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Classic TV Revisited: All Gas & Gaiters

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What was it all about? 
Comedy in the cloisters between a rum bunch of clerics. This was gentle Sixties stuff where the Archdeacon’s biggest sin was the occasional sly drink. He was no Father Jack.

When was it on?
There were five series (32 episodes) on BBC1 between 1967 and 1971.

Who were the principal characters?
The elderly Archdeacon, a kindly soul with a penchant for an extra slice of cake and the odd tipple; the conscientious Bishop who liked to play everything according to the Good Book; and Rev. Mervyn Noote, a sincere young Chaplain but an accident waiting to happen. He had a habit of tying himself in verbal knots. Their common foe was the stern Dean.

Who were the star turns?
Whitehall farce veteran Robertson Hare played the Archdeacon, William Mervyn was the Bishop and Derek Nimmo played Noote. The Dean suffered something of an identity crisis. In the pilot and the first series he was played by John Barron, in series two and three Ernest Clark took over, before John Barron returned for the final series.

Who wrote it?
Husband and wife team Pauline Devaney and Edwin Apps. Devotees of ‘Whack-0!’ will remember Edwin Apps as Mr. Halliforth.

How did it come about?
Under the pseudonym ‘John Wraith’, Devaney and Apps wrote a ‘Comedy Playhouse’ pilot, ‘The Bishop Rides Again’, which was screened in 1966. It proved successful enough to warrant a series.

Derek Nimmo was picked after playing another ‘silly ass’ role — Bingo Little — in ‘The World of Wooster’. Nimmo said that Frank Muir — the then head of BBC comedy — plucked the title ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ from a line in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’.

Who watched it?
14 million viewers were rolling in the aisles each week.

Where was it set?
Around the cathedral of St. Oggs, a building dating back to the 13th century.

Any catchphrases?
Noote’s ‘Oh, golly gosh!’

Any real-life resonance?
Nimmo made such an impact as the bumbling Noote that when he took a break from ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ to star in the BBC sit-com ‘Sorry I’m Single’ — about a young man living in a Hampstead house with three girls — he received letters from distressed clergymen.

He became even more closely identified with the clergy from 1968 when as well as ‘All Gas and Gaiters’, he played accident-prone novice monk Brother Dominic in ‘Oh Brother!’ While filming in Rome dressed as Brother Dominic, Nimmo was arrested by Vatican police following a misunderstanding with a nun who spotted him with his arm around two girl fans…

Any spin-offs?
A radio version of ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ aired on Radio 4 in 1971 featuring the TV cast. Nimmo left after the first series of 13 and was replaced by Jonathan Cecil.

For Nimmo, ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ led to a succession of religious roles, notably in ‘Oh Brother!’ and ‘Oh Father!’ In 1986 he said: ‘I still have the highest hopes of appearing in my old age as “Oh Pope!”‘ He died earlier this year without realising that particular ambition.

Any distant cousins?
‘All in Good Faith’, ‘Hell’s Bells’ (another Derek Nimmo series), ‘Our Man at St. Mark’s’, ‘Bless Me, Father’, ‘Father Charlie’, ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ etc.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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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

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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.

Tragedy?
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

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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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