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Miriam Karlin in The Rag Trade (1970's revivial) Miriam Karlin in The Rag Trade (1970's revivial)

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Classic TV Revisited: The Rag Trade

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Classic TV Revisited takes a look at sitcom The Rag Trade which was created by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney

What was it all about?
A comedy of labour relations which developed into a battle of wills between two immovable forces — the workers, led by a militant shop steward, and the management. The series was quite a ground-breaker, giving the best lines to women in the hitherto male-dominated world of sit-com.

Where was it set?
The workshop of Fenner Fashions.

When was it on?
From 1961 to 1963 on BBC, a total of three series (37 episodes). A further 22 episodes were screened on ITV from 1977-78.

Who were the principal characters?
Harold Fenner, the permanently harassed boss of Fenner Fashions; his arch rival, shop steward Paddy, who, with a blast on her whistle, was only too happy to declare ‘Everybody Out!’; Fenner’s foreman Reg who was torn between the two camps; and workers Carole (tall and glamorous) and Lily (small and dotty). Carole and Lily left at the end of the second series and were replaced by a host of new workers, including Judy who became Reg’s bit of fluff. When the series was revived by ITV, only Fenner and Paddy of the original characters remained, Reg being substituted by the gullible Tony.

The main cast of the Rag Trade (1960's BBC version), Miriam Karlin, Peter Jones and Sheila Hancock.

The main cast of the Rag Trade (1960’s BBC version), Miriam Karlin, Peter Jones and Sheila Hancock.

The Rag Trade’s Catchphrase Everybody Out takes hold!

Who were the star turns?
Peter Jones played Fenner with Miriam Karlin as Paddy, Reg Varney as Reg, Sheila Hancock as Carole, Esma Cannon as Lily and Barbara Windsor as Judy. For the ITV run, Christopher Beeny played Tony and among the new girls was a young Gillian Taylforth as Lyn.

Who wrote it?
Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney who later created ‘On The Buses‘.

Any catchphrases?
Miriam Karlin’s strident ‘Everybody out!’ was heard on factory floors up and down the country.

Any real-life resonance?
Fashion bosses complained that the series gave a poor impression of the industry and of working relations. After 15 girls had been sacked at a Derbyshire electronics firm, the stewards ordered an all-out strike, prompting the firm’s boss to moan: ‘I think this is a case of the girls watching too much Rag Trade.’

The cast of the 1960's version of the Rag Trade including Miriam Karlin (second from right) Sheila Hancock (far right)

The cast of the 1960’s version of the Rag Trade including Miriam Karlin (second from right) Sheila Hancock (far right).

Wasn’t Sheila Hancock given a colourful remedy for stage fright?
In her book, Ramblings of an Actress, she recalled how she used to suffer badly from nerves before performances of The Rag Trade. She said that she and Miriam Karlin would ‘take one of those lovely purple heart-shaped pills a nice doctor gave us’ with a bath and a glass of champagne to help calm their nerves.

Who watched it?
The Rag Trade had most of Europe in stitches. There have been successful versions in Belgium and Portugal while the long-running Scandinavian spin-off, Fredericksson’s Fabriks, even spawned Fredericksson’s Fabriks – The Movie!

Any distant cousins?
Barbara Windsor starred in a 1968 BBC sit-com, Wild, Wild Women, also written by Wolfe and Chesney and set among a group of garment workers in a milliner’s shop in 1902. High on emancipation, low on laughs, the series nevertheless gave an early outing to Anna Karen who the following year would star in ‘On The Buses’.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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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

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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.

Tragedy?
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

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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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