Reviews F to Fe

F TROOP (1965)

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Show ImageA broadly played slapstick comedy, F Troop was set in the post-Civil War era at a Union camp known as Fort Courage (somewhere west of the Missouri River). Ken Berry starred as Captain Wilton Parmenter, who became commanding officer of the troop when he somehow led a charge in the wrong direction and beat the enemy Confederate troops. But the man who really ran F Troop was Sgt. Morgan O'Rourke (played by character actor Forrest Tucker) and his assistant, Corporal Randolph Agorn (Larry Storch). What Parmenter did not know is that O'Rourke worked out a secret (and profitable) deal with the nearby Hekawi Indian tribe, which made souvenirs. Parmenter's problems were compounded by the beautiful sharpshooter Wrangler Jane (Melody Patterson), who was very interested in marrying the Captain (who had no interest in matrimony with Jane). Plenty of guest stars came through Fort Courage, including Phil Harris, Paul Lynde, Edward Everett Horton (as an Indian named Roaring Chicken) and a pre Laugh-In Henry Gibson as a cursed trooper named Wrongo Starr. With its physical comedy and one-liners, F Troop appealed to kids and young adults. It premiered in gorgeous black and white in the fall of 1965, and did OK when paired with another military comedy, McHale's Navy. But when F Troop returned for a second season (in colour), the show was moved to another night and lost in the ratings to NBC's frontier drama Daniel Boone. F Troop has seldom been seen since it left the network schedule in August 1967. But for those of a certain age who grew up with US television in the late 1960's, the "F" in F Troop stood for "fun." (Mike Spadoni)

THE FBI (1965)

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Show ImageAllegedly based on the case-files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The F.B.I. was endorsed by none other than the Bureau's real-life chief of operations, J. Edgar Hoover. Fresh from his success in 77 Sunset Strip, Efrem Zimbalist Jnr starred as the tough and incorruptible G-Man, Inspector Lew Erskine, an unrelenting pursuer of the unlawful and unrighteous, who would traverse the length and breadth of the United States tracking down communists, extortionists, counterfeiters, radicals and the godfathers of organised crime. In the early episodes Erskine had a daughter, Barbara, (his wife had died in a shoot-out) who dated fellow FBI agent Jim Rhodes. However, the producers decided to drop the character in order to concentrate the action on Erskine's dogged pursuit of justice. The series always portrayed the F.B.I. in a favourable light leading it to win the recommendation of Hoover, who took the unprecedented step of allowing Efrem Zimbalist Jnr to spend a week with real-life agents and a day at the F.B.I. Academy in Virginia. "My visit there," said Zimbalist Jnr, "consisted mostly of interviews with personnel in charge of the various divisions of the Bureau, ranging from counter-espionage to domestic crime, and instruction in the various technical departments such as the laboratory and ballistics." Zimbalist Jnr was also given instructions in hand-to-hand combat. "We were constantly with members of the Bureau, and the familiarisation was an ongoing process." Further endorsement of the series was given by Hoover in allowing certain scenes to be filmed both in and around the F.B.I.'s Washington HQ. Meanwhile, Erskine and his fellow agents were always seen driving gleaming new sedans, supplied by the series official sponsors, The Ford Motor Company. Some episodes were given a further touch of realism by a short closing segment in which the real-life F.B.I. would make an appeal for information on their 'most wanted fugitives' including, in 1968, the assassin James Earl Ray.


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Show ImageThe first ever British made filmed series, shot by Trinity Productions for the BBC and consisting of 39 black and white episodes, Fabian of Scotland Yard has been described as Britain's first generation of the TV detective. To give it credibility, the series was based on real crimes, or stories from police files from Scotland Yard and in particular (or so it was alleged) on the investigations of former celebrated Yard detective Robert Fabian. Fabian was played in each episode by Bruce Seton (pictured) but the real-life Fabian turned up at the end of each episode to round it off in the style of George Dixon in Dixon of Dock Green although, according to Susan Sydney-Smith, author of "Beyond Dixon of Dock Green," his appearance was "jarring and awkward." Robert Fabian may have been an accopmlished investigator but he was far less of a broadcaster. The series was made for export and several episodes were never actually transmitted in the UK. London's familiar landmarks were used in a somewhat travelogue style and, being shot on film rather than live in the studio like many contemporary BBC shows, the Corporation had much more freedom in broadcasting it at different times of the week. Originally shown on Saturday night it later moved to Wednesday evenings with a repeat on weekday afternoons. Among the contributors was Arthur La Bern whose novel "Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square" was later adapted by Alfred Hitchcock as the movie 'Frenzy.' The series was also known as Patrol Car in the USA where it enjoyed success on the CBS Network, as well as Inspector Fabian of Scotland Yard and Fabian of Scotland Yard in other countires, but as Fabian of the Yard on the BBC. Two B-feature films made up of re-edited episodes were released in 1954 and 1955; Fabian of the Yard and Handcuffs, London.


