US television's on-going love affair with the legal profession hit one of its periodic high water-marks with prolifically successful writer/producer, Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher's (herself a former Deputy D.A. and producer of Cagney and Lacey), critically acclaimed, high profile, LA Law. Once again employing the technique of presenting complexly interwoven storylines enacted by a large and talented ensemble cast which had proven highly effective on Bochco's earlier police drama, Hill Street Blue's, LA Law chronicled the eventful legal and personal lives of the successful attorney's working at the prestigious Los Angeles law firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak. Presided over by the respected, fatherly figure of senior partner Leland McKenzie, (veteran film and TV character actor, Richard Dysart), and with the likes of accomplished performers such as Harry Hamlin as the idealistically handsome Michael Kuzak, former Partridge Family mainstay Susan Dey as deputy D.A.(later judge)Grace Van Owen, and Corbin Bernsen's charismatic, womanising divorce lawyer, Arnie Becker, the younger attorney's tackled all manner of lucrative civil and criminal cases, although some "pro Bono" work for the poor was undertaken on occasion, primarily to help remind the viewers that, although wealthy, the partners were in the main caring, sharing, human beings.
Foreshadowing the more outrageous courtroom antics of his own later creations, Picket Fences, The Practice, and arguably the slickest of all these productions, Ally McBeal, the arrival of David E. Kelley to the show's production staff saw the firm become involved in a number of cases which touched upon both serious concerns of the day, as well as the comically bizarre, raging from the "outing" of prominent closet gays to, unlikely as it may seem, dwarf tossing. Another of the series triumphs was the introduction and serious treatment of both the emotional and personal development of the character of the gentle kind-hearted office worker, Benny Stulwicz, which was not only one of a rare handful of examples of a mentally disabled continuing character in US television history up to that point, but also showcased a sensitive and consistently excellent performance from Larry Drake, as Benny. The series finally came to the end of its run in May of 1994, when Leland McKenzie announced his retirement from the law practice, and effectively brought an end to LA Law itself in the process. Slickly produced, sharply written and consummately acted. LA Law memorably set the stylishly sophisticated tone for the deluge of legal series' which were destined to follow in its impressively substantial wake. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)
1980s anthology series about women, accused of murder, facing the hangman's noose. Click Here for review
From the prolific master of US televisual sci-fi, Irwin Allen, came this tale of a sub-orbital commercial flight that entered a space-warp and crash-landed on a planet that was home to people 12 times the normal height. The crew and passengers of the US rocketship "Spindrift" trapped in this land of giants were Capt Steve Burton (Gary Conway), Dan Erikson (Don Marshall), Mark Wilson (Don Matheson), Barry Lockridge (Stefan Arngrim), Valerie Scott (Deanna Lund) and Betty Hamilton (Heather Young). Whereas Allen's Lost In Space was based on the Swiss Family Robinson, so Land of the Giants was based on 'Gullivers Travels' and like 'LIS' it featured a resident villain, Commander Alexander Fitzugh (Kurt Kasznar). Although very dated now, the series used trick photography and elaborate props and was funded to the tune of $250,000 per episode, making it the most costliest series to date between its two season run from 1968-70.
LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD (2008)
The daily lives of farm workers, craftsmen and gentry at the end of the 16th century. Click Here for review
When builder's clerk Fred Robinson heard that his local Boy Scout group needed a script for a play, he offered to write one for them. Ten years later the nucleus of that script would be transformed into a comedy series that was described by Peter Black, the then TV critic of the Daily Mail, as "The best domestic situation comedy series created by British TV."
"I was helping out at a boys club in Harringey, North London," explained Robinson. "There was talk of starting an amateur dramatics group, but the problem was that they couldn't afford to pay royalties on published works. So I said, rather shyly, "I've got a play" and that's how the Larkins were born." Robinson returned to his house in Clapton, East London, where he was born, and worked out situations around a domineering wife, her hen-pecked, but shrewd husband, and their children. Later, when he was married and had a family of his own, he found it necessary to play the piano in his local pub in order to help out with the housekeeping. "All the characters in 'The Larkins' were based on people I'd seen in my local," he explained. Finally, Robinson worked up the courage to submit a script for a play, a comedy thriller entitled 'You, Too, Can Have a Body.' The play was produced and toured the country for a while, eventually finding a home at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London.
