Royal Marines At War – Simply Media DVD Review

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Commando: The Story of the Green Beret was a drama documentary produced in late 1945. Sponsored by the Admiralty, it follows the progress of Fusilier Gordon Blake as he undergoes the rigorous training schedule designed to turn him into a Commando (“the soldier of the future”).

After an establishing voice over, we open in a barbers shop where Gordon and his pal, ‘Stiffy’ Porter, are both having a shave.  There then follows some gloriously stilted dialogue as Stiffy and Gordon argue about the merits of this new fighting force. Gordon mutters that “I’ve been trying to drive into my mate’s thick head that the Commandos aren’t a lot of fancy bruisers” and over the next few minutes manages to argue his case pretty successfully.

The barber also pitches in with some wise words of wisdom and shortly afterwards Gordon sets off to begin his training at the Deal barracks in Kent.  Early on he attends a lecture from a Commando Captain who warns the new recruits that this isn’t the place to find “cheap glamour”.

As the hour continues we see Gordon tangle with the Tarzan course (“talk about Strength-through-Joy! I’m a new man already!”), face gruelling cross-country treks, tackle the essentials of unarmed combat and learn about the various Allied and Axis weapons he may well have to handle.

By dropping Gordon (who was presumably an actor) into the middle of a real Commando unit, the film is able to keep the interest level up as we follow his progress. There’s a varied mixture of newly shot footage and archive combat material and this is topped off with a typically jolly soundtrack (played by the Royal Marines band of course).

At just under an hour it’s the main feature and – notwithstanding some of the rather forced sounding dialogue early on – is a well put together piece of army propaganda.

Also included are three shorter documentaries, beginning with Rough Weather Landing (ten minutes). An experiment by No 4 Commando, it demonstrates how they’re able to launch a surprise attack on a seemingly impregnable coastline.  It may have been just off Cornwall – so they were under no threat from the Nazis – but the natural elements they had to face were dangerous enough ….

Jungle Mariners runs for fifteen minutes and revolves around the dangers faced by Marines in the Far Eastern jungles.  It’s another prime slice of propaganda, showing our boys happily interacting with a group of smiling natives as they all tuck into some nice slices of pineapple (elsewhere, things are a little more hairy of course). Jungle Mariners looks to be a mix of real footage and staged material, with multiple voice-over participants and the usual stirring soundtrack.

By Sea And Land – A Royal Marine Patrol In Normandy rounds off the disc.  Just under thirteen minutes, this short documentary follows the progress of a group of Marines as they attempt to maintain their position in occupied Europe following the D Day landings.  It’s another fascinating piece, full of interesting footage.

With a total running time of around 100 minutes, Royal Marines At War is another strong title released by Simply in association with the Imperial War Museum.  With Commando taking prime position, there’s plenty of worthy material to be found across all four documentaries.

Royal Marines At War has an RRP of £9.99 and can be ordered directly from Simply here. Quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount.

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The Phoenix And The Carpet (BBC, 1976/77) – Simply Media DVD Review

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When four children persuade their parents to buy them a rather shabby second hand carpet they have no idea what lies ahead for them.  For the carpet is a magic one, containing an egg which – when accidentally tossed into the fire – hatches a Phoenix who has been asleep for some considerable time.  With the wise Phoenix as their guide, the children embark on a series of amazing adventures ….

Published in 1904, The Phoenix and the Carpet was the second book in Edith Nesbit’s trilogy (beginning with Five Children and It and concluding with The Story of the Amulet). This 1976/77 adaptation by John Tully was retooled as a stand-alone tale, meaning that no knowledge of the previous story is required (the Psammead, from Five Children and It, appears briefly in the novel of The Phoenix And The Carpet but is omitted from this adaptation).

Given the technical limitations of the era, this was an incredibly ambitious production.  It’s not going to be to everybody’s tastes (there’s lashings of CSO and various other special effects which require considerable suspension of belief) but if you’re prepared to go with the flow then an utterly charming tale lies ahead.

