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Francis L. Sullivan
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"Armchair Theatre" is a British television drama anthology series of single plays that ran on the ITV network from 1956 to 1974. It was originally produced by Associated British Corporation, and later by Thames Television from mid-1968.
Harry H. Corbett,
A classic and trend setting adventure series from the Golden Age of television
While it is sadly mostly forgotten today, THE FOUR JUST MEN was in its day an important and influential television series. As one of the earliest productions released by ITC, it established the formula that would lead to a string of successful, and more well remembered, programmes in the 1960s. Taking its name from the popular novel by pulp fiction author Edgar Wallace, the series rejected the ruthless vigilantism of the book, opting instead for an entirely different approach to the basic concept.
The opening episode of the series establishes the premise. When four friends, journalist Tim Collier (Dan Dailey), British MP Ben Manfred (Jack Hawkins), law professor Jeff Ryder (Richard Conte) and wealthy hotelier Ricco Poccari (Vittorio De Sica), who have not all been together since World War II, arrive for a reunion at the country home of a fifth friend, Colonel Cyril Bacon (Anthony Bushell) they discover that Bacon has died and left them a unique bequest. Bacon believed that four just men could change the world, and has bequeathed his fortune to the others so that they may use it to pursue the cause of justice wherever they find it. The newly christened Four Just Men take up this call to arms, dedicating themselves to a battle that will carry them across the next 38 episodes, and over a territory that varies both geographically and thematically.
If one word was required to sum up the concept of the programme, it would be "diversity". With Collier based in Paris, Manfred in London, Poccari in Rome and Ryder in New York, the series offered our heroes a wide range of venues in which to operate. The generous amount of location work prefilmed in Europe and Britain featuring the regular cast and inserted into the episodes throughout the run certainly helped to give the series the look of a high budget production and maintain the cosmopolitan atmosphere. This international flavor would become a trademark of later ITC productions such as DANGER MAN, THE SAINT and THE CHAMPIONS.
The adventures the Four Just Men undertook also varied widely in nature. There were, of course, the usual assortment of murderers, swindlers, thieves, gangsters and foreign agents that one expected in such a series. However many episodes discarded such explicit villains and instead probed into the greyer and often grimmer areas of social injustice and human frailty, including racial hatred, moral intolerance and the persecution of the innocent by the ignorant.
Even the cast varied week by week. Each episode featured only one of the main stars in a central role, with maybe one or two of the others appearing briefly in a, usually literally, phoned in cameo. Each lead also had his own supporting cast member. Future AVENGERS star Honor Blackman appeared as Collier's girlfriend and assistant, Nicole. Hammer film actor Andrew Keir was Manfred's private secretary, Jock. Beautiful Lisa Gastoni featured regularly as Poccari's secretary Giulia, and June Thorburn occasionally appeared as Vicky, one of Jeff Ryder's law students. For the record the tally is Dailey 22 episodes, 10 as the featured lead, Hawkins 23 episodes, 9 as the lead, Conte 23 episodes, 10 as the lead and De Sica 15 episodes, 9 as the lead. Honor Blackman appeared in 10 episodes, Andrew Keir in 7, Lisa Gastoni in 6 and June Thorburn in only 4, plus one early appearance in another role before she was recast as Vicky.
The guest players were also an impressive assortment of familiar faces and future stars, including Cec Linder, Sheila Allen, Laurence Payne, John Van Eyssen, Patrick Troughton, Charles Gray, Jane Asher, Jack May, Judi Dench, Anthony Bushell, Ronald Howard, Ronald Leigh Hunt, Donald Pleasence, Kevin Stoney, George Pastell, Lionel Jeffries, Michael Ripper, Ewen Solon, Ferdy Mayne, Robert Shaw, Richard O'Sullivan, Philip Latham, Paul Eddington, George Pravda, Roger Delgado, Geoffrey Keen, Brian Worth, Alan Bates and Mai Zetterling. Special mention must be given to future ARE YOU BEING SERVED star, Frank Thornton who seemed to turn up in just about every second episode playing such characters as Desk Clerk, Auctioneer, Estate Agent, Police Constable, Hotel Manager, etc In one or two episodes his character even got to have a name.
Undoubtedly due to its black and white filming and half hour format, THE FOUR JUST MEN did not enjoy the same extensive syndication other ITC series did after its initial release, and has unjustly faded into dimming memory and near obscurity. Fortunately the entire 39 episode run has recently been collected into a superb DVD release, so that modern audiences may enjoy and appreciate this classic television series.
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