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Show Image Already a major radio and television star, Jimmy Edwards was provided with a chance to expand his repertoire of characters with a series of comedy playhouse episodes entitled The Seven Faces of Jim, which was not only popular with both critics and public of the time but has since found its way into the enduring universe that is television heaven, by introducing a TV audience to a minor supporting character actor who would go on to become 'the guv'nor' of British comedy...Ronnie Barker.

James Keith O'Neil Edwards aka Professor Jimmy Edwards was a much-adored comedian who had starred, since 1956, in the BBC sitcom Whack-O! For four years Edwards gave full vent to his boisterous voice as he bullied his unfortunate pupils. But when that series ended in 1960 the writers, Frank Muir and Denis Norden, fell back on a tried and trusted formula of writing a series of shows in which the star would play a different character each week. The aim of this was to find a character, which Edwards could develop for a full series. The first episode was called The Face of Devotion in which Edwards played a kind-hearted garage owner who believes he may be loosing his wife (played by June Whitfield) to a professional ballroom dancer. In episode two, The Face of Genius, Edwards starred as a scientist who was ably assisted by Dick Emery, Paul Eddington and Prunella Scales. Ronnie Barker had been booked to say just one line, as an announcer. The following week, for The Face of Power, Barker was given a few more lines and each week his part was expanded more and more.

Four more episodes followed; The Face of Dedication, The Face of Duty, The Face of Guilt and The Face of Enthusiasm. During these shows the guest cast included Amanda Barrie, Richard Briers and Melvyn Hayes. When the series returned the following year as Six More Faces of Jim, Ronnie Barker had been added as a co-star. The first episode, The Face of Fatherhood, saw Edwards introduce the television audience to his popular radio character Pa Glum. In it, Pa discovers that his hapless son Ron (Ronnie Barker) has been secretly dating Eth (June Whitfield), a girl whom he plans to marry. The series continued with The Face of Retribution, The Face of Wisdom, The Face of Perseverance, The Face of Loyalty, and The Face of Tradition before rounding off with a short Christmas Day special entitled, appropriately enough, The Christmas Face of Jim, which was broadcast as part of a seasonal comedy compilation called Christmas Night With The Stars. For this episode Edwards, Barker and Whitfield reprised the Glum family. In June 1963 the series returned as More Faces of Jim in what proved to be its last outing. Again six episodes comprised the series run beginning with A Matter of Amnesia. All the episodes started with A Matter of...and took in 'Growing Up', 'Spreadeagling', 'Upbringing', 'Espionage' and 'Empire'. Later that year Edwards made a one-hour special called Man O'Brass, which spawned a six episode series (Bold As Brass) and with that he left the thirty-minute series of one off shows format behind.

However, 14 years later in 1977 he returned once more to his (arguably) most celebrated character in the Muir/Norden penned The Glums for a series of short sketches within Bruce Forsyth's Saturday night variety show Bruce Forsyth's Big Night. Ian Lavender (best known at that time as Private Pike in Dad's Army) took the Ronnie Barker role of Ron, while Eth was played by Patricia Brake who had coincidently appeared as Barker's daughter in the hit BBC sitcom Porridge. These little ten-minute sketches were one of the few success stories of Bruce Forsyth's show (panned unfairly by the critics and never really given a chance to establish itself), and as a result two new series were produced in 1978 and 1979. Jimmy Edwards passed away in 1988. Those that new him loved him, and he is rightfully regarded as one of the giants of British comedy.

