Robin of Sherwood – Fitzwarren’s Well (audio review)

RoS - Fitzwarren's Well

Fitzwarren’s Well is the latest welcome addition to Spiteful Puppet’s ever-growing collection of Robin of Sherwood audios and books. Released as a download at the beginning of July 2020, Jennifer Ash’s story manages to perfectly capture the tone and feel of the original series.

Fitzwarren’s Well isn’t simply a slavish recreation though, since Marion is allowed to take centre stage (something which unfortunately never happened on television). Had ROS continued for a fourth series it would have been interesting to see each character take their turn to lead an episode, and maybe Marion’s would have played out something like this.

Listening to audio plays in which actors recreate their famous television roles from decades earlier can occasionally be a slightly uncomfortable experience.  Some sound so different from their youthful television personas that considerable suspension of belief is required. There’s no such problems with Judi Trott though, who seems to have discovered the formula of eternal youth ….

On audio Trott still comes across as the Marion of old, albeit with a touch more steel (which works well in this story, as she’s forced to take charge after a mysterious fever lays most of the Merries low). I love the fact that Judi Trott repurposed the Gypsy caravan which sits in her garden as a makeshift recording studio – that just feels so right somehow.

judi trott

Given cryptic pointers by Herne (once again played by Daniel Abineri) Marion sets out for Beeston. On the way she runs into Will (Jon Culshaw) who had been off on an adventure of his own. This is a relief – not only because it means that Marion won’t have to keep talking to herself, but also because the Will/Marion relationship is nicely teased out as they make their way through the forest.

Culshaw might not sound exactly like Ray Winstone did as Will Scarlett, but then Ray Winstone today doesn’t really sound like Will Scarlett either. Culshaw has no problems once again in making the part his own, helped no end by Jennifer Ash’s script (I love the image of the amorous, boot-buying Will).

Ian Oglivy’s role is quite small but it’s also pivotal in teasing out the strands of the story. Sarah Greene has a more substantial part as the Lady of the Well whilst renaissance man Barnaby Eaton-Jones not only produced and directed the play, he also found time to play the boo-hissable villain Fitzwarren. Mind you, it’s impossible not to feel a little sorry for Fitzwarren at the end – not a nice way to go ….

Recorded during lockdown, all the parts were remotely captured and then expertly pieced together by sound designer and editor Joseph Fox. This isn’t an uncommon method of production, but it takes real skill to create the illusion that all the actors were together at the same time.  Fitzwarren’s Well certainly delivers on that score – not once was the spell broken for me.

With Robin of Sherwood beginning a repeat run on ITV4 soon, this audio couldn’t have come at a better time. The 43 minute play was devoured by me in a single sitting and thanks to the efforts of the cast breezed along very merrily (sorry). Along with Spiteful Puppet’s other ROS audios and books it’s well worth checking out.

Fitzwarren’s Well is available for download now from Spiteful Puppet, price £7.99.

Doctor Who – The Myth Makers. Part Four – Horse of Destruction

The massacre begins and the humour disappears. Probably one of the reasons why this feels especially jarring is the way the audience has been invited to feel comfortable in the presence of both Priam and Paris.

If the Greeks (Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilles) have been depicted as single-minded warriors, then the Trojans were allowed a little more personality.  This makes their brutal demise all the more shocking.

Donald Cotton later concludes The Gunfighters in a similar orgy of violence, but since the Clantons were positioned throughout that story as “bad” and the likes of Earp, Holliday and Masterton were depicted as “good” it doesn’t have nearly the same impact.

There are some who view the sudden gear-change in Horse of Destruction from comedy to tragedy as a weakness, but to me it’s a clear strength – The Myth Makers shows us that there’s not always a “good” or “bad” side.

Similar themes had been explored in previous historicals, for example The Crusade.  David Whitaker’s script may have been much more straight-laced, but it had a similar sense of ambiguity about which side the viewer should support.

The use of comedy by Donald Cotton throughout this story is revealed in Horse of Destruction to be a dramatic device, designed to lure us into a false sense of security.  It’s a common trick, but not common in Doctor Who, which makes it noteworthy.

Another interesting aspect about the ending of The Myth Makers is just how downbeat it is.  This began a trend (although you could also say that it really started in Galaxy 4, with the Doctor leaving the Drahvins to their fate) which then continued in both The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Massacre.

Normally Doctor Who stories end on an optimistic note – although there’s often been a tremendous loss of life, it’s accepted that the ends justify the means.  Tyranny has been overthrown and the survivors can begin the task of rebuilding their world.

The Myth Makers offers no such comfort as destruction still rages. Steven is injured and Vicki elects to stay in this uncertain world with Trolius, the man she loves.  Possibly the relationship between Vicki and Trolius is the one positive thing we can take from the story (if they can somehow survive).

Vicki, like Susan before her and many companions to come, is shown to have completed a journey by the time she leaves the TARDIS.

When the girl joined the TARDIS crew in The Rescue, her awkwardness with people and her single-minded devotion to the Doctor meant that she spends the next few stories (The RomansThe Web PlanetThe Crusade) virtually glued to his side.

The Space Museum was key in the way that it showed a much more independent Vicki, happy to organise a planet-wide revolution!  After that she seemed much more comfortable by herself or outside of the Doctor’s orbit – which meant that, like Susan before her, she’s now made the transition from child to adult.

The Doctor and Vicki only share a single scene (apart from a few lines in episode one, it’s the only time they talk).  It’s noteworthy that it stops just at the point when Vicki’s preparing to tell the Doctor that she wishes to stay.

Given how both The Dalek Invasion of Earth and some later companion departures would milk the moment of leaving, it’s an odd choice which does leave the audience feeling slightly short-changed.

