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Classic TV Revisited: Kung Fu



Remember way back in the 1970’s when everybody was kung fu fighting and wearing table tennis balls on their eyes? Western meets martial arts series Kung Fu tapped right into that. David Carradine starred.

Caucasian male who looked vaguely from the Far East wandering around the Old West in a padded jacket, playing the flute, philosophising and occasionally battering others in slow motion.

Sounds like top company for a night in front of the box?
The show was indeed excruciatingly slow-paced at times and had aspirations of being profound, but the fight scenes were knock-out.

That’s foreign in’it?
Most insightful, honourable friend. The show took its name from the martial art honed in China but was set in the Wild West.

A sort of East meets West affair?
A chop suey Western is how some wags have described it. The original idea was developed by martial arts movie legend Bruce Lee.

But Lee got the chop?
TV chiefs feared a foreign hero may be a turn-off for US audiences. David Carradine got the job.

What was it about?
Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Kaine flees to the land of the free from China after avenging the death of his teacher at the hands of imperial forces. Pursued by bounty hunters, he wanders around looking for his long-lost brother.

Giving people the occasional slap?
After much meditation, looking thoughtful, he would finally get down to some scrapping. His foes would look foolish as he cast them aside with a rain of slow-motion blows.

Tell me more about this Shaolin business?
Lots of “Confucius, him say” statements uttered during flashbacks to the hero’s temple days. His guru was Master Khan who had what looked like ping pong balls for eyes.

An accident during a tournament?
No, just blind and deeply profound. A little like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, he would challenge the hero to “Snatch the pebble. When you snatch the pebble from my hand, then it will be time for you to leave.” Deep.

Who was in it?
Moon-faced actor David Carradine took the lead. Shakespeare was his great love and he tried to play the role like Hamlet – constantly soul searching. He walked out after three series to pursue a film career, including Karate Kop in ’91.

Any other big names?
Members of his large acting family all appeared at some point. But some major stars of today also passed through, including Harrison Ford, Jodie Foster and William Shatner no less.

Was it popular?
Not hugely but its novelty factor meant it became a talking point. Utter “grasshopper” in an appalling attempt at a Chinese accent to anyone over 40 – and they will instantly know what you’re talking about.

Some claim to fame?
Its slow motion fight scenes and use of flashbacks did win critical acclaim. Episode Eye For An Eye earned Jerry Thorpe an Emmy for direction. The show also inspired a global craze for martial arts.

Any prospect of a return for the Kung Fu kid?
US audiences were treated to a revival in 1992 with Kung Fu: The Legend Lives On. How original. David Carradine returned but as the grandson of the original hero Chang Caine. The standard urban cop drama was redeemd by some martial arts moves.

Do say?
“Grasshopper. Snatch the pebble.”

Don’t say?
“Two chicken chow meins and a Bombay duck, please mate.” and “Oi, ping pong ball-eyes.”

Not to be confused with?
Hong Kong Phooey – the cartoon hound who was a number one super guy but hopeless at the martial arts.



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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