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Archive for the ‘TV Nostalgia’ Category

My mum loved Roger Moore, so my surrogate father as a young child was Simon Templar, albeit via a sturdy black and white television with a temperamental horizontal hold. For those of you who don’t know what a horizontal hold is, ask your parents (or maybe grandparents). The Saint never completely disappeared from our screens, but they stopped producing it in 1969.

In 1973, Moore got his licence to kill, but during the interlude he formed a brief but entertaining double act with Tony Curtis.

I was only eight when The Persuaders! (don’t forget the exclamation mark) was launched and had only a vague idea of who Tony Curtis was.  But the press made a big thing about him, so I guessed he must be something special. And he was, but there was something special about the whole series – the chemistry.

In the pre-title of the opening episode, it’s said that the two characters each have “something”, but jointly, like chemicals, they’re an explosive combination. That wasn’t just true of the characters.

Over the years, much has been said about The Persuaders!. At £100,000 an episode, it had the biggest budget of any action series in its day. It had high profile guest stars, exotic locations (and location filming was rare back then), iconic cars (Brett’s Bahama Yellow Aston Martin is the one everyone raves about, but I always wanted Danny’s Ferrari Dino) and that enduring theme music.

With two millionaire playboys, one a lord who inherited his wealth, the other self-made, both naturally attractive to the opposite sex, skilled at combat and calm under pressure, it clearly bore no relation to the real world and was intended solely to entertain.

Fight scenes in those days were never realistic – a spot of blood at the corner of the mouth was often the only sign of real damage following several punches to the face. So the violence was borderline cartoon, mixed in with the occasional Western-style brawl. This was family viewing and, indeed, the whole family would sit and watch it.

For those of you who’ve never seen it, you may be forgiven for thinking: so far, so what? The elements I’ve described have been seen dozens (possibly hundreds) of times before.

The difference came from the casting. Roger Moore was always set to play Brett Sinclair, but Rock Hudson and Glenn Ford were considered for the part of Danny Wilde before Curtis. Again, I apologise to anyone under the age of 40 here because the chances are you don’t know who these actors were. To me, although Hudson had the sense of humour, it would be hard to imagine him being brought up in the Bronx. As for Ford, it’s worth noting that 7 years later he was playing Superman’s adopted father, a relatively old man.

Curtis, on the other hand, brought energy, charm and wit, but also a rough edge that contrasts with Moore’s suave peer of the realm. He also did a lot of his own stunts and, when you consider he was in his mid-40s at the time, his athletic prowess was outstanding.

He also brought with him some eccentricities. Throughout the series, he wore gloves regularly, even washing his hands while wearing them on one occasion.

My initial ignorance about Curtis rapidly changed. I still wanted to be Brett Sinclair, but I wanted Danny Wilde as my best friend.

And that was what made the series so special.  The relationship between the two men. Their initial mutual dislike, the competition between them and their gradual friendship. The dialogue was always natural.  Roger Moore, who is well known for playing, well, Roger Moore, has previously said his method of acting is to say the words and avoid bumping into the furniture. So it’s very much to his credit that the dialogue works in spite of  Curtis’s inclination to ad lib.

Tony Curtis was a terrific character and a gift as a co-star (in The Persuaders!), but he was what you might call 'very careful' with his money

 

The Persuaders! didn’t do very well in the States, so only one series was made. Nevertheless, it built up a massive following around the world and is considered cult viewing.

In spite of its high production values, it is inevitably of its time and, like many of its contemporaries, the storylines probably wouldn’t bear much scrutiny today. But it was fun and still worth watching if only for the interplay between the central characters. As a writer, I learnt a lot from that. Dialogue is important.

Over the years, there’s been talk of a remake, and speculation persists that it’ll happen one day. But the magic of The Persuaders! wasn’t the concept.  Variations on that can be – and have been – recreated at any time. What made the series work was the chemistry between Curtis and Moore. So, for me, it would be a mistake to try. It would only lead to disappointment.

 

Postscript

I originally intended to write this post about a month ago, so it’s genuinely a coincidence that the series is running again here in the UK from Sunday 5th Feb at 5pm on the True Entertainment channel.  As I was treated to the DVD box set some time ago, I won’t be watching, but if I’ve whetted your appetite – or just made you curious – the option is there for you.

 

 

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Gogglebox: Space 1999

An unintended spin-off from UFO, Space 1999 was a minor success in the 1970s.  I say minor because it doesn’t seem to have had a massive impact in the US, a critical market for big budget TV shows.  In the UK, we only had three channels (the fourth didn’t show up till late 1982) so the American market offered a much wider audience and the potential for sales.

UFO was shelved because the American networks ultimately didn’t want it. There was initially evidence the episodes focused on the moonbase were popular so, anticipating a second series, Gerry Anderson began developing ideas for putting more action in space, and that included more elaborate set designs.

When the interest in UFO waned, he decided not to waste the new designs and, from that starting point, the concept of Space 1999 was born.  Cue the titles…

As you’ll have seen – you did watch it, didn’t you? – the title sequence focuses on images from the current episode, so the concept of the series isn’t entirely clear, but it is key.