Whatever Vicki said, it must have been a powerful argument since the Doctor is happy for her to head off alone into the city to try and find Troilus.  This seems uncharacteristic in the extreme, but if writing out Maureen O’Brien was an eleventh hour decision then the options were limited.

An ailing Steven is back in the TARDIS, being tended by Cassandra’s handmaiden Katarina (Adrienne Hill).  The savvy viewer will know by now that as one door closes, another opens – so Katarina must be Vicki’s replacement …..

Doctor Who – The Myth Makers. Part Three – Death of a Spy

When Steven is brought into Vicki’s presence it spells trouble for both of them.  How can Vicki know Steven (alias Diomede) if he’s a Greek warrior?  Cassandra’s convinced that she’s a spy and orders her immediate execution, but the order is countermanded by Paris.  “I will not tolerate interference from a fortune-teller of notorious unreliability.”

Barrie Ingham continues to be the recipient of some first-class lines – Paris then tells his sister to “get back to your temple before you give us all galloping religious mania.”

Priam’s in a quandary.  He likes Vicki, but can’t ignore the fact that she could, as Cassandra says, be a spy.  So he gives her an ultimatum.  “Now if you are what you really say you are, as a pledge of good faith to us, you must either give me information that will lead to our speedy victory, or use your supernatural powers to turn the tide of battle in our favour.”

For all the humour we’ve seen (or rather heard) so far, this is the point in the story where the approaching darkness begins to take hold.  Steven and Vicki are prisoners in the city – locked in the dungeons – with Vicki only given a day to produce a miracle which will bring an end to the ten-year war.  Meanwhile the Doctor, outside the city walls with the Greeks, has been forced to provide a similar solution for them.

Whilst Vicki still has an air of unflappability, Steven can see how perilous their current situation is.  He’s been a member of the TARDIS crew long enough to know that if the Doctor comes up with a successful plan it’ll mean the death of everybody inside the city.

Hartnell’s more centre-stage in this episode, as the Doctor outlines several schemes to Agamemnon.  The first – gliders launched with catapults – is completely ridiculous, but Agamemnon appears to consider it.  He takes the wind out of the Doctor’s sails when he tells him that he (the Doctor) will be the first test pilot!  This is another moment where it’s a pity that Hartnell’s reaction is lost to us.

In desperation the Doctor turns to the wooden horse.  Earlier he’d declared that the horse was a myth (another inspiration for the story title?) invented by Homer, but with time running out he casually mentions to Agamemnon that a hollow wooden horse filled with Greek soldiers should do the trick.

Agamemnon agrees and very quickly it’s built.  Indeed, considering it’s size, it does seem remarkable that it was constructed in a matter of hours.  The Greeks were clearly fast builders.

Apart from the war preparations, another key part of this episode is the relationship between Trolius and Vicki.  As Trolius, James Lynn had a fairly thankless role.  Most of the guest cast were gifted sparkling bon mots, but Trolius was written as young, earnest and a little dull.  However it’s made clear right from the start that he and Vicki are kindred spirits.

VICKI: Well, you’re not in the war, are you? You’re far too young.
TROILUS: I’m seventeen next birthday!
VICKI: That’s hardly any older than me. You shouldn’t be killing people at your age.
TROILUS: Well, between you and me, I don’t honestly enjoy killing at all. But I love adventure.
VICKI: Yes. I know what you mean.

Since all the Greek soldiers appear to have left the plains, Priam is delighted and orders Vicki’s release.  She’s nonplussed, but when Paris pops up to tell them that he’s found the Great Horse of Asia outside, all becomes clear.  Cassandra’s still (correctly) forecasting their doom, which gives Paris my favourite line in the story (the final one below).

CASSANDRA: Yes, ask her! Go on, ask her! She knows what it is. It’s our doom! It’s the death of Troy, brought upon us by that cursed witch!
PARIS: Now understand me, Cassandra. I will not have one word said against that horse.
TROILUS: And neither will I against Cressida.
CASSANDRA: Will you not? Then woe to the House of Priam. Woe to the Trojans.
PARIS: I’m afraid you’re a bit late to say ‘whoa’ to the horse. I’ve just given instructions to have it brought into the city.

Doctor Who – The Myth Makers. Part Two – Small Prophet, Quick Return

The Myth Makers is far removed from the sober, earnest historical stories of season one such as John Lucarotti’s Marco Polo and The Aztecs.  There, historical accuracy was key – with the Doctor content to be merely an observer.  Here, the characters often speak in modern (i.e. 1960’s) idioms with the Doctor merrily changing the course of history as he bumbles along.

But one of the strengths of the third season is that there was room for both The Myth Makers and The Massacre (Lucorotti’s final script for the series) which was bleak in the extreme.  This variety is a strong reason why John Wiles’ time as producer has come to be celebrated by a certain section of Doctor Who fandom.

Conversely, the next producer, Innes Lloyd, has seen his stock fall over the years.  The argument runs that if Wiles favoured innovation then Lloyd (with a reliance on “base under siege” stories and monsters) constricted Doctor Who’s format and curtailed its creativity.  It’s a reasonable point, but it’s also worth wondering exactly what the target audience at this time – mainly made up of children – would have made of The Myth Makers.

It’s packed full of witty wordplay, but most of that would presumably have sailed over their heads.  Any adults watching, or fans in the decades to come, will no doubt derive considerable pleasure from Donald Cotton’s scripts, but it’s easy to imagine that the kids at the time were sighing and waiting for the Daleks to turn up.

So although Lloyd might have tightly formatted the series, he did so because of concerns that the ratings were slipping (it’s all very well being innovative and experimental, but if nobody’s watching then you’ve got a bit of a problem).

Having met the Greeks in episode one, we now run into some of the main Trojans.  Barrie Ingham, as Paris, is a delight – Paris is depicted as a handsome and feckless warrior who’s keen to avoid bloodshed at almost any costs.

