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Classic TV Revisited: Animal Magic

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Animal Magic, hosted by Johnny Morris ran on BBC One from 1962 to 1983. Also involved were Terry Nutkins, Tony Soper and Gerald Durrell.

Appearance?
Quintessential kids’ animal show featuring the unique talents of Johnny Morris.

Why was it golden?
Johnny was a marvellous kind of Dr Dolittle who not only talked to the animals but for them with his distinctive burr. There was always a humorous flavour but he got a serious educational message across too. And who can forget the cha cha theme?

How did it begin?
BBC Bristol’s fledgling natural history unit decided to make a new kids’ show.

Why was Johnny Morris hired?
The ex-farm manager was already well known for presenting The Hot Chestnut Man in the ’50s and Tales Of The River Bank. In River Bank Johnny voiced the floating adventures of Hammy Hamster, Roderick Rat and their rodent pals.

What was it all about?
Each week Johnny Morris featured various animals, many of which were resident at Bristol Zoo.

How did it work?
Johnny gave the creatures human characteristics with a selection of voices.

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Such as?
With a squirrel scampering around he would come over all breathy and say something like: “What’s this? Ooh, I’ll just have this nut.” Voices included timid spinsters, belligerent colonels and a tongue-tied suitor.

Who else was in it?
Apart from the animals, early shows featured naturalists Gerald Durrell and Tony Soper.

Anyone else?
Terry Nutkins who went on to make The Really Wild Show and Brilliant Creatures.

Was Terry all gold?
Yes, he was its wildlife expert. He once showed how to record insect noises with the immortal line: “I’m using a parabolic reflector, and that’s not a dirty word.”

Who were the animal stars?
Johnny Morris usually in zoo keeper’s uniform often had Dotty the ringtailed lemur crawling all over him?

Were there any whoopsies?
Not as far as I know. Johnny led an unblemished life with no stains on his character. Or uniform.

Was Dotty toilet trained?
No, Johnny kept him in check with the help of a pocketful of sweets with which she was rewarded for good behaviour.

What other creatures featured?
Do you remember Salty the seal, Wendy the elephant and Gemini the sea lion? No? Well, you must have been born too late.

Was it popular?
It ran for 21 years and 400 programmes.

Did something beastly happen?
Yes, BBC bosses decided it was too unscientific and axed it in 1983. Johnny Morris was devastated and condemned other animal shows such as Pets Win Prizes and Animal Hospital.

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What happened to Johnny Morris?
Johnny died aged 82 in 1999, ironically just before ITV was due to revive his career in a new show Wild Things.

Distinguishing features?
Camp voiced animals; an educational show with laughs; that theme tune.

Do say:
“Johnny Morris was a TV legend loved by generations of children they don’t make them like that anymore.”

Do not say:
“Wasn’t Dale Winton great as the host of Pets Win Prizes?”

Not to be confused with:
Dr Dolittle, Animal Hospital, Black Magic, Brass Eye’s Chris Morris.

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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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Features

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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Features

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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