BABYLON 5 (1993)

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Babylon 5Writer/producer J. Michael Straczynski's creation is a richly textured, grandly sweeping televisual epic novel. Babylon 5 chronicles the galaxy threatening events arising from the reawakening of a mysterious and near all-powerful alien race known only as "The Shadows" on the human and alien inhabitants of the last of the great Babylon stations, Babylon 5. The five-mile-long space station occupies a strategic location deep in neutral space, serving as a way station and neutral meeting place for the numerous known civilised races of the galaxy. Initially, Babylon 5 functions as host to the delicate talks aimed at establishing lasting peace and stability to a galaxy which has endured centuries of violent conflict between the five major intergalactic powers: the Earth Alliance, the Minbari Federation, the Narn Regime, the Centauri Republic and the cryptic, vastly powerful and unknowably old, Vorlon Empire. Overseeing this volatile melting pot in the beginning is Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, (accomplished Broadway actor Michael O'Hare, who was replaced from season two onwards by Bruce Boxleitner, as Captain John Sheridan, following O'Hare's decision to return to the theatre), ex fighter pilot and hero of the Earth/Minbari war, and a man with an unsuspected, but pivotal role to play in the coming conflict.

Given the similarities in basic formats, it was initially tempting for unfair comparisons to be drawn between Babylon 5 and the various Star Trek incarnations, but Straczynski maintained from the outset that the genesis and development of his ambitious creation dated as far back as 1988, and as the series progressed, it became increasingly clear that his dark vision of a future galactic turmoil with its obviously structured beginning, middle and end, full of intrigue, betrayal, heroism and sacrifice, is indeed, a cohesive pre-planned whole. Straczynski has openly admitted more than once that his main inspiration of Babylon 5 was Tolkein's seminal fantasy classic The Lord of the Rings, and it becomes increasingly apparent to the viewers as the events of the five-year story arc unfold. But arguably the series greatest strength lies in the complex, mature and wholly believable evolution of its central characters, especially the key alien figures. From the outset, the series was fortunate to have had a large ensemble cast of talented actors portraying its core characters. Noted European classical actress Mira Furlan, imbued the character of Minbari ambassador, Delenn, with a dignified gentleness and sensitivity which masked a resolutely strong inner core, while former stand-up comedian turned character actor, Peter Jurasik, effortlessly transformed Centauri ambassador London Mollari from a creature of comic bluster into a dark and tragic figure cursed to rule the remnants of a crushed empire on a doomed world. But perhaps the most impressive achievement, performance wise, belonged to noted film and theatre character actor, Andreas Katsulas (already familiar to genre fans for his recurring guest spot on ST:TNG as the devious Romulan commander, Tomalak) as reptilian Narn ambassador, G'Kar. Acting behind heavy prosthetic make-up, Katsulas assayed a subtle, complex and compelling performance, which elevated his character from brutal villain to charismatic religious figure by the close of the series five year run. Offering impressively realised CGI effects, and an overall grandeur which helped off-set some, in places, questionable lapses in the scripting department, Babylon 5 went on at the close of its run to spawn three well received TV Movies, a short-lived spin off series Crusade, and a massively successful merchandising machine.

BAGPUSS (1974)

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Classic children's series that, inspite of only appearing in 13 adventures, was voted in a BBC poll as the most popular children's TV programme of all time. The stories were set in a lost and found shop owned by a Victorian girl named Emily, who would bring in various items that she had discovered with the object of repairing them and returning them to their rightful owner. To do this she was assisted by Bagpuss, a fat pink and white striped cloth cat, who would spring to life (and colour) at the sound of Emily's voice. Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss, old fat furry cat-puss. Wake up and look at this thing that I bring, wake up, be bright, be golden light, Bagpuss, oh hear what I sing. Bagpuss was ably assisted by Professor Yaffle the book-end woodpecker, Madeline the rag doll, Gabriel the banjo-playing toad, and the mice of the Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ. The series was written and narrated by Oliver Postgate, who along with Peter Firmin was responsible for numerous other children's series' including The Saga of Noggin The Nog, The Pingwings, The Clangers, and Ivor The Engine. The series is often repeated and in 1999 was made available on one single three hour video.


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The Baker Street Boys'Arnold Wiggins may have not been the greatest detective to step through the doors of 221b Baker Street' claimed the Radio Times in March 1983, 'but, when Sherlock Holmes was away pursuing some fearful Baskerville hound across Dartmoor or walking in the mountains of Switzerland, young Wiggins came into his own.' Based on a group of street urchins whom Conan Doyle recruited on behalf of Holmes to perform various missions, take messages, search London following clues and going to places where the detective himself could not, The Baker Street Boys actually appeared in print as The Baker Street Irregulars and acted as Holmes' eyes and ears. Watson first encountered the Irregulars in A Study in Scarlet, describing them as "six dirty little scoundrels (who) stood in line like so many disreputable statuettes." Their chief was the energetic and inventive Wiggins. Holmes said to Watson about them: "There's more work to be out of one of those little beggars than out of a dozen of the force...Then mere sight of an official looking person seals men's lips. These youngsters, however, go everywhere and hear everything. They are as sharp as needles, too; all they want is organization." Writer Anthony Read took up Conan Doyle's notion of a ragamuffin gang and turned it into a series of stories which first aired on BBC1 at 5:10pm on Tuesday 8th March 1983. Holmes himself never appeared-he was always far too busy solving crimes on his own or with Watson-but viewers of the series caught glimpses of his coat as he left timely words of advice for the gang. Dr Watson was there to help out, though (on the occasions he wasn't shadowing Holmes), as was the incompetent Inspector Lestrade, who always managed to find himself in the same situation with the gang as with Holmes -two steps behind! The gang even encountered Holmes' archenemy, the evil Moriarty.

Series producer Paul Stone told John Craven's Back Page column in the 'Radio Times' that week: "The boys tackle the crimes that Holmes doesn't have time to deal with, like the mystery of the disappearing despatch case, which was the subject of the first story in the series. "It's got all the ingredients" said Stone, "-a Foreign Office official is attacked and his case containing vital papers is stolen. Anarchists are involved and there's a threat to assassinate an important foreign visitor." There were eight episodes in total and each was in two parts shown on Tuesday's (part one) and Friday's (part two). As well as Wiggins (Jay Simpson) the gang included Beaver (Damion Napier), the junior Doctor Watson; Shiner (future EastEnders star Adam Woodyatt), a shoeshine boy; Sparrow (David Garlick), the youngest gang member; and two girls-Queenie (Debbie Norris), who was the 'little mother', and Rosie (Suzi Ross), a flower girl. Roger Ostime was briefly glimpsed as Sherlock Holmes and Hubert Rees played Watson with Colin Jeavons as Moriarty and Stanley Lebor as the hapless Lestrade. Anthony Read wrote episodes 1, 2, 7 and 8 -whilst Richard Carpenter wrote 3, 4, 5 and 6. The series was released on video in 1985 but has since been deleted from the BBC catalogue.


