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Classic TV Revisited: Van Der Valk



Van Der Valk

Channel ITV, 1972-1977, 1991

Starring Barry Foster, Susan Travers, Joanna Dunham, Meg Davies, Richard Huw and Nigel Stock.

Crime drama series offering up cases of a Dutch cop with big hair and even bigger theme tune.

Moody detective show set in Amsterdam, with plenty of scope for corpses in canals and houseboat chases.

Why was it so good?
Blond, curly-haired Barry Foster was perfect as tenacious cop Piet Van der Valk as he tried to stamp out crime in the Dutch capital. What sticks in the mind now is the catchy/irksome theme tune Eye Level, which the Simon Park Orchestra took to Number One. Ba, Ba Ba Ba, Ba, Ba Ba Ba.

How did it begin?
ITV company Thames made the first series in 1972 as a rival to the BBC’s French sleuth Maigret. Barry Foster landed the role after his frightening portrayal of a serial killer and rapist in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Frenzy. At first 26 episodes were made, watched by up to 14m people, and there was a dispute with an Austrian company which wanted to make a Van der Valk movie.

How was the script?
With his knack for comic pay-off lines, Van der Valk should have become known as Two Quips From Amsterdam.

Did he ever go Dutch?
He paid his way at the bar and was often to be found in sleazy strip clubs and in Amsterdam’s red light district while investigating.

Did he always make his excuses and leave?
He never cheated on wife Arlette who was played by three different actresses.

Was there a big gap between series?
It ended after five years in 1977 and was revived as four two-hour episodes in 1991, with Van der Valk as a commissar. It was not a ratings success second time round.

Who else was in it?
Three actresses played Van der Valk’s wife Arlette – Susan Travers, Joanna Dunham and Meg Davies. Based on Nicholas Freeling’s books, it also starred Richard Huw as his son Wim and Nigel Stock as his boss Samson.

Was it Barry Foster’s finest hour?
One of them. He always said he was glad not to be playing a British cop. Foster once said: “Who would want to be Barlow from Z Cars? He is just a mindless bully. Van der Valk thinks.” His other screen credits included Ryan’s Daughter, Wild Geese, Smiley’s People and Hotel Du Lac. He was in the West End hit Art when he died. He leaves a widow and three children.

Wasn’t Barry Foster always being confused with other actors?
That was his plaintive cry as people could not remember his name. Because of his curly hair he was often mistaken for Dr Who Jon Pertwee and Duty Free’s Keith Barron. Foster, who once played Sherlock Holmes in a radio series, also found himself mistaken for Inspector Morse star John Thaw after he guested in an episode of the detective series.

Distinguishing features?
Drug busts, prostitution, canals, barges, blond bouffants and Edam cheese.

Do say:
“Holland’s most famous crime fighter. Poirot is a mere Belgian.”

Don’t say:
“It was all double Dutch to me. There weren’t enough windmills or clogs.”

Not to be confused with:
Dick Van Dyke, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Denise Van Outen, Later With Jools Holland, Van Morrison, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Fosters Lager.



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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