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Classic TV Revisited: Steptoe and Son



Steptoe and Son was about an ambitious young man – well, 39 – anxious to better himself but repeatedly held back by conniving single parent. It could be a morality tale for today. Instead it was a comedy about father and son rag and bone men, Albert and Harold Steptoe, partners in grime.

When was it on?
From 1962-74, a total of 46 episodes plus two Christmas specials and two feature films, Steptoe and Son (1972) and Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973).

Who wrote it?
Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, creators of Hancock’s Half-Hour. It originated from a Comedy Playhouse production, The Offer.

Who were the star turns?
Shakespearean actor Harry H. Corbett played Harold with Wilfrid Brambell as Albert. Corbett added the H (which he said stood for ‘Hanything’) to his name to distinguish himself from Sooty’s handler. Even so, the two Harry Corbetts still sometimes got each other’s mail. As a result of one mix-up, Sooty kicked-off a charity football match! Nobody could see him from the stands.

Who made guest appearances?
The usual suspects – Joanna Lumley, June Whitfield, Leonard Rossiter. La Lumley played Bunty, Harold’s posh girlfriend.

But who was the real star?
Hercules, the Steptoes’ horse. A genuine rag and bone man’s horse owned by Shepherds Bush brothers Arthur and Chris Arnold, he was often recognised on his rounds and offered carrots and sweets by children. What David Beckham would give for such adulation – even the carrots. Hercules also had amazing powers of recovery. He died in the 1970 episode A Death in the Family but recovered for the 1972 feature film.

What was a typical scene?
Harold says he’s leaving to build a new career/go on holiday/marry some floozie but the old man uses emotional blackmail (usually his health) to keep him at home.

How did the Steptoes help the Labour Party?
The episode The Lead Man Cometh was due to be screened on General Election day 1964, 90 minutes before the polls closed. But Labour leader Harold Wilson was understandably worried that Labour voters would stay in and watch Steptoe rather than vote and so he persuaded BBC boss Hugh Greene to put transmission back to 9pm. ‘That might be worth a dozen seats to me,’ said Wilson gratefully. Labour won by just four seats. So the devaluation of the pound was down to Albert Steptoe. You read it here first.

Where did the title come from?
A little photographic shop, Steptoe and Figge, which Galton and Simpson spotted down a side street in Richmond, Surrey. Not for one moment did they consider calling the show Figge and Son.

Was Wilfrid Brambell anything like Albert?
Au contraire, he was a dapper little man who, after the memorable scene in which Albert ate pickled onions in the bath, complained for days that he stank of vinegar. He kept Albert’s blackened worn-down false teeth in a glass of his favourite drink – gin and tonic.

Who watched it?
The Beatles for a start. They admired Brambell so much they asked him to play Paul McCartney’s grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night.

Who didn’t watch it?
Lew Grade allegedly objected to the swearing and banned it from his home.



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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