Swashbuckling series were a staple part of ITV’s early schedules. The undoubted king of the genre was Richard Greene’s Robin Hood, whIch notched up an impressive 144 episodes between 1955 and 1960.
Marius Goring’s Scarlet Pimpernel began his adventuring just two days after Robin Hood’s debut (both made their first appearances shortly after ITV launched in September 1955) but the elusive Pimpernel would turn out to have a much shorter run with just 19 episodes.
Possibly this was because the basic parameters of the series – Sir Percy Blakeney aka the Scarlet Pimpernel rescuing guillotine bound aristocrats – was narrower than some of the other swashbucklers.
But although the 25 minute running time would be a bit restricting in terms of character development (a problem with all series of this type) The Scarlet Pimpernel still breezes along quite effectively, as even the most routine tale tends to be enlivened by some familiar faces making fleeting appearances (today it was Robert Shaw with Yvonne Furneaux as the damsel in distress).
Stanley Van Beers plays it straight as Chauvelin, the Pimpernel’s nemesis, who is set to be a forbidding presence throughout the series. Given that the series format was set in stone from the start – the Pimpernel will always triumph and Chauvelin will always be frustrated – it’ll be interesting to see how the pair interact as the episodes wear on,
And although he’s not present in this one, the fact that Patrick Troughton appears in 15 episodes is another good reason for watching.
The plot of The Hostage is pretty straightforward. The Pimpernel rescues Suzanne de Fleury (Furneaux) without breaking a sweat, but she refuses to depart for England and safety until her young son (held by Chauvelin as a hostage) is also freed.
Unsurprisingly, the Pimpernel also manages this – but along the way Marius Goring drops in a number of deft touches (the Pimpernel’s chaste appreciation of Suzanne, for example) that helps to enliven Ralph Gilbert Bettison’s teleplay. Bettison, an American refugee, would end up penning the majority of the series.
For the curious who are interested in investigating the series, it’s available via Network from this link.