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Adventure, suspense and shows on the paranormal, captivating early television audiences

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: June 07, 2007

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Of the thousands of programmes that have been screened on TV since sitting in front of the goggle box became a popular pastime in the 1950s, we've only just begun to scratch the surface during Alan Keeling's long running series. Alan's research has brought back memories of famous actors and classic shows, but how many readers can recall the three he's lined up for us this week?

"Have you ever been certain the telephone would ring within the next ten seconds, or walked down a street and had the feeling you knew what lay around the next corner? If the answer is yes then you've had a brief encounter with the world of the unknown ... a small step beyond. Now take a giant one."

These were the goose-pimply words spoken to the camera by John Newland, host and director of the fantasy-anthology series One Step Beyond, which ran for 94 half-hour episodes between 1959-1962. Filmed in black and white the opening titles were memorable as they appeared against a background of a star lit sky, introducing programmes that varied week after week between psychic-phenomena, extra sensory perception, ghosts of the past, visions of the future, and the general paranormal. Most of the episodes were filmed in Hollywood and produced by Collier Young for World TV Programming, but interestingly the final 13 (superstitious number?) shows were made at the MGM Studios, Borehamwood, in England by Lancer Films and Associated Rediffusion, with British scripts, and were screened on some ITV regions (mostly late at night because of the story content) between 1961-1964. There were a whole string of stars who appeared in the series and included Patrick Macnee, Warren Beatty, Mike Connors, William Shatner (of Star Trek fame), Jack Lord, Ronald Howard, Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery in the US productions, and Kenneth Cope, Michael Crawford, Jane Hylton, Peter Wyngarde, Anton Rodgers, Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasance and Clifford Evans here in the UK.

'The Man Called 'X' was a US half-hour adventure series and starred Barry Sullivan as US Intelligence Bureau Agent Ken Thurston (code name 'X'). It was yet another popular TV show based on an earlier radio series, in this case created by J. Richard Kennedy. The series' technical advisor was Ladislas Farago, who was a real life intelligence agent as well as being a successful author. Thirty-nine black and white episodes were made in 1956 by ZIV Programs Incorporated and given a weekly late night slot in the week by ATV (Midlands) the following year. The suspense filled assignments took place at locations all over the world, including China, Afghanistan, Vienna, Honduras, the Czechoslovakian border, Costa Rica, Stockholm, Istanbul, and Poland, mirroring the type of locations Ladislas Farago worked at during his time as a I.B. Agent. In the show itself Thurston changed his identity on many occasions, posing as a gun-runner one week, then an electronics expert the next, but he always managed to solve the case.

Finally in this trilogy of shows we remember Captain David Grief, one of the few American series at such an early stage in the history of TV to have been shot entirely in colour. That was 1956, but British audiences never got the chance to enjoy the same experience and had to put up with the monochrome version when it was screened on Midland ATV in 1957/58. The standard 39 episodes starred British 'B'-movie actor (and one time husband of Joan Collins) Maxwell Reed as the peak-capped David Grief, who sailed the southern oceans in search of adventure. He faced blackmail, murder, smuggling, criminals of every description, and occasionally romance. Other co-stars included Maureen Hingert as Anura, Tudor Owen as Snow, and Mickey Simpson as Boley. The series was based on the stories by Jack London, produced by Sidney T. Bruckner and Duke Goldstone for Guild Films and Pathe Pictures Incorporated."

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