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The Banana Splits Following the demise of The Monkees, NBC put four actors into oversize animal costumes, brought in Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In dancer Byron Gillian as choreographer and threw in some Hannah-Barbera cartoons, and produced 125 madcap episodes of a series first aired in the US in 1968 as The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. The Splits were Snorky (a baby elephant), Bingo (a gorilla), Drooper (a lion) and Fleegle (a dog). When not racing their Buggie cars, playing 'wacky' games on a football pitch or singing to pre-recorded tracks the gang could be seen cavorting around their Banana Pad indulging in nonsensical (some might say surreal) jokes. There was a Dear Drooper spot where the wisecracking lion would answer viewer's questions before being set upon by rival pop band The Sour Grapes. In another memorable sequence Drooper would try and take the trash out only to find that the dustbin didn't want it and so it unceremoniously threw back at him. In between all this mayhem were cartoon adventures of The Three Musketeers, The Arabian Knights, The Hillbilly Bears and The Micro Adventures. There was also a live action serial entitled Danger Island, which can boast of having given future 'Superman' and 'Lethal Weapon's' Richard Donner a chance to cut his directorial teeth. Barry White also began his career as a singer/songwriter by penning numbers for the band. The series had a catchy theme song (One banana, two banana's, three banana's, four...) known as the Tra La La Song, written by Ritchie Adams and Mark Barkan. The series aired in the UK from 1969-71 on Saturday morning BBC and was repeated years later as part of Channel 4's Big Breakfast. Hold the Bus!


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Barnaby Jones Barnaby Jones is enjoying his retirement breeding horses and enjoying the quiet life, having left his private investigator business in the capable hands of his son, Hal. But his world is shattered when Hal is murdered and Barnaby comes out of retirement to track down the killer. Having nailed the murderer Barnaby turns his back on his ranch to take control of the Los Angeles law firm once more. Aided by Hal's widow, Betty (Lee Meriwether), Barnaby operates as a sort of US male Miss Marple, utilising his keen analytical skills and luring the guilty into a false sense of security by being deceptively slow and vague rather than resorting to violence. Buddy Ebsen, best remembered as the millionaire bumpkin Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies, was already 64 when Barnaby Jones first appeared on US television in 1973 and he was 72 when the series finally came to an end. In the latter years of this this long-running Quinn Martin production another character was introduced, JR (Jedediah Romano), played by Mark Shera. This allowed Ebsen to reduce his workload as Meriwether and Shera's characters became more prominent. A whole host of established Hollywood stars turned up in the series, including Stefanie Powers, William Shatner, Nick Nolte, Roddy McDowell and Leslie Nielsen, while a number of newcomers passed through on their way to stardom, including Don Johnson, James Woods and Tommy Lee Jones. One familiar face was William Conrad as Frank Cannon, allowing two series; Barnaby Jones and Cannon to cross over on several occasions.


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Barney Is My Darling Barney Pank (Bill Fraser) has spent most of his married life in the Merchant Navy as Chief Steward on the S.S. Addis Ababa, plying between Tasmania and the Sumatra. Ramona (his wife - played by Irene Handl), has learned to cope without him, and runs a small hairdressing shop in Willesden, North London. Now, together again after twelve years they discover they have very little in common. The series looks at their uneasy attempts to adjust to married life once more. The regular cast includes Angela Crow as Cissie Ludgrove (Ramona's assistant), Pat Coombs as Miss Hobbitt (Ramona's confidante), and Scampi, an elderly Pekinese dog who Romona is devoted to but with whom Barney quickly establishes a relationship with based on mutual distrust, hatred and contempt. The series was written by Marty Feldman and Barry Took.


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Barney Miller One of the few police-oriented comedies to succeed on American television, Barney Miller followed the lives and habits of New York City's 12th Precinct in the Greenwich Village-home to some unusual suspects and cases. Unlike other cop shows, there were no car chases, no dramatic arrests and no shootouts. Virtually all of the action revolved inside the rundown offices of the 12th Precinct, usually involving two or three cases in each episode. Barney Miller (Hal Linden) was the only stable person in an office filled with off-the-wall characters. They included the aging, always complaining senior detective Phil Fish (Abe Vigoda); innocent fellow detective Stan Wojohowicz ("Wojo" for short, played by Max Gail); cocky and literate African-American Detective Ron Harris; and Asian Detective Nick Yemana (Jack Soo), who came up with some of the best punchlines and made the worst coffee anyone ever brewed. During the 1975-76 season, producers added Detective Sergeant Chano Amenguale (Gregory Sierra) and Detective Janice Wentworth (Linda Lavin). Both left after one season-Sierra for the short-lived comedy AES Hudson Street; Lavin for a far more successful gig as the title character on the sitcom Alice. Replacing them in the squad was sarcastic Detective Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landsberg). Also appearing on a regular basis was Inspector Frank Luger (James Gregory), whose visits seemed to annoy rather than help Barney and the squad; and Officer Carl Levitt (Ron Carey), who wanted to get off the police beat and become a detective at the 12th Precinct.

But Barney Miller had major hurdles to overcome before it would even get on the air. ABC executives felt the show was too "Jewish" and thought Linden, the accomplished Broadway actor who played Barney, was "dull". (Arnold argued Barney was supposed to be dull; he was the anchor of a crazy squad.) The show's original pilot did air on a 1974 ABC summer show called Just For Laughs-though network executives agreed to order at least four episodes as a midseason replacement, after Arnold refused to fire Linden. As feared, initial ratings were not good. But the fifth episode drew notice after ABC censors refused to air it. The show centered on Wojo falling in love with a prostitute. ABC argued it was not the network of hookers; the episode went on the air after Arnold threatened to shut down production. The ratings jumped for that episode and more viewers began tuning in. Major cast changes came as Barney Miller rolled on. But the loss that probably hurt the cast and crew most was the death of Jack Soo. The durable actor who played Yemana died of cancer in January 1979; a tribute episode aired soon after. Soo wasn't replaced. But time waits for few series, and after falling to 54th place, it was decided that the 1981-82 season would be the show's last. The final season ended on a high (and well-deserved note): After years of being nominated, Barney Miller finally won an Emmy award for Best Comedy Series. And in 1981, a producer named Steven Bochco presented his own tribute to Barney Miller in the groundbreaking Hill Street Blues. Although it was clearly a drama, Bochco borrowed some key elements of its format, including multiple plots per episode and ironic humour.

THE BARON (1966)

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International art dealer is really an undercover investigator. Click Here for review.