The premise was this: by 1999, we’ve set up a base on the moon. An accident results in a nuclear explosion, the force of which knocks the moon out of the Earth’s orbit and sends it hurtling through space, and out of our solar system. Now the science behind this is questionable, but I’m a big believer in not letting facts get in the way of a good story – and you’ve got to admire the creative mind that came up with the idea.

This creates a kind of Star Trek scenario, but with the moon instead of the Enterprise, and adventures unfolding as they discover new planets and encounter alien life.

To cater to the American market, and with great fanfare, the husband and wife acting team of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were introduced as the leads. Personally, I was puzzled.  All this fuss was being made, but I’d never heard of them. They were the stars of Mission: Impossible, the promotions shouted, but I didn’t remember them. Then again, I’d only watched a few of the more recent episodes, and I later found out they hadn’t been in it for a while.

Landau played John Koenig, commander of the base, while Bain played Doctor Russell, who ran the medical centre. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the characters became romantically involved.

In time, I recognised Landau’s talents as an actor – he went on to win an Oscar – but I didn’t really see him as the hero. Some of the lesser characters appealed to me more, particularly the chief pilot, Alan Carter, and Tony Verdeschi, head of security, who both more readily fit the action hero stereotypes I was used to.

The only other name to appear in the titles was Barry Morse, who I did recognise from two short-lived series: The Zoo Gang and The Adventurer. He played Professor Bergman, a scientist who provided support to Koenig.

Well, I say his name appeared in the titles, but only in the first series. In the second series he was replaced by an alien called Maya (don’t ask me, I only watched it). Playing her was Catherine Schell, an actress with a fairly high profile at the time, largely playing supporting roles in TV and film. Having the ability to transform herself into any living creature (Maya, not Schell), this trait presented many opportunities for humour and otherwise improbable escapes.

This second series also came with a title sequence that explained the concept better…

In some respects, it was a tamer version of UFO – the costumes were less outlandish, and the action involved people more than machines (no Skydiver or Interceptor here) – but it did generate a lot of suspense and tension.  And they still managed to pull in plenty of explosions.  I have to say, I never really liked the stun guns they had. Looking more like elaborate staple guns, they didn’t look especially threatening, which might be okay in real life, but – let’s be fair here – this wasn’t exactly founded in reality.

Looking back at it now, it seems dated, and some of the alien costumes could have been made by primary school children – but you only have to look at Doctor Who to appreciate that Space 1999 didn’t have the monopoly on rubbish effects and wardrobe. At the time, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I know I wasn’t alone in that.

I’ve commented before about remakes of old TV series. Most fail in trying to recreate the characters, where others succeed by focusing on the concepts.  That idea of the moon being blown out of orbit was inspired, and clearly captured the imagination of a lot of viewers back then. If the concept was reintroduced now, I think it still would.

Next time, though, I’ll talk about my favourite series of all time – and that could never be successfully remade.

 

 

 

 

 

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Having only just reflected on the loss of a musical great, I find myself reeling from the news that Robert Vaughn has died.

As with Leonard Cohen, I shouldn’t be too perturbed.  Vaughn was also in his 80s, so could hardly be accused of having been taken from us too young. I think the shock is more from the news coming so soon after that of Cohen.

And yet, there is still an impact. I’d only recently started a series of blogs about old TV shows and their influences on me and my writing. Items on two of Robert Vaughn’s shows were planned – The Man From UNCLE and The Protectors, both quite different, but each planting their own seeds in my increasingly warped mind.

It’s also only a few weeks ago since I wrote about the latest version of The Magnificent Seven, the original of which featured Vaughn, the last surviving cast member. That aside, only two weeks ago I finally got around to watching Bullitt.

So, one way or another, he’s been on my mind recently. Maybe that awareness added to the impact.

Of course, he wasn’t just around in the ’60s and ’70s and, although he’s more noted for his action hero roles, there was more to him than that, both as an actor and a man with strong political beliefs. I suspect recent events in the UK and US would have caused him concern.

Those who haven’t been around half as long as me may have come across him in the more recent TV series Hustle – and then there was a brief stint on Coronation Street (though I understand no doors were kicked open or guns fired).

Naturally, I’m sad to see him go, but I’m also grateful for the fun his roles have provided me with. He will always be the only Napoleon Solo (don’t get me started again on this year’s remake) and, together with David McCallum, he played out some frankly outrageous action sequences, stirring up my fertile imagination.

This year seems to have been a particularly bad one for losing individuals who have formed a big part of my life.  Friday 11th October has just been the icing on the cake. Or have I spoken too soon?

For now, it’s time to say goodbye to someone who always came across as one of the nice guys, even if he didn’t always play one.  In The Man from UNCLE, the agents communicated with a pen-like instrument. When they switched it on, they had to request a channel to be opened (usually Channel D). Sadly, with these recent deaths and the political upsets we’re experiencing, I’m beginning to wonder if someone opened Channel F.

 

Robert Vaughn – 22 November 1932 – 11 November 2016

 

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