Great British Television Shows
The 1960s was a Glamorous Period in British Television. Shows such as The Invisdible Man, The Saint, and The Avengers led the way.
From Spies to The Invisible Man to Saints and Sinners
Out of the Doldrums...
- The British were in the doldrums after the 2nd World War.
- In the late '50s going into the '60s, the British were climbing out of the doldrums.
- New bands such as The Beatles and The Small Faces pepped up the music scene.
- Pop art came along.
- Glamour was in.
- In the cinema, the James Bond movies were proving to be very popular.
- Doctor Who, an offbeat science fiction show for children, became a must see program.
The Glamorous Period of British Television
There was very little glamour on British television in the 1950s and not much in the way of glamour at the movies. Britain had a war debt to pay off to the USA plus there were massive building projects going on because of the bombing raids the British had suffered through during the 2nd World War.
In the late 1950s going into the 1960s, the British shook off their post World War Two blues. Skirts on young ladies became shorter. There was a new form of music in the air and new forms of art too.
In summer the bikini was in. There was a new beat. Women's liberation had started up and there was The Pill. Shows on the tele began to reflect this new energy, this new vitality and optimism. There was no possibility of Sharia Law back then spoiling any Londoner's summer.
Spy movies were taking off in a big way with the James Bond success. Dr. No came out in 1962. It was roughly based on a 1958 Ian Fleming novel by the same name. The star was Sean Connery who would go on to be Bond in other films.
Movies such as You Only Live Twice, one of the best of the Sean Connery Bonds, were a must see and did the drive-in circuit in NSW, Australia decades after they first hit the cinemas.
In 1966 the Americans countered with the spy comedy Our Man Flint starring James Coburn. It remains a watchable film but not in the same class as the Bond films.
There were, of course, spy thrillers going way back to the first talkies. These 1960s films, however, were different in having what were then modern gimmicks and spies that were far less covert than their real life counterparts.
Also there was a playful tongue in cheek aspect to them. The British were no longer a superpower. Fictional British spies, however, could stop what were then the superpowers from blowing up the world. In other words, Mother Britain could persuade the Americans and Russians to play nice with one another. Any misunderstandings could be sorted out via operatives such as Bond. Such notions eventually made their way onto television.
The revolution of ideas put into action began in black and white and moved into color. There was an updated version of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man starring Lisa Daniely and Tim Turner (1958-1959).
Scientist Peter Brady accidentally turns himself invisible and, between bouts of espionage for the British government, attempts to find a way to turn himself visible again. He has a good looking sister and continually meets up with easy on the eye women. The spy game does have its perks. And there's also protecting democracy from rampaging Communism and despotism.
The Saint was taken off the shelf, dusted and made into television episodes.
Prior to this happenstance, there had been a string of popular Saint movies which included The Saint in New York (1938) and The Saint in London (1939). During the 2nd World War at least one fighter pilot had the symbol of The Saint on his flight jacket.
It was hoped that this fictional British adventurer would be taken up in weekly episodes in the USA as well as in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. At first the American television executives were lukewarm to the idea.
The Saint was thought to be too British for American tastes. When The Saint did play on American television, however, this proved not to be the case at all.
The American audience loved the action, the little asides and the Cook's tour of where The Saint was this week as much as any other audience.In other words, it was a big hit all round.
It paved the way for other shows such as the revamped Avengers, The Champions, and The Baron.
In order to appeal to the Americans, certain early episodes of The Saint had an American slant. It was often hard-nosed American versus suave Britisher. In The Baron the main character was an American antique dealer and adventurer.
The influence of pop art can be seen in many of the Emma Peel episodes of The Avengers and also in the latter color episodes of The Saint.
Weird camera angles, props and scenery made the viewing of British '60s shows fascinating. The women were daring and decisive. They were dressed to stun if not kill.
In the Hammer horror movies of the day you had some of the most beautiful women in Europe as stars and co-stars. This happily spilled over into television. There was also an off-the-cuff style of humor rarely found in television today.
Doctor Who started off as a children's science fiction program but quickly became something else. Elements of horror and humor swiftly entered the mix.
By the time William Hartnell, the first Doctor, left the show it appealed as much to teenagers and adults as it did to the kiddies. In fact, because it didn't play down to children, it remained a favorite among them as well.
From the beginning of Doctor Who there were attractive women in the cast. There were also references to swinging London in the latter episodes of the first Doctor.
This was stepped up with the 2nd and then the 3rd Doctor. It was not uncommon to have episodes where you had space women with short skirts and big ray guns. It was also not uncommon to have competent women in charge.
