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Classic TV Revisited: Open All Hours



Arkwright (Ronnie Barker), a miserly, stuttering Northern corner shopkeeper resplendent in brown coat, struggled against a lack of customers and a deadly, guillotine-like till to earn an honest crust. Assisted by his day-dreaming, tank-topped nephew and delivery boy Granville (David Jason), he was forced to stay open longer and longer hours to persuade his equally tight-fisted customers to part with their pennies and unlike most shopkeepers Arkwright had no truck with vouchers or special offers. And all the while Arkwright lusted after the buxom Nurse Gladys Emmanuel who lived across the street.

When was it on?
From 1976 to 1985 – a total of 25 episodes.

Where was it set?
Arkwright’s shop was converted from a hairdressing salon, Helen’s Beautique, in Lister Avenue, Doncaster. It has since become something of a tourist attraction. But then there’s not much else to see in Doncaster.

Who wrote it?
The prolific Roy Clarke, creator of ‘Last of the Summer Wine‘, Rosie, ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ etc.

Who were the star turns?
Ronnie Barker played Arkwright with David Jason (complete with hairpiece to cover his thinning locks) as Granville and Lynda Baron as Nurse Gladys. Barbara Flynn played the milkwoman (Granville dreamed of secret assignations on her float) and two of Arkwright’s formidable, tight-hatted regular customers were played by Kathy Staff (aka Nora Batty) and Stephanie Cole (Diana in Waiting for God).

Who watched it?
12.5 million people at its peak.

Did the stars get on?
Very much so. Barker says it was his favourite series to make because he and Jason became such good friends. When Barker, affectionately known as The Guvnor, retired, he sent a poem to Jason which ended: ‘I now relinquish the honoured title of The Guvnor to my apprentice the boy Granville who is entitled herewith to call himself The Guvnor.’

Open All Hours

Where there any complaints?
A few about Arkwright’s stutter. The BBC said s-s-s-sorry.

Did the locals enjoy filming?
There was a lot of night filming, prompting the odd moans from people who had to be up early for work the next morning. When Granville re-created Singing in the Rain, Jason spent hours getting it right. As well as getting soaked to the skin, he provided free cabaret for the good folk of Doncaster.

Any catchphrases?

Any real life reasonance?
Ronnie Barker once received a letter from someone in Littlehampton insisting that Arkwright was based on a local shopkeeper and asking him to perform the re-opening of said shop. Barker politely declined.

Any distant cousins?
Shopping sit-coms are about as common as days when there isn’t a sale at DFS. There was ‘Are You Being Served?‘, the abysmal Tripper’s Day/Slinger’s Day set in a supermarket with first Leonard Rossiter and then Bruce Forsyth in the title role, and not forgetting (although most people prefer to) High Street Blues, a mercifully short-lived ITV effort from 1989 about a small town high street. If Open All Hours was the Harrods of shopping sit-coms, High Street Blues was the Oxfam shop.

The format is still proving itself, having been revived as Still Open All Hours with David Jason’s Granville taking over the running of the shop.



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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