Sent out by his father, King Priam (Max Adrian) to avenge the death of his brother Hector, he has to report back that he was unable to challenge Achilles (“I sought Achilles, father, even to the Grecian lines, but he skulked within his tent. He feared to face me”).  At face value this dialogue seems straightforward enough, but it’s played in such a way as to suggest that Paris didn’t try very hard at all.

Priam is less than sympathetic. “Well go back and wait until he gets his courage up. Upon my soul, what sort of brother are you? Furthermore, what sort of son?” But Paris hasn’t come back empty-handed, he proudly reveals his prize – the TARDIS – to a less than impressed Priam.

His sister Cassandra (Frances White) is equally unimpressed – and then prophecies that this strange object will spell their disaster.  It’s an unspoken irony that although nobody ever pays attention to Cassandra’s numerous warnings of doom, she proves to be completely right!

Vicki emerges from the TARDIS to enchant Priam. Maureen O’Brien would be the first companion to find herself written out of the series at short notice – something which would happen several more times over the next few years as incoming producers decided to be the broom that swept clean.

This was a pity, as O’Brien (even if she had little to work with on many occassions) always gave Vicki a questing, mischievous air. And since it can’t really be claimed that her short-term replacements (Katarina, Dodo) were any sort of improvement, I’ll certainly miss her.

When Priam renames her Cressida and she catches the eye of his younger son, Troilus, a section of the audience would probably have been able to guess what was going to happen. But would the child viewers have (excuse the pun) cottoned on, or is this another example of a literary joke that was only accessible to a minority of the audience?

Steven, learning that Vicki is somewhere within the Trojan city, elects to be captured as a Greek prisoner so that he can find her. He does so via a witty scene with Paris.

Paris is stalking the plains, urging Achilles to face him in single combat, but the sense that he isn’t terribly keen for a confrontation is made obvious after he decides to only quietly shout out Achilles’ name! A lovely moment, as is the banter between Paris and Steven.

PARIS: Achilles! (quietly) Achilles! Come out and fight, you jackal! Paris, prince of Troy, brother of Hector, seeks revenge. Do you not dare to face me?
STEVEN: I dare to face you, Paris. Turn and draw your sword.
PARIS: Ah. No, you’re not Achilles. Are you?
STEVEN: I am Diomede, friend of Odysseus.
PARIS: Oh, Diomede, I do not want your blood. It’s Achilles I seek.
STEVEN: And must my Lord Achilles be roused to undertake your death, adulterer?
PARIS: Yes, well, I’m prepared to overlook that for the moment. I assure you I have no quarrel with you.
STEVEN: I’m Greek, you’re Trojan. Is not that quarrel enough?
PARIS: Yes, well personally, I think this whole business has been carried just a little bit too far. I mean, that Helen thing was just a misunderstanding.

Barrie Ingham’s performance punctures the heroic myth of his character and helps to further push the story into being a very ironic retelling of familiar stories.

What of the Doctor though?  He’s about, although he does very little in this episode.  This will be a continuing trend during season three, as Hartnell tends to be moved more to the sidelines.  Was this because of concerns about his increasing ill health?  Possibly, although there are some who maintain that Wiles (and later Lloyd) were planning to gently ease him out of the series – and downplaying his role was the first step.

Doctor Who – The Myth Makers. Part One – Temple of Secrets

John Wiles’ stint as producer was fairly brief and, by all accounts, rather unhappy. His thorny relationship with William Hartnell was a major issue and he was also frustrated that he inherited several scripts (especially The Daleks’ Master Plan) which he would never have commissioned.

The Myth Makers would have been another script commissioned by the previous production team, but it does seem to fit the Wiles mould – since it’s doing something a little different.  We’ve had comedy historicals before – most notably The Romans – but The Myth Makers cranks up the comedy to a higher level.  And then, after three weeks of hi-jinks, everything turns very dark ….

Sadly, John Wiles doesn’t seem to have placed any value in John Cura’s telesnaps as none were taken for the episodes he produced. This is a particular problem for stories like the The Myth Makers as we only have a handful of publicity photographs available to try and conjure up the visual aspects of the serial.

The Loose Cannon recon – complete with numerous photo montages – is a noble effort, but since Donald Cotton’s script is so dialogue heavy (as opposed to say, Galaxy 4, which had long sections of silence punctuated by the beeping of the Chumblies) I don’t find any real hardship in just listening to the audio for this one.

In order to enjoy The Myth Makers you have to accept one basic premise – the Doctor has turned into a buffoon. For anyone who has issues with the more comedic Doctor of the late seventies this may be an issue, but if you can go with the flow then you’ll be able to enjoy one of Hartnell’s best comedy performances.

The Doctor’s startling lack of judgement is shown right from the start, after he observes two warriors fighting an intense battle. He decides to blithely pop his head out of the TARDIS and ask them the way!  When Steven wonders why they’re fighting, the Doctor tells him that he hasn’t “the remotest idea, my boy. No doubt their reasons will be entirely adequate. Yes, I think perhaps I’d better go and ask them where we are.”

The distracting arrival of the TARDIS enables Achilles (Cavan Kendall) to strike down his opponent, Hector (Alan Haywood). Achilles treats the materialisation of the TARDIS as a divine intervention, so it’s plain to him that the Doctor must be Zeus, father of the gods.The

In a script packed with sparkling lines, I love this one from Achilles as he explains his thoughts to the Doctor.  “To Europa, you appeared as a bull. To Leda, as a swan. To me, in the guise of an old beggar.”  It’s just a shame that we have to imagine Hartnell’s offended reaction!

The comedy continues when Odysseus (Ivor Salter) turns up. He treats Achilles with a mocking contempt, demonstrated best after he finds it impossible to believe that Achilles could have defeated Hector in a fair fight.