The glamorous period ended when overseas sales became less certain. Savings had to be made and so shows with a rough and ready look took over. To some extent the glamorous era is captured in the first of the Austin Powers movies.
From Family Sitcoms to the Radically Absurd
From Family Sitcoms to the Radically Absurd
British comedy at its best has a uniqueness to it that is hard to transplant elsewhere. Attempts to do so tend to fail. The Americans tried to create their own version of Dad's Army which wasn't a great success anywhere.
They did create their own version of Steptoe and Son which was popular in the USA but not very popular elsewhere.
Sending up bigots and malcontents was all the rage for a while. There was Till Death Do us Part starring Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett that ran from 1965 to 1975. It was the bleakest of bleak comedies pitting a racist and anti-socialist against the world. It did, however, strike a cord with the public and both the USA and Australia created their own versions.
Love Thy Neighbor starring Jack Smethurst and Rudolph Walker came along in 1972. Here you had a British working class couple coming to terms with having a black couple living next door to them. The women quickly arrive at an understanding while the men struggle throughout the series to do so. This was definitely a politically incorrect offering and all the more humorous for being so.
Monty Python's Flying Circus came along in 1969 to change the nature of what could be classified as comedy. It was wild and thoroughly unpredictable, one sketch often bleeding into something completely different. There had been other such shows such as Spike Milligan's Q5 but Monty struck a nerve with viewers. All involved have gone on to great success in both television and in the movies.
Blackadder starring Rowan Atkinson came along in 1983 to send up British history the way it had never been sent up before. There were four series of this show each showcasing a different age.
In each age Blackadder was the slimy somewhat nasty villain trying to better himself in a world of madness and corruption. The final series was set in World War One. Going over the top seemed an appropriate end.
Horrible Histories started off as a series of books for children first published in the early 1990s. One I recall was about the plague years and came with its own plastic rat. Then in 2001 it migrated into a cartoon show for children.
In 2009 it became a live action show that ran until 2013. The premise of the show was to exhibit facts about history not likely to be mentioned at school. When it became live action it appealed to adults as well as children.
Old Bill, Extraordinary Heroes, Fantastic Absurdities and Plenty of Action
25 Great Television Shows
Of the 25 Great Television Shows listed which one do you like the most?See results without voting
The All Time Great Twenty-Five
1. New Tricks. (2003 -)
Starring Amanda Redman, Dennis Waterman (of Minder fame) and James Bolan, the cast in many of the episodes of this cop drama tend to read like a Who's Who of British movie and television greats.
Take a bunch of retired male coppers (Old Bill), add one feisty female and put them to work on solving old cases. Throw in a few eccentricities just for fun and you have New Tricks.Here we have British grittiness at its best.
2. The Saint (1962-1969)
Starring Roger Moore as Simon Templar, The Saint, this show created a certain standard to '60s action shows that made the '60s something great. Viewers wondered each week where Simon would turn up and what mission he would inevitably find himself on. In one episode he was called upon in Italy to see to the theft of some jewels for, naturally, a worthy cause.
3. The Champions. (1968-1969)
Starring Stuart Damon, Alexandra Bastedo and William Gaunt, this is spy versus spy where the agents have superpowers or are, at any rate, the best that human beings can be. The Champions battled for world peace.
4. Ballykissangel. (1996-2001)
Starring Dervia Kirwan and Tony Doyle, this salute to Ireland has much in it that touches a cord with those who are either of Irish descent or love Irish writing.
The village Ballykissangel is fictional but it is filmed in some of the most stunningly beautiful parts of Ireland. It is basically a drama but drifts quite easily into the kind of humor appreciated by many Australians. If you want something green, exotic and yet strangely familiar this is for you.
5. The Baron. (1966-1967)
Starring Steve Forrest as John Mannering, an antiques dealer and under cover agent for British intelligence, this show featured great chase scenes, shoot-outs and beautiful women.
6. The Avengers (1961-1969)
Starring Patrick Macnee as John Steed, this was one of the longest running of British spy thrillers. It started off in a dark place but got mod and fun when Dianna Rigg as Emma Peel became John Steed's partner in adventure.
There was an attempt to capitalize on The Avengers in 1976 by creating The New Avengers with Patrick Macnee once again in the lead role. The scripts, however, were not very good and The New Avengers died a much deserved death in 1977. Joanna Lumley, best known for her performances in Absolutely Fabulous, was not well received as Purdey, John Steed's new girl Friday.