Director Clive Doig had cut his teeth as a vision mixer on numerous 1960’s episodes of Doctor Who. Given this (as well as his work on Vision On and later Jigsaw) no doubt he wouldn’t have been phased by the taxing requirements of this eight-part serial.

I have to confess that within the first five minutes I was won over. Yes, the Phoenix may be a rather immobile puppet – but he’s brought to life by Robert Warner’s wonderful voice work.  Thanks to Warner, the Phoenix quickly becomes a character in his own right – knowledgeable and sage-like, but also possessed of an overweening sense of his own importance.

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And although the children – Cyril (Gary Russell), Anthea (Tamzin Neville), Robert (Max Harris) and Jane (Jane Forster) – all have the slightly mannered stage-school delivery familiar from countless other period dramas of this era, there’s plenty of good one-liners and sly gags for them scattered throughout the script.

During the serial there are also some fine comic performances from the elder players. Robert Dorning as the carpet seller in the first episode for example, whilst Susan Field (as the children’s bad-tempered Cook) is a joy in episode two. Immediately after the Cook stumbles across the smooth-talking Phoenix she’s whisked away with the others to a desert island …

Clearly the serial had a decent budget as the island (whilst resolutely studio-bound) is shot on film rather than videotape. It doesn’t convince as a real location, but since the whole production has a heightened, theatrical feel this isn’t really a problem.

The island natives (browned up British actors with curly wigs and plenty of “ooga booga” mumblings) are slightly eyebrow raising, but these scenes only reflect the original novel, which sees the Cook carried off by the natives (who are so taken with her that they decide to make her their Queen).

The children’s colourful trips continue when they head out to India – we go back on film for a sumptuous palace based sequence which introduces us to The Ranee (Surya Kumai), someone who has every material benefit but still feels desperately unhappy. Luckily for her, the four plucky English children are able to cheer her up. Cyril launches into a lengthy explanation about how they acquired the carpet (delightfully causing the others to roll their eyes!)

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Back in London, the imperious Mrs Biddle (Hilary Mason) is helping to organise a church bazaar with an Indian theme. She’s proud of her contribution, but is trumped by the knick-knacks acquired by the children during their recent jaunt.  This contrast between the exotic adventuring of the children and their return to a more mundane life in London gives the serial a very appealing feel (even though the adventures are high on charm but low on jeopardy).

There are several other highlights scattered throughout the remainder of the serial. I was particularly taken with the Phoenix’s tour of London. It’s a lovely opportunity to ramp up the comedy as the Phoenix demands to be taken to one of the many temples established in the capital to worship him (he has a little trouble in understanding that the Phoenix Insurance Company is a different sort of beast altogether …)

Monica Sims, head of BBC children’s programmes, told The Stage and Television Today that “the production has all the difficulties of children, animals, magic and the technical tricks required for a magic carpet. Not to mention a haughty bird as the leading artist” (30th September 1976).

All these hurdles were successfully overcome and by the time the eighth and final episode concludes there’s a definite sense of poignancy in the air.  The Phoenix And The Carpet certainly seems to have left an indelible impression on those who saw it at the time and it’s pleasing to report that the decades haven’t diminished its magic.  Other bigger-budgeted adaptations are also available, but this one is very special indeed. It’s well worth checking out.

The Phoenix And The Carpet is available now from Simply Media, RRP £19.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

 

The Prince And The Pauper (BBC, 1976) – Simply Media DVD Review

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Tom Canty, a street urchin, and Prince Edward, heir to the throne, bear an uncanny resemblance to each other. After they meet by chance, the Prince hatches a scheme in which the pair swop clothes and identities temporarily.  This will allow Edward to move incognito through the streets for an hour or so and get to learn a little about the ordinary folk he will soon be ruling.

But disaster strikes when Edward is captured by Tom’s cruel father, John Canty (Ronald Herdman). Unsurprisingly, no one believes he’s really the Prince of Wales whilst Tom, trapped in the palace, is equally unhappy.  The nobles take his protestations about being a commoner as a sign of madness, with Tom ending up as a pawn in a power game – the control of England being the prize ….