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Bat Masterson Based on the real-life exploits of William Bartholomew Masterson, a Dodge City lawman who preferred to use his wits instead of his fists and his cane instead of his Colt, Gene Barry (born Eugene Klass) made his TV series debut in this popular Western during the genre's golden age in 1958. Bat Masterson was a lawman, scout and professional gambler who had an eye for the ladies and counted among his friends the legendary Wyatt Earp. The grateful citizens of Dodge City presented his trademark cane, derby and specially designed gun to him during his tenure as sheriff. The part of a flamboyant and debonair lawman was one that Barry would recreate successfully in Burke's Law, amd The Name of the Game. The series style was no doubt influenced by the offbeat humour that had gone down so well with US audiences in Maverick, which had debuted the year before and in 1989 Barry briefly reprised the role for a single episode of Paradise. William Conrad, who went on to star as burly private detective Frank Cannon, directed a number of episodes. TRIVIA: Though his book contains some errors as a result of his attempting to debunk the accuracy of the persona Gene Barry depicted in the television series, Robert K. DeArment's Bat Masterson: The Man & The Legend, 1979, University of Oklahoma Press does a good job of documenting his origins.

BATMAN (1966)

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Batman Unable to secure the rights to a new television revival of the classic masked western hero the Lone Ranger, producer William Dozier instead turned his attention to another masked vigilante. That character was DC Comics enduring symbol of dark retribution, Batman. Created by Bob Kane, Batman made his first appearance in the May 1939 edition of Detective Comics (as The Bat-Man) and had appeared in at least one comic every month since. (This still holds true today). Under the guiding hands of Dozier and script editor Lorenzo Semple Jr. a key icon of gloriously high camp sixties television was born. Deftly mixing the bated-breath cliff-hanger death traps of 40's series with the brash four colour design of 50's comic books, Dozier created a pantomime world where the most outrageous actions were an everyday commonplace, and evil was embodied by major name guest stars exhibiting a loud and terminally tasteless dress-sense. In the dual role of Batman and his debonair alter-ego, millionaire Bruce Wayne, Dozier cast little known actor Adam West, -it was an inspired choice which was to ultimately doom West's later career to the acting wasteland of typecasting. Exhibiting an amazingly straight-faced delivery style, West showed surprising comedic skill whilst still managing to play the all important role of the caped crusader with a total earnestness which allowed the character to rise above the lunacy which surrounded him without sacrificing his innate dignity. Equally as good was Burt Ward as Robin/Dick Grayson, Wayne's teenage ward and crime fighting partner.

During the series run of 120 episodes and a hit motion picture, it boasted the finest guest cast of major Hollywood talent to ever grace the television screen during that period. It also spawned a major merchandising industry and countless imitations from eager young fans in school yards across the world. The episodes followed the same formula every week, the 'special guest villian' would perpetrate an outrageous crime that would have Commissioner Gordon reaching for the Batphone and calling for Gotham's finest. At Wayne Manor trusty butler Alfred would answer the call and then cryptically deliver the message to his master under the nose of unsuspecting Aunt Harriet (introduced to the TV series solely to offset fears that three men living alone might be suggestive of homosexuality). Batman and Robin would then speed to the scene of the crime in the Batmobile, and then follow the clues to the villians hide-out where a dastardly absurd trap was awaiting them. Just as Batman and Robin seemed doomed to a diabolical death, the action would freeze leaving the announcer (actaully Dozier himself), to urge viewers to "tune in next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel." During a decade which saw the birth of the the hippie counter-culture movement and the rise of radical artists such as Andy Warhol, Batman was a pop art living cartoon which reflected the vibrancy and creativity of the world around it. From 1966 to 1968 the beep of the Batphone and the alert of the Batsignal summoned millions to fun-filled adventure and chuckle loaded excitement. And they adored every minute of it.


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The Batman Just as young comic book artist Bob Kane had revolutionised the superhero concept in the 1930's with his dark, driven, ironically potent creation, and director Tim Burton's mega-movie take on the character had touched a nerve with cinema audiences world-wide in the late eighties, Batman: The Animated Series, darkly noir-ish and Art Deco inspired, finally presented the television viewing public with arguably the definitive depiction of Gotham City's legendary Dark Knight vigilante. Produced by Burton, this superior example of the power of stylishly designed and executed animation, wedded to intelligently plotted insightfully scripted stories, and a cast of guest voices out of a television 'who's who', brilliantly showcased the inherent dramatic possibilities of the serious depiction of larger-than-life characters through the use of the animated medium. Rejecting the colourfully camp excesses of the classic live action version of the sixties, and the emasculated bland cartoon versions offered up during both the 70's and 80's, the latest incarnation opted to highlight a sardonically sombre, psychologically complex portrait of Bruce Wayne, obsessed by the all consuming need to avenge the brutal murder of his parents years before by waging an unceasing nocturnal war on crime, garbed in a costume which symbolises not only the potential terror of the night itself, but also his own childhood trauma; the Bat. The 65 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series originally premiered in September of 1992 and for the following two years was a central staple of the Fox weekday afternoon line-up, including a four month period when the series was also aired Sunday nights and a movie-length special: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm for Christmas 1993. The show won the coveted Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program in September 1993, whilst in September 1994 it was relocated to Saturday mornings, where, at the behest of Fox network executives, the series underwent retooling to bring it in line with the Network's wish for 'Less introspection, more humour, more larger-than-life adventure and more Robin'. To reflect this lighter tone, the show was renamed The Adventures of Batman and Robin, the title it retained when it was moved back to the Fox weekday line-up a year later, and where it was to remain until the fall of 1997, when it was once again moved, this time transferring to the WB network as part of The New Batman/Superman Adventures. Warner Brothers has continued airing episodes on both Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons up to the present day. Exciting, intelligent, bold, daring and thoughtful, Batman: The Animated Series redefined the boundaries and set the standard as a template for the presentation of quality animated televisual action drama. It also gives us, the viewers, the enduring legacy of the definitive image of a media spanning legend.


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Battle of the Planets US adaptation of the Japanese anime series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman of which 85 episodes (of the original 105) were adapted and given a twist to appeal to the US juvenile television market of the 1970s. The story followed the adventures of G-Force, a team of youngsters with a mission to save the Earth from the warmongering planet Spectra. The team consisted of Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop and Tiny. The commander of the Spectra forces was the villainous Zoltar who received his orders from the "Luminous One" a ghost-like, disembodied, floating head! The main ship of the G-Force team was the Phoenix, a transporter piloted by Tiny, that could deploy four smaller vehicles, each operated by one team member. The Phoenix could also fire "Bird missiles" as well as transform into a flaming bird-shaped craft with a giant blowtorch (called the Fiery Phoenix). The G-Force members were experts in a combination of martial arts, ninja-like weapons, and were possessed of "cerebonic" powers to dispatch hordes of enemy soldiers and overcome other obstacles. Their bird-like costumes included wing-like capes that could fan out and function as "gliders". The G-Force members could stay in contact through a wrist-band communicator which also served as a way for them to change from their 'civvies' instantly into their G-Force uniforms.


