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Classic TV Revisited: Catherine Cookson’s The Mallens



The Mallens was a memorable Catherine Cookson adaptation about a Northern squire with a ruthless streak that aired on ITV between 1979 and 1980 starring John Hallam, Juliet Stevenson, Gerry Sundquist and John Duttine

Gritty Catherine Cookson costume drama about a wicked squire with illegitimate children sprinkled all over the moors of northern England.

Why was it so good?
The hairstyles were some of the most memorable ever seen on TV. The ruthless Thomas Mallen’s distinguishing mark was a large white streak through his black hair, which made him resemble a human badger. He passed this on to his offspring.

How did it begin?
Granada TV chiefs knew they were on to a winner when they decided to adapt Catherine Cookson’s novels for the small screen. The move came after the success of the TV version of her book A House Full Of Men in 1977. The Mallens was based on her tomes The Mallen Litter, The Mallen Streak and The Mallen Girl, it ran for two series until 1980 and was a huge hit with more than 13m viewers.

The Mallens

John Hallam and John Duttine

What was it about?
The Mallens was basically captivating tosh with John Hallam sporting a hairstyle similar to one- time World Of Sport host Dickie Davies. Hallam played wicked Squire Thomas Mallen, who raped and pillaged his way across 19th-century Northumbrian moors, leaving a string of babies with the same white-streaked quiff. A wrong’un, he went bankrupt, moved in with his nieces and promptly raped one of them, who got pregnant and died.

Did the evil Squire get his just deserts?
In the end, realising his wickedness, he committed suicide. A second series followed which focused on his deaf illegitimate daughter Barbara (Juliet Stevenson). She had a doomed romance with Michael Radlet (Gerry Sundquist), illegitimate son of her ruthless half-brother Dick (John Duttine). The series also starred David Rintoul, Pippa Guard and Caroline Blakiston.

Did the hairstyles catch on?
Not really as it was the age of perms, mullets and post-punk hairdos. Only time there has been anything like a Mallens coiffeur was when Glenn Close sported something quite close to it in the re-make of 101 Dalmatians. There may also have been a sighting of it in kids’ show Bodger And Badger.

The Mallens, Juliet Stevenson and Gerry Sundquist

Juliet Stevenson and Gerry Sundquist

What happened to the cast?
Juliet Stevenson’s career flourished with the film Truly, Madly, Deeply and the TV drama The Politician’s Wife. John Duttine became a household name. Tragically Gerry Sundquist committed suicide in 1993, aged only 37.

Distinguishing features?
Hair – groomed perfectly even though hair driers did not exist in Victorian times and the nearest barber was in Newcastle.

Do say
“Gritty Cookson saga. Shouldn’t Dickie Davies have royalties for the hairdos?”

Don’t say
“Grim oop north period piece which explains why no-one wants to live there.”

Not to be confused with?
The British Hairdressing Awards; The Silver Streak;The Barber Of Seville; Help It’sThe Hair Baear Bunch; Cutting It.



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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