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Classic TV Revisited: Hancock’s Half Hour

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Watched by more than 10 million people – huge figures for those days – this comic classic (which aired on the BBC from 1956-1961) had Hancock as the pompous loser, “the lad himself”, constantly at odds with the world, with brilliant scripts by Ray Simpson and Alan Galton.

Starring: Tony Hancock, Sid James, plus other very familiar faces from British comedy, including Irene Handl, June Whitfield, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, Warren Mitchell, Patricia Hayes.

Pedigree
The first great BBC sitcom.

Why was it so good?
As well as being a superb comic actor with years of radio and variety experience, Tony Hancock had the perfect writers in Ray Galton and Alan Simpson – not to mention Sid James as his roguish housemate and that unforgettable “H-h-h-Hancock” theme.

Tell us a few of his jokes, then.
Sorry – the show was a pioneer of character comedy, not a joke machine.

Meaning?
What was funny was Hancock’s pomposity, stupidity and glum fatalism. But there were plenty of witty lines, I grant you.

Hmm, you sound a bit pompous yourself when you put it like that.
If you don’t watch your lip I’ll give you a punch up the bracket. That was one of his catchphrases, by the way. That and “flippin’ kids!”

Classic TV Revisited Hancock's Half Hour Sid and Tony

A pint? That’s very nearly an armful!
Ah, now you’re thinking of The Blood Donor, made in 1961 and not strictly part of Hancock’s Half Hour

After six series and 57 shows, Hancock wanted a change. In his final BBC series – called Hancock – he left Railway Cuttings, East Cheam, for digs in Earls Court and dispensed with the services of Sid James. These last six shows were five minutes shorter because Hancock was eager for them to be sold to an American commercial network.

He didn’t succeed.
No, he was much too British for the American market, and by this stage, his personal problems were starting to affect his work.

Sounds ominous.
Hancock was recovering from a car accident when he recorded The Blood Donor, so he read his lines from cue cards. This became a habit when he moved to ITV. His alcoholism didn’t help, either.

At least he had Galton and Simpson.
Not after he sacked them.

Didn’t he make a film with them?
Yes, The Rebel, about a talentless artist inadvertently hailed as a visionary. Unfortunately for him, the Americans renamed it Call Me Genius – giving US critics an excuse to maul it.

So his career was on the slide.
Sadly. The ITV series got so bad that he wound up accepting an offer to film a sitcom in Australia playing Hancock the Pommie immigrant. At about the same time his second marriage ended and, in June 1968, aged 44, he committed suicide.

Tragic.
As Spike Milligan put it: “He went around closing doors on everybody and eventually closed the door on himself.”

How influential was he?
He’s revered by modern comedians raised on repeats and videos of classics like The Bedsitter, The Missing Page and Twelve Angry Men.

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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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