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Battlestar GalacticaCreated by the prolific writer/producer, Glen A. Larson in 1978, the original Battlestar Galactica chronicled the story of a band of humans who, fleeing the destruction of their twelve homeworlds by the implacable cybernetic alien race the Cylons, strike out in their rag-tag fleet protected by the last surviving Battlestar, the Galactica, in search of their mythical lost colony. A mysterious planet named Earth. Although massively expensive by the standards of the television of the day, and with a concept that was informed on a basic level by Larson's own Mormon beliefs, the original Battlestar Galactica-although spawning a loyal fanbase-never really transcended the simplistic space opera format which was the inevitable result of the all-pervading influence of the newly released first Star Wars film. Although still relatively popular with the viewers, the sheer expense of the production ensured that cancellation came in fairly short order. However, talk of a return of the Galatica in any number of possible incarnations-the most persistent of which was spearheaded by one of the original stars, Richard Hatch, who had played the heroic Captain Apollo-continued to surfaced from time to time offering a slim but continuing hope to the faithful. That hope eventually give birth to a revival when, with the involvement of US cable station Sci-Fi, in partnership with Satellite channel Sky, former Star Trek writer/producer, Ronald D. Moore, developed an ambitious two part mini series that retold Larson's basic story in a unremittingly harsher and consistently naturalistic fashion, which successfully mirrored the concerns of a world still coming to terms with the radical changes wrought globally by post 9/11 events. With the mini-series an unqualified success, drawing in record-breaking audience figures for Sci-Fi, the obvious next step was taken and a commission was given to Moore to produce a 13-episode first season, which would continue the Galactica's story.

This was a dark, dangerous universe populated only by what remained of humanity from the destroyed twelve colonies, and their ever-present persecutors, the robotic former slave race which they themselves created, the Cylons. But these Cylons were a far cry from their original incarnation. These Cylons had evolved, had in some cases taken on human form, and even more disturbingly, appeared to have found both a God and a soul. This theme of religion, wedded to that of basic survival that was the heart and driving force of the new series. There were now no absolutes in the new Galactica universe, except those of death and survival.


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BeachcombersThe Beachcombers was an immensely popular family adventure series which aired on CBC from 1972 to 1990. The series holds the distinction of being the longest-running drama on Canadian television. Developed by Marc and Susan Strange, along with its first Executive Producer, Philip Keatley, and a group of talented West Coast writers, The Beachcombers was set in and around the port of Gibsons Landing, on British Columbia's beautiful Sunshine Coast. The storyline was based on a simple premise; that for $5 anyone could get a licence to beachcomb logs and sell them for half their market value to a logging consortium. The first episode, 'Partners' introduced us to all the main characters, most memorably the burly Greek logger Nick Adonidas (Bruno Gerussi) owner of the Persephone, and his Aboriginal partner Jesse Jim (Pat Johns) who had originally been hitchhiking down the Canadian coast with the intention of going all the way to South America, when he met Adonidas, befriended him and formed a partnership that would see them both through 19 TV seasons.

Nick, as the central character, needed a foil, and he had one in the shape of the irascible, curmudgeonly, unscrupulous rival scavenger, Relic (Robert Clothier) who would go to great lengths to steal business away from Nick. The series also focused on a supporting cast of characters often centring around a cafe, Molly's Reach, run by Molly (Rae Brown), a mother figure to virtually all the characters in the series. Molly had two grandchildren living with her, Hughie (Bob Park) and his younger sister Margaret (Nancy Chapple). The format of the show was a good mixture of character, physical action, comedy and location filming that sometimes gave the series the feel of a documentary or travelogue and scenes of fishing, logging and beachcombing gave it an international appeal enabling CBC to syndicate it around the world. It was particularly popular in Britain in spite of being sold (by ITV) to UK audiences as a children's series (it was initially broadcast on Saturday mornings and later on weekday mornings and some afternoons) and also found fanbases in America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland and East Germany (The German version of the series was titled Strandpiraten). The show also used Canada's multi-cultural diversity to good effect providing opportunities to explore different cultures - Greek, Aboriginal, German, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, East Indian, Swedish and British characters all featured. During the run of the series, storylines became more complex as the characters developed (Relic, a ruthless character, was later shown to have been brought up by his loveless Welsh coalmining family and despised by his father) and writers and producers occasionally used down-beat endings, shaking up the standard practice in this type of TV drama. The series' title was shortened to Beachcombers for its final season which ended with one hour-special. After 19 years and 387 episodes, Beachcombers was cancelled, and replaced by the American sitcom Sydney. Not a bad run for a series that CBC thought would last 3 years at most. A TV Movie was produced in 2002; The New Beachcombers was an unsuccessful attempt to revive the series - only two of the original cast appeared, Bruno Gerussi had passed away in 1995, Robert Clothier in 1999 and Rae Brown passed away in 2000 in her late 80s. Even 8 years after the series was cancelled the show maintained its unique place in the Canadian television landscape; a 1998 TV Guide website audience survey placed The Beachcombers as the most popular CBC TV Show of All Time.

BEASTS (1976)

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Beasts Creator of some of the most outstanding television plays made in the last fifty years, Nigel Kneale (Quatermass, Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Year of the Sex Olympics) created, in Beasts, an anthology of six plays designed to showcase the breadth of his fertile imagination. Laden with suspense, drama and a thick vein of black humour, each play was a variation on the theme of civilised man in conflict with the primal, animal side of existence. This malevolent and menacing thread runs through all six terrifying stories, which feature outstanding performances from actors such as Martin Shaw, Simon MacCorkindale, Glyn Houston, Michael Sheard and Pauline Quirke (pictured). The six episdoes were Baby: A mummified creature is found in the walls of a house. Buddyboy: Has a dolphin's spirit returned to haunt the living? The Dummy: An actor becomes possessed by the monster he is playing. Special Offer: A poltergeist is loose in a supermarket. What Big Eyes: An eccentric scientist tries to turn himself into a wolf. During Barty's Party: A couple are trapped in their home by a horde of rats. The series was released on DVD in 2007 by Network and featured a number of special features including Murrain - A single play by Kneale from 1975, written in the same vein as Beasts.

THE BEATLES (cartoon series) (1965)

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Cartoon adventures of the world's most famously successful group. Click Here for review.