THE FALL (2013)

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Tense BBC crime drama. Click Here for review


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Show Image A bold and innovative slant to the traditional BBC middle class, suburban set sitcom, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, was not only both a critical and audience success, but also allowed the impeccable comedic genius of Liverpool born star Leonard Rossiter to add yet another iconic character to his already impressive credentials. Based on his own novel, 'The Death of Reginald Perrin', David Nobbs sitcom used as its central character a man falling headlong into the calamity of mid-life-crisis. But more than that, the series was an inspired swipe at middle class England, big business and consumerism. Reginald Iolanthe Perrin had worked in the same boring job with Sunshine Desserts for 20 years. Every day he left his boring Norbitan home, took the same boring train journey, arrived at his boring office (always eleven minutes late), and was greeted by his boring secretary (Sue Nicholls), whom he dreamed of having an affair with. His career was going nowhere and he was constantly browbeaten by his overbearing boss C.J. (John Barron), who was forever offering advice beginning with "I didn't get where I am today..." until it all became too much for Reggie and he drove himself to the seaside, threw off his clothes and faked his own suicide in order to start a new life. (British MP John Stonehouse copied this in real life). Following a spell of wandering around Britain and picking up odd jobs, such as a labourer on a pig farm, Reggie returned to suburbia in the guise of Martin Welbourne, remarried wife Elizabeth (Pauline Yates), and set up a chain of shops called Grot, which specialised in useless objects. Further more, Reggie employed the ex-staff of the now defunct Sunshine Desserts, including his secretary, C.J, Tony 'Great' Webster and David 'Super' Harris-Jones. But things went too well for Reggie and Grot became a runaway success, steering Reggie straight back into the lifestyle that he had previously resented so much. At the end of season two, Reggie and the entire cast staged another fake suicide, only to re-surface for a third season in which Reggie founded a commune for distressed executives.

Now joined by his militaristic brother-in-law, Jimmy (Geoffrey Palmer, who would later almost totally recreate the role in Fairly Secret Army), who would always be on the scrounge for food with the excuse "Sorry, bit of a cock-up on the catering front.' Perrins, as the new company called itself, employed all of Reggie's old cronies including an indecipherable Scottish cook by the name of McBlane. An American version (Reggie) starring former Soap star Richard Mulligan, was broadcast in 1983 by ABC, but inexplicably, the BBC revived the series (The Legacy of Reginald Perrin) in 1996, which took up the story after Reggie had been killed by an advertising hoarding (Leonard Rossiter himself had passed away in 1984), leaving his former colleagues to perform absurd tasks in order to inherit several million pounds from his will. However, stripped of its central character and the all-important presence of Rossiter himself, the show, with the benefit of hindsight, was always doomed to certain failure.

Skilfully and insightfully written, and performed to the peak of perfection by a seasoned cast who delivered perfectly pitched lines with subtle aplomb, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin was comedy of the very highest order from a television institution at the very pinnacle of its classic comedy output.

FAME (1982)

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Show Image This musical comedy-drama was based on the 1980 film about students and faculty at New York City's High School for the Performing Arts. The series essentially picked up where the film left off, with talented kids learning about hard work and dedication-along with rejection and the usual problems of being an adolescent. And it has worn well; Fame's formula was updated successfully for the hybrid musical-drama Glee. Several of the movie's cast members moved over to the television version, including Debbie Allen (instructor Lydia Grant; Allen also produced and directed many episodes), Gene Anthony Ray (aspiring dancer Leroy Johnson), Albert Hague (music instructor Benjamin Shorofsky) and Lee Cufrreri (keyboard player/composer Bruno Martelli). Others in the ensemble cast included Valerie Landsburg, Erica Gimpel, Cynthia Gibb, future superstar Janet Jackson (as Cleo Hewitt) and Nia Peoples as Nicole Chapman. Critics loved the talented cast and the realistic stories-but Fame suffered in the ratings against CBS' megahit Magnum, P.I. After one and a half seasons, NBC pulled the plug. But MGM Television (with financial help from the BBC and Australia's Seven Network) began producing new episodes for local stations and worldwide distribution, starting in the fall of 1983. It became an even bigger hit than during its NBC run. There were a number of cast changes during the syndicated run, but it was popular enough to run for four seasons. Like Glee many years later, the cast members were featured on records and in live production but few of them achieved long-running careers.

