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Pioneering, imaginative TV comedy
A pioneering comedy series, postmodernist before there was such a thing, and a wonderful demonstration of Anthony Newley's genius in the art of self-mockery.
The Newley character, playing the lead in a ghastly domestic soap opera, suddenly walks off the set in disgust, but to his horror finds he can't escape the cameras.
A slight, pathetic figure in a shabby raincoat, he wanders about London - seen and unseen - talking to himself, a dog, a dustbin, dancing with a girl who's come down from an advertising poster... He's looking for some answers, but finds the world is surreal, absurd, trivial and bewildering. Like Alice.
The theme tune - wistful but jaunty - (which Newley summons up with a piano-playing action of the hand) - expresses his character unforgettably.
The series probably altered the history of comedy, and forty years on we still get allusions to it in advertisements.
The Duchess of Duke Street (1976)
A great pleasure
There is still great pleasure to be had from this series. Set in the earlier 1900s in London, it is the story of a young woman who begins as a kitchen hand and, through talent and determination, becomes a great chef and hotelier, (though she refuses to lose her cockney speech).
Louisa Trotter, played by the truly WONDERFUL Gemma Jones, must be one of the most memorable characters in television history. A creature of so many moods - haranguing her staff in the kitchen, deliriously in love, vulgar when she's angry, prickly with her mother, sentimental about her affair with the old King - it's hard to know whether to laugh at her, or cry. But there is one constant about her - her artistry in her profession, and that is always awe-inspiring.
During a long series, relationships between characters can acquire great reality. Louisa's covert affection for her staff, her enduring love for Charlie (Christopher Cazenove), and her deep friendship with the Major (Richard Vernon) - mainly because of the exquisite playing of the cast - have an extraordinary conviction.
The Virginian (1962)
A great achievement in its time.
This was an ambitious series, which made use of first class actors and magnificent location photography.
In its early years the series had five main characters: Judge Garth, owner of Shiloh, a great cattle ranch in Wyoming; his innocent young daughter Betsy; the Virginian, his heroic foreman; and two likeable ranch hands, Trampas and Steve. The relationships between these five, as they were developed and tested, provided the most affecting and amusing moments.
The series gave us strong, intelligent stories, which could be tragic or light-hearted, and often the direction was imaginative, sometimes even poetic. Issues such as injustice through prejudice, individual responsibility and the necessity for compromise were explored, and 'Shiloh' came to stand for the virtues of tolerance, compassion, courage and optimism. Compared with earlier Western series, The Virginian was amazingly deep yet subtle.
As the series ran on over the years it created a hopeful vision of a society slowly progressing towards order and peace.
The Defenders (1961)
Was this the best dramatic TV series ever?
Can this series really have been as inspiring as I thought it was at the time? If so, it must have had enormous effect on American society.
Certainly it dealt more courageously than any other show of the period with issues such as civil rights, religious and political oppression, faults in existing laws on divorce, narcotics and legal sanity, and the ethical problems of priests, doctors and lawyers.
And, as I remember, although E.G.Marshall (as Lawrence Preston) demanded our sympathy for his stand on these issues, there was always argument and challenge from Robert Reed (as his son, Kenneth), and humor prevented solemnity or sentimentality.
Actors such as Sylvia Sidney, Sam Wanamaker, Ruth Roman, Akim Tamiroff, Teresa Wright, and Jack Klugman played leading roles, but minor characters also came across as people of dignity and importance.
What impressed me most perhaps was Lawrence Preston's respect for THE LAW.
Won't some kind person allow us to see it again?
Alias Smith and Jones (1971)
A unique Western series - of wit, charm and poignancy
In the world of "Smith and Jones" nothing and no one can be trusted. Heyes and the Kid are wanted outlaws, but compared to the respectable citizens - lawyer, sheriff, banker, nun - who swindle, lie, betray and try to kill them, they are new-born innocents. No matter how brilliant Heyes' latest scheme, it's bound to end in disaster, and even if they DO make a little money, someone will steal it. Not that WE are any better at knowing what will happen next:
"Everything's under CONTROL!" cries the harassed deputy, and the Bank explodes.
Heyes and the Kid are not great romantic rebels like Butch Cassidy and Sundance; they are just, like the rest of us, trying to earn an honest living in a treacherous world. But they ARE inspiring nonetheless in the depth of their friendship - at a crisis, they never have to confer -and in their empathy with other outcasts:
"We like to think there's a little bad in everyone," says Heyes, enjoying the joke.
While earlier Western series may have tended to sermonize, "Smith and Jones" never takes itself too seriously, but charms us with its modesty into acceptance of the values it recommends.
Don't miss any chance to see this.
Intense atmosphere, visual beauty, mystery and emotion.
Haunting, Debussy-derived music.
Breath-taking evocation of the dazzling scenery around Monte Carlo, and then of the paradisal estate on the Cornish coast, Manderley - for which Maxim has sold his soul. (The estate - house, gardens, azaleas, beach, boathouse, butler and maids - is so convincing that you have to believe the story is real too.)
Poignant imagery of flowers: exotic, red blooms associated with Rebecca, and wild flowers with the new Mrs de Winter.
And always the threat that the sea will give up its dead.
Unsurpassable performances from the three principals: Jeremy Brett, Joanna David and Anna Massey. All three characters far more deeply analysed than in the Hitchcock movie, and Mrs Danvers no less sympathetic than the others.
Hitchcock changed the manner of Rebecca's death, but this version faces up to what really happens in the book.
The Portrait of a Lady (1968)
Worth seeing for Richard Chamberlain's great performance
It is true that the style of this production seems very dated now, but it was an immense success in the UK when it was first shown. Richard Chamberlain was at the time chiefly famous for the Dr Kildare series, and scarcely thought of as an actor. But his intensely moving performance as Ralph Touchett was a revelation, and received the highest praise from the critics. Television stars of the time, when they attempted something more ambitious, talked about 'doing a Richard Chamberlain'. Probably as a result of his performance, soon afterwards he played Hamlet on stage and on TV.