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Beauty and the Beast One of the most unusual and charming fantasy romances ever to reach prime time US screens, Beauty and the Beast was a modern day gothic romance set against the often violent, always bustling backdrop of New York City. Created by Ron Koslow and executive produced by the award winning team of Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas, the basic premise for the series was simple, but effective: Catherine Chandler (a pre Terminator, Linda Hamilton), was a young assistant District Attorney from a privileged background who had been brutally attacked by criminals and left to die in Central Park. It was there that she was found by Vincent, (noted stage and film character actor, Ron Perlman, enjoying a rare leading role), a powerful man-beast with the soul of a poet but the facial features of a lion, who lived in a strange, hidden world of caverns and tunnels deep beneath Manhattan Island. Vincent took badly injured Catherine to this underground haven and with the help of "Father", the leader of the unsuspected community (British actor Roy Dotrice), he nursed her back to health. Later, following her full recovery, Catherine returned to her life on the surface world, but not before forming a mystical bond with her rescuer, who she had fallen in love with, despite his beastly outer appearance and the vast differences in their worlds. (Ron Perlman's elaborate, wholly convincing beast make-up was created by Academy Award winning effects genius Rick Baker).

From this basic scenario, the production team fashioned an almost hypnotically compelling blend of romance and crime drama which used Catherine's position as a DA to place her in moments of physical danger which would bring the idealized romantic figure of Vincent to the surface world as a dark and dangerous guardian angel.

During its second season the series shifted its focus slightly as the central characters spent considerable time with the inhabitants of the Tunnel World, where Catherine had now finally been accepted as a protector and friend. When the series returned for its abbreviated third season late in 1989, Linda Hamilton had announced her decision to leave the series. Her character was killed off, but not before giving birth to Vincent's son. It was at this point that the producers introduced a new female interest for the man-beast hoping to recreate the powerful chemistry that had existed from the outset between Hamilton and Perlman. Catherine's boss and close friend, Joe Maxwell, (Jay Acavone) hired Diana Bennett, (Jo Anderson), a private investigator, to track down Catherine's killer. And, quite naturally, her investigation ultimately led her to the shadowy, now darkly obsessed and grieving Vincent. Although still astonishingly popular with its dedicated group of core fans (comprising mostly of women), the darker, more resolutely violent aspects of the rework concept, coupled with the fatal loss of the all-important central relationship between Catherine and Vincent ultimately led to the series' cancellation.

BECKER (1999)

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Becker If laughter is the best medicine then multi Emmy award winning former Cheers star Ted Danson can probably write you a prescription. Successfully exorcising the ghost of womanising Boston bar owner Sam Malone in the former series, Danson reinvigorated his career by playing the eponymous M.D. on the sitcom Becker. Created by Dave Hackel, and executive produced by Hackle and Ian Gurvitz, Becker was originally scheduled as a mid-season show, but was brought in early in the 1998 season. Danson starred as John Becker, an extremely dedicated and very talented doctor, who tends to a medical practice in New York's Bronx. And while a brilliant doctor, he tends to fare rather less well in the traditional bedside manner stakes. Under the guiding hands of Hackel and Gurvitz and the expert comedic playing of Danson, the character of Becker is cleverly portrayed as a multi-faceted character. One who, while possessing a cynical and rather gruff exterior, is sometimes in spite of himself always ready to go the extra mile to help anyone in need. In point of fact, on the surface there appears very little to like about him. Indeed, he often seems to go out of his way to offend those around who try to get close to him. It's this very unwillingness to open himself up and allow his defences to drop, which paradoxically allows the audience to ultimately like and identify with the character. Thanks to sharp writing and the lead actor's innate warmth, charm and acting skills, what could and should have been a fundamentally unlikable character, is instead seen as a vulnerable human being protecting himself from the emotional hazards of the world in the only way he knows how. In many respects Becker is as much a comment of contemporary American society in general as it is a simple situation comedy.

The character of John Becker views the world around him and sees that society has seemingly gone mad, full of maddeningly perplexing inconsistencies and inhabited by people who appear to have lost the ability to just think straight. Becker is basically a simple man who possesses a complex world-view, in many ways much as a child does. The character says whatever comes to his mind irrespective of the appropriateness of the situation or circumstances. He holds nothing back toward anyone. He's the type of character that actually says out loud all of the seemingly vile, evil, reactionary ideas that creep across all of our brains at one time or another. But unlike the majority who believe human decency shouldn't allow such views to be aired, Becker says them anyway. In this respect, the character functions as a combination of mirror to our own repressed views and as a safety valve. Someone who can openly say what we might only dare think with impunity. In this respect, Becker functions on much the same level as earlier characters of this type such as Archie Bunker, or the UK's Alf Garnet. Unfairly limited to cable, satellite TV (Paramount Comedy Channel in the UK), the series more than deserved (but never got) a high profile slot on one of the major terrestrial channels. Ultimately, razor sharply written, winningly acted and wonderfully abrasive and acerbic in its world-view, Becker proves itself to be more than just a carefully crafted vehicle for its star, Ted Danson. In reality, Becker transcends the narrow confines of the genre of simple situation comedy to make telling and often uncomfortable statements about the foibles and mini madnesses which we encounter in society on a daily basis. In it's distorted fairground mirror way, Becker is close to being as profound as it is funny. A rare combination indeed - one that we should cherish.


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The Bed-Sit Girl Another sitcom from the prolific two Ron's writing team of Chesney and Wolfe, The Bed-Sit Girl was written as a starring vehicle for Sheila Hancock (wife of the late John Thaw), who had become a household name in the duo's earlier smash hit comedy, The Rag Trade. Sheila was a secretary whose life was a steady stream of failed romances and frustrated failures but who never gave up her dreams of a more glamorous and fulfilling existence. She would have gladly swapped places with her airhostess friend and neighbour Dilys (occasional Carry On star - Dilys Laye) and attempted to associate herself with what she considered the jet set. The second series saw her with a boyfriend, David (Derek Nimmo), who lived in the bed-sit flat next door, and a new worldly-wise friend (after Dilys had jetted off permanently) called Liz (Hy Hazell).


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Beggar My Neighbour The first series that reunited Reg Varney and Peter Jones saw something of a role reversal to the characters they had played in the long running The Rag Trade. First shown as part of the BBC's popular Comedy Playhouse on 24th May 1966, Beggar My Neighbour, written by Ken Hoare and Mike Sharland, took the theme of keeping-up-with-the-Jones's (in this case the Butt's) and turned out a first class sitcom that ran for three series. Rose Garvey (June Whitfield) and Lana Butt (Pat Coombs) were married sisters who lived next door eachother in Larkworthy Road, Muswell Hill, North London. While Rose's husband Gerald (Jones) was an underpaid junior executive who had to struggle to make ends meet, Lana's husband, (Harry) was an overpaid fitter who enjoyed foreign holidays, flashy cars and all mod-cons. However, Gerald's upbringing had made him something of a snob and he constantly refused to admit that his brother-in-law could afford the things that he couldn't. This led to problems as the Garvey's tried to keep up with the Butt's, especially Lana, who would often put on airs and graces, which in turn would lead even the usually reserved Rose to make exaggerated boasts about their lifestyle, which they would then have to try and live up to. Although the series was instantly popular with the public, Peter Jones left after the first season saying that he didn't want to get stuck with another long-running role as he had with The Rag Trade. For series two and three Desmond Walter-Ellis played Gerald. The series ran from March 1967 to March 1968 and a short special was shown as part of Christmas Night With The Stars on 25th December 1967. David Croft produced the pilot and series one and two, Eric Fawcett the remainder.