In 1997, a spin-off of Fame was produced; the new Fame L.A. again featured a talented young cast studying and performing, this time in hip Venice, California. But Fame L.A. didn't catch on, and ran for just one season. In December 2008, UK's Channel 4 aired a 90-minute special which reunited some of the original Fame cast members in the States. Host Justin Lee Collins interviewed some of the show's former stars, including the mother of Gene Anthony Ray (who died in 2003 from stroke complications). Fame's theme song, which Irene Cara made a top-ten hit when the movie was released in 1980, was also used in the series. The TV version was initially sung by Erica Gimpel (who played the Coco Hernandez role that Cara performed in the film), before new cast member Loretta Chandler did the vocals for the show's final seasons. (Mike Spadoni)


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Show Image The business and private lives of the partners of a firm of solicitors was the background for this hour-long series which first appeared on Wednesday June 28, 1961. Robert Flemying & A. J. Brown played the senior partners, accompanied by Mary Kenton, Bernard Horsfall and Geoffrey Palmer in the principal roles as members of the fictitious solicitors' firm of Naylor and Freeman. The writers tried to make the cases as authentic as possible prompting the Law Society to remark: "For years we have been waiting for television to present a series like this." Series producer Jack Williams said: "Although most of the action takes place in the offices of Naylor and Freeman, there is no intention of turning Family Solicitor into a dull catalogue of legal procedure. This is a true-to-life series in which real people tackle real-life situations."


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Show Image Phyllis Cradock and her third husband Major John Cradock were quickly poached from the BBC's Kitchen Magic in 1955 to present ITV's first cookery programme, whereas Fanny and Johnny they quickly established themselves as the country's leading experts on all things culinary. They were not the first television chefs. Phillip Harben had first appeared in 1946 with his twenty minute Cookery series of programmes, which guided housewives on the best way to make the most of their ration book allowance. But by 1955 with food restrictions lifted, Fanny, who replaced the standard chefs apron for an evening gown, hanging earrings and pearls, was able to introduce gourmet cooking to a waiting (and one suspects hungry) British public in the style of her Daily Telegraph column, 'Bon Viveur.' Although they always appeared as a couple it was clearly the lady who was in charge, gruffly ordering her husband around the kitchen in a style that later led to many a parody from the likes of Benny Hill, who would take great delight in presenting Johhny (usually played by comedian Bob Todd) as a rollicking drunk knocking back the wine and creating all sorts of kitchen disasters. Joke or not, Fanny and Johnny enjoyed a hugely successful TV career that endured until their retirement in the 1970s. During the course of their career they were ever present on television in series such as Fanny's Kitchen (1955, 1957, 1961), Chez Bon Viveur (1956), The Cradocks (1962), Giving A Dinner Party (1969), Fanny Cradock Invites (1970) and Cradock Cooks For Christmas (1975). They even had a regular spot, 'Happy Cooking' on the children's programme Tuesday Rendezvous (1961-63). Johnny passed away in 1987, Fanny survived him by 7 years.


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Show Image Based on the 1966 live action movie of the same name, Fantastic Voyage is the animated US TV series from 1968, created by the world famous animation studio Filmation (He-Man, She-Ra, Flash Gordon, Batman, Superman) and produced by renowned animators Lou Sheimer and Norm Prescott. The series follows the adventures of C.M.D.F. (Combined Miniature Defence Force), a secret government organisation that possesses the ability to reduce people to microscopic size for 12 hours only. Using a flying submarine called The Voyager, they do battle against unsuspecting enemies of the free world (both criminal and germinal matter). While the series was in production, Aurora Model Company developed a plastic model of the Voyager, releasing it only months before the series cancellation was announced. Due to the short run of the show, this kit received only one press run, and as a result is one of the rarest kits to find of the Aurora line with boxed versions exchanging hands on eBay for up to 700 USD.


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Show Image Astronaut John Crichton is on a test flight of his module, Farscape 1, when a spatial wormhole opens directly in his path. Unable to avoid the phenomenon, Chrichton is shot halfway across the galaxy into an uncharted (by man) part of the universe, arriving in the middle of a pitched space battle, and directly in the path of a Peacekeeper vessel. In an attempt to avoid collision with Farscape 1, the Peacekeeper attempts evasive action, but is destroyed. The Peacekeeper was waiting to take a group of transported prisoners that had revolted aboard a Leviathan, one of a group of 'living' vessels that the Peacekeepers had managed to take control of using collars that force obedience. Crichton becomes unwillingly involved with the revolution when his vessel is taken aboard the Leviathan. Here he encounters strange looking creatures and robotic devices and soon discovers what is going on. The prisoners are re-captured; John Crichton amongst them, and the astronaut soon discovers that he has become Peacekeeper captain Bialar Crais's worst enemy. Crais's brother was on the destroyed Peacekeeper vessel. Originally dubbed "Star Trek's evil twin" in some quarters soon after its premiere, Farscape, co-production by the Jim Henson Company in the U.S., Hallmark Entertainment in the U.S. and Nine Films and Television, part of Nine Network in Australia, began shooting in Sydney on 25th September 1998. The series was created by Rockne S O'Bannon and was originally earmarked for the US Fox Network but was ultimately green-lit by the Sci-Fi Channel. Blending state-of-the-art animatronics from the Jim Henson Creature Shop, CGI and live action, the series was described in British Sci-Fi magazine TV Zone as "the boldest, brightest and most mind-boggingly brilliant Sci-Fi saga currently on the air."