7. Red Dwarf (1988-2012)
Take possibly the last human in existence, put him with a humanoid cat, a pesky hologram and a computer with attitude on a mining vessel deep in space and you could have a science fiction drama. Instead you have the beginnings of one of the greatest science fiction comedies ever conceived. Red Dwarf related television stories may have come to an end in 2012 but here nothing is certain.
8. Doctor Who (1963-)
This is the longest running television show on the planet. It was cancelled in 1989 but made a big comeback 2005 and has been going strong ever since. Even after it had supposedly come to the end of the road in 1989 there continued to be fresh new Doctor Who novels for the fans.
It began in a junk yard where two teachers discovered that one of their stranger pupils actually resided in what looked like a police call box. It was in reality the TARDIS. The old man in charge of the TARDIS was known as The Doctor.
There have been many time travelling Doctors over the years. My favorites are the First played by William Hartnell, the fourth played by Tom Baker and the fifth played by Peter Davison. Of the latest Doctors I like David Tennant best.
9. The Indian Doctor (2010-)
Starring Sanjeev Bhaskar and set in a mining community in South Wales in the 1960s, this is a part comedy and part drama with a lot going for it. Short of doctors, the British government recruited Dr. Prem Sharma from India. This happened in real life in Australia and I have been informed in Britain as well so there's no political correctness gone made here to worry about.
10. Ivanhoe (1958-1959)
Roughly based on a 19th Century novel by the same name by Sir Walter Scott, this show had a lot of action and daring-do about it. Starring Roger Moore in the lead role, it was the adventures of a 12th Century knight travelling the countryside righting wrongs.
11. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-1959)
Starring Richard Greene as Robin and Alexander Gauge as Friar Tuck, this was a Robin and Friar Tuck the viewer could count on to be genuinely and thoroughly British. Bernadette O'Farrell made a charming Maid Marian and Will Scarlet was played by Ronald Howard who, in 1954, played an early television version of Sherlock Holmes.
12. Cracker (1993-2006)
With Robbie Colrane in the lead role as Doctor Edward 'Fitz' Fitsgerald, this psychological police drama series was as far removed from the glamorous years of 1960s British television as you could possibly get. The streets are dirty and shadowy. The main character is self-destructive but, between bouts of self destruction, manages to discover the truth behind serious crime.
13. Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (1973-1978)
This comedy revolves around Frank Spencer as played by Michael Crawford. Frank is a well meaning fellow who just happens to be accident prone with the ability to unwittingly do psychological damage to anyone he comes across.
He goes from job to job never being employed for very long since he tends to leave disasters in his wake. His long suffering wife Betty, as played by Michele Dotrice, finds herself in some very strange predicaments thanks to her man. This includes in one episode dangling from a cliff in the family car. Michael Crawford went on to further fame as a singer.
14. Love Thy Neighbor (1972-1976)
Racial relations are not always easy. In Love Thy Neighbor its best sorted out among the women. There are racial slurs slung by the men at each other that probably wouldn't be tolerated on television today. The entertainment comes from Eddie Booth, played by Jack Smethurst, often being proven wrong usually by one of his less prejudiced friends or by his wife.
15. Dad's Army (1968-1977)
Take a pompous banker, Captain George Mainwaring, played by Arthur Lowe, put him in charge of men who are too old for the regular army, throw in a wimpy kid and a shyster and you have Dad's Army. This comedy came around the right time. The 2nd World War had been over for more than a decade and it was okay to reflect on some of the absurdities that came about during the war.
The Home Guard, of which Mainwaring's mob was supposedly part of, was meant to be an auxiliary force in case of invasion. It was true that at first they didn't have arms or ammunition except what they had at home. Sometimes this consisted of pitchforks and other gardening implements. When they were issued arms it must have been wondrous as mentioned in early episodes of Dad's Army.
Among the fascinating characters in this much loved series you have Sergeant Arthur Wilson, played by John Le Mesurier, who is a bit of a lady's man and boards with a woman he is obviously having sexual relations with. His calm manner and easy way with women is often a thorn in his captain's side.
Then there's Private Charles Godfrey, played by Arnold Ridley, who turns out, in one episode, to be a conscientious objector. He is drummed out of the Home Guard only to be reinstated when it is discovered that, during the last war, he had won a medal for bravery through his efforts to rescue men in peril. He then became Mainwaring's official medico. In real life, though, Arnold Ridley had been involved in both world wars as a fighting soldier.