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Show Image Behind the Fridge was a play on the title Beyond the Fringe, the groundbreaking London stage revue which had years earlier established Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller as the leading stars of satirical comedy in the 1960s, and which paved the way for a generation of political satire shows and "alternative comedies" when the term was truly justified but years before it had been coined. 'The Fringe', which sprang out of the Edinburgh Festival and Cambridge Footlights played a hugely important role in the development of comedy in the UK.

Established in 1947 to "provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit" at a time when the UK was recovering from its post-war malaise, the Edinburgh Festival was, in that first year, unofficially "gatecrashed" by a number of theatrical companies. From the mid-1950s onwards this annual feast of drama and music also had the added attraction of unofficial performances by various small and often experimental theatre and revue groups including the Cambridge Footlights - the 'Fringe' of the festival. Founded in 1883 the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club (more simply known as The Footlights) is an amateur theatrical club run by students of Cambridge University. In 1960 former Oxford student John Bassett was assisting festival runner Robert Ponsonby who suggested that the Festival have an official late-night revue. Bassett suggested Oxford students Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett and two Cambridge people for balance. Bassett, through a member of his family, knew recently qualified doctor and ex Cambridge student Jonathan Miller who in turn recommended Peter Cook. While still at school Cook had submitted a Goon Show pastiche script to the BBC which was turned down. Cook had joined the Footlights Club in 1959 and performed his own self-penned monologue and from then on writing became his main interest. Bassett suggested that the four should pool their resources using the best of their material to bring their collection of sketches up to an hour. Ponsonby suggested the title Beyond the Fringe (which none of the performers were keen on) to suggest that what they were doing was beyond the capabilities of The Fringe. Beyond The Fringe opened at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, on Monday 22 August 1960. The show was so successful that it went from Edinburgh to play in Cambridge and Brighton before opening at the Fortune Theatre on 10 May, 1961. Although labelled a 'satirical masterpiece' by critics such as Kenneth Tynan and Bernard Levin at the time, Jonathan Miller would later say that there was no attempt at satire and nor was their target the establishment. "There were targets we wanted to hit - Alan had people he wanted to lampoon. None of us approached the world with satirical indignation. We had no reason to...we were all very comfortably off." Beyond the Fringe ran for over a year with the original cast and changed the face of British comedy by opening the satire boom of the 1960s and paving the way for TV shows like That Was The Week That Was.

Similarities between Behind the Fridge and Beyond the Fringe could be drawn as both featured a series of sketches portraying the eccentricities of the British, but this one-off special starring only Peter Cook and Dudley Moore from the original quartet, shown on BBC2 as part of the Show of the Week strand, was probably more reminiscent of their previous television series Not Only...But Also.


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British supernatural series blending elements of comedy and horror drama. Click Here for review


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Belle & Sebastien This 13 part black and white French series, which was dubbed into English when shown on BBC2 from 2nd October 1967, has become one of the most fondly remembered and asked about children's series on Television Heaven. The tale begins when two customs officers (Albere and Geo) are patrolling the mountains during a night of heavy snowfall. In the distance they see a figure approaching and on closer inspection they realise it is a young woman carrying a baby in her arms. Frozen and fatigued the woman collapses just as the officers, aided by a mountain hunter called Cesar, rush to assist her. The three men take the woman into a shelter but are too late to save her. Cesar decides to adopt the baby and take him back to the French Alpine village of Saint-Martin, close to the Italian border where he lives. As it is Saint Sebastien's Day, Cesar decides to call him Sebastien.

Six years later we rejoin the story to find Sebastien living on Cesar's farm along with the old mans daughter, Angelina -and son, Jean. One day, news reaches the village of a dangerous white dog loose in the mountains and the police issue a 'shoot to kill' order. But it's Sebastien who encounters the dog first and the two of them begin to form a friendship, with Sebastien choosing to call the dog Belle. And so begins the morally wholesome adventures of boy and dog as they wander through the hills enjoying a series of escapades outwitting smugglers and avoiding disasters. This heart-warming series starred (as Sebastien) a young man only credited with the name of Mehdi, although he was in fact the son of French film star Cecile Aubrey who both wrote the original story and adapted it for television. A second series 'Belle, Sebastien and the Horses' (also 13 episodes) followed a year later.
Note: In any mention of the series in British publications that we've come across, the child's name is spelt Sebastian. There may have been a change of title for UK transmission but it is more likely that past British reviewers have simply adopted the Anglicised spelling in error.

BEN CASEY (1961)

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Ben Casey Unlike the almost saintly portrayal of doctors in other medical series, doctor Ben Casey was shown as a tough rebel who was ready to flaunt the rules if it was in his patient's interest. Casey was Doctor Kildare's closest US rival during the 1960's and even though it never quite matched Kildare's popularity, it was in many respects a far superior series. Created by novice priest James Moser, Casey worked as a neurosurgeon at the County General Hospital and although he would refuse to bow to the medical establishment he was given a stabilizing influence in the form of wise old mentor, Dr David Zorba (Sam Jaffe). What set this show apart from the rest was its pioneering use of close-up shots during surgical scenes, and the feeling of urgency that was conveyed to its audience in much the same way as ER was to do over thirty years later. It was also the first series to tackle difficult subjects like abortion. Sydney Pollack, later to direct the Academy Award winning Out Of Africa, worked on the show.

The lead character was played by ruggedly handsome Vince Edwards, a former New York State Swimming Champion who'd had a tough Brooklyn upbringing. Interviewed in 1963, Edwards (born Vincent Edward Zoino) recalled, "I was the son of a bricklayer. He's been dead years along with three of my brothers and sisters. We were seven in all. Until I was quite a big guy I didn't know there were people who could afford to change their clothes every day, that some houses had more than one bathroom and that the living room wasn't for sleeping in." However, Edwards worked hard enough to get his way into Ohio State University before joining New York's American Academy of Dramatic Art, where among his classmates were future stars Grace Kelly, Anne Bancroft and John Cassavetes. His tall athletic build eventually led him to the title role in the film 'Mr. Universe' and he was spotted by Hollywood legend Bing Crosby, whose company (Bing Crosby Productions) were about to begin filming Ben Casey. The series ran for five years. Unfortunately, before it ended it became a much 'soapier' watered down version and was cancelled in 1965, five months ahead of Dr Kildare.