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Show Image TV's first sleuth in clerical clothing was adapted in 1974 from the novels of G.K. Chesterton. Amateur detective Father Brown (motto: 'Have Bible -will travel') was amiably bought to the screen by veteran actor Kenneth More, but only after much badgering by TV supremo Lew Grade. When Grade commissioned the 13 60-minute episodes he knew exactly whom he wanted for the title role. But More, who had an impressive list of film credits to his name as well as having starred in the hugely successful BBC drama The Forsyte Saga, turned the part down on several occasions until Grade's persistence eventually paid off. Ian Fordyce produced the series with a careful eye to 1920s period detail and costume. Father Brown, an unassuming East Anglian Roman Catholic priest who was highly successful in the detection of crime, employing a methodical approach and intuitive methods, first appeared in print in 1911 in 'The Innocence Of Father Brown.' The plots were played out at a leisurely pace in both print and on TV where the saintly sleuth was aided by Detective Flambeau as played by Dennis Burgess. The series was broadcast in the US on the PBS network in the 1980s and in 1990 America came up with its own version; Father Dowling Investigates, and although that series was based on the novels of Ralph McInery it has been suggested that McInery's tales were an updated American steal of Chesterton's novels.


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Show Image A fairly decent and popular generation gap comedy starring middle-aged divorcee Patrick Glover, the author of a series of pulp fiction novels, who is left to bring up his two teenage daughters (Anna and Karen) in trendy Hampstead when his wife, Barbara, runs off to marry his best friend. Patrick always seemed to be in a permanent state of harassment and confusion as he tried to cope with his daughters, his ex-wife and her husband (either of whom would come to stay at the Glover household whenever there was marital strife -which was quite often), his agent (Georgie), his dotty mother, his compulsive gambler of a brother, and his middle-aged housemaid (Nanny) who was supposed to help out in times of crisis but whose only solution was to 'put the kettle on and make a nice pot of tea'. In spite of having two attractively nubile teenage daughters there was hardly any 'hanky panky' going on under the Glover roof, and most of the comedy arose from Patrick misunderstanding the girls, the girls misunderstanding Patrick, Patrick misunderstanding Nanny, Nanny misunderstanding...oh well, you get the picture. The only sane one in the entire series was Patrick's sole confidante, a rather large and lumbering St Bernard dog named after Patrick's favourite author, H.G.Wells. Although never a classic, Father Dear Father ran for five seasons and boasted a host of guest stars that made it look like a who's who of British TV and film stars. Eric Barker, Rodney Bewes, Ian Carmichael, Bill Fraser, Peter Jones, Roy Kinnear, Dandy Nicholls, Richard O'Sullivan, Hugh Paddick, Bill Pertwee, Leslie Phillips, Beryl Reid, Joan Sims, Donald Sinden and June Whitfield all visited the Glover's Hillsdown Avenue address. The series ended in 1973 (after 7 series) at which time a Father Dear Father movie appeared in British cinemas. But this was at a time when just about every half-decent (and even some not-so-decent) sitcoms were being turned into feature films, and Father Dear Father, like a majority of them, proved that what might make an audience chuckle for 30 minutes on television would just about raise a few limp smiles during 90 minutes of cinema.

That's not entirely the end of the Father Dear Father story, though. In 1978 Patrick and Nanny jetted off to Australia where he intended to do research for his next book. The deal was that they'd stay with Patrick's brother, Jeffrey. But on their arrival Jeffrey announces that he is going to London for six months, leaving Patrick the run of his house and the charge of his...wait for it...two attractively nubile teenage daughters! The 7 Network in Australia made 14 episodes of the imaginatively titled Father Dear Father In Australia, before mercifully bringing the series to an end and before it had to be re-titled Grandfather Dear Grandfather!


