Connect with us


TV’s Greatest Hits: The BBC’s revolutionary sitcom Citizen Smith



Written by John Sullivan

What was it all about?
The adventures of Wolfie Smith, self-elected leader of the revolutionary Tooting Popular Front, and his inept band of disciples.

When was it on?
From 1977 to 1980 on BBC1 – a pilot episode, four series and two specials, a total of 30 shows in all.

Who were the principal characters?
Wolfie Smith, a work-shy layabout and committed Marxist who dreamed of toppling the government and anyone who beat his favourite club, Fulham. He tried to look the part in his afghan coat and Che Guevara beret (on loan from Frank Spencer) and visualised the glorious day when 40,000 people would come marching over the Cotswolds to help the Tooting Popular Front seize power.

But it’s hard to be taken seriously when your girlfriend’s parents give you a hard time and you’re trying to conduct the revolution on a battered old scooter.

Wolfie’s comrades were his girlfriend Shirley Johnson; his quietly-spoken best friend Ken who really wanted to be a Buddhist monk; the beleaguered Tucker who had nine kids to support; and Speed, the local psychopath. Even Fulham had more followers than Wolfie.

Neither of Shirley’s parents understood Wolfie. Her dotty mum thought he was quite sweet (the ultimate insult for a revolutionary) but kept calling him ‘Foxy’ while her acidic father referred to him disparagingly as ‘the Yeti’.
Wolfie’s financial problems were not helped by his uneasy relationship with pub owner and Tooting’s Mr. Big of the underworld, Harry Fenning. Harry was not a man to cross or even to breathe near.

Who were the star turns?
Robert Lindsay played Wolfie with Lindsay’s then wife Cheryl Hall as Shirley, Mike Grady as Ken, Tony Millan as Tucker, George Sweeney as Speed, Stephen Greif as Harry Fenning and Hilda Braid as Shirley’s mum. Shirley’s dad was played by Artro Morris in the pilot show, Peter Vaughan in the first two series and Tony Steedman in the last two.

Who wrote it?
‘Citizen Smith’ marked the writing debut of John Sullivan who went on to create ‘Only Fools And Horses’, ‘Just Good Friends’, ‘Dear John’ etc.

How did it come about?
Working as a scenery shifter at the BBC, Sullivan had become depressed by the quality of the Corporation’s comedy output. Like most scenery shifters and prop guys, he thought he could do better. The difference was, he was right.

He began frequenting the BBC bar — a favourite haunt of producers and directors — and introduced himself to veteran comedy producer Dennis Main Wilson. He told Wilson that he’d got an idea for a script about an urban guerilla. Taken aback, Wilson asked to see it and Sullivan took two weeks off to pen ‘Citizen Smith’.

Wilson was pleasantly surprised by Sullivan’s script and recommended its inclusion in ‘Comedy Special’, a new showcase for possible series. The pilot show was well received and a full series followed.

Any catchphrases?
Wolfie’s rallying cry: ‘Power to the people!’

Who watched it?
Prospective revolutionaries and refugees from ‘Terry and June’.

Any real-life resonance?
John Sullivan grew up in Balham and Tooting and remembered men selling Soviet Weekly and The Morning Star outside the local Wimpy Bar. In 1968 he met his role model for Wolfie in a pub called the Nelson Arms. Sullivan said: ‘Suddenly from the depths of the bar came the strains of a geriatric guitar accompanied by a voice that sounded not unlike a cow in labour. The sound came from a gangling hippie. He was a Master Dreamer in an age of fantasy and his outrageous claims became more colourful and absurd as each cadged pint was sunk.’

Any distant cousins?
John Sullivan suggested casting Robert Lindsay as Wolfie after seeing him play ex-teddy boy Jakey Smith in the national service sit-com ‘Get Some In!’ Jakey and Wolfie not only shared a surname and a first name that ended in ‘ee’ but they both had the gift of the gab. Both were also destined to be losers.

An episode in the third series of ‘Citizen Smith’ was called ‘Only Fools And Horses’ – a title Sullivan would soon return to.



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

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading

More to View