week’s programmes continue to intrigue and entertain me. I might settle here.
This week my ITV programmes are coming from ABC and Anglia.
The Fugitive ‘Landscape with Running Figures Part 1’
I loved 1965’s episode of The Fugitive so couldn’t wait to watch another one. The UK have now reached the third series and the title sequence is a little different. Unlike the previous episode I watched, Dr Richard Kimble is very much on his own for this one. The police get on to him after he accidentally signs out of his job using his real name. It might sound like a rookie mistake, but Kimble is presented as a man who is simply very tired. Working long, late shifts combined with the constant pressure from being on the run has exhausted him. He actually has few lines, yet David Janssen’s acting conveys a great deal.
Lieutenant Gerard is the guy tracking Kimble down and this time his wife is with him. She is incredibly fed up of either being left alone or accompanying Gerard as he moves around the country at the drop of a hat to follow up any leads on Kimble. This is understandable and I had a lot of sympathy for Mrs Gerard. She decides to sneak off and leave him, getting a bus out of town. After some hitchhiking, Kimble ends up on the same bus. When the bus crashes in the middle of nowhere, Mrs Gerard is injured and unconscious. Kimble ends up being the one reluctantly convinced to take her to the nearest town.
This was an interesting episode and I find Kimble such a compelling character. I would never have expected the series to look at the Lieutenant’s personal life. He could just have been a generic cop, but it’s wonderful for him to have more personality and a proper background.
The Man in Room 17 ‘The Catacombs’
Rather confusingly, there are two men in what I presume is Room 17. It has been brought to their attention that a young disgraced academic, Alan Haynes, has returned to Istanbul, enlisted to help hunt for early Christian relics in the catacombs. They are suspicious of his motives and have someone disguised as a priest keep an eye on things. Haynes is actually trying to be a decent chap again, desperate to return to academia, but his girlfriend and his financier are planning to do him over.
Between all the action in Istanbul, we repeatedly cut back to the men in Room 17 so they can have some banter and direct the operation. They look like civil servants and one of them moans about how long it takes to get a line to the Middle East so I presume they are based in London. It seems bizarre to have your central characters office-based. They didn’t seem to do a lot and the story could probably have been reworked without them. Mostly, they just provide exposition. However, I never found their scenes dull and enjoyed the whole episode. I thought the character of Haynes was particularly well done and I would be intrigued to see how the men in Room 17 are used in other episodes.
Dr Who ‘Don’t Shoot the Pianist’
This is episode two of the story that has come to be known as ‘The Gunfighters’. While I’ve since discovered this is something of a ‘marmite’ story for fans, I remember loving ‘The Gunfighters’ when I first watched it so I was looking forward to it. The Doctor, Steven and Dodo find themselves in the Wild West. There is another doctor in town, Doc Holliday, and several people want him dead. However, they don’t know what he looks like and Doc Holliday takes the chance to let them mistake the Doctor for Doc Holliday.
There’s a lot of singing in this story and the episode begins with Steven and Dodo being forced to sing in the saloon. I am astounded Steven hasn’t already been shot for the shirt he’s wearing. It’s absolutely ghastly. The recurring song throughout is ‘The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’ and many people have said how much it grates. I never watched the whole story arc in one go and I think that, one episode at a time, it isn’t really that bad. For a programme that usually lacks much incidental music, it makes a change.
If you can cope with ‘The Ballad…’, the only other thing to get over is that there isn’t a single genuine American accent among the cast. The cowboy impersonations are all of varying quality, with the best undoubtedly coming from Canadian Shane Rimmer, whose voice would be familiar to many viewers from Thunderbirds where he voiced Scott Tracey. There are dodgy accents aplenty in 1960s’ television. Half the fun sometimes is trying to guess whether someone is playing German or Russian, and it seems that anyone can put on a bit of make up to play a generic Arab. Just how convinced the contemporary audiences were, I can only guess. However, as I noticed during my time travel through earlier years, there were a lot of Westerns on telly and while the volume had decreased by 1966, they are still being shown regularly. A decent proportion of 1966’s viewers were used to hearing cowboys so knew what they should sound like.
I can look past this though because ‘The Gunfighters’ is not an entirely serious story. There’s more comedy written in than in most Dr Who stories and the plot is a lot of fun. It’s the best way to approach the story as while the viewers were used to seeing Westerns on telly and at the pictures, being surrounded by this many shoot-outs has never been the Doctor’s thing. The man himself sums this up in ‘Don’t Shoot the Pianist’ when he says, ‘People keep giving me guns and I do wish they wouldn’t!’.
The Baron ‘Epitaph for a Hero’
I was curious about The Baron because, as with Man in a Suitcase, it was a single series ITC show that I knew nothing about and I have come to hold ITC to high standards. Another similarity turned out to be that both shows have an American lead. I still haven’t quite figured out who John Mannering is and I certainly haven’t worked out how he came by his nickname. In this episode, he goes to the funeral of a former army colleague, only to later discover he’s still alive. Mannering is forced into helping to commit a jewel theft.
