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Sunday Night at the London Palladium Sunday Night at the London Palladium


Classic TV Revisited: Sunday Night At The London Palladium



Many of the big names in variety, light entertainment and music in the past five decades appeared on this Sunday night staple. It ran on ITV from 1955-67 then again in 1973 and then again in 2000.

Landmark variety show which was the first to bring international stars into people’s living rooms.

Why was it golden?
Several reasons: The Tiller Girls, the Beat The Clock gameshow and the revolving stage. It also made stars of comperes Bruce Forsyth, Jimmy Tarbuck and Norman Vaughan.

How did it begin?
It was originally called Val Parnell’s Sunday Night At The London Palladium, after the owner of the famous theatre. Screened by ITV 25 September 1955, the first show was hosted by comic Tommy Trinder and starred Gracie Fields and US singer Guy Mitchell. When a power failure blacked out ITV, Trinder ad-libbed for two hours. As the picture came back, he said: “Welcome to Monday morning at the Palladium!”

Who else hosted it?
Bruce Forsyth took over from Tommy Trinder in 1958 and was an instant hit, drawing 14m viewers. Audiences loved his natural ability to ad-lib, his handling of the gameshow element Beat The Clock and his then catchphrase “I’m in charge”. He was succeeded by Don Arrol in 1960, then Norman Vaughan and Jimmy Tarbuck. Other comperes included Hughie Green, Bob Monkhouse, Robert Morley, Roger Moore and Des O’Connor.

What was Beat The Clock all about?
It was nothing to do with smashing up timepieces. It was a race against time as members of the audience competed in silly games to win a £1,800 jackpot. Tasks included catching table tennis balls in a butterfly net. It was based on a US quiz show.

Any disastrous moments?
Plenty. Hughie Green was hit by falling scenery and Harry Secombe fell through a trap door. Judy Garland was too upset to go on the revolving stage and the Rolling Stones also refused as it didn’t fit their rebellious image. Mario Lanza accidentally punched his bodyguard, Frankie Howerd sparked a protest by carrying the Union Jack upside down and Norman Vaughan dropped a rifle and nearly broke his toe.

Sunday Night at the London Palladium

Four hosts together – Jimmy Tarbuck, Bob Monkhouse, Bruce Forsyth and Norman Vaughan.

Any other memorable moments?
During an Equity strike in 1961, which robbed the show of its guest list, Bruce Forsyth and Norman Wisdom saved the day. They were members of the Variety Artists’ Federation and performed together live for the entire 60-minute show. Their act included a slapstick routine with stepladders and buckets of wallpaper paste, which made an awful mess.

Was it popular?
At its peak 28m people watched it and it became the main topic of conversation on Monday mornings. Every major artist worth their salt – including The Beatles and Bob Hope – appeared on the programme. It ran for 12 years until 1967 and was briefly revived in 1973 with Jim Dale as compere. Bruce Forsyth brought it back as Tonight At The London Palladium in 2000 but it flopped.

Distinguishing features?
High-kicking Tiller Girls and their distinctive dance routines. And the revolving stage on which stars gathered for the finale of the show. Inevitably there were occasions when it broke down.

Do say:
“Variety is dead. Long live variety.”

Don’t say:
“Variety was not the spice of my life.”

Not to be confused with:
Never On Sunday, Live From Her Majesty’s.



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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