Written by Talbot Rothwell Up Pompeii starred Frankie Howerd and was a Roman romp in the finest tradition of British bawdiness — a sort of Carry On Up Your Toga.
When was it on?
Following a pilot on BBC1 in 1969, there were two series (one of seven episodes, the other of six) of Up Pompeii! in 1970. There was also a film version in 1971 and two one-off TV specials, both titled Further Up Pompeii!, in 1975 and 1991, the last one being on ITV.
Who were the principal characters?
Everything centred around slave Lurcio whose cushy lifestyle was at risk each week but who always somehow managed to extricate himself in the nick of time. Lurcio’s master was Ludicrus Sextus, a government minister, who had a bosomy wife, Ammonia, and two aptly-named offspring, Nausius and Erotica. The other regular was the wailing soothsayer Senna (as in pod). Among peripheral characters were Ambi Dextrus, Bilius, Hernia, Hidius, James Bondus, Lecherous, Odius, Preshus, Nymphia, Stovus Primus, Twiggia and Virginia.
Who were the star turns?
The show was a vehicle for Frankie Howerd who played Lurcio and brought to the part his trait of sharing confidences with the audience. He would even mock the polystyrene studio set designed to recapture the splendour of ancient Pompeii. Max Adrian (series one) and Wallas Eaton (series two) played Ludicrus with Elizabeth Larner as Ammonia, Kerry Gardner as Nausius, Jeanne Mockford as Senna and Georgina Moon as Erotica. Guests included William Rushton (as Plautus) and Barbara Windsor (as Nymphia). For the 1971 film, Michael Hordern played Ludicrus with Barbara Murray as Ammonia.
Who wrote it?
Talbot Rothwell, who scripted all the best Carry On films. For the second series he was partnered by Sid Colin, another Carry On stalwart.
How did it come about?
One of Frankie Howerd’s many resurgences of popularity — he used to say he had made more comebacks than Lazarus — came with his appearance in the 1960s musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Up Pompeii! carried on with the Roman theme and incorporated jokes which were even older. Francis himself told a different story. He said the idea came from two BBC executives who were in Pompeii and said, ‘Let’s do something about this place — apart from rebuilding it.’
Did Frankie Howard ad-lib alot?
Nay, nay and thrice nay. His rambling speeches may have looked as if he was making them up as he went along but every ‘oooh’, every grimace, every look of mock indignation, every aside to the audience was carefully rehearsed in advance. ‘Up Pompeii! is only an interrupted patter act — that’s the way I see it,’ said Howerd at the time. ‘I give ideas, but I don’t write the scripts. Other writers are so much better than I am. But I plan routines and photograph them mentally, like chapters in a book. The reason I don’t ad-lib often is because I’m not very good at it. You don’t ad-lib a Grieg piano concerto, do you? Or a gourmet meal? You plan them. If I can claim to be an actor at all, it’s because I give the impression of being spontaneous.’
Who watched it?
Over 12 million hung on to his every double entendre.
Mary Whitehouse (now there’s a surprise) called it ‘sordid and cheap’ while even Howerd professed to be alarmed by the show’s vulgarity. In fact he took the unprecedented step of asking the BBC to cut out some of the innuendoes. ‘Some of the gags did make me blink a bit,’ he said. ‘I almost blushed.’ But the BBC assured him that historical comedies were bawdy rather than vulgar and refused to tone down the humour.
Senna’s ‘Woe, woe, woe…’, plus countless specimens of ‘titter ye not’, ‘don’t mock the afflicted’ and ‘no, listen, missus’ from Lurcio to keep Frankie fans happy.
Any distant cousins?
There have been a fair few historical sit-coms — ‘Blackadder’, The Complete and Utter History of Britain, to name but two — but Chelmsford 123, set in AD 123 and starring Jimmy Mulville and Rory McGrath, was probably the closest in spirit.
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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