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Classic TV Revisited: The Two Ronnies

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Classic light entertainment show The Two Ronnies ran on the BBC from 1971-1987 and starred Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. At heart this was a memorable sketch show with two comics – one rotund, one short – with a penchant for puns, tongue twisters and dressing up as women.

Why was it so good?
The performances of Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett were marvellous. Gags were also provided by Barker and the likes of Spike Milligan,John Cleese and other members of the Monty Python team, and Only Fools And Horses creator John Sullivan.

How did it begin?
Ronnies Barker and Corbett appeared together in the Frost Report in the ’60s and BBC bosses decided it was a good idea to give them a show together. It always began with the line “In a packed programme tonight…” and ended with “And it’s goodnight from him…” In between there were always jokey news items; humour of the seaside postcard variety; and sketches in which they dressed up in female attire.

What were the highlights?
There were too many to choose from but often brilliant were the adventure serials. They included yarns such as The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town featuring the flatulence of David Jason. There was also The Worm That Turned, a futuristic tale in which Gestapo-type women were in charge with the late Diana Dors as commandant and all the men wearing womens’ clothes.

So did Barker and Corbett enjoy cross- dressing all the time?
Corbett didn’t seem to mind but Barker hated it. He said that his wife Joy felt sick when she saw him in drag.

Was it popular?
Adults loved the clever writing and kids adored the risque material. It ran for 16 years from 1971 to 1987 on BBC1 with audiences topping more than 19m. Even when it was repeated it still drew well in excess of 14m for years after.

The Two Ronnies - Corbett and Barker

Memorable moments?
Older viewers can still remember the classic sketch in which a customer tried to buy fork handles. Or was it four candles? Ronnie Barker, to many, was the real star of the show but he probably wouldn’t have been half as funny without small Corbett. However, one of the most irritating parts of the whole show was undoubtedly the diminutive Corbett telling a story in a huge armchair.

Why did it end?
Barker decided to retire and open an antiques shop in Oxfordshire. His decision also came after his solo successes in Porridge and Open All Hours. BBC bosses were desperate to keep the ratings winner going but Barker would not budge. Corbett, who had lesser solo success with Sorry! went on to star in shows such as Small Talk and he was in the film Fierce Creatures.

Distinguishing features?
Spectacles; limericks; double entendres; and mispronunciations.

Do say…
“Comic geniuses who are sorely missed today.”

Don’t say…
“A comedy double act with two straight men. Not a patch on Morecambe and Wise.

Not to be confused with
Morecambe and Wise; Little and Large; Hale and Pace; Mike and Bernie Winters; Ant and Dec; Ronnie Biggs; Da Doo Ron Ron.

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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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