"I'd rather have him watching this historical stuff than cowboy films."
To mark the 400th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's accession in 1558, the BBC produced an eight part serial written and produced by Shaun Sutton. A departure from the usual adapted literary classics adventure that the BBC had previously produced, this children's tea-time offering was their first foray into an ongoing historical serial that was written specifically for television.
The Queen's Champion is a swashbuckling story of the Fifth Column in England in the time of Elizabeth I when there was danger of a Spanish invasion. The Queen's Champion is a gold statue of a knight in armour which passes to the eldest Penlynden son when he reaches the age of 14. As the serial opens it is Roger's (Michael Anderson) 14th birthday and the eve of the Armada.
The serial made its debut on Sunday 20 July 1958, almost the exact date 370 years previously that the galleons were sighted off the English coast (they were first sighted on 19 July and the first engagement with the British fleet was on 21 July).
The Radio Times informed its readers that those of them who enjoyed Shaun Sutton's The Silver Sword would be pleased to know that a number of the actors from that serial would also be seen in this one. Among the cast were what today would be regarded as a list of TV luminaries - Patrick Cargill, Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, John Woodnutt, Barry Letts, Roger Delgado, Peggy Thorpe Bates, Jane Asher, Desmond Llewellyn, and making his small-screen debut, Jack Smethurst.
Episode titles were Betrayal, The Escape from Penlynden, The Outlaws, The Rescue, The Trap, The Eve of the Armada, The Edge of Defeat, and The Return to Penlynden. Although the serial was telerecorded for future repeats all but the first episode have subsequently been lost.
Daily Mirror television critic Jack Bell thought that the programme had a good pace and a production that would put many shows intended for adults to shame. 'And the sword play was very competent.' Bell had watched the series with the Walvish family who were living in Gants Hill, Ilford Essex. This was part of a series of reviews that the Mirror undertook with different families to gague the impact of television on the viewer. A sort of early version of Goggle Box in print. 'This is something unusual for us-watching TV on a summer Sunday afternoon' the father of the family of four, forty-one-year-old John Walvish told Bell. 10-year-old Anthony was apparently 'enraptured' by the series. 'The programme even moved Anthony to go in search of a school history book' wrote Bell. Said his mother "I'd rather have him watching this historical stuff than cowboy films." Bell then asked the parents, after all the sword play in The Queen's Champion, what they felt about violence on TV? "We don't think it's harmful for the children to see it - as long as the good man comes out on top in the end," said Betty Walvish. "I thought The Queen's Champion was quite good for kids" said John.
Published on February 18th, 2022. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.