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The Phil Silvers Show (1955–1959)
10/10
Sergeant Bilko has stood the test of time
21 August 2012
I had just watched the fine blu ray re-issue of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' (the superior 1951 version)and hearing Gort the robot utter those immortal words 'Klaatu barada nikto' I recalled the episode of the Phil Silvers Show where Sergeant Bilko persuades the hapless Doberman to pose as an alien, wandering about the camp muttering the same phrase.

Fortunately I had recorded the show when it was last aired in the UK by the BBC, back in 1997, although I hadn't watched it since. However, that space alien Doberman episode proved so hilarious that I watched another the next day, and another each day after that, until I had viewed all ninety shows in my collection. Not once did my interest flag.

To say that the program is consistently amusing and inventive is a gross understatement. In my opinion it is the best TV comedy of all time and just as funny now as it was in the mid to late 1950s when it first aired.

Much of that is down to the superb cast: comic genius Phil Silvers, that lugubrious master of deadpan Paul Ford (Colonel Hall), the all too easily duped Sergeants Grover and Ritzik (personal favorites of mine) and of course the platoon members, all wonderful comic turns in their own right.

The other great plus for the show is that it was recorded on film, so the picture looks as good today as it did at the time of original transmission, when I can remember my late father chuckling at Bilko on our little 17 inch screen TV. (By contrast, the best BBC comedy of the period, Hancock's Half Hour, was performed live and cine-recorded from a 405 line TV screen during transmission, so surviving recordings are of relatively poor quality.)

Finally, I must pay tribute to the writers of the show, among them a young Neil Simon. Many of the comic situations they employed are still a staple of TV comedy today and were no doubt also in use on the vaudeville stage in the decades before television became the dominant form of entertainment.
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7/10
The best and worst of Ken Russell
1 August 2011
The Music Lovers is a movie which highlights the director Ken Russell's virtues and vices. The virtues include an imaginative use of the 2.35:1 wide screen, working wonders with the Holy Mother Russia studio set, complete with golden onion domes, snow and icicles, and horse drawn sleighs. There is some wonderful Douglas Slocombe cinematography and the director coaxes fine performances from Richard Chamberlain, Glenda Jackson and Kenneth Colley, to name just three of the fine cast.

The vices are Russell's propensity to go over the top, even by his own unrestrained standards. The scene of Glenda Jackson baring all in a swaying railway compartment while her unhappy husband (Richard Chamberlain as the anguished Tchaikovsky) peers in horror at her nether regions, the whole bizarre scene accompanied by the emotionally charged music of the Pathetique Symphony is surely beyond bad taste. However, I must confess to enjoying Russell's utterly bonkers take on the 1812 Overture: those madcap images could only come from the mind of an eccentric genius.

Another favourite sequence is the performance of the piano concerto, with Chamberlain almost convincing the viewer that he is actually playing the complex score. Among the costumed extras making up the concert audience I'm sure I spotted a young Martin Amis, sitting behind Tchaikovsy's sister. (That would be another film credit, to add to 'A High Wind in Jamaica'.)
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10/10
One of my all time favourite dramas
21 January 2007
This is a wonderfully quirky drama with an intriguing story and oddball characters. A wealthy wastrel with time on his hands becomes involved in an elaborate plot involving suspected murder, cross-dressing and other murky goings-on in London society. The cast do the bizarre story full justice, with Peter Capaldi, Michael Maloney, Miranda Richardson and the inimitable Richard Griffiths giving sterling performances.

I'm very glad that I taped 'Mr Wakefield's Crusade' back in 1992 since the BBC has never seen fit to repeat it. In addition to the fine acting and cinematography, a plaudit must also go to the talented Rachel Portman for her catchy theme tune and incidental music.
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Countdown to War (1989 TV Movie)
8/10
Ian McKellen shines as Hitler
18 January 2007
This British ITV production was timed for the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War and is both intelligently scripted and engrossing.

The fine cast of actors is dominated by Ian McKellen's mesmerising Hitler. Many actors have attempted to inhabit the skin of the German dictator but to my mind McKellen's performance is one of the best ever committed to film (or in this case, videotape). It is completely convincing and never lapses into caricature. McKellen possesses the same piercing blue eyes as the Fuhrer which adds to the verisimilitude of his performance.
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10/10
Another lost BBC classic deserving resurrection
17 January 2007
I agree with the previous reviewer that this outstanding BBC serialisation of a timeless adventure story deserves an outing on DVD. The script and acting are first class, with standout performances from the upright and soldierly John Woodvine and a youthful Jonathan Morris (who looks very fetching in his Ruritanian uniforms).

I am fortunate in having taped the series back in 1984. I intend to transfer this precious tape to DVD before the obsolete betamax VCR on which I made the recording finally gives up the ghost.

The producers are very imaginative in the way they manage to conjure up the romantic Ruritanian scenery and interiors using limited resources. For example, with the addition of a few flags and banners the faux medieval Castel Coch near Cardiff convincingly serves as Black Michael's stronghold.
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BBC Play of the Month: The Winslow Boy (1977)
Season 12, Episode 4
9/10
Alan Badel's acting stays in the memory 30 years on
15 January 2007
BBC TV used to broadcast regular Sunday evening classic plays featuring top notch actors.