Our hero seems to work for some sort of intelligence agency and had support from them throughout this episode, although that became something of a hindrance when one young lady got caught and she was used to blackmail him. Never mind – that’s what young ladies are generally there for in. It struck me as odd though as most of the ITC leads I have watched work alone and get minimal back-up; John Drake (Danger Man) , Simon Templar (The Saint), McGill (Man in a Suitcase) and Number Six (The Prisoner) usually have to get on with everything themselves. If they do employ assistance, it’s from one-off characters each episode. Yet this does seem to change later on. The Champions is a proper team affair, Marty (Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)) helps Jeff as much as a ghost can, and The Persuaders! brings together a wonderfully well-suited duo. Having more than one regular character does create a different dynamic and The Baron predates all three of these so I’d be curious to see more of how the series explores this.
Horizon ‘Man in Space’
Many children dream of becoming astronauts and the 1960s much have been an incredibly exciting time as humanity regularly completed many ‘firsts’ in space travel. Though technology has advanced considerably and there are no doubt many things done differently, I was still fascinated by this documentary. Have you ever wondered how astronauts rehydrate their food? How exactly do you pee in space? All this and more was answered when the BBC sent a journalist to interview astronauts in Texas.
This episode is from January but aside from being wished a happy new year, I’m sure it makes little difference. As a young child, I found Blue Peter dull yet ended up finding it more interesting as I got older.
As the familiar music plays out, one of the presenters, Valerie, is demonstrating a Spirograph. For me, this is an incredibly commonplace toy. Surely everyone knows what they are? Yet the Spirograph only came out in 1965. Perhaps its appearance on Blue Peter helped as soon it was flying off the shelves (you can pick up original versions for pence on a well-known auction site) and, in 1967, it would be named Toy of the Year.
In the studio today is John Riding, who took the smallest ever boat across the Atlantic. The 12-foot boat is there too so we can see the scale. John tells Chris all about the journey, including shooting at various vicious mammals to keep them at bay.
The most unexpected part of the programme was a hand-drawn, narrated Black Beauty serial. Helpfully, Chris fills us in on the story so far, which was excellent for me because I had no previous knowledge of Black Beauty. This went on for what seemed like a while and was probably the longest segment in the programme, yet I really enjoyed it. It was also a good way of breaking up what seems to be a very studio-bound show.
We end today with a section on animals in need of adoption, with cute pictures included. There is an update on a cat, Holly, who was posted through a letterbox with ten shillings and a note attached, asking to find her a home. You can stop saying ‘aw!’ though as she’s got a new big family. However, there is now Shep, who has grown into a massive three-foot-tall dog. There is no covering up here, with Chris telling all those children watching that if lovely Shep doesn’t get a home, “I’m afraid he’ll have to be destroyed.”
Call My Bluff
This is a 1965 edition of the programme. What I like most about the format of Call My Bluff is that you can play along at home. The format is simple enough: one team give three definitions of a word and the opposing team have to guess which is correct. If they get it right, they get a point, if the other team successfully fool them, then they get one instead. It’s easy enough to pick up and was even easier for me because the modern series of Would I Lie To You? runs a similar format.
Among the more random things I liked from the show was the sound effect when the word generator whirred and the CRACK when it finished. I’m fairly certain the CRACK-type sound was later used in Dr. Who ‘The Mind Robber’ when a superhero from the future, the Karkus, appears.
The host, Robin Ray, introduced the team captains but I didn’t know him, either of them, nor any of their guests, but was delighted that upon looking them up there were a couple described as ‘raconteurs’. I liked Alan Melville best, finding his humour rather dry at times.
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.
MISSING Marriage Lines ‘Home Market’. This sitcom has reached its fifth series by 1966. The original premise saw Richard Briers and Prunella Scales star as a newly married couple and while the first and third series both exist, outside of those only a single episode from the final fifth series exists.
MISSING Redcap ‘The Moneylenders’ – John Thaw stars as a military police investigator in this drama series. Most of it does actually exist and the few episodes I’ve seen have explored some interesting cases – it’s just my bad luck that this week’s episode is one of those that’s missing.
UNAVAILABLE The Eamonn Andrews Show – This is the oldest episode to exist with footage and a very short clip of the opening is available. This episode includes a celebration of ten years of ABC in the North. Eamonn Andrews’ name is frequently among the TV listings and I enjoyed his easy, relaxed style in the clip so it would be wonderful to see more of him.
UNAVAILABLE From Inner Space – Five men are on an isolated radar base and have been there for months. Julian Glover is among them. ‘Boredom turns them inwards and backwards’.