THE GREAT American Western dominated our TV screens for decades, especially during those early days when more and more people were starting to enjoy watching an evening's entertainment on their own television in their own living room. This week Alan Keeling revives a few forgotten Westerns that may have been temporarily lost from our memory banks.
"It's unusual for me to be a little vague about details to a particular show, but perhaps Bugle readers can help me out. Many will remember Gene Autry's films of the 30's and 40's appearing at the local Odeon, etc., but did the later "Gene Autry Show" ever premiere on British television? In the US it was very popular and ran from 1950 - 1956, with 78 monochrome and interestingly 15 colour half-hour episodes made in all. As well as narrating each episode, Gene would sing a couple of songs and always rode the trail with his larger than life sidekick Pat Buttram who played himself. But who can forget Gene's faithful horse "Champion" who was such a star in his own right he had his own series in 1955/56, with exciting titles such as "Gold Dust Charlie," "Saddle Up," and "Feuding Friends."
Gene Autry was a Jack of all trades, and as well as acting and dominating the story lines in his shows, he was also a producer with a company called "Flying A Productions" and its famous winged logo. Needless to say his company produced "The Gene Autry Show" and "The Adventures of Champion," plus "Annie Oakley," "Range Rider," and "Buffalo Bill Jnr.."
Who remembers "The Restless Gun?" This was a moody sort of Western than ran for half-an-hour and starred John Payne (no, not John Wayne) as a wandering loner named Vint Bonner, who came to the rescue of people in distress (of which of course there were many) back in the 1860's. The opening sequence always began with Payne's narration. "I ride with the wind, my eyes on the sun, and my hand on my restless gun." In America the pilot show featured as an episode of "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars" in March 1957, and there followed 78 episodes, filmed in black and white at the Iverson Ranch, Chatsworth, Los Angeles, until 1959. The Restless Gun was produced by Revue Studios for N.B.C., and it turned out to be a huge success with British viewers when it was screened on Saturday evenings by ABC in both the Midlands and the north.
When "Boots and Saddles" was first screened in the fifties, although dubbed a Western, it appeared very different from many of its contemporary Westerns to be seen on TV at the time. It was a tough and gritty half-hour series about the men of the Fifth Cavalry, often showing their lives to be dirty, uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous, but nevertheless doing a job in keeping with American military tradition. The regular cast of this prime-time show included Jack Pickard as Captain Shank Adams, Patrick McVey as Lt. Col. Hayes, Gardner McKay as Lt. Kelly, David Willcock as Lt. Binning, John Alderson as Sgt. Bullock, and Mike Hinn as the all important scout, Luke Cummings. In the US the programme ran from September 1957 to June 1958 and was produced by California National Productions. The BBC screened this unique for its time series in an early evening prime-time slot through 1958/59, and a year later re-ran the show for children at 5 pm. "Boots and Saddles" was last seen on TV in this country in 1968 when Television Wales and West showed it on Wednesday afternoons at 5.25 pm."
There will be more television memories to come next week, but in the meantime Alan has answered a few questions put by Richard Ceney of Wolverhampton. "In response to Richard's enquiries of a few weeks ago; ABC screened the "Flash Gordon" cinema serials at Saturday tea-time in the late fifties, here in the Midlands and in the north; for "The New Adventures of Charlie Chan," thirty-three episodes were shot in England and the remaining six in Hollywood; and when the BBC purchased the "Sugarfoot" series, for some strange reason the re-named it "Tenderfoot." But when ABC bought the show in 1961, they decided to use its original title."