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David Croft, Chairman of the sitcom board

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If there’s a classic sitcom showing somewhere right at this moment, chances are good that the name David Croft is in the credits. If not, someone in the cast or maybe even the director probably got his or her start in a Croft show. Here Memorable TV takes a look at the career of one of British comedy’s most prolific writers/directors/producers.

Hugh And I (1962-1967) – This long-running sitcom was about a bachelor who still lived at home with his mother. Instead of working, however, he would rather plot his get-rich quick schemes Starred Terry Scott, Hugh Lloyd, and Mollie Sugden as Mrs. Crispin.

Up Pompeii! (1970) – Croft produced the first season of the adventures of Ludicrus Sextus, a Roman slave played by the great Frankie Howerd. It carried on the Carry On tradition of innuendo and bad gags, but unlike other Croft sitcoms, this is not an ensemble piece, but a star vehicle for Howerd.

Dad's Army

The cast of the much loved Dad’s Army. A big screen version starring Toby Jones and Bill Nighy has been made.

Dad’s Army (1968-1977) — Next to Are You Being Served? this was probably Croft’s most durable hit series (indeed so much so that a big screen reboot will soon be upon us), written with Jimmy Perry. This sentimental favorite among British TV viewers followed the misadventures of an aging, ragtag Home Guard squad doing their best to defend England during World War II. Here Croft established his penchant for creating sitcoms each with a large cast of eccentric characters.

Are You Being Served? (1973-1985) – The unforgettable staff of Grace Brothers Department Store, and the ongoing conflicts between the Gentlemen’s Ready-to-Wear and Ladies’ departments, enabled AYBS? to become one of the most popular of all Britcoms seen in America. Croft created this series with Jeremy Lloyd, who once worked in a department store on which Grace Brothers’ was based.

It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum (1974-1981) – This series, written with Jimmy Perry, is unfamiliar to most Americans, but was another favorite in Britain. Set in India during World War II, the heroes were a motley bunch of performers called the Royal Artillery Concert Party, who find it as difficult to follow army decorum as it is to live with India’s climate.

Come Back, Mrs. Noah (1978) – This short-lived series (only six episodes), written with Jeremy Lloyd, starred Mollie Sugden as a housewife in the year 2050 who accidentally ended up stranded aboard an orbiting space station called the Britannia 7, along with a TV reporter and a near-incompetent crew. Okay, perhaps the premise was just slightly improbable, but the slapstick sequences kept things hopping, especially when the reluctant inhabitants of the space station encountered unfamiliar technological gizmos. (Gorden Kaye, who opens each episode as a news anchorman, later starred in ‘Allo, ‘Allo!)

The cast of Hi De Hi

Hi De Hi! holiday camp life in the 1950’s was the setting for this sitcom.

Hi-De-Hi (1980-1988) – Another large, colorful cast of characters greets us as we enter the world of Maplin’s Holiday Camp. The year is 1959, and timid Jeffrey Fairbrother must oversee the unpredictable entertainment staff of the resort, as they instigate various schemes, often involving unsuspecting guests. Written by Croft and Jimmy Perry, this long-running series starred the late Simon Cadell (David Croft’s son-in-law) as Fairbrother.

‘Allo,’Allo! (1984-1992) – Set in a small French town called Nouvion during the Nazi occupation, this series followed the exploits of humble cafe owner Rene Artois. Rene’s cafe becomes a safehouse (over his objections) for the French Resistance while he must, at the same time, keep the occupying German generals happy.

Allo Allo cast

Some of Allo Allo’s large ensemble cast.

This is perhaps the only sitcom in TV history that can truly be described as an “epic.” With a regular cast of twenty, extensive location shoots, an absurdly complex plot, and almost indescribable silliness, this series reached comic heights that few others have matched before or since. Written with Jeremy Lloyd, Croft made one of his long-time supporting players, Gorden Kaye, a bona fide star as the hapless Rene.

You Rang, M’Lord? (1990-1993) – This series, co- written with Jimmy Perry, was a satire of the famed Upstairs, Downstairs drama. Each of the 50-minute episodes found Lord Meldrum and his family, perhaps best described as Upper Class Twits, spending most of their days enjoying the life of the idle rich – that is, when there isn’t some unexpected family scandal to deal with. The household servants, under the stern eye of James Twelvetrees, regularly outwitted their employers, but also came to their aid whenever a crisis broke out – which was quite often. The 1920s clothing, cars, and home interiors faithfully recreated the period.

Oh, Doctor Beeching! (1996-1997) – A small, rural railroad struggles to survive amid 1960s corporate takeovers and the arrival of a new stationmaster. Starred Paul Shane, Jeffrey Holland, and Su Pollard.

THE CROFT FAMILY TREE

Many of the actors David Croft chose to work with had one thing in common and that’s a theatrical background. In Britain, the idea of a “repertory company” was well established, with a group of actors working together on a number of different productions.

Croft brought this concept to television and worked with the same people numerous times, allowing him to learn their strengths as a performer and to write to those strengths. Here’s a partial list of careers he has helped along:

Nicholas Smith – Up Pompeii! (guest star), Are You Being Served?

Frank Thornton – Hugh and I (guest star), Are You Being Served?

Wendy Richard – Hugh and I (played Mollie Sugden’s niece), Dad’s Army (played Pvt. Walker’s girlfriend), Up Pompeii! (guest star), Are You Being Served?

Mollie Sugden – Hugh and I, Are You Being Served?, Come Back Mrs. Noah

Ian Lavender – Dad’s Army Come Back, Mrs. Noah

Harold Bennett – Dad’s Army, Are You Being Served?

Gorden Kaye – ‘Allo ‘Allo, Are You Being Served? (guest star in two episodes), Come Back Mrs. Noah

Michael Knowles – It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Dad’s Army, Come Back Mrs. Noah, You Rang, M’Lord?, Are You Being Served? (guest star and script writer)

Donald Hewlett – It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Come Back Mrs. Noah, You Rang, M’Lord?

Paul Shane – Oh, Doctor Beeching!, Hi-de-Hi!, You Rang, M’Lord?

Su Pollard – Hi-de-Hi!, Oh, Doctor Beeching!, You Rang, M’ Lord?

Penny Irving – Are You Being Served?, Hi-de-Hi! (series 1)

Bill Pertwee – Dad’s Army, You Rang, M’Lord?

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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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