Three of a Kind was a quick-fire sketch show, strictly non-satirical and safe to watch with your granny. The Daily Mail wrote: ‘There is no time to get bored. By the time you realise a joke has not worked you are laughing at the next.’
When was it on?
From 1981 to 1983 on BBC1. There were three series and a couple of specials – a total of 18 episodes in all.
Who were the star turns?
Lenny Henry, fresh from New Faces, The Fosters, Tiswas and OTT; Tracey Ullman,an aspiring young actress; and David Copperfield, a northern comic not to be confused with the American illusionist.
Who recurring themes?
Three of a Kind pioneered the use of computer graphics and featured ‘Gagfax’where jokes were printed on screen between sketches. Among the characters Lenny Henry introduced were Fred Dread, Minister for Reggae, and black community policeman, P.C. Ganja, who had dreadlocks, a Rasta hat on top of his helmet, and a Walkman in place of a radio.
What sort of sketches were on the show?
Tracey Ullman was adamant that there would be nothing sexist. At the first writers’ meeting she stood up and said: ‘I’m not a blonde, I don’t have a big bust, and I don’t want any sexist jokes. Thank you very much!’ Otherwise most subjects were fair game with send-ups of everything from pop groups to Blue Peter.
Who wrote it?
A cast of thousands — well, 70 anyway. Among those who cut their writing teeth on Three of a Kind were Grant and Naylor (later of Red Dwarf fame), Ian Hislop and Hale and Pace.
How did it come about?
Paul Jackson, then a young BBC producer, had been given the job of creating a fast-moving show featuring new ‘alternative’ comics. The show was originally going to be called Six of a Kind but it proved tough work finding six stars of the right calibre. So they settled for three. Henry and Copperfield were first to be cast and then Paul Jackson sent them to watch Ullman in a play at the Royal Court Theatre. ‘We just fell about laughing,’ said Copperfield of Ullman’s performance. She was hired.
Who watched it?
Over 12 million tuned in each week. Its hi-tech image and (sometimes) corny gags made it popular with kids.
Tracey Ullman landed her role in Girls On Top thanks to Lenny Henry recommending her to his future wife Dawn French. Ullman also launched into a singing career which peaked with a number two hit in 1983 with Kirsty MacColl’s ‘They Don’t Know’.
Why did the show end?
‘Basically we didn’t want to become The Three Ronnies,’ said Lenny Henry in 1983. ‘I don’t want to go on just doing impressions. David Bellamy, Trevor McDonald and all those other characters are all right to fall back on, but I want to do better than that.’
Any distant cousins?
A whole wave of sketch shows sprang up in the early 1980s to utilise the new ‘alternative’ comedians. There was a Kick Up The Eighties (which also featured Tracey Ullman and gave early exposure to Rik Mayall in the guise of Brummie investigative reporter Kevin Turvey); Laugh??? I Nearly Paid My Licence Fee (with Robbie Coltrane and John Sessions); Alfresco (with Robbie Coltrane, Ben Elton, Fry and Laurie and Emma Thompson); and later Naked Video which brought the world Rab C Nesbitt.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: 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
Classic TV Revisited: 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.
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.
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?
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.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
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.
Classic TV Revisited: 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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