Published in 1881, Mark Twain’s evergreen nove! has spawned numerous big and small screen adaptations.  This BBC Classic Serial from 1976, adapted by Richard Harris and directed by Barry Letts, has many plusses in its favour – not least Nicholas Lyndhurt’s deftly played dual role as Tom and Edward.

The fourteen-year old Lyndhurst already had television experience (most notably in two previous classic serial adaptations – Heidi and Anne of Avonlea) but it still must have been a daunting prospect for him to have shared the screen with so many heavyweight actors.  He acquits himself with assurance though – creating two very separate personas for Tom and Edward (deferential and brow-beaten for Tom, autocratic and outspoken for Edward).

A quick glance down the cast-list makes it obvious that Barry Letts was in the directors chair. The first episode alone sees brief appearances from the likes of Dave Carter, Stuart Fell (as a juggler and fire-eater) and Max Faulkner.  Several other faces familiar from the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who enjoy decent roles, most notably Bernard Kay as Lord Hertford.

Kay, like many of the nobles at court, might be afflicted with a false beard, but as a very classy actor he’s easily able to rise above this handicap.  Nina Thomas is delightful as the sweetly concerned Princess Elizabeth whilst Martin Friend and Ronald Lacey, as Lords Sudbroke and Rushden, are both good value as a pair of devious plotters (Lacey was one of those actors who should have appeared in a Doctor Who, but sadly never did).

Ronald Radd is someone else who surprisingly never got the Doctor Who call.  As the ailing King Henry his understated playing bolsters the already strong cast. Henry’s death-bed imaginings is one highlight amongst many throughout the six episodes. Sadly this was one of Radd’s final roles – broadcast shortly before his death at the age of just forty seven.

June Brown does well with the fairly thankless role of Mother Canty (having little to do but act concerned) whilst Ronald Herdman might be a little ripe as John Canty but is still effective.  The early evening slot these serials enjoyed meant that violence tended to be implicit (so whilst we often see Canty raising his hand to Tom/Edward, blows are rarely struck).

But there is one jolting moment. Canty strikes down the inoffensive and bookish Father Andrew (Donald Eccles) leaving the old man dying the street, a trickle of blood on his face.  This sudden outburst of rage from Canty does help to illustrate that he’s an unstable powder keg, liable to explode at any moment, and therefore a constant danger to the outspoken Edward.

As the story progresses, both boys are drawn deeper into their new lives. Edward, despite making a new friend – Miles Hendon (Barry Stokes) – finds himself lurching from one dangerous situation to another, eventually ending up in prison. Meanwhile the increasingly confident Tom, following the death of the King, has to face the possibility that shortly he’ll be the focus point of a coronation ….

If the cast are first-rate, then there’s plenty to enjoy on the production side as well.  Kenneth Sharp’s sets are impressive, with several palace rooms possessing an imposing sense of scale.  James Acheson was an extremely safe pair of hands to have as the costume designer (later he would pick up three Oscars) so there’s no complaints there either.

The exterior film sequences gives the serial a glossy feel, although – as was the norm – most of the action takes place in the studio (and on videotape).  I’ve no doubt that Barry Letts relished the challenge of depicting the brief meeting between Tom and Edward.  There’s a very effective split-screen shot, but I was also impressed with a CSO mirror shot (Barry loved his CSO, sometimes to extremes, but this sequence works well).

Running for six episodes, each around 27 minutes duration, The Prince And The Pauper is a good example of the BBC Classic Serial output from the 1970’s.  It may lack the production gloss of later adaptations, but the excellent cast and fidelity shown to the source material means that it’s a very enjoyable watch.  There are many different versions of The Prince And The Pauper out there, but I have no hesitation in warmly recommending this one.

The Prince And The Pauper is available now from Simply Media, RRP £19.99, and can be ordered directly from Simply Media here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

The Dawson Watch – Simply Media DVD Review

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Les Dawson’s road to television stardom was a long and rocky one. Born in Collyhurst, Manchester in 1934, Dawson pursued numerous dead-end jobs whilst attempting to break into the comedy world.  After many false starts, thanks to a spot on Opportunity Knocks his luck slowly began to change.