Lance-Corporal Jack Jones, as played by Clive Dunn, was the local butcher. He is best remembered for his reference to the enemy not liking steel shoved up them. At one stage his butcher's van was converted into a mobile war machine of dubious merit.
16. Thunderbirds (1965-1966)
Created by Gerry and Silvia Anderson, this was the height of supermarionation (puppetry) in the 1960s. The secretive organisation International Rescue was a family affair involving great machines that could be used for war but were being used to save lives.
Of the machines my favorite was Thunderbird Four - the mini-sub. Of course it could be argued that without Thunderbird Two, the workhorse, many of the rescues couldn't not have taken place. Among the more interesting Characters was Lady Penelope - British agent for International Rescue and spy.
17. The Bill (1984-2010)
Set principally in as cop shop, this was a popular police drama soap that still does well in re-runs. There is nothing glamorous about the settings. The estates that have to be policed are concrete jungles. Here we see the darker side of life in England.
18. Danger UXB (1979-1979)
During the 2nd World War there were bombs dropped on London that didn't automatically go off. These bombs had to be dealt with and it was up to the Royal Engineers to do so. There were some bombs created especially by the Germans to be extremely tricky to disarm. Starring Anthony Andrews as Lieutenant Ash, this show shines a new light on life in London during this harrowing time.
19. Goodnight Sweetheart (1993-1999)
Garry Sparrow, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst discovers a way to walk from modern day London right into London of the 2nd World War. He has a wife in modern day London but, as the show progresses, he manages to acquire a wife in the past as well. Life gets rather complicated for one Garry Sparrow.
20. Gideon's Way (1965-1966)
Commander George Gideon of Scotland Yard, played by John Gregson, must not only cope with the old fraternity of criminal but also with the new lot created by swinging London. Some criminals commit crime for money. Others are involved in crime for kicks.
21. Cadfael (1994-1998)
Set in Medieval times with a country divided by civil strife, Brother Cadfael, played by Sir Derek Jacobi, is called upon in this series to solve an array of murders. Having had experience in the crusades as a fighter and with some knowledge of medicine, Cadfael has developed talents in the art of detection that come close to equaling those of the more modern Sherlock Holmes.
22. The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-2011)
Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen) once traveled with The Doctor in the TARDIS. Her adventures with this enigmatic alien gave her a particular insight into extraterrestrials.
She discovered that some that made their way to our planet needed a helping hand to get back home while others were a menace that had to be dealt with. The Doctor left her with a sonic lipstick which is somewhat akin to his own sonic screwdriver.
In the one off Christmas show of 1981, K9 and Company, Sarah is given K9 mark three, a mechanical computer dog, by The Doctor. It arrives mysteriously in a crate.
In The Sarah Jane Adventures, K9 makes the occasional appearance. Aiding Sarah in keeping earth safe is an extraterrestrial computer named Mr. Smith. Other aids include Luke (Thomas Knight), who is a boy created by aliens and adopted by Sarah Jane, Rani Chandra (Anjli Mohindra) and Clyde Langer (Daniel Anthony).
23. Foyle's War (2002 -)
The first couple of seasons of this show took the viewer through the 2nd World War. More current episodes deal with the dirty business of the Cold War which followed. Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle (Michael Kitchen) tries to catch criminals in Hastings, England while bombs are falling and there is severe rationing. His mild mannered approach and ability to read between the official lines get results. After the war there are rotten deals being made as well as spy vs spy dramas.
24. A Touch of Frost (1992-2010)
Detective Inspector William Edward "Jack" Frost sees his main job as nicking villains. He is not much for paperwork and doesn't like the double speak of political correctness. He is lax with proper procedure and this often gets him into trouble with Superintendent Norman Mullet (Bruce Alexander).
He knows the streets of Denton, his fictional place of residence, very well and is kind to his contacts. He is assisted by a variety of detective sergeants including a woman who turns out to be a lesbian. Frost, however, isn't particularly interested in her sex life. It is enough for him that she is a good officer who knows her stuff.
25. Wire in the Blood (2002-2008)
Starring Robson Green as Dr. Tony Hill, this is one powerful psychological thriller series. It gives some insight as to how serial killers think and operate. Dr. Hill has the ability to get into the mind set of the criminal or criminals the police are after. He is, however, a bit of an idiot savant and thus needs a minder. His first minder is D.C.I Carol Jordan (Hermione Norris). His second minder when Carol leaves is D. I. Alex Fielding (Simone Lahbib).
There was the influence of Pop Art
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