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Show Image Surreal, silly and very very funny, Father Ted was a sitcom that not so much thumbed its nose at some of Irish cultures most sacred cows, but rather brazenly bludgeoned them to death with a gleefully wielded sledgehammer. Created and written by the team of Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews -who would later go on and contribute their not inconsiderable comedy talents to both The Fast Show and Coogan's Run- the series charts the misadventures of chain smoking morally suspect Catholic priest, Father Ted Crilly (the late and sadly missed Dermot Morgan), who's been banished to a stark, desolate off-shore ecumenical limbo somewhere off the Galway coast, named Craggy Island, for numerous shadowy misdemeanours and even less shadowy character defects. Along with Ted is his young, inexperienced, child-like and likeable, but staggeringly stupid curate, Father Dougal Maguire (a perfectly judged performance of almost breath-taking empty headedness by young stand-up comedian Ardal O'Hanlon), and the alcoholically hazed, psychopathically monosyllabic retired veteran cleric, Father Jack Hackett (seasoned character actor Frank Kelly). Rounding out the central quartet is the excellent Pauline McLynn as the manically devoted parochial housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle.

On the foundation fashioned from this basically simple scenario, writers Linehan and Matthews created a near self contained universe of inspired lunacy and comic invention, which more often than not revolved around Ted's (forever) just out of reach dreams of striking it rich and effecting an escape to the civilisation, and tantalising pleasures of the fleshpots of the mainland. Everything from the cult of celebrity through the blatant (but very funny) recycling of plots borrowed from every imaginable genre, to the lure of sex and existence of God Him/Her/Itself were routine grist to the comedic mill of the Craggy Island foursome during the course of the show's three seasons, which ran to enthusiastic audiences and critical acclaim on Channel 4 between 1995 to 1998, as was evidenced by its numerous prestigious BAFTA Award triumphs for such a relatively new series. And, although it was always intended that the series would come to a natural close with the third season, the hopes of die-hard fans that the run would be extended, or future specials would return them to the hapless inhabitants of Craggy Island were sadly dashed by the untimely and wholly unexpected death of star Dermot Morgan at the age 45 in 1998.

Although Father Ted's run was short by successful television comedy standards, its impact on viewers was both instantaneous and enduring. With both its characters and its numerous catch phrases gaining an almost iconic status in some quarters of the viewing population. Anarchic, sometimes controversial, sharply written, performed to perfection and most importantly, delivering a scattergun helping of consistent laughs, Father Ted was a prime example of modern situation comedy at its very best. (Stephen R. Hulse)


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Show Image As quintessentially British as the location for its deceptively simple, but brilliantly effective premise, Fawlty Towers ranks as one of the most consistently hilarious thirty-minutes of comedy to have ever graced the television screen. Created by John Cleese and his then wife, Connie Booth, the idea occurred to Cleese during a location shoot in Torquay for Monty Python's Flying Circus, where he met the owner of a hotel, Donald Sinclair, that he later described as "the most marvellously rude man I've ever met". Sinclair's antics included him throwing a timetable at a guest who asked when the next bus to town would arrive and throwing Eric Idle's briefcase into the street because he believed it contained a bomb. In a suitably surreal way - given the people involved, the briefcase itself did indeed contain a bomb - a creative one, which, when it eventually exploded resulted it the birth of a genuinely monumental comic creation - namely, one Basil Fawlty, esq.

At the time, Cleese was also a writer on the sitcom Doctor at Large for London Weekend Television. An early prototype of the Basil Fawlty character (played by Timothy Bateson) was developed in the episode 'No Ill Feeling.' As embodied by Cleese, Basil Fawlty was repulsively oily. A near psychopathically hyper-active, middle-aged, stick insect caricature of a genuine human being with pretensions beyond both his social and moral status. He was also breath-takingly painfully funny, whether charmlessly fawning over his upper class guests or frustratedly heaping abuse on the- 'riff-raff we get around here' - Fawlty was a figure myopically unaware of his own pathetically obvious ineptness. With the finely balanced interplay between Cleese's creation and a supporting cast spearheaded by Basil's shrewish wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), waitress Polly (Booth), stereotypical Spanish waiter; the chronically browbeaten Manuel (Andrew Sachs), and a number of 'resident hotel guests', the series was a huge and richly deserved success.

