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TV Legends: Richard Dimbleby – The voice of the nation

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Richard Dimbleby died in 1965 but his reputation was cemented in the golden age of British TV.

Some voice? Had the looks of a fry-up guzzling, bitter-swilling bruiser but had an exquisitely well bred voice that commanded attention and exuded authority.

A man who people listened to? Not half. He was so trusted by the nation that he became the voice of the BBC.

Dimbleby’s roots? Dicky was born in Richmond, Surrey on May 25, 1913.

Eton or Harrow? Neither, I’m afraid. Richard attended Mill Hill and began work as a reporter at the age of 18.

Working-class hero? Not exactly. Daddy owned the paper he started on, The Richmond And Twickenham Times.

Handy? Helped, but Richard had talent and in 1936 he joined the BBC.

BBC man, eh? Started in radio as a news reporter, but war became his specialist subject which he fearlessly tackled.

Gung-ho type? Richard believed in reporting from the front line. Legend has it some Italian troops thought he was the man they should surrender to.

Saw some action? Dunkirk, Egypt and Greece. But one of his most powerful dispatches was from Belsen concentration camp in 1945. He was the first reporter inside.

So, despite not having a great face for it, he went from radio to TV? The rotund newsman became massive in 1953. Not only did he commentate on the Queen’s coronation but he also got the job as the anchor of Panorama.

How many watched the Coronation? Some 20million. Richard had become the main man when it came to commentating on all state occasions.

And Panorama? Richard turned it into the current affairs show we know today and it turned him into a father figure.

Father figure? Many felt he was a man they could trust. During the Cuban crisis in 1962, a mother phoned the BBC to say: “I won’t send my children to school tomorrow unless Mr Dimbleby can promise me there will be no war.”

Richard Dimbleby

His response? “They think I’m a sort of national doctor who can cure all ills.”

Controversial? Dimbo was no stranger to it and was constantly in the papers. He was once accused of blasphemy after letting slip “Jesus wept” on air.

Other notches on Dimbo’s big belt? Pioneered general election coverage.

How? In 1955, the big man was in the studio for two days covering and analysing the election for BBC1.

Invented the Swingometer? Dimbleby’s secret weapon was a card index system that carried information about every constituency. But it did almost fail in 1959. The card index was found to be flawed, but Dimbo worked through the night to sort it all out. Good man.

Thoroughbred newsman? Dimbleby also created the first travel programme, Passport.

Travel? By 1957, he had his own production company after a spat with the BBC over pay. Passport involved him trying to jovially inform about going abroad, with his clan in tow.

Clan? Wife Dyllis and sprogs Sally, Nicholas, David and Jonathan. You may have heard of David and Jonathan. Jonty has since described them as holidays from hell with the constant filming.

Legacy? Dimbleby died in 1965, aged 52, from cancer. But his memory lives on as one of our finest broadcasters. His legacy is marked by the annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture series.

Do say? Good work on that coronation.

Don’t say? I’ll pass on the holiday this year, dad. Could you do the 4.40 at Newmarket? Alright, big man.

Not to be confused with? Richard Attenborough.

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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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