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Classic TV Revisited: Alfred Hitchcock Presents



Alfred Hitchcock Presents was a macabre Tales Of The Unexpected-style series of dramas introduced by the portly movie maestro Alfred Hitchcock

Why was it so good?
The genius of Hitchcock who not only introduced every episode, but employed his dry wit for an epilogue too. It is regarded as a classic and is still repeated around the world.

Why did a film giant work on TV?
After the success of Rear Window and To Catch A Thief, Hitchcock was persuaded to make the series. He was won over by his love of personal appearances, after cameo roles in many of his movies.

Bit of a show-off then?
Yes, you could say that. The dramas were full of irony as villainy went unpunished and virtue unrewarded.

What did Hitchcock do in the shows?
All 300-plus episodes began with his deadpan: “Good evening,” as he introduced weird and wonderful tales.

Any macabre bits?
The famous Hitchcock cartoon silhouette was accompanied by the familiar music from Gounod’s Funeral March Of A Marionette. Dum de dum, dee dee dee dum… Enough! Each week he would appear in a bizarre setting, such as sitting in an electric chair or impaled like a scarecrow.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents Lamb To The Slaughter

Lamb To The Slaughter

Who was in the dramas?
A Hollywood Who’s Who – including Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Walter Matthau, Charles Bronson and Joanne Woodward.

Any other famous names?
Hitchcock directed 20 episodes but top names such as Robert Altman and Sydney Pollack also worked behind the camera on it. Many of the show’s writers were well-known names such as Eric Ambler, Ed McBain, Roald Dahl and Ellery Queen.

Why did it end?
It never really did as it was revived in the ’80s after Hitchcock’s death, with new casts.

Did Hitch speak from beyond the grave?
Not quite. His black-and-white intros were colourised for modern viewers and the tales with a twist are still shown around the world.

Was his TV work any good?
Some fans say it was better than his movies. But most film buffs say that’s heresy. It’s difficult to make comparisons with classics such as Psycho, The Birds, North By Northwest, Dial M For Murder and Rear Window.

What sort of guy was he?
A loner who had vicarious unrequited romances with leading ladies, including Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly, but he met his match in Tippi Hedren.

Distinguishing features?
A big fat bloke with a spooky voice talking nonsense in strange surroundings.

Do say:
“His TV work showed he was a master of many media.”

Do not say:
“Only psychos would watch this crazy stuff. Tales Of The Unexpected had a much better intro – a dancing girl.”

Not to be confused with:
Hancock’s Half Hour; King Alfred; Alfred Nobel, Alf the TV alien; Michael Caine’s Alfie.



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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