ODYSSEUS: But what a year is this for plague. Even the strongest might fall! Prince Hector, that he should come to this. You met him here, you say, as he lay dying?
ACHILLES: I met him, Odysseus, in single combat.
DOCTOR: Oh yes, it’s true!
ODYSSEUS: And raced him round the walls till down he fell exhausted. A famous victory!

With the Doctor now in the tender care of Odysseus, who’s not yet sure if he’s a god or a spy, we next meet Menelaus (Jack Melford) and Agamemmon (Francis De Wolff). Menelaus is the reason for this whole expedition, since it was his wife, Helen, who was abducted ten years ago.

Menelaus doesn’t seem terribly bothered about the whole thing though. “It wasn’t the first time she’s allowed herself to be abducted. I can’t keep on going off to the ends of the Earth to get her back. It makes me a laughing stock.”

The wonderful dialogue continues throughout the rest of the episode and Francis De Wolff (who had previously played the much less impressive role of Vasor in The Keys of Marinus) seems, like Ivor Salter, to be having a ball.

Steven heads out in search of the Doctor and finds himself in trouble, whilst the Doctor learns that his temple (i.e. the TARDIS) has, in true cliffhanger fashion, disappeared …..

Blankety Blank – The Dawson era

les blank

Recently I’ve been watching far too much Blankety Blank (well, it keeps me off the streets). Having exhausted all the available Wogan editions I’ve now moved onto the Les Dawson era.

For those in the UK, Challenge have just begun rescreening a selection of Dawson editions – there’s also a fair few scattered about YouTube.

Blankety Blank was a format tailor-made for Dawson, although there’s nothing he does (mocking the contestants, panellists, prizes, questions, etc) which Terry Wogan didn’t do first. I love Les, but I have to confess that my Blankety Blank heart remains with Terry.

There’s a few little wrinkles I noticed during the Dawson years – most notably now it’s always ladies first and the contestants no longer have a choice of either A or B. That lack of a random factor could be open to abuse (although I find it hard to believe anybody seriously rigged the show).  Also, the female contestants tend to be younger (very rare that an old dear pops up).

Below is a link to Les’ first show – complete with the snapping of Terry’s iconic microphone!

You could always mention the war …

The only thing that surprised me about the recent Fawlty Towers storm in a tea cup is that UK Play hadn’t already been using the edited version of The Germans (snipped – apparently with John Cleese’s approval in 2013 – for BBC repeat showings).

Now this “banned” episode will be back, albeit with a disclaimer at the beginning, which seems fair enougb. And despite what some people think, the issue was never anything to do with insulting the Germans. That’s still perfectly okay …

My preference would always be to have things complete, but in the world of UK daytime cable and satellite re-runs that’s rarely so (although the pitchfork-wielding mob on Twitter yesterday didn’t seem to realise this. Which is probably just as well).

It’s no surprise that programmes originally made for a post watershed slot, like The Sweeney and The Professionals, will be cut for a 9.00 am repeat showing. But it seems that the cheapskates at ITV4 don’t bother to run the unedited version in their late night schedules – it’s far easier just to stick on the edited master again.

Mind you, given the rotten picture quality of both series on ITV4 (they’re also cropped into widescreen as the final indignity) I remain slightly amazed that anyone actually bothers with them.

Other tweaks are more amusing (to me at least). Fletcher might have enjoyed ogling the Page Three girls of The Sun during the seventies, but Porridge watchers today on UK Play are denied this treat – the offending breasts have been pixelated.

Television edits are nothing new. Galton and Simpson approved trims to a number of Hancock’s Half Hour episodes back in the 1980’s for VHS and repeat broadcasting (trimming frames here and there to tighten up the epjsodes). David Croft also oversaw the editing of selected Are You Being Served? episodes for a daytime repeat slot. Alas, these ended up being released in error on the R2 DVDs.

Rewinding back even further, 1976 episodes of Doctor Who (The Deadly Assassin) and I, Claudius (Zeus, By Jove!) were both trimmed for repeat showings. The Doctor Who episode was subsequently recovered and restored, but I, Claudius remains only in its edited state.

That’s incredibly annoying, but it does highlight the fact that content edits are nothing new.

For me, if the originals are available (on DVD, say) then I can’t get too worked up about what the umpteenth re-run on television looks like. Not too many DVDs have been edited for content (The Goodies for example – packed with contentious moments – sailed through unedited when Network released the complete series a while back).

Most edited DVDs fall into the AYBS? camp, cut television masters used because the bods at 2 Entertain (it was almost always 2 Entertain) couldn’t be bothered to find the original versions.

And we haven’t even got into the terrority of actors blacking/yellowing up yet (either for drama or comedy). John Bennett’s turn in The Talons of Weng Chiang continues to infuriate a vocal minority of Doctor Who fans. And a minority of that minority believe that because they dislike it, nobody should ever watch the story again – which is where the fun really begins.

Personally I take each archive programme as it comes. There’s plenty of moments which make me wince or tut, but there’s so many more which still enthral and entertain. And the more you watch from a certain era, the better an understanding of that time you’ll get. Taking the odd moment out of context is where the trouble tends to begin.

Doctor Who – The Handbook: The First Doctor by David J. Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker

It was good fun being a Doctor Who fan in the 1990’s. Maybe this was because there were no new television stories to be ripped to shreds (apart from the quickly forgotten American TV movie). So DW fandom stopped complaining about the present and began to really dig into the past. 

A hefty and lavishly illustrated hardback (The Early Years by Jeremy Betham, 1986)  had already stoked my interest in the series’ first faltering steps, but it was this modestly priced, modestly sized paperback published in 1994 which really took my breath away.

