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Alexander Korda, The Magnate of British Cinema



Born Sandor Kellner, 16 September 1893 in Hungary, Alexander Korda was a journalist before turning to film where, as founder of London films, he became one of the UK’s most important film producers.

Having become, alongside Michael Curtiz, one of Hungary’s most prominent directors Korda decided to flee the country in 1919 following the fall of the communist regime. He went first to Vienna where he carried on as a director, making four films including a highly successful version of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. From Vienna he moved to Berlin where he stayed until 1926 (still directing – usually light romantic fare infused with German expressionism) but all the while keeping one eye directed towards Hollywood who finally came calling in 1927 in the shape of a contract with First National. In four years with the studio though Korda made little of note becoming somewhat typecast as a director of Hungarian set films.

Back to Europe

Thanks to a France based Paramount subsidiary called Joinville Korda returned to Europe where he quickly made the highly regarded Marius (1931) the first of Marcel Pagnol’s trilogy of Marseilles life. From there Paramount sent him to the UK to work on “quota quickies” for them – this was the catalyst he needed to start his own company which he called London Films. The sixth London film was 1933’s The Private Life of Henry VIII starring Charles Laughton – this was a massive box office sucess. Throughout the rest of the 1930’s London was responsible for a whole series of high profile, big budget movies (Things to Come, The Feathers and The Thief of Bagdad amongst them). Indeed to see a London film was to see the very best of British film making in action. All exceptionally produced and visually stunning (thanks in no small part to Korda’s brother Vincent who was London Film’s head of art direction).

Of course all this cost money, lots of it. Fortunately Korda had two major investors in American film studio United Artists (Korda would become a partner in UA in 1935) and the British Prudential Assurance company. It was this investment that led to Korda building Denham studios which opened in 1936.

Hollywood and Back Again

1940 saw Korda back in Hollywood finishing work on The Thief of Bagdad and then That Hamilton Woman with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh and although many of his compatriots believed he had deserted Britain in it’s hour of crisis it’s heavily believed that Korda was working with Winston Churchill as a courier, making many trips across the atlantic in the process. In 1942 he was the first film personality to be given a knighthood.

In 1943 he returned to London and spent the next few years trying to organise a merger between MGM British and London Films although by the time it did happen Korda was ready to move on.

From 1947 London films was back under his control. Korda had also taken control of British Lion and Shepperton Studios. Around this period most of the UK’s top film-makers, amongst them Powell and Pressburger, David Lean, Carol Reed and Launder and Gilliat were all making films for Korda.

Financial crisis almost spells the end

A major financial crisis in 1948 almost brought about the end of the whole British film industry but assistance from the newly formed National Film Finance Corporation helped save the day for Korda – not for long though. With a three million pound debt still unpaid, 1953 saw Korda’s film empire come to a close. Korda himself remained unbowed, still producing films up until his death in 1956.

Korda developed a well deserved reputation for extravagance when it came to movie making, but as Korda himself said, he proved that “in spectacle and lavishness of production the British film industry could legitimately hope to match the best America could produce.”



Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife




McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal




The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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