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The Benny Hill Show Arguably the most visually successful performer since the great Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hawthorne Hill became one of the most accomplished funny men of his era, whose cheeky grin and feigned air of innocence made him one of televisions biggest stars and won him a legion of fans around the world. Born in 1924, the son of a surgical appliance fitter, Benny Hill's career began in music hall variety (he had a spell as Reg Varney's straight man), and progressed to television via radio where he had starred in Educating Archie. His TV debut came in 1949 but it wasn't until 1955 that the BBC awarded him his first series. In 1964 he won plaudits for his portrayal of Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and then, in 1969 he switched to Thames TV, where he stayed for the next twenty years. Initially his shows were a mixture of visual slapstick gags, short sketches, comedy song routines (he had a number one hit in the UK in 1970 with Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West), and send-ups of other popular television figures of the time, using his great ability for mimicry. He developed a number of stock characters of whom Fred Scuttle became the most popular, and surrounded himself with a team of regulars that included Nicholas Parsons, Henry McGee, Jack Wright and Bob Todd. (Frasier star Jane Leeves also got her first TV break on the show). In the mid seventies Hill injected the traditional British 'Saucy Postcard' humour of Donald McGill into his sketches and introduced a team of scantily clad dancers known as Hills Angels. The ratings soared. For the next decade Benny Hill was one of the top names on television, and even became a hit in the USA where so many British comedians had failed before him. Then in the late 1980's Hill's show was accused of being sexist and voyeuristic, and in 1989, amidst a mounting tide of criticism, and after 18 series and numerous specials, Thames TV quite simply dumped him.

Many felt that the TV company had simply axed The Benny Hill Show in order to win over a minority of critics and to show that they were in tune with the new age of 'political correctness'. In other words it was no more than a PR stunt. Indeed it's fair to say that at the time of the axing Hill had already toned down the act and dropped the Angels dance routines. The show continued to make millions of pounds around the world and three years later Benny Hill was invited back, this time by Central Television. Before the show could be completed he died on 29th April 1992. Indisputably one of the last great masters of a deceptively complex and sophisticated brand of visual humour, Hill's modest genius effortlessly transcended national and cultural boundaries, and in the process confirmed his international standing as one of greatest clowns of the late twentieth century. Although the man himself is no longer with us, as long as an audience exists for truly inspired visual comedy, the name Benny Hill will always be synonymous with genuine comedic quality.

BENSON (1979)

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Benson This spin-off of the Susan Harris-created farce Soap sent the Tate family's insolent African-American butler Benson (Robert Guillaume) to the mansion of Jessica Tate's bumbling cousin, Governor James Gatling (James Noble). In other words, Benson (who finally had a last name, DuBois) went from one dysfunctional family to another. We never learned the state that Gatling ran, but we did meet his young daughter Katie (Missy Gold), his German housekeeper and Benson's nemesis Gretchen Kraus (Inga Swenson), the governor's secretary Marcy Hill (Caroline McWilliams) and chief aide John Taylor (Lewis J. Stadlen.) When the show premiered Benson's job was running the governor's household. But he soon became involved in the workings of the executive mansion, helping Gatling out of more than one political jam. In the second season, press secretary Pete Downey (Ethan Phillips later to star as Neelix in Star Trek: Voyager) joined the administration; Taylor was replaced by the pompous Clayton Endicott III (Rene Auberjonois, who also joined the 'Trek family' as Odo in Deep Space 9), who soon became yet another nemesis for the sarcastic and straight-talking Benson. Also in the show's second season was Frankie the messenger boy (played by a young Jerry Seinfeld; he lasted only one year).

Season three brought more changes as Benson became the state's budget director and gained his own secretary, Denise Stevens (Didi Conn), who later married press secretary Pete. Also that season, Gatling found himself dumped by his own political party; he ran for re-election as an independent candidate and won (with help from Benson, of course). Benson also did well in the political arena; in 1984 he was elected the state's Lieutenant Governor, second-in-command to Gatling. The final season of Benson brought him a steady girlfriend-fiance Diane Hartford (Donna LaBrie). Also that season, the friendship between Benson and Gatling became strained when the two ran against each other for governor. But we never knew who won the election; the final episode in 1986 showed the two men patching up differences and watching the election returns on television. (The episode ended just as the TV announcer was about to announce the projected winner). It may have been a stretch having Benson rise from butler to a political force, but it worked thanks to Robert Guillaume's presence and skill for comedy; he won two Emmy awards as Benson DuBois--one as a supporting actor on Soap; the other in 1985 for Best Actor in a Comedy Series. While never a top-20 hit, Benson nevertheless enjoyed a seven-season run--nearly twice as long as its parent.


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Bergerac Created and initially produced by the prolific Robert Banks Stewart, Bergerac came into being as a result of actor Trevor Eve's refusal to continue in the immensely popular BBC One series Shoestring. In its place Banks Stewart turned to an idea he had been developing for a detective/thriller series set on the offshore millionaire's paradise of Jersey in the Channel Islands -and in the process created one of British Television's most popular TV detective's of the 1980's. Following in the long standing tradition of maverick cops, the series introduced us to Det. Sgt. Jim Bergerac (ex Liver Birds co-star and noted Shakespearian actor, John Nettles) as the divorced, recovering alcoholic, injured in-the-line-of-duty policeman, who helped maintain law and order working for the Bureau des Etrangers whilst investigating the often dubious affairs of non-island folk, which more often than not involved the activities of the super-rich inhabitants of the isolated, self-absorbed, millionaire community of the island. Ably supporting Nettles was veteran character actor Terence Alexander, as Bergerac's former father-in-law Charlie Hungerford (played delightfully against type as a gruff, self-made Yorkshire millionaire), while former Howard's Way star Deborah Grant was Jim's ex-wife (and Hungerford's spoilt daughter), Deborah Bergerac. Other regular recurring characters included season one girlfriend Francine Leland (Cecile Paoli), Sean Arnold as Bergerac's long suffering superior officer Barney Crozier, Annette Badland (Charlotte), Mela White (Diamante Lil), Lindsay Heath (as Jim's teen-aged daughter, Kim) and former Doctor Who companion and future Eastenders star Louise Jameson. On several occasions Bergerac sailed pretty close to the wrong side of the law himself as he dallied with beautiful jewel thief Philippa Vale (Liza Goddard).

Towards the end of the show's life, the format underwent a slight retooling which saw Jim retired from the police force and move to Provence to take up the role of Private Investigator, acquiring a new girlfriend in the comely form of French actress Therese Liotard as Danielle Aubry. George Fenton composed the instantly recognisable theme music, while the series boasted excellent scripts from the likes of Robert Holmes and Ian Kennedy-Martin, amongst others. A firm favourite with the viewing public, Bergerac was a solidly crafted, dependably acted example of the British detective series which benefited from an interestingly believable central character given substance by a gifted and likeable actor. In the process, Jim Bergerac did for Jersey what Steve McGarrett did for Hawaii, sparking a whole new tourist industry. On completing Bergerac, John Nettles made his home there.


