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It Ain’t Half Hot Mum – The boys to entertain you!

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What was it all about?
A Jimmy Perry and DavidCroft sit-com charting the escapades of a Royal Artillery Concert Party based in India during the Second World War. Unfortunately these days the whole concept is sadly considered a bit un-pc and reruns are increasingly rare.

How long was it on?
It ran for 8 seasons from 1974-1981

Who was it about?
Although it was very much an ensemble piece, the undoubted star was Battery Sergeant Major Williams, a Welsh disciplinarian who, moustache bristling, barked orders at the bunch of misfits under his command. He saw himself as a leader of men, unfortunately it wasn’t always immediately obvious that it was men under his command – after all Gunner Beaumont took an unhealthy pleasure in dressing up on stage as a Hollywood starlet called Gloria and the refined pianist Gunner Graham (or ‘lah di dah Gunner Graham’ as Williams referred to him) was better suited to a tea dance than jungle warfare.

Nor did Williams find much support from his superior officers — the permanently perplexed Colonel Reynolds and his jackass second-in-command Captain Ashwood.

The only one to escape Williams’ scorn was the intellectually challenged Gunner Parkins whom the BSM believed to be his illegitimate son. Whereas the rest were vilified, Parkins was always his ‘lovely boy’.

Other characters were the anglophile Indian servant Rangi Ram, Wallahs Muhammed and Rumzan, Gunners Evans, Clark and Mackintosh, Bombardier Solomons (for series one and two) and the cook Ah Syn.

Who were the star turns?
Windsor Davies played BSM Williams with Melvyn Hayes as Gunner Beaumont, John Clegg as Gunner Graham, Don Estelle as Gunner Sugden, Donald Hewlett as Colonel Reynolds, Michael Knowles as Captain Ashwood, Christopher Mitchell as Gunner Parkins, Michael Bates as Rangi Ram (until Bates’ death in 1978), Dino Shafeek as Char-Wallah Muhammed and Babar Bhatti as Punka-Wallah Rumzan.

Mike Kinsey played Gunner Evans with Kenneth MacDonald as Gunner Clark, Stuart McGugan as Gunner Mackintosh, George Layton as Bombardier Solomons and Andy Ho as Ah Syn.

How did it come about?
Having utilised his experiences in the Home Guard for ‘Dad’s Army’, Jimmy Perry turned to another area of his war effort for ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’. In 1945 Perry had been a member of a Royal Artillery Concert Party in Deolali, India. Many of the troupe were represented on screen although Perry was at pains to point out that his real Battery Sergeant Major was twice as mean as BSM Williams.

it-aint-half-hot-mum-3

Who watched it?
Nearly 14 million in its prime.

Any complaints?
The decision to get a white actor, Michael Bates, to black up as Rangi Ram provoked mutterings of discontent from those who thought the part should have been given to an Indian actor.

Bates replied that he was born in Janshi, India, spoke Hindustani before he learned English and that the two genuinely brown faces in the cast actually belonged to a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi. Therefore, he reasoned, he was the only true Indian in the production.

Whilst the fuss eventually died down, the politically incorrect nature of ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ has been cited as one of the reasons why it has not been repeated as frequently as other Croft originals like ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘Are You Being Served?’ and ”Allo ‘Allo!’

Was it really filmed in the jungle?
Not unless you count Norfolk as the heart of the tropics. Fake palm trees and a polystyrene crocodile were imported to East Anglia to create that ‘authentic jungle look’. Far from being hot, the actors shivered with glycerine ‘sweat’ on their foreheads. And it got even colder when vast quantities of dry ice were dipped in tubs of mud and stirred vigorously to conjure up the mist of the swamps.

Desert scenes were shot at a sandpit on the Sussex coast.

Any catchphrases?
‘Lovely boy’.

Don Estelle and Windsor Davies on Top of the Pops 1975

“Sing, Lofty, sing.”

Any spin-offs?
Windsor Davies and Don Estelle (an accomplished singer) formed an unlikely double act and hit number one in June 1975 with their version of ‘Whispering Grass’. But their follow-up single, ‘Paper Doll’, only reached number 41 in the autumn. A nation mourned.

Any distant cousins? 
‘The Army Game’, ‘Dad’s Army’.

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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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