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Classic TV Revisited: Sez Les

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Sez Lez, which ran from 1969 to 1974, showcased the many talents of Les Dawson.

Les Dawson?
Deadpan, pessimistic stand-up who did mother-in-law jokes. Could also contort his face to look like a toothless charwoman and played piano very badly.

Couldn’t play?
He was actually an accomplished jazz pianist.

Dawson’s dawning?
He was discovered on talent show Opportunity Knocks after an impoverished childhood and an angst ridden few years finding himself.

How come?
Born into a poor family in Collyhurst, Manchester, he had a spell in the Army but harboured ambitions of writing and spent time in Paris — playing the piano in a brothel.

Turning point?
He got a job as an entertainer in Hull. Dying on stage, he resorted to a deadpan act.

Dawson’s humour?
With his face a study in melancholy, he’d unleash a language of caressing, mostly self-mocking narration.

Mother-in-law jokes?
“The wife’s mother said, ‘When you’re dead I’ll dance on your grave.’ I said, ‘Good, I’m being buried at sea.'”

Sense some issues with his mother-in-law?
The old dear must certainly have been thick-skinned because they are said to have got on. “Never stop telling jokes about me,” she’s reported to have commented. Les, not standing behind her with a gun, added: “It’s all done with affection. Let’s face it, they have the ultimate power.”

More jokes?
“My wife is a sex object — every time I ask for sex she objects.”

“Marriage is an institution and that’s where a couple finish up.”

So what did Les Sez?
He unleashed characters such as seedy pervert Cosmo Smallpiece who would blurt, “Knickers, knackers, knockers.”

Charming!
He’s better remembered for the gossiping housewives Cissie and Ada, whom he performed with Roy Barraclough (Alec Gilroy in Corrie).

Pair of stunners?
Hardly. Dawson contorted his face, which he said was “like a sack of spanners”, and shoved at his bust while tittle-tattling.

Fate of Sez Les?
Over seven years, Les starred in more than 70 editions. John Cleese also did a stint.

But?
Having established himself as one of the country’s biggest comics, and not just in his girth, Les went on to other things.

Such as?
Snaffled up by the BBC, he had The Les Dawson Show and replaced Terry Wogan as the host of Blankety Blank. With his career going full circle, he also hosted Opportunity Knocks on ITV.

Les’s fate?
He died on June 10, 1993, aged 60, while filming a cameo for ITV drama Demobbed.

Acting?
Les long harboured ambitions to be taken seriously and in the last years of his life succeeded with an acclaimed performance as a 100-year-old woman in heavyweight BBC2 drama, Nona.

Do say:
“Knickers, knackers, knockers”, “the mother-in-law”, “Trees scraping like fingers of harlots across the sky.”

Don’t say?
“Have you heard of the Atkins diet, Mr Dawson?” “As the founder of the Mother-in-law Appreciation society, I object to your puerile stabs at humour.”

Not to be confused with?
Des res, Les Battersby, Les Dennis, Dawson’s Creek and darts player Jocky Wilson.

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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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