To be a DW fan back then meant that studying the sacred texts (The Making of Doctor Who and DWM especially) was a solemn duty. Slowly the nascent fan would begin to drink in all the lore and history – which stories were classics, which were turkeys, how jabolite was used, the companion who lost their knickers the most, etc, etc.

One of the most important lessons concerned the first few months of the show. We all knew that things looked dicey in the early weeks until the Daleks arrived in the second story – after that, the long term future of the show was assured.

Um, not quite.

The heart of The First Doctor Handbook was the Production Diary. This laid bare just how hand-to-mouth those early years were and how often the series teetered on the edge of cancellation. I seem to recall some info had already appeared in The Frame, but most of it was new to me.

Frankly, it’s an astonishing and eye-opening read (one day, when all the files are available, I’d love to see the production history of the first 26 years of the series tackled in a single volume, or indeed a number of volumes).

The Production Diary might account for a large chunk of the book, but the interview material (both from and about Hartnell) is also of interest. More information about Hartnell has become available since, but this deftly edited selection of quotes still stands up well.

The Handbook also includes an obligatory episode guide which is somewhat of its time (The Gunfighters receives a firm thumbs down for example).

I have far too many DW books (including a fair few I’ve rarely touched in decades) but The First Doctor Handbook is one I do find myself coming back to every so often. For anyone interested in the painful birth of the series it’s a must read. 

The Guinness Book of Classic TV by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping

classictv

Imagine, if you can, a time before the Internet. Back in those far off days, obtaining information about your favourite television programme (especially if it was slightly obscure) was both difficult and time-consuming.

So The Guinness Book of Classic TV (2nd edition, 1996) was a real godsend. To be able to have episode guides close at hand for series such as Doctor Finlay’s Casebook was very welcome, even if there was no way to actually watch the programmes.  Still, we could dream about a time when all this material would be available at the touch of a button ….

Over 100 programmes were covered, including the likes of The Troubleshooters, The Forsyth Saga, The Army Game, Up Pompeii!!, Citizen Smith, Hancock’s Half Hour, The Young Ones, Absolutely Fabulous, Watch with Mother, Dixon of Dock Green, Callan, Edge of Darkness, Doctor Who, The Avengers, Sapphire & Steel, Upstairs Downstairs, Colditz, Secret Army and I Claudius.

The opening analysis – an absorbing ten-page trot through the history of Coronation Street – begins the book with a bang and this high standard is maintained throughout. Mind you, given this is a Cornell/Day/Topping tome it’s unlikely that you’re going to agree with all their opinions (poor Crossroads is given a bit of a kicking).

It’s also interesting to find the later years of Dixon of Dock Green labelled as a dangerous and embarrassing anacronym. That was certainly a widely held view back in the nineties although the DVD release of most of the existing colour episodes has helped to rehabilitate the show in recent years.

There are a few omissions – Public Eye and Sergeant Cork for example – although in the pre-DVD age that’s not really surprising (Cork especially languished in obscurity prior to its emergence on DVD, so if it wasn’t available twenty five years ago you can’t really blame them for ignoring it).

The Guinness Book of Classic TV has aged well. As I’ve said, a few entries are slightly eyebrow raising but most of the book is packed with pithy and well-constructed capsule reviews. It’s been a well-thumbed favourite on my bookshelf for over twenty years and I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to it for many years to come.

Blue Peter – The Inside Story by Biddy Baxter and Edward Barnes

I’ve been digging through my collection of television books during the past few months (unearthing some which haven’t seen the light of day for a while) and I thought it might be a good idea to highlight a few which I’ve enjoyed revisiting.

Blue Peter – The Inside Story was published by Ringpress Books in 1989, running to 236 pages. Although very much the authorised story, it’s still packed with interesting detail. That 1989 was a very different time is confirmed by the revelation that when the original Petra died after just a few days, they calmly went out and bought a ringer (and no-one was any the wiser).

Later scandals which befell BP (Socks-gate, the phone -in) don’t seem any worse than this but I don’t recall the Petra revelation causing any sort of ripple in the press back in 1989.

Down the years some presenters were more of a handful then others. It’s easy to see that Biddy had her favourites and it’s also noticeable that some long-runners (like Peter Purves) were appreciated rather than loved.

The sticky relationship with John Noakes can’t be avoided and his exit from the programme (which was rather uncomfortable due to concerns he would use Shep for advertising purposes) isn’t swept under the carpet. The travails of Janet Ellis and Michael Sundin are also touched upon (it’s quite obvious there was little love for Sundin in the BP production office).

Second hand copies are plentiful and quite inexpensive, so there shouldn’t be too much trouble in picking up a copy. Blue Peter – The Inside Story is well worth a place on your bookshelf.

Doctor Who – Mission to the Unknown

Mission to the Unknown is a bit of an oddity.  After Verity Lambert decided that Planet of Giants was a tad dull and could do with losing an episode, the production team were told they had to add this “spare” episode onto another story.

Considering that the BBC has always been rather cash conscious, this has always struck me as a strange move.  Four episodes were budgeted and paid for on Planet of Giants, even if only three made it onto the screen, so effectively Lambert and co were given a “free” episode.  Surely the scheduling bods could have slipped a few Tom and Jerry cartoons on one week and no-one would have been that bothered?

Anyway, it seems that the original idea was to bolt an extra episode onto a Terry Nation Dalek script.  If that means The Chase then I think we dodged a bullet there.  I was already losing the will to live with six episodes, so seven might just have pushed me over the edge.

Or maybe they were referring to The Dalek Invasion of Earth which was the final story in the first production block (it begin in late November 1964).

And for no other reason than the fact that I love original Doctor Who paperwork, here’s Donald Wilson’s memo from 1964 to prove that I’m not talking complete nonsense.

