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Vicar of Dibley Vicar of Dibley


Classic TV Revisited: The Vicar of Dibley



When the 102-year-old vicar of St. Barnabas dies in the pulpit, the villagers of Dibley expect his successor to be a bright young man capable of boosting attendances. Instead they find that the new incumbent is a woman, Geraldine Granger (Dawn French), a wise-cracking chocoholic with a soft centre.

The motley assortment of locals react to her arrival in different ways. The idea may not sound very promising on paper but in the hands of writer Richard Curtis (Black Adder, Four Weddings And A Funeral etc), the Book of Revelations could raise a few laughs.

Who were the main characters?
Geraldine herself; her doting verger Alice Tinker, a naive young woman who is a few pages short of a hymn book and who spectacularly fails to get any of Geraldine’s dirty jokes; Geraldine’s chief adversary, David Horton, domineering head of the parish council; his mild-mannered son Hugo who, to his father’s chagrin, married Alice at the end of the 1998 series; Frank Pickle, the ineffectual parish clerk; and fellow parish council members Jim Trott, a man who speaks in mysterious ways, blunt-talking man of the soil Owen Newitt and cook extraordinaire Letitia Cropley whose recipes owed more to science fiction than to Delia Smith. Letitia was killed off in the Easter 1996 special.

Who wrote it?
Richard Curtis, no stranger to religious themes in Four Weddings And A Funeral.

Who were the star turns?
Dawn French as Geraldine, Emma Chambers as Alice, Gary Waldhorn as David Horton, James Fleet as Hugo Horton, John Bluthal as Frank Pickle, Trevor Peacock as Jim Trott, Roger Lloyd Pack as Owen Newitt and Liz Smith as the late Letitia.

Does Dawn French identify with Geraldine?
Yes, especially her chocolate consumption. Geraldine’s idea of a good Christmas is to work her way through 130 chocolate advent calendars and Dawn, in full Cadbury mode, confesses: ‘I love a nibble. Chocolate’s as important to me as fags are to a smoker. I have a huge, sacred area in my fridge stacked with it.’

What is a typical Dibley joke?
Jim’s Christmas Cracker joke (that’s right, a Jimmy riddle): ‘What do you do when you see a spaceman?’ — ‘Park in it, man’.

Who watches it?
Vicars of both sexes watch it religiously. And for a show about rural English life, it is surprisingly popular in the States.

Any complaints?
The Rt. Rev. John Gaisford, Bishop of Beverley, objected to what he saw as the propagandist content of the show. ‘It disappoints me,’ he said in 1996. ‘At least a third of the population of the Church of England is opposed to the ordination of women and its views should be represented.’

Any real-life resonance?
A collection box full. Many women vicars see Geraldine as a role model, admiring her strength and wit. An Oxfordshire woman vicar even confessed to puffing her chest out whenever she walked into a room full of men so that she could look more like Dawn French.

Any distant cousins?
Ever since Leslie Phillips (an unlikely vicar if ever there was one) donned A dog collar as the Rev Andrew Parker in Our Man at St. Mark’s back in 1963, religious sit-coms have answered the prayers of comedy producers. Derek Nimmo cornered the market in clumsy clerics with All Gas and Gaiters which begat Oh Brother!, Oh Father! and Hell’s Bells, Arthur Lowe took a turn at the altar for Bless Me, Father and Richard Briers worked minor miracles with All In Good Faith. And then, lo, there was Father Ted. As for women, until Dibley they had to make do with The Flying Nun…



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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