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Derek Guyler, Tom Barrett, Robert Coote. Television's first attempt to poke fun at the world of politics from within the Houses of Parliament in a situation comedy came from the pens of Vince Powell and Harry Driver. The series revolved around two M.Ps,-Labour and Conservative. Tim Barrett played a young Labour newcomer, Geoffrey Broom MP for Burnstone, Yorkshire, and Robert Coates the wily old Tory, William Sylvester Gordon representing the safe seat of Ryefield in Surrey. Because of accommodation problems they are forced to share an office. "We thought a comedy series about politics would be an excellent subject," said Vince. "It never does any harm for people to laugh at something they sometimes tend to take too seriously." However, the series was beset with problems. Following the transmission of the first episode (in Thames Television's second week of broadcasting) an ITV technicians dispute kept it off the screen until almost a year later when the next four of the seven episodes written were shown. The last two episodes were never seen. Television returned to the subject matter far more successfully in the 1980s with Yes, Minister.


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Beverly Hillbillies Classic US sitcom following the adventures of Jed Clampett and his family who, after discovering oil at the back of their Ozark ranch, pack up their things and move to Beverly Hills, much to the consternation of the local populace. The Clampett clan consisted of Jed (played by former 1930's song and dance man Buddy Ebsen), Granny Clampett (brilliantly portrayed by the wonderful Eileen Ryan), dim witted cousin Jethro (Max Baer Jnr, son of the former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion), and kindly, animal loving Elly May (Donna Douglas). Bea Benedaret appeared in the early episodes as first cousin Pearl Bodine but was quickly spun off into her own series Petticoat Junction. Beverly Hills' contingent of 'regular folk' were mostly represented by bank manager Milburn Drysdale, his wife Margaret and secretary Jane Hathaway.

Rather than poking fun at the Hillbillies, the series underlying theme was nothing less than an out and out attack on materialism and became the fastest ratings hit in US TV history, progressing to the top of the chart within four months and remaining there for two years. It was also the first US sit-com to film episodes on location abroad, when the Clampetts came to stay in the standard mythical Hollywood version of England for a slightly different spin on their usual satirical shenanigans.

In 1994 during Hollywood's preoccupation with attempting to convert 1960's television series' into big screen hits, a movie was released. Without the benefit of the original cast or the keenly observed scripts of creator Paul Henning the movie was a big disappointment. Even viewed today with the more sophisticated (jaded) eyes of a modern viewer, The Beverly Hillbillies delights as an excellent example of the US sitcom at its very best. The Clampetts may not have had poise and polish. But they had something infinitely more valuable...genuine class.


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Bewitched Originally inspired by two Hollywood movies; I Married A Witch (1942), and Bell, Book and Candle (1958) this long running series chronicled the adventures of Samantha Stephens (played by Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of Hollywood star Robert), a seemingly normal housewife who was in fact a white witch, and husband Darrin; a NY advertising executive for the company of McMann and Tate. Samantha performed her magic (by simply twitching her nose or snapping her fingers) much to the consternation of Darrin who didn't approve of anything supernatural. Further pressure was put on the pair by Samantha's mother Endora (former Oscar nominee Agnes Moorhead), who in turn didn't approve of her daughter being married to a mere mortal (she would refer to him as 'Dumb Dumb'), and would use her own particular brand of magic to cause domestic strife. As if the Stephens didn't have enough to contend with, Darrin's boss, Larry Tate (oblivious of Samantha's 'special talents') was a money grabbing slave driver who expected Darrin to pander to the very whim of every client on McMann and Tate's books even if it included using the attractive Samantha to act as the perfect hostess in the Stephens' own household. There were also the nosey neighbours, Abner and Gladys Kravitz, and a host of Samantha's family members who would stop by the Stephens household now and then for, in Darrin's eyes, an extremely unwelcome visit. The most popular of these with the audience was Aunt Clara (played with delightfully eccentric vagueness by veteran actress Marion Lorne) who always got her spells wrong. The least popular with Darrin (after Endora) was Samantha's identical cousin, Serena (also played by Elizabeth Montgomery although billed as Pandora Spocks). Matters grew even worse for Darrin when Sam gave birth to a daughter, Tabitha, who was possessed of the same powers as her mother. However, one wonders just how much sympathy the audience had for Darrin and how much they actually revelled in his discomfort when he can best be described as "somewhat on the 'drippy' side!"

The show was produced by Montgomery's husband, William Asher, and over its 8-year run it saw many cast changes. The most notable of these was leading man Dick York who had suffered from back problems for many years. Eventually York was unable to continue and so was suddenly replaced by Dick Sargent, who had actually been the producer's original choice to play the character but had proved to be unavailable. The transition proved to be a smooth one due to the two actors physical likeness and near identical performances. Mrs Kravitz was played by two actresses (Sandra Gould took over after the death in 1966 of Alice Pearce), and Larry Tate's wife, Louise, was also played by two actresses (Irene Vernon from 1964 until 1966 and Kasey Rogers for the remainder). Five years after it finished Sam and Darrin's daughter Tabitha returned in her own series in which she was a young adult working for a TV station. (In spite of the fact that she would only have been 11 years old!). The format was revived for a Bewitched movie in 2005 starring the usually excellent Nicole Kidman, but it failed to enchant critics and public alike. A great shame, as the original, with a simple premise, charming performances from an assured cast of professionals and engaging scripts, effortlessly ensured that Bewitched the TV series, still showing in reruns worldwide, continues to conjure a smile long after other shows of its time have lost their original sparkle.


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Beyond A Joke Sketch show featuring Eleanor Bron, John Bird (both of whom were credited as writers alongside Michael Frayn) and Barrie Ingham. Each show began with the trio sitting round a piano singing out of tune while Bron tinkled very badly with the ivories. The series ran for just six episodes on BBC2. It was very much built around what writer Mark Lewisohn describes as Bron's "indefinable talent." Bron had begun her career in the Cambridge Footlights review of 1959 (an amateur theatrical club run by the students of Cambridge University), until then a bastion of male talent where the only females characters that appeared were men in drag. The tour show that year, The Last Laugh, also featured Peter Cook and John Bird. Bron's film appearances include the role of Ahme in the Beatles film Help!; the character's name allegedly inspired Paul McCartney when he composed "Eleanor Rigby". Bronhad also appeared in other TV shows of the time including appearances on David Frost's Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, a satire produced by Ned Sherrin. John Bird appeared in this show, too. A satirist, actor and comedian Bird was intended by Ned Sherrin for David Frost's role in That Was The Week That Was, but was unable to take up the offer due to prior commitments. Barrie Ingham is better known for his straight roles rather than comedy and has featured in over 200 British and American films and TV productions. Although only a short series, Beyond A Joke is still regarded as a prime example of the 1970s sketch-show genre and recently featured in a BBC one-off special called The Comedy Vaults: BBC2's Hidden Treasure - where one of the few surviving sketches were shown.