His own show – Sez Lez – which ran on Yorkshire Televison from 1969 to 1976 was key in establishing his brand of entertaining miserablism.  Whilst some of the early editions were a bit thin comedy-wise, the arrival of a crop of experienced writers such as Barry Cryer and David Nobbs gave the show a considerable boost.  Having John Cleese as a regular co-star for a while didn’t hurt either.

Whilst with Yorkshire, Dawson also appeared in The Loner (scripted by Alan Plater) and Dawson’s Weekly (penned by Galton and Simpson) so he didn’t lack for heavyweight writers. Throw in a number of one-off specials, guest spots on other people’s programmes and appearances on panel shows such as Joker’s Wild and Celebrity Squares and it’s fair to say that by the mid seventies Dawson had well and truly arrived.

His defection to the BBC in 1977 wasn’t a shock on the same level as the departure of Morecambe and Wise to Thames, but it still raised a few eyebrows.  Lacking his familiar group of writers (even though they would have been happy to continue working with him) Dawson’s first BBC starring venture – imaginatively titled The Les Dawson Show – turned out to be something of a damp squib.

The writers – including Eddie Braben and a young David Renwick – were strong, but in some respects it seemed to be little more than a Sez Lez rehash (Les interacting with guest stars – such as Lulu – plus regular spots for singers and dancers).  The time was clearly right for Les to do something a little different next time and so The Dawson Watch (1979 – 1980) was born.

Dawson’s monologues (which he wrote himself, the sketches tended to be penned by other writers) often railed at life’s follies, so a series in which Les examined a different hot topic each week (Housing, Transport, Money, etc) was something which played to his strengths.

Along with a new writing team – Ian Davidson as script editor, Terry Ravenscroft and Andy Hamilton providing the sketches – the show began to take shape.  The Dawson Watch has the air of a consumer programme in which Les introduces sketches illustrating the topic of the week whilst moving around a studio packed with high-tech equipment (well, high-tech for the late seventies) and attractive young ladies pushing buttons.

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It’s fair to say that the first series was a learning experience for all concerned.  Dawson seemed a little ill-at-ease in the first programme, only coming to life when he began to banter with the audience about where they live.  Once he does that – and presumably starts to go off-script – he visibly perks up.  Although there’s plenty of new material in his monologues, several old favourites (“until I was fifteen, I thought that knives and forks were jewellery”) also receive airings.

There are so many gems which can be mined from Dawson’s routines, such as this bleak portrait of Christmas.  Les confided that he could “only remember being given one Christmas present by my father. It was a do-it-yourself electric train set. Turned out to be a roll of fuse wire and a platform ticket”.

Possibly the major failing of the first series is the fact that Dawson doesn’t appear in many of the sketches.  Familiar faces such as Cosmo Smallpiece and Cissie and Ada do pop up, but most of the sketches are handled by others.  There’s certainly some very talented performers on view during these early shows – Sam Kelly, Johnny Ball, Michael Knowles, John Junkin, Patrick Newell, Terence Alexander, David Lodge, Andrew Sachs – but it would have been much more enjoyable had we seen Dawson playing off against them.

However, one of Les’ early sketch appearances (with Roy Barraclough as Cissie) is a Dawson classic.

CISSIE: Leonard and I went to Greece last year.
ADA: Oh, Bert and I have been to Greece, with Wallace Arnold’s Sunkissed Package Holiday and Inter-Continental Tours.
CISSIE: Oh, really? Did you have the shish kebabs?
ADA: From the moment we arrived. All down that side.
CISSIE: Did you see the Acropolis?
ADA: See it? We were never off it.

