Popular ITV comedy In Loving Memory, which ran from 1979-1986, was set in a Lancashire undertaker’s business in the ’20s and ’30s. Thora Hird, Christopher Beeny, Sherrie Hewson starred.
Doesn’t sound promising. Why was it so good?
It was mainly because the cast was headed by the late, lamented Dame Thora Hird, who’s been rightly described as “a national treasure”. There was also a solid supporting cast of Christopher Beeny and Sherrie Hewson.
How did it begin?
Funnily enough there was a huge gap between the pilot episode in 1969 and the first of five series 10 years later.
No one seems to know. Maybe ITV bosses were nervous about the subject matter of Dick Sharples’ comedy, the inevitable coffin jokes and the taboo of death being made light of. Originally made by London-based Thames TV, it was resurrected by Yorkshire TV.
What was it about?
Thora Hird, who died recently, aged 91, played doughty Ivy Unsworth who took over her husband’s funeral business when he died. Ivy was aided, but mostly hindered, by gormless nephew Billy – Christopher Beeny, best known as footman Edward in Upstairs, Downstairs. Thora took over from Marjorie Rhodes who played Ivy in the 1969 pilot which topped the ratings with 8.6m.
Who else was in the cortege, sorry, cast?
Sherrie Hewson of Corrie and Crossroads fame was Billy’s girlfriend Mary. Other regulars included Liz Smith (Nanna in The Royle Family), Avis Bunnage and Colin Farrell.
Hollywood’s new heart-throb?
No, some other guy with the same name. Guests included Richard Wilson, Joan Sims and EastEnder Gretchen Franklin.
Did the subject matter pall with viewers?
No, they loved it. More than 15m people regularly tuned in, though many critics hated it.
What sort of stories did it feature?
One funeral took place after a knife thrower’s act went fatally wrong.
Sounds hilarious. Anything else?
Many of the plots centred on dim Billy’s job as an undertaker ruining his love life. His Auntie Ivy was also a regular thorn in his flesh over his romances.
Why did it end?
After five series shot on location with Luddenden, Yorks doubling up as Oldshaw, Lancs it simply ran out of steam.
Could it be revived?
Unlikely, but its irritating oboe theme tune can be heard regularly when it’s repeated by digital channels.
Was it Thora Hird’s finest hour?
Probably not as she won four Baftas for other acting roles.
She picked up gongs for Alan Bennett’s A Cream Cracker Under The Settee and as a stroke victim in Lost For Words during her 70-year acting career. She also played Edie in Last Of The Summer Wine until her death and presented Songs Of Praise.
It was saved by the great acting ability of Thora Hird as bossy northerner with a heart.
“Only Thora could raise a smile in a funeral parlour comedy.”
“A tasteless comedy which didn’t raise a laugh in seven years.”
Not to be confused with:
It’s Your Funeral; Six Feet Under; Men In Black; Funeral In Berlin; Death In Venice; Dead Ringers.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: 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
Classic TV Revisited: 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.
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.
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?
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.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
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.
Classic TV Revisited: 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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