This production of Rattigan's 'The Winslow Boy' is notable for a larger than life performance by the late Alan Badel as the dry-as-dust (with hidden depths) lawyer Sir Robert Morton. Eric Porter is also excellent as the accused naval cadet's stubborn father.

This production has languished in the BBC archives for three decades and I have not seen it since the original broadcast but the power of Alan Badel's acting stays in my memory, eclipsing any rival's performance on TV or film.
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Edward II (1970 TV Movie)
10/10
McKellen and Laurenson shine in a memorable production
29 November 2006
Shakespeare's Richard II and Marlowe's Edward II were successful stage productions recorded in the studio for BBC Television in the early days of colour transmissions. At that time only the recently inaugurated BBC 2 channel was broadcasting in colour and the new TV sets were very expensive.

I was a university student at the time and watched these outstanding productions in the colour TV lounge in my hall of residence. I've remembered them vividly ever since, particularly the young Ian McKellen's highly charged and sensual performances in the title roles. Those were less enlightened times and young Ian was still firmly 'in the closet' but to my youthful mind his gay sensibility was more than evident, especially in the role of Edward II. James Laurenson was also outstanding as Gaveston.

These landmark productions are crying out for a DVD release.
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10/10
A young Ian McKellen shows his promise
29 November 2006
Shakespeare's Richard II and Marlowe's Edward II were successful stage productions recorded in the studio for BBC Television in the early days of colour transmissions. At that time only the recently inaugurated BBC 2 channel was broadcasting in colour and the new TV sets were very expensive.

I was a university student at the time and watched these outstanding productions in the colour TV lounge in my hall of residence. I've remembered them vividly ever since, particularly the young Ian McKellen's highly charged and sensual performances in the title roles.

Those were less enlightened times and young Ian was still firmly 'in the closet' but to my youthful mind his gay sensibility was more than evident, especially in the role of Edward II.

These landmark productions are crying out for a DVD release.
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A Legacy (1975– )
An outstanding BBC series which deserves to be seen again.
17 June 2006
A Legacy was adapted from the fine novel by the late Sybil Bedford, a well born German woman who made her home in England. It tells the story of an aristocratic Bavarian family in the years before the First World War and the tensions they encounter in the militaristic atmosphere of an expansionist Imperial Germany.

The older son of the family, played by John Fraser, is able to lead an artistic carefree life but his younger brother, played by Christopher Guard, is consigned to a spartan military academy where he falls foul of the Prussian instructors and his brutal fellow cadets.

The great comic actress Irene Handl was featured in a serious role as the ancient grandmother of the family and acquitted herself well. The series was broadcast in the days before the domestic VCR so my critique is based purely upon memory. This is another of those BBC dramas from the golden age that now appears to be lost in the vaults and is crying out for another airing.
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8/10
A fine literary adaptation which deserves to be seen again.
17 June 2006
The Early Life of Stephen Hind is one of those fondly remembered literary adaptations that demands to be see again - either on one of the BBC's new digital channels or as a re-issue on DVD.

The young Michael Kitchen was outstanding as the antihero of the title and two stalwart actors of the time, Roland Culver and Hildegarde Neil, also gave fine performances. The engrossing story was adapted from the original novel by Storm Jameson and tells of how the venal and manipulative Stephen will stop at nothing to achieve success.

I last saw the series some 30 years ago and can't recall the finer details of the plot. However, I do remember that it was a first class production, on a par with my other favourite BBC TV drama of that year, a finely acted adaptation of Somerser Maughan's Cakes and Ale. That's yet another lost series worthy of revival.
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10/10
An excellent serialisation, still fondly remembered
24 April 2006
This TV version of the Dumas novels was made during the golden age of the BBC Sunday teatime classic serial and I still have fond memories of it forty years later. Like its successor, 'The Further Adventures of the Three Musketeers', the whole thing was played straight and not as a jokey camp fest like so many of the movie versions. The young Jeremy Brett as d'Artagnan was particularly memorable.

It is actually a very good story, and if played straight with outstanding actors as was the case in this BBC version, can make for thrilling and at times moving drama. Let's hope that the original tapes are still lodged safely in the BBC vaults and have not been wiped, since this is a true classic.
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First class serialisation
24 April 2006
This TV version of the Dumas novels was made during the golden age of the BBC Sunday teatime classic serial and I still have fond memories of it forty years later. Like its predecessor, 'The Three Musketeers', the whole thing was played straight and not as a jokey camp fest like so many of the movie versions. The versatile Joss Ackland was particularly outstanding.

It is actually a very good story, and if played straight with outstanding actors as was the case in this BBC version, can make for thrilling and at times moving drama. Let's hope that the original tapes are still lodged safely in the BBC vaults and have not been wiped, since this is a true classic.
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10/10
Yes - this series was a real treasure
24 April 2006
I couldn't agree more with Fudge-4's comments. I watched this BBC Sunday teatime serialisation of The Count of Monte Cristo back in my childhood and was completely enthralled. The casting was perfect and when I later read the book and listened to a BBC radio version I always pictured the actors from the TV version.

I can still recall the striking theme music which opened each eagerly awaited episode. Alan Badel as the count was a commanding presence, even when viewed on the small black and white TV screens of that era, and I also recall the presence of the late Sandor Eles (not mentioned in the cast list above), playing the wonderfully handsome son of the count's principal enemy, Mondego.

Let's hope that this superb dramatisation was not wiped when the BBC culled its videotape archive.
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