So if the circumstances surrounding the creation of Mission to the Unknown were a little unusual, it’s also strange that it’s not sitting directly before The Daleks’ Master Plan.  It works as a prologue for that story very well, but the fact you have four weeks of The Myth Makers between the two would have presumably puzzled many of those watching at home.

I’ve a strong suspicion that Terry Nation leapt at the chance to write a Dalek script which didn’t include the Doctor.  He was already working on his proposal for a big-budget American series featuring the Daleks (but not that strange old man in the police box) so it’s easy to see Mission to the Unknown (and large parts of The Daleks’ Master Plan) as a dry run for this.

The American series would have featured plucky members of the space corps (similar to Marc Cory, Sara Kingdom and Bret Vyon) facing off against the Daleks week after week.The television series came to nothing, but the seventies Dalek annuals give you a flavour of what it might have been like.

Anyway, back to today’s episode. We open in a jungle on Kembel, which has plenty of lush, aggressive vegetation.  You’d better get used to it as there’s going to be lots of jungle action once we hit The Daleks’ Master Plan proper.  We see someone who we later learn is Jeff Garvey (Barry Jackson).  His first words (“I must kill… must kill… must kill”) have a slightly ominous ring about them. He doesn’t seem at all well.

Elsewhere, space captain Gordon Lowery (Jeremy Young) is complaining to space agent Marc Cory (Edward de Souza) about this inhospitable planet.  It’s clear that Cory’s the man in charge though, which is confirmed when he shoots Garvey dead.  Lowery’s a tad upset about this, but Cory explains that Garvey had been infected by a Varga plant and it was him or them.

Cory then reveals his true identity to Lowery.  “Space Security Service. Licensed to kill.” Yep, this was very much the time when Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond was dominating cinema screens and Cory is a blatant attempt to steal a little of 007’s thunder.  It’s an unusual move for Doctor Who though, which until now hasn’t tended to be influenced that much by contemporary popular culture.

Cory explains that he’s on the trail of the Daleks.  They haven’t bothered the Earth for a thousand years, but all that seems to have changed as a Dalek ship has been spotted in the vicinity.  This shattering revelation is followed by the most melodramatic music cue possible.

Wait! Garvey’s not dead.  Instead he’s suffered a far worse fate – he’s turned into a Varga plant!

The Daleks are also on Kembel and they’re here to chair a meeting between the leaders of the seven galaxies.  Some of the representatives we see here also pop up in The Daleks’ Master Plan, although by then some were played by different actors.

And some of the representatives in The Daleks’ Master Plan are totally different from how they look in this episode, which is another puzzle.  Luckily there are those who have pondered these issues long and hard.  For the curious, I can recommend this post by Jac Rayner on her blog Delegate Detective.

Whatever names they have or whichever actor is playing them, the delegates are a rum lot who certainly don’t have a lot of love for our precious planet Earth.  As Malpha (Robert Cartland) succinctly puts it.  “This is indeed an historic moment in the history of the universe!  We six from the outer galaxies, joining with the power from the solar system – the Daleks!  The seven of us represent the greatest war force ever assembled!  Conquest is assured!”

That spells trouble.  I hope the Doctor is somewhere around …..

Angels

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I’ve just dug out series one of Angels for another watch. Whilst it’s a shame that only the first two series made it to DVD, that shouldn’t dissuade you from picking them up as these early episodes are first rate.

Along with the colour Dixon of Dock Greens, Angels is probably the series I’ve found myself reassessing the most.  Based on hazy memories of the later, twice-weekly soap format, I’d long held the opinion that it was a rather cosy, pedestrian show. Maybe it did later lose its spark, but to begin with Angels is rich in interest in all areas – acting, writing and directing.

That a core group of female writers were assembled (and each assigned one of the main characters to write for) is noteworthy. Others also made valuable contributions, such as P.J, Hammond (who provides a typically disorientating offering later in the first series). I’d previously written about the first two series episode by episode here.

Given that Simply now seem to be out of the DVD game, it might be that their various BBC licensed titles will slowly begin to drift out of print. If so, you may want to pick up their Angels releases (and indeed anything else of interest) sooner rather than later.

The 1970’s Angels fan was well served with merchandise. There were the obligatory tie-in novels as well as annuals and (most eye-opening of all) a range of dolls. That most of the merchandising was aimed at the child market – even though the series wasn’t always child-friendly – is slightly odd, but it was common at the time (various post watershed programmmes like The Professionals and The Sweeney did something similar).

Crown Court – Lieberman v Savage (Part Three – 20th October 1972)

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Mrs Savage’s maid – Florence Ferguson (jean Faulds) – is next in the witness box. Giving off a very Scottish air of respectability, she initially provides strong support for Mrs Savage but is then somewhat picked apart by Helen Tate. Possibly just enough of a seed of doubt has been sown in the mind of the jury by this point – was Mark really sleeping on the sofa all night or could he have been canoodling with Mrs Savage and her radiogram?

We’ve waited long enough and now finally Mark Lieberman gets a grilling. Jonathan Fry has made it back into court and takes charge of the cross examination. I get the feeling they don’t have a great deal in common (Fry begins by pondering about “the lifestyle of the younger generation” with a faint air of distaste and things career downhill from there).

I can’t play the Doctor Who game with Trevor Adams but he racked up a fair number of interesting credits during the seventies. There’s a role in Fawlty Towers but he’ll no doubt be best known for playing Tony Webster in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Although still very early days, the Crown Court formula is now very firmly in place. This one was a decent enough story, although even with the tinges of sex and scandal (cue reporters in the gallery frantically scribbling in their notebooks) it’s still not terribly memorable.

The Verdict

Once again I find myself disagreeing with the verdict. Maybe next time I’ll be in sync with the Fulchester jury.

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Crown Court – Lieberman v Savage (Part Two – 19th October 1972)

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Lieberman’s private detective, Sidney Abbott, is called to the witness stand. He’s played by David Webb, although with a character name like that surely Sidney James should have been given the role.