Clearly lessons had been learned for series two as Dawson takes a much more central role in the sketches whilst Vicki Michelle (as one of the computer girls) proved to be a welcome additon to the line-up. The girls in the first series were rarely called upon to be anything more than mute and attractive – acting simply as fodder for Dawson’s remarks – but Michelle possessed the comic chops to be able to engage in banter with him (which made Les’ lecherous advances seem a little less uncomfortable).

The astonishing roster of familiar faces making guest appearances during series one was reduced for the second and third series.  As was more common with series of this type, a “rep” of performers was used instead – Roy Barraclough headed the list, with Daphne Oxenford and Gordon Peters amongst the other regulars.

The formula remained the same for the third and final series (broadcast in 1980 and culminating with a Christmas Special discussing the obvious topic of Christmas). Vicki Michelle wasn’t featured so prominently, although one of her future Allo, Allo! co-stars, Kirsten Cooke, made a few appearances whilst it was also nice to see the likes of George Sweeney and Michael Keating.

Compared to some of his contemporaries, such as Mike Yarwood and Dick Emery, Les Dawson is very well represented on DVD. Virtually all of his surviving ITV material can be purchased from Network whilst this release from Simply constitutes a welcome chunk of his later BBC work. Hopefully more will surface in the future.

Whilst some aspects of Dawson’s humour haven’t aged well, there’s still so much of interest here – his wonderfully crafted monologues, the impressive parade of supporting actors – to make it easy for me to wholeheartedly recommend this release.

The Dawson Watch consists of nineteen 30 minute episodes spread across three discs (six, six, seven) and is subtitled. It’s released tomorrow (4th March 2019) by Simply Media and can be ordered directly here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

 

 

Impossible Peace – Simply Media DVD Review

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By the end of 1919 – when our story starts – it was all done and dusted. The terms had been hammered out at Versailles, the great and powerful had signed the papers, the echoes of war were fading and the new age, the age of a hard-won peace, was beginning.

It would last just twenty years. The twenty years that occupy our series. Twenty years is not a long time. This is the story of what went wrong.

WW1 might have been dubbed ‘the war to end all wars’ but a little over twenty years later the world fell headlong into a second world war, and one which was even more devastating than the first.

Numerous previous documentaries have examined the various causes of WW2, but most tend to begin with the rise of Hitler in 1933.  Impossible Peace winds the clock right back in order to suggest that WW2 was the inevitable result of the uneasy and unstable 1918 peace.

Impossible Peace is an eight part series (each edition approx. 50 minutes) developed by WildBear Entertainment and directed by Michael Cove. An Australian production company, WildBear have nevertheless ensured that Impossible Peace has a strong British flavour.  The narrator – Rod Mullinar – is a British born, Australian based actor who possesses the sort of deep and authoritative tones which fit perfectly with the style of this documentary.  True, he sometimes sounds a little overwrought but that’s no doubt due to the occasional patches of purple prose contained within the script.

Interspersed between the substantial archive footage are contributions (often brief, but always insightful) from a crop of British based academics.  And although political and military matters are heavily favoured, popular culture (including fashion, music and movies) are also featured – in this way, a more rounded picture of these two tumultuous decades can be formed.

The eight episodes are as follows:

1. The Lap of the Gods 1919-1921

After four years of vicious fighting, the survivors of WW1 expected that peace and prosperity would follow. But with so many economies and societies shattered (some maybe beyond repair) this would be far from straightforward.

2. Just Like the Arabian Nights 1922-1925

The victors of World War 1 believed that keeping their vanquished foes under-armed would guarantee peace.  And so as the US and Great Britain began to increase their military holdings, it was at the expense of a humiliated Germany.

3. Mussolini Is Always Right 1925-1929

Technological advances were embraced by some – but not all – whilst Mussolini began his autocratic rule in Italy.

4. Dancing On A Volcano 1929-1931

By the late twenties, Europe – France especially – appeared to have put the bad old days of economic strife behind them.  A few voices warned that this boom time would have inevitable consequences, but the majority weren’t listening ….

5. I’m Alright 1932-1933

With Europe now in the grip of a deep depression, where were the strong, charismatic leaders able to negotiate their way through this crisis period?

