The Buccaneers

1956 | United Kingdom

Future Hollywood actor Robert Shaw (The Sting, Jaws) made his small screen debut as ex- pirate Dan Tempest, the leader of a small band of freebooters who roamed the Caribbean Seas in the 1720's on their ship The Sultana. 

The Deputy Governor of New Province persuaded Tempest and his men to fight on behalf of the Crown against the advancing Spanish, and so began 39 episodes of swashbuckling adventures and the first pirate series for the small screen. Made by Sapphire Films and ITC the series was filmed at Nettlefold Studios, Walton-On-Thames with sea sequences shot just off the coast of Falmouth. The ship itself was already a well-established star having been used as the Hispaniola in Disney's Treasure Island, and the Peaquod in John Huston's Moby Dick

Unusually, the regular cast (amongst who was Roger Delgado, later to star as Doctor Who villain The Master), did not actually appear until episode three, the first two being used to set the scene. Guest stars included future Carry On star Joan Sims and a very young Jane Asher. Shaw was not the first choice to play the lead; the producers cast Alec Clunes (father of modern day TV star Martin) but prospective US buyers CBS thought he was 'too British' for American viewers, and so Shaw, who at that time was struggling and broke, was given the role (Clunes was recast as Governor Woodes Rogers). The series made him but he didn't take long to become disenchanted with the scripts as well as the gruelling schedule that demanded 39 episodes in seven months. 

By the end of the first series America had lost interest in the swashbuckler (showing a preference for Western's) and without the promise of overseas sales the series was cancelled. Shaw found himself hopelessly typecast and his career didn't pick up until 1963 when he appeared as a cold-blooded Russian killer in the James Bond film From Russia With Love. In 1976 he reprised his pirate image for the big screen in The Scarlet Buccaneer...but it was a critical and box office flop. 

Published on November 30th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

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