When watching Crown Court or indeed any archive series of a similar vintage, I like to play a little game of ‘Which Doctor Who story has this actor appeared in?’. Wolfe Morris and Barbara Shelley were pretty easy but David Webb (possibly because his name’s rather nondescript) gave me a little more trouble. But I got there in the end – he was Leeson in Colony in Space. Well, it’s the sort of game that keeps me out of mischief …

Mr Fry has popped out (to powder his nose maybe) so Helen Tate stepped in to ask Abbott a few questions. Although since Barry Deeley handled the cross examination maybe that’s an indication that Abbott wasn’t a prime witness.

That the case isn’t being taken totally seriously can be inferred from the fact that Abbott used to work for P.E.E. (Piccadilly Enquiry Agency).

The focus now turns to the defendant. Delia Savage catches the attention of those watching in the public gallery (especially one old dear with a pair of opera glasses!).

Another time honoured courtroom chestnut occurs when Mrs Savage mentions a popular best combo, The Kitchen Sink. Cue the Judge looking confused and a swift helpful explanation (“a rock group, M’Lord. A musical ensemble, M’Lord”).

Crown Court  rarely went in for camera tricks or flourishes, but there is a split screen used here (Mrs Savage on the left, Leiberman on the right) which works rather well.

She’s a convincing witness, cool under pressure, although whether she’s telling the truth is another matter. Jonathan Fry does his best to paint her as an unscrupulous gold digger though.

Mmm, both parties are exchanging lingering looks. I’ve a feeling that a reconciliation might be on the cards (depending on the verdict of course).

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Crown Court – Lieberman v Savage (Part One – 18th October 1972)

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Crown Court had plenty of humdrum cases (which nevertheless were often fascinating) but they also liked to chuck in a bit of spice from time to time. Lieberman v Savage certainly falls into the latter category …

Emmanuel Lieberman (Wolfe Morris) is attempting to evict his former fiance Delia Savage (Barbara Shelley) from his luxury London penthouse apartment. His ardour for Mrs Savage was somewhat dampened when he returned home to find his son, Mark (Trevor Adams), naked in the flat with her. Crumbs.

Given how good David Neal was as Jonathan Fry in the unscreened pilot, it’s very surprising that he never came back to the series. Instead, Bernard Gallagher took over the role of Fry (remaining with the series until 1984).

Charles Keating and John Alkin return as James Elliot and Barry Deeley whilst Helen Vernon debuts as Dorothy Tate. Richard Warner sits in judgement as Mr Justice Waddington.

Distant Hills is present and correct for the first time and we also see the debut of the jury – twelve bewildered souls plucked off the streets of Fulchester. Or in reality, eleven members of the public and one actor (since the foreman was a speaking part, an Equity member was required).

That each case would actually be judged helps to give the series an extra level. Although as time goes on, I’m sure I’ll be scratching my head at some of the bizarre verdicts handed out …

£200,000 for a luxury penthouse flat in London? Cheap at the price.

Jonathan Fry begins the case by waving a great many documents around. This is a little low on excitement but things soon pick up as he outlines the relationship between his client (Lieberman) and Delia Savage. Whilst Fry is opening the case, the camera lingers on Mrs Savage. She has a very nice hat.

And into the witness box goes Emmanuel Lieberman (Wolfe Morris). As he begins to give his evidence, his son saunters into the court. With his dark glasses and general slouching air, Mark is so hip and happening it hurts.

We quickly get to the nitty gritty – Lieberman returning home unexpectedly to find his son (stark naked!) emerging from his fiance’s bedroom. There’s a definite ‘oooooo’ reverberating around the courtroom at this point.

The flaw in Lieberman’s case is pretty obvious. As soon as he clapped eyes on his naked son he stormed out without demanding an explanation. If Mark had been innocently spending the night there (sleeping on the couch say) and then wanted to use the bathroom, he’d need to pass through the bedroom first to get to it. Mind you, having only one bedroom and one bathroom in a luxury penthouse seems like something of a design flaw.

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Crown Court – Doctor’s Neglect? (Part Three)

Dr Warner’s still in the witness box and still wilting under a barrage of volleys from Jonathan Fry QC. James Elliot attempts to repair the damage – Mr Simpson’s own impatience to leave the hospital (in order to keep an appointment) is something which helps to strengthen the defence’s case.

We then pop outside for a brief heart to heart with Dr Warner and Nurse Dowling in a scene which helps to humanise them both. I can see why moments like these were swiftly dropped (although they returned much later) as it’s better that the viewers at home receive no more information than those in the courtroom.

The last witness is Mr Frost (George Waring), representing the hospital’s management. An interesting subtext running throughout this story is the suggestion that Mr Simpson was failed by systematic shortcomings (both medical and financial) at the hospital.

These days it’s difficult to imagine a hospital drama not tackling the topic of funding but I’d assume it wasn’t so dominant back in the seventies (certainly not in the episodes of, say, Angels I’ve seen anyway).

With Fry having nipped out of court for twenty minutrs, Frost’s cross-examination is left in the hands of Derek Jones (David Ashford). As Charles Lotterby, Ashford would become one of Crown Court‘s most familiar barristers but poor old Derek Jones is somewhat more hapless. Frost is able to angrily rebuff Jones’ allegations, leaving Jones looking rather small and humbled.

The Verdict

I won’t reveal the verdicts on each case, instead I’ll simply comment whether I agree or disagree with the finding. Today I disagree, although there were well balanced arguments on both sides so it was a tricky one.

Crown Court – Doctor’s Neglect? (Part Two)

We saw his long face in the first episode, but now Dr Warner (Jeremy Bulloch) takes to the witness stand. He comes across as reasonably convincing but there’s also an air of unease about him. This feeling is exacerbated when Nurse Dowling (Jacqueline Stanbury) is then cross-examined.

