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I Claudius Classic TV Revisited I Claudius Classic TV Revisited


Classic TV Revisited: I Claudius



I, Claudius Robert Graves’ realistic Roman recreation – a red extravaganza, with blood and wine flying around like togas in a tumble dryer was broadcast to great acclaim on BBC-2 in 1976. Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, Sian Phillips starred.

Bloodthirsty black comedy-drama set in ancient Rome, with large doses of depravity, incest and gore.

Why was it any good?
A remarkable story based on Robert Graves’ novel, with an outstanding cast. Derek Jacobi stole the show as the stammering Claudius, but not far behind was Sian Phillips as the evil Empress Livia.

How did it begin?
Jack Pulman’s 13-part adaptation of Robert Graves’ 1934 novel was screened to mark BBC TV’s 40th anniversary.

Was the Roman sex-and-blood fest a hit?
Definitely, as it was presented more as an historical soap opera – a bit like Brookie in togas.There was intrigue aplenty, and an amazing five different emperors made an appearance. With lashings of perversion though, it wasn’t for the squeamish.

Who was in it?
The story ran from 24BC, from the reign of Augustus to Nero. Brian Blessed was Augustus, hamming it up brilliantly, until he was poisoned by wife Livia (Sian Phillips).He was followed by Tiberius – George Baker as a very un-Wexford-like tyrant. Improbably, Christopher Biggins fiddled around as Nero, while John Hurt camped it up as the perverted Caligula.Topping them all was Derek Jacobi’s award-winning Claudius.

Didn’t one of the cast boldly go into space thereafter?
Patrick Stewart was beamed up to Star Trek a few years after his portrayal of brutal head of the Roman guard Sejanus.Bernard Hill – who later headbutted lamp-posts as Yosser in The Boys From The Blackstuff – got into training as a Roman soldier.Also in the cast were Bernard Hepton, of Secret Army fame, as the almost embarrassingly-named Pallus, Stratford Johns from Softly Softly, Ian Ogilvy, later to become The Saint, and Sheila White, from Oliver!

I Claudius Classic TV Revisited

Patrick Stewart as Sejanus

Didn’t it cause an outrage?
More in America than Britain.Viewers there worried about the orgy scenes, incest, nymphomania, adultery, rape and infanticide.Caligula (John Hurt), chin dripping with blood, famously killed his pregnant sister and ate the embryo of their unborn child.And Messalina (Sheila White) indulged in an early version of the Sex Olympics with a variety of suitors.

Wasn’t there a lot of make-up involved?
A cement mixer must have been used to prepare the layers worn by Sian Phillips as loathsome Livia.Often she spent seven hours being transformed into a hag of 80.She says: “One day I took the rubber face home to show my mother and it took the paint off the windowsill overnight! I was in a panic for a long time.”Ironically, her ex-hubby Peter O’Toole shot the film Caligula at the same time but it used “cheap, plastic Roman armour”.

Distinguishing features?
Bloodstained togas, backstabbing, kinky sex. It also had a memorable title sequence with a snake slithering on a tiled floor.

Do say…
When in Rome…

Don’t say…
Friends, Romans, countrymen, would you like to pop round for an orgy?

Not to be confused with…
The Romans In Britain, The Caesars, The Cleopatras, Gladiator, I Dream Of Jeannie, Claude Greengrass, Up Pompeii,



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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