Robinson's next step was to submit The Larkins to the then Associated Television Productions Controller, Bill Ward. "It was the funniest script I have ever read or produced," said Ward in 1960. For casting, the production team turned to two well-established actors, Peggy Mount and David Kossoff. Mount had been a comparatively unknown repertory actress when she tried out for a play called 'Sailor, Beware' at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing. The play was so well received that it moved to the Strand Theatre, London. The morning after the play opened in the capital, Peggy opened her morning papers to see the critics hailing her as a new star. That same night her name went up in lights above the title of the play, which then ran for three-and-a-half years. Kossoff had been known in television, films and theatre for years, and had won an Academy Award in Wolf Mankowitz's 1956 movie, 'The Bespoke Overcoat.' In spite of being born in the East End of London, and in part due to his Russian parentage, Kossoff had mainly played a number of foreign roles. This was his first chance to play a Cockney. Supporting roles in the Larkins family were played by Shaun O'Riordan, (who had previously appeared in another much loved ATV series, Emergency Ward Ten), as gormless son Eddie, Ronan O'Casey as American son-in-law, Jeff Rogers, an out-of-work writer of cowboy comics, and Ruth Trouncer as daughter, Joyce. O'Riordan went on to be a major drama and comedy producer with George and the Dragon (starring Peggy Mount, Sid James and John LeMesurier) and sci-fi show Sapphire and Steel among his credits.
Together, the Larkins family found themselves in a variety of comedic situations that proved so popular with the viewing public that a spin-off movie 'Inn For Trouble', which found the family running a country pub, was released in 1959. Although now something of a forgotten classic, the antics of Alf and Ada Larkins, their family and nosy next-door neighbours, the Prouts, was essential viewing for almost six years from 1958 to 1964. In many respects, it's now clear to see that the Larkins became the standard template for the plethora of family oriented sitcoms which followed in its trailblazing wake. Although now unfairly overlooked, The Larkins, due in no small measure to its winning combination of skilfully funny scripts, well realised characters and expert playing from a team of top notch performers, deserves rightful recognition as a true gem of the British sitcom genre. (Co-writer Stephen R Hulse)
After 93 mis-spent years, the 12th Earl of Clogborough (Richard Hurndall) is ready and willing to say farewell to his ramshackle stately home, a mountain of unpaid bills, and his lasty remaining flunky Redvers Bodkin (Arthur Lowe). But first the heir to his title must be found. That heir turns out to be an uncouth boiler maker who is blissfully unaware of his aristocratic fate; Clifford Basket (Ken Jones). Moving into home and title with his equally uncouth mother in tow (Patricia Hayes), Clifford enjoys the high life much to the distain of the snooty butler who has to bring him bottles of brown ale on a silver platter. But soon enough they have to concern themselves with much weightier matters such as paying the bills and stopping the mansion from collapsing into the Pennines.
Beginning as a one-off episode of the BBC's Comedy Playhouse entitled 'Of Funerals And Fish', in January 1973, written by Roy Clarke, Last Of The Summer Wine went on to mature into a much loved national television institution which also carried the distinction of being Britain's longest running situation comedy series. Dealing initially with the misadventures of three ageing delinquents who live in the small Yorkshire town Holmfirth, the series' humour during its early days was gently philosophical as the original core trio of scruffy layabout Compo Simmonite (Bill Owen), timid widower, Norman Clegg (Peter Sallis - the voice of Wallace in Wallace and Gromit) and Cyril Blamire (Michael Bates who had previously appeared in It Ain't Half Hot, Mum), steadfastly refused to grow old gracefully and instead embraced an almost child-like retirement devoted to acting on their slightest whims and indulging in wryly humorous discourse on the nature of the universe, set against the breath-taking backdrop of Yorkshire's legendary scenic beauty.
