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Classic TV Revisited: Quatermass



Saving the world 1950’s style TV sci-fi pioneer Professor Bernard Quatermass paved the way for Dr Who and influenced series such as The X-Files. Over the years the prof was played by Reginald Tate, John Robinson, Andre Morell and John Mills.

Why was it so good?
The granddad of sci-fi had the compulsive writing of Nigel Kneale and an enduring character in Professor Bernard Quatermass. It also featured the three main classic sci-fi plots – human returns to earth as alien; invasion from outer space; and extra-terrestrials living among us.

How did it begin?
In 1953 BBC head of drama Michael Barry spent his entire budget of £250 on commissioning Nigel Kneale’s script. The result was the groundbreaking six parter The Quatermass Experiment in which an astronaut contaminated by aliens returned to Earth as a 100 foot vegetable creature.

Was it a hit?
A nation brought up on genteel dramas was riveted by the adventures of an alien vegetable wreaking havoc in London. Incredibly it cost just £3,500 to make and the series starring Reginald Tate as scientist Quatermass also used very early, crude special effects.

Quatermass 1979 John Mills

Such as?
Author Nigel Kneale played the monster using his gloved hands covered in vegetation and leather stuck through a blown up still of Westminster Abbey!

How scary was it?
Quatermass II which was shown live in 1955 was considered horrific at the time and was broadcast with a warning to those of “a nervous disposition”. The six-parter made for £7,500 told how Martians had invaded Earth by taking over human minds and bodies. John Robinson took over the role of Professor Quatermass. Soon to be famous names taking part included Wilfred Brambell of Steptoe And Son fame.

Did it get any scarier?
The BBC’s last series Quatermass And Pit was shown in 1958 and 1959 just as the space race was gaining momentum. Viewers were hooked on the tale of how dormant Martian influence on Earth is unleashed when an archaeological dig finds an ancient capsule containing alien insects. This time Professor Quatermass was played by Andre Morell.

Could it be revived?
Never say never. ITV made a four part drama starring Sir John Mills as Quatermass in 1979. In it he battled to stop aliens from “stealing” young humans and taking them to their planet. It also starred Toyah Willcox. It was never as good as the oft-repeated original but was still powerful enough. There have also been three spin-off films with the likes of Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner and Sid James and radio and stage versions in the ’90s. Then 2005 saw a lacklustre BBC one-off remake of the original story.

Distinguishing features?
Sci-fi innovations and dodgy special effects.

Do say:
I was so afraid I thought little men from Mars were about to come through my front door.

Don’t say:
It was the pits compared to Star Wars.

Aired on BBC, 1953-1959 and ITV, 1979.



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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