6. Everyone Trusts Him 1933-1936

With the United States also suffering, Japan took the opportunity to increase their empire.  Turning their attention to East Asia, they plotted the invasion of Manchuria.

7. History Stopped 1936-1938

By the mid thirties, Adolf Hitler’s ambitions seemed clear to all. If the great powers had acted earlier, would their intervention have prevented WW2?

8. Peace For Our Time 1938-1939

For some, appeasement was the only way (repeating the disaster of WW1 had to be avoided at all costs). But with Adolf Hitler at the other end of the negotiating table, this was a strategy doomed to failure.

Concise and absorbing, Impossible Peace rattles along at an impressive rate.  With such a wide-ranging scope, it’s true that some topics can only be lightly touched upon, but I’ve always tended to find that documentaries like this are useful for sparking an interest in certain topics which can then be researched in more detail by acquiring specific books, documentaries, etc.

If I have one quibble, then it’s the constant musical soundtrack.  There were times when I would have preferred the visuals and the narration to have spoken for itself as the ever-present musical underscore (especially when it’s in full-on dramatic mode) can be somewhat counter-productive.

This apart, there’s a great deal to appreciate in Impossible Peace (a three-disc set with no subtitles) and it comes warmly recommended.

Impossible Peace is available now from Simply Media, RRP £19.99.  It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Les Misérables (BBC, 1967) – Simply Media DVD Review

There have been countless film, stage and televison adaptations of Victor Hugo’s epic 1862 novel (indeed, a lavish BBC1 adaption has just finished its run on Sunday nights). This 1967 BBC Classic Serial might have been mounted on a fairly modest scale, but where it scores – as these serials so often did – is in the quality of the actors, their performances and the fidelity of the adaption to its source material.

Frank Finlay is mesmerising as Jean Valjean. A former convict, Valjean has forged a successful new existence as a pillar of society – a mayor and magistrate – but remains haunted by his past experiences.

It’s such a shame that the original film inserts are long gone, as the opening episode has some remarkable film work (courtesy of director Alan Bridges).  The somewhat grubby telerecordings are obviously preferable to nothing (a fate which has sadly befallen so many 1960’s television programmes) but to have seen these impressionistic sequences in a pristine state would have been fascinating.

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At first, Finlay is barely recognisable (the haunted Valjean when released from fifteen years hard labour is a bedraggled and violent soul)  but by the second episode he’s undergone a remarkable transformation into a cultured man who dispenses charity and understanding to all.

Anthony Bate, as Inspector Javert, is a fine match for Finlay. Javert is the direct opposite of Valjean (Valjean dispenses compassion, Javert cold justice). This sort of role – icy, detached – was one that Bate played time and again, so as you might expect he’s incredibly good value. The clashes between the two are a key part of the story (initially uneasy allies, in the fourth episode Valjean admits his true identity in open court and flees, with Javert dogging his footsteps thereafter).

Excellent performances abound. Michele Dotrice, for example, as the increasingly wretched Fantine. A rapid downward spiral sees her forced to sell everything she has – hair, teeth – in order to provide for her daughter.  Dotrice throws herself wholeheartedly into the role and makes an indelible impression across these early episodes.

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Clifford Rose’s monologue in episode four – Buried Treasure – is another early highlight (he plays Champmathieu, a man accused of being the notorious Jean Valjean). It’s a role far removed from the later ones for which he’s best remembered for (Callan, Secret Army).

Coincidence tends to play a part in many novels from the nineteenth century and Les Mis is no exception. Having been unable to save Fantine, Valjean (now an outcast once more) just happens to run into Cosette (Lesley Roach), Fantine’s young daughter.

Left in the cruel care of an innkeeper called Thenardier and his wife (splendidly evil turns from Alan Rowe and Judy Parfitt), Cosette becomes the latest waif to be taken under Valjean’s wing. Finlay’s cool self-control as Valjean faces down the grasping Thenardier is expertly played. Yet another coincidence sees them run into each other years later, when it appears that Thenardier has gained the upper hand.