Following Michael Bates' untimely death, another veteran of British television, Brian Wilde (Porridge's Mr. Barrowclough), was drafted aboard as the pompous, yarn spinning ex-school friend, Foggy Dewhurst. With Wilde's arrival, the immediate chemistry between the principal characters quickly established a dynamic that the viewing audience picked up on and the series' modest popularity began to gain the momentum, which would ultimately sustain it to the present day. Another aspect which aided this process was Clarke's canny decision to broaden the humour, and this expansion subtly moved the series away from its introspective roots and instead steered it into the area of visual slapstick, while at the same time the introduction of a large and well delineated supporting cast comprising some of the industry's most accomplished character actors, including such luminaries as Dame Thora Hird, Stephen Lewis (Inspector Blake in On The Buses), Jean Alexander (Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street), and guest appearances by performers such as the legendary Norman Wisdom, ensured a consistent excellence in performance, which imbued even the writer's weaker scripts with a level of sheer quality which ensured a high amusement factor. When Wilde himself left the series for the first time he was replaced by the character of ex-headmaster and oddball inventor, Seymour Utterthwaite (Michael Aldridge), and following a triumphant return he was again forced to leave due to ill health, this time to be replaced by Are You Being Served? star Frank Thornton as yet another inept authority figure, ex police inspector, "Truly of the Yard", Truelove.
But it was with the sad death of the excellent and vastly experienced Bill Owen in 1999, that the series faced its greatest trial. By the time of his death Owen's energetic and appealing portrayal of the Compo character had earned him an affectionate place within the nation's collective heart, and initially the idea of the series continuing without the presence of Owen's masterfully realised man-child creation was unthinkable. But following three sensitively written, brilliantly played episodes dealing with the emotive aftermath of Compo's death on his friends, (which quite possibly served as the finest tribute to the loss of a lead actor of a series ever seen on television anywhere in the world), in a daring and ultimately successful move, Roy Clarke suggested that Owen be replaced by his own son, actor/producer, Tom Owen, as Compo's long lost son, Tom. Due to the age of the main cast, a new trio was formed during the 30th series featuring younger actors. The new group consisted of Russ Abbot as a former milkman who fancied himself a secret agent, Hobbo Hobdyke, Burt Kwouk as the electrical repairman, "Electrical" Entwistle, and Murphy as Alvin Smedley. Sallis and Thornton continued in supporting roles alongside the new actors. Repeats of the show are broadcast in the UK on cable channels Gold and Yesterday. It is also seen in more than twenty-five countries. The final episode of the show, was broadcast on 29 August 2010. (Review: Stephen R Hulse)
One of the most successful US series of the late 1970's, Laverne & Shirley was a spin-off of the popular 1950's themed sitcom Happy Days. Thanks to its two stars, plus the best slapstick since I Love Lucy, Laverne & Shirley became a Tuesday night institution in the USA. Like Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley was set in Milwaukee in the late 50's. Tough-talking and strong Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall), and her dreamy, trusting roommate Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) worked as bottle cappers for the Shotz Beer brewery. The plots were not much--Laverne and/or Shirley would get into some financial or romantic complication, and by the end of each episode, the problem was resolved, but not before the girls went through a series of stunts. The characters of Laverne and Shirley had their own quirks. Man-crazy Laverne was street-wise and had a habit of wearing clothes with a stylized "L" on the front. She also loved drinking milk and Pepsi. Shirley was a romantic, dreamy idealist who frequently worried about staying a virgin until her wedding night; her closest relationship (besides Laverne) was her beloved stuffed animal "Boo Boo Kitty". Laverne & Shirley became the first situation comedy ever to hit number one in the US weekly ratings with its first airing. (Review: Mike Spadoni)
Hugely popular children's show that began on BBC in 1956. Terry Hall was one of the first ventriloquists to use an animal rather than a little boy as his dummy and Lenny was also one of the first to be given the abilty to move his arms, where he was, at times, prone to burying his head in embarrassment. One of Lenny's endearing qualities was his inability to pwonounce his 'R's. Apart from the original series there was Lenny's Den from 1959-61, and Pops and Lenny from 1962-63 which featured an early appearance by The Beatles.