Bill Cotton, the BBC's Head of Light Entertainment in the mid-1970s, however, said that when he read the first scripts he could see nothing funny in them, but trusting that Cleese knew what he was doing (having come into this fresh from helping rip up the TV comedy form book with his fellow Pythons), he gave the go-ahead. The series on first broadcast received mixed critical reaction. The critic from Television Today, in an article on 14th September 1976, wrote: "devoid of everything that makes good modern comedy. The programme is reminiscent of the post-war university drama society production...writing that has no vestige of wit or skill about it and set pieces that are protracted and neither funny nor slapstick; the whole is pervaded by ill-humour." And while Clive James writing in The Observer said the second episode had him "retching with laughter" Richard Ingrams, then television reviewer for The Spectator, was as equally unimpressed as the Television Today critic. (Cleese got his revenge by naming one of the guests in the second series 'Mr Ingrams', who is caught in his room with a blow up doll).

The critics may not have liked the series but viewers gave it a resounding 'Yes!' The series also picked up three BAFTAs. Each of the two series were awarded the BAFTA in the category for "Best Situation Comedy" while John Cleese won the BAFTA for "Best Light Entertainment Performance" in 1976. More recently, in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, Fawlty Towers was placed first. It was also voted fifth in the BBC's Britain's Best Sitcom poll in 2004 and second only to Frasier in The Ultimate Sitcom poll of comedy writers in January 2006. Basil Fawlty came top of the Britain's Funniest Comedy Character poll, held by Five on 14 May 2006. In a 2008 online poll from Television Heaven to find the Greatest TV Shows Of All Time, Fawlty Towers was placed 11th. Cleese did not want to take the show beyond the two all too brief series that the BBC produced between 1975-1979. The anarchic humour of Fawlty Towers sliced through class and social structures like a hot knife through butter, tickling the nation's collective funny bone by sheer dint of pure quality and the fact that Basil (whether through deed or word) is so fundamentally British. (Co-writer: Stephen R. Hulse)

THE FEAR (1988)

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Show Image24-year-old Carl Galton represents a new kind of London gangster. In his relentless pursuit of wealth and status, signalled by luxury cars and designer clothes, Carl is brutally efficient and has scant regard for any traditional notions of honour. Following his brother's death in an East-End bar brawl, his focus shifts from protection rackets in North London to the territory of the oldschool East-End 'firms' - and he is prepared to use any means necessary to establish dominance there. Acclaimed Edinburgh-born actor Iain Glen perfected a London accent for his stunning performance as the predatory, Armani-clad gang leader in this chillingly authentic 1988 drama from Thames' Euston Films. Directed by the award-winning Stuart Orme and featuring an impressive supporting cast - including Susannah Harker (House of Cards), Jerome Flynn (Soldier, Soldier), Jesse Birdsall (Bugs) and Anthony Valentine (Colditz, Callan) - The Fear is a disturbing snapshot of a hidden London.


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The Feathered Serpent Studio-bound Children's drama series set in the Aztec period starring former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton; formerly the hero of millions - but here the villain of the piece. Emperor Kukulkhan (Tony Steedman) wishes to bring about the end of sacrifices and other barbaric practices much to the disdain of his High Priest, Nasca (Troughton), who is fearful of losing his own quite considerable powers in the process. He concocts a plan that will draw in Kukulkhan's daughter, Chimalma (Diane Keene), the boy Prince Heumac (Brian Deacon) and a servant boy, Tozo (Richard Willis). Nasca weaves a web of deceitful lies and manipulation which ends with Heumic being sent to the summit of the Pyramid of the Sun to be sacrificed. However, he manages to survive and when the second series aired (two years later) Nasca is still at his conniving best and this time has employed the services of an old witch, Keelag (Sheila Burrell), who claims she can help him in his nefarious plans with the aid of magic and sorcery. As if Heumac hasn't got enough to contend with his intended marriage to Chimalma is disputed by Xipec (Granville Saxton), Governor of the Gold Region who sets him a series of challenges in order to prove his worthiness. The implied violence and savagery in this teatime presentation wouldn't have been out of place in an adult series and the costumes were lavishly colourful and authentic, although Chimalma's wedding dress was designed by a competition winner in the children's magazine Look-In.


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See THE MAN IN ROOM 17 for review


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See PLEASE SIR! for review