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To The Manor Born To The Manor Born


Classic TV Revisited: To The Manor Born



In sitcom To The Manor Born, saddled with death duties following the demise of her husband, the grand Audrey fforbes-Hamilton was in such dire financial straits that she was forced to sell her stately home, Grantleigh, and move into a poky lodge in the grounds. To rub her nose in it yet further, the estate was bought by Richard DeVere, a self-made millionaire grocer, whom Audrey considered to be somewhat common.

When was it on?
From 1979 to 1981 on BBC1 — three series plus a Christmas 1979 special, a total of 21 episodes.

Where was it set?
On the fictional Grantleigh Estate, somewhere in well-heeled rural England.

Who were the principal characters?
Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, snob of this parish, who, forced to live in reduced circumstances, had to adjust to such alien phenomena as public transport, ironing and supermarkets. Unable to come to terms with the fact that in future she would have to forsake pheasant for pressed turkey, she became frostier than a packet of fish fingers; Richard DeVere, a suave and successful businessman who, although sympathetic to Audrey’s plight, was initially met by a barrage of hostility; Marjory Frobisher, Audrey’s more practical best friend, who managed to put Audrey down once per episode;

Who were the star turns?
Penelope Keith starred as Audrey with Peter Bowles as Richard, Angela Thorne as Marjory, John Rudling as Brabinger and Daphne Heard as Mrs. Polouvicka.

To The Manor Born

Who wrote it?
Peter Spence, a former gag writer for Kenneth Williams and Roy Hudd.

How did it come about?
Peter Spence lived in the Somerset village of Cricket St. Thomas where the widow of the owner of the 1000-acre estate had moved into the small estate lodge and watched a businessman transform the place. Spence thought this true story had comic potential and, in 1968, planned a series for radio to star Penelope Keith as the widow and Bernard Braden as an American businessman. Although the series was recorded, it was never broadcast and it was only after Spence had written a novel based on his idea that it finally made it to television.

Was there a happy ending?
Yes, after all that back-biting, Audrey eventually mellowed, fell in love with Richard and the two got married in the final episode.

Who watched it?
The wedding episode was watched by a staggering 24 million.

Any spin-offs?
After its chequered history, To The Manor Born did reach the airwaves in the spring of 1997 when Radio 2 broadcast ten episodes, six of which were adptations by Peter Spence of his TV scripts. Penelope Keith and Angela Thorne were present and correct but Richard DeVere was played by Keith Barron instead of Peter Bowles.

Any distant cousins?
With its accent on the British class system, there were immediate echoes of Penelope Keith’s previous hit,’The Good Life’.



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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