Throughout the 1980’s Barbara Taylor Bradford was Queen of the sweeping romantic drama and Channel 4 (in association with Portman Enterprises), back in 1984 and still in its infancy, made the rather clever decision to dramatise the first of her Emma Harte books A Woman of Substance. Even they were probably a little taken aback at how popular this mini series would be. This of course led the way for further adaptations of the Emma Harte stories, here we take a look at five of the best of the Barbara Taylor Bradford miniseries.
Packed full of top acting talent, led by Jenny Seagrove and the legendary Deborah Kerr as the younger and older versions of Emma Harte, the 3 Emma Harte stories A Woman of Substance, Hold the Dream and To Be The Best, follow the fortunes of Emma Harte and her descendants.
A Woman of Substance begins with self made millionairess Emma Harte gathering her family together before flashing back to her humble beginnings as a maid in Yorkshire, determined to out strip her humble beginnings and eventually rising to the top and owning a chain of department stores, travelling across the decades from the turn of the century to the (then) present day, the story takes in all the key historical events of the times but at its heart its a major tale of love and loss and never giving up what you believe in. There are lots of strong roles for prime British acting talent such as dear old Johnny Mills as well as a breakthrough role for Liam Neeson who does well with the ageing make up to play Blackie O’Neill, who is always there for Emma throughout her life no matter what. It’s a really high quality drama that still quickly has you enthralled.
Hold the Dream followed quickly a year later and carried on the saga of the Hartes with the ageing Emma (still played by Deborah Kerr) handing over the reins of her business empire to grand daughter Paula (cleverly played as well by Jenny Seagrove). It’s another great tale , this time out the action moves between England and New York as Paula tries to juggle the demands of her business empire with learning to realise that love is the most important thing of all.
The finally part of the trilogy To Be The Best didn’t arrive until 1992 and featured Lindsay Wagner in the lead role as a now middle aged Paula. Big business is at the heart of the drama as Paula finds herself in trouble in Hong Kong and the brilliant Anthony Hopkins stealing the limelight as her head of security. An excellent rounding of the story to bring it to a natural close and full of appearnaces from glossy stars like Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Cazenove and Fiona Fullerton.
In between the Emma Harte stories came Act of Will from 1989 and starring a young Elizabeth Hurley and Victoria Tennant and again tells a rags to riches type story as young nurse Audra comes of age in the 1920’s and eventually finds true love in New York, Taylor Bradford supposedly incorporated lots of elements of her own life into this one.
Finally there is Voices of the Heart which, made in 1990, also stars Lindsay Wagner and sees her playing Katherine Tempest who is determined to make it as an actress and rises to become a major Hollywood star. Highly glossy, the cast also includes James Brolin, Victoria Tennant again and Leigh Lawson.
There’s a common theme of succeeding against all the odds in all these stories, something BTB managed to do herself of course and the set as a whole makes for a great collection of supremely entertaining, glamorous and high quality dramas.
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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