Jacqueline Stanbury would later be a short-lived regular on Dixon of Dock Green (only one of her episodes – Sounds – now exists). Bulloch’s credits are too numerous to list but they include Doctor Who, James Bond, Star Wars and Robin of Sherwood.

Interesting that Jonathan Fry gave Dr Warner a fairly easy ride before opening both barrels on Nurse Dowling. It was the right course of action though as she quickly folds like a pack of cards and admits that Warner could be rather hot-headed and impulsive at times.

The defence is now rocking, but did Simpson overhear Warner’s angry comment that he should discharge himself and go to another hospital if he wanted better treatment? That becomes a key question.

So Warner goes back into the witness box. There’s something deeply ominous about the way Fry slowly circles around Warner before unleashing his assault. Fair to say that the defence aren’t doing very well for witnesses so far.

Crown Court – Doctor’s Neglect? (Part One)

This first Crown Court serial feels somewhat different to what would come later. For one thing, the familiar theme music (Distant Hills) is noticeably absent.

There’s also a fair amount of whispered chat in the courtroom as Mr Frost (George Waring) has a good old natter to Barry Deeley (John Atkin). He helpfully explains to Frost (and the viewers) various bits of procedure. This was dropped from the series as presumably it was felt the audience would be able to understand how the court functions without these prompts.

Mr Simpson, one of Fulchester’s leading chartered accountants, died after walking out of hospital (he had previously been involved in a car accident). His widow (played by Petra Davies) is suing the hospital for damages.

Mrs Simpson is the very model of middle class respectability and it’s easy to see that Mr Justice Waddingham (Ernest Hare) is rather taken with her. After James Elliot QC (Charles Keating) asks her a somewhat awkward question she appeals to Waddingham and the question isn’t pressed. This seems a little off.

Mrs Simpson comes across as a perfect witness. A little too perfect for me ….

The hawk-like Jonathan Fry QC (David Neal) is representing Mrs Simpson in her quest for damages and next calls an expert witness – Dr Sissons (Basil Dignam). Dignam would return to Crown Court – albeit as the top dog (he’d later play Mr Justice Poynter).

Another unusual aspect of this first serial is the way the action moves outside the courtroom every so often. This wouldn’t happen again in the early stories as they were firmly (and claustrophobically) courtroom bound.

Wogan’s Guide to the BBC (1982)

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Wogan’s Guide to the BBC is an entertainingly eclectic and idiosyncratic snapshot of the BBC circa 1982. Although Tel doorsteps some of the great and good – including James Burke, Frank Muir and Russell Harty – at the start of the programme (in order to winkle out some quick soundbites about what the BBC means to them) overall it’s a pleasingly unstarry sort of programme.

The two television drama productions covered – The Cleopatras and Beau Geste  – tend to concentrate on the production staff and extras rather than the stars (hard to imagine that sort of focus occurring today). It’s also noticeable that pretty much the same amount of time is devoted to both the BBC’s radio and television output.

For anyone who loves a dollop of Wogan whimsy, this is well worth your time.

Adam Adamant Lives! – To Set A Deadly Fashion

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Adam pops along to an Embassy ball and falls into conversation with Oretta (Nancy Nevinson), the wife of the Italian Vice Consul. And after she falls dead into his arms, he instantly turns detective ….

There’s no mystery about Oretta’s death as her conversation with Adam is intercut with shots of two eavesdroppers (Howarth and Watkins) who are able to hear every word that’s spoken. She’s wearing a bugged dress then, that’s different. And not only is it bugged, when it’s decided that Oretta has said too much they’re able to kill her by remote control.

The dress has been designed by Roger Clair (Colin Jeavons), a fashion designer who has plenty of connections in high society. Where do you start with Jeavons’ performance? Calling it camp just doesn’t do it justice – Jeavons is clearly enjoying himself tremendously, periodically winding himself up into explosive paroxysms of petulance.

Howarth (Alister Williamson) is his stolid number two. A much less showy turn, but then there’s only room in the story for one Jeavons-sized character.  Given how prima-donnish Clair is, it’s difficult to credit that he’s responsible for creating such an intricate espionage network – but it seem to be so.

Tony Williamson’s script also seems a little unclear in other places too. We’re told that a number of other society matrons have died in a similar way to Oretta (all apparently from heart attacks) but Clair was deeply upset when Howarth decided to terminate Oretta (Howarth was worried that Adam was getting too close to discovering their operation). So why did the others die? Oh well, possibly you’re not supposed to dig too deeply into the specifics of the story.

Adam toddles along to Clair’s latest fashion show, but is appalled when the models – dressed in bathing costumes – begin to parade themselves. Poor Adam, given a front-row seat, can’t bring himself to look whilst Georgina (it won’t shock you to discover) has signed on as Clair’s latest model.

This turns out to be a godsend for Clair as he’s able to pop the unsuspecting Georgina into a bugged dress. There’s a lovely spot of dialogue from Clair as he first recoils at the notion of Adam living in a car park, before approving of the notion of his flat (“what a ducky idea”).

Another episode highlight occurs when Adam, safely back with Georgina at his flat, suddenly twigs that her dress might be dangerous. He writes her a note (“take off your dress”) only for her to counter with a note of her own (“get lost”). Given she’s been panting over him since the start of the series, I’d have thought she’d have been quite keen to get undressed for him ….

Towards the end of the episode Adam has the chance to indulge in his usual spot of fisticuffs before facing the possibility of a grisly death at the hands of Clair’s wicked invention. Fear not though, the ever resourceful Adam can take just about anything that’s thrown at him and then throw it back with maximum vengeance.

Another solid episode, this one benefits enormously from the performance of Colin Jeavons.

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