At the start of episode seven, Cosette has suddenly grown up into a beautiful young woman (like Fantine, played by Michele Dotrice). It seems odd that Valjean seems not to have aged compared to his adopted daughter, but this isn’t uncommon in serials of this type.

The last batch of episodes relocates the action to Paris and introduces some key new characters – like Marius (Vivian MacKerral) – as various plots and counter-plots come to fruition. Revolutionary Paris might only be glimpsed in snatches, but this isn’t a disappointment. On the contrary, the serial’s low budget ensures that character drama remains at the forefront right until the conclusion.

As previously discussed, the picture quality is somewhat variable. It looks pretty much like you’d expect an unrestored telerecording from the late 1960’s to look – there’s intermittent film damage, dirt and tramlining. But anybody familiar with archive television of this era should know what to expect and the occasional picture issues didn’t impair my enjoyment.

Running for ten 25 minute episodes (five each across two discs), this version of Les Misérables boasts a series of excellent performances and comes warmly recommended.

Les Misérables is available now from Simply Media. It has a RRP of £24.99 and can be ordered directly here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Lorna Doone – Simply Media DVD Review

John Ridd (John Sommerville) was just a boy when his father, a good and honest man, was brutally murdered by Carver Doone (John Turner). Despite an outward display of respectability, the wealthy Doone family delight in creating havoc and mischief.

As John grows up, he vows to avenge his father’s death. But matters are complicated when he falls deeply in love with the young Lorna Doone (Emily Richard) whose hand in marriage has been promised to her cousin, Carver ….

Subtitled A Romance of Exmoor, Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore was originally published in 1869. An instant success, it has spawned numerous television and film adaptations over the last hundred years or more. It’s easy to see why, since it’s a heady mixture of action, adventure, revenge and romance.

This 1976 BBC Classic Serial version is a faithful adaptation (always a hallmark of the Classic Serials) although it does take a short time to tune in to the style of production. Even for those well used to the delights of archive television, some of the 1970’s Classic Serials initially appear to be rather earnest and mannered (the numerous very fake-looking beards are also a hindrance). But it doesn’t take long before the story starts to engross and the small niggles fade away.

Richard Beaumont, as the young John, carries most of the first episode. Although still a teenager, he’d already enjoyed a decent career stretching back to the late 1960’s (including a brief recording contract with Decca records). His John is a pleasing mixture of youthful impatience and innocence and such is the impression he makes that it’s almost a shame when John suddenly turns into the much older John Sommerville.

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It’s slightly odd that none of the other characters seem to age though (which makes John’s transformation from scrawny youth to strapping young man all the more jarring). Possibly it would have been better to have staged this transformation at the start of the second episode, rather than at the end of the first.

Episode one also gives us a brief glimpse of the young Lorna, played by Jennifer Thanisch (best known for appearing as Anne in the Southern series of The Famous Five). John Somerville’s John Ridd is a stolid enough creation but it’s Emily Richard’s Lorna Doone who really catches the eye. Easily the more experienced actor of the two, Richard had just starred in The Glittering Prizes and would later appear in the well-remembered WW2 drama Enemy At The Door.

Plenty of familiar faces are on show. Patrick Troughton plays Councillor Doone, not a terribly large role but Troughton was always good value whatever part he played. Ian Hogg is very appealing as the roguish highwayman Tom Faggus whilst Lucinda Gane (later to play Miss Mooney in Grange Hill) appears as Lizzie, one of John’s sisters. David Garfield, Max Faulkner and Trevor Baxter are amongst those who contribute to a strong supporting cast.

The romance between John and Lorna is a key part of the narrative, with various other subplots – the infighting amongst the Doones, rumbles of unrest in London about the King ‘s conduct – also bubbling away nicely throughout the episodes.

Whilst it’s true that some of the rustic supporting characters err on the ripe side, Lorna Donne boasts some fine performances amongst the principals. If you love the 1970’s era of the BBC Classic Serials then this should certainly appeal.

Lorna Doone is available now from Simply Media, RRP £24.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).