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 villain' 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 villains 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.
Published on November 28th, 2018. Steve Hulse.