There must be many amongst us who remember the late sixties wild animal adventure called Daktari, which drew a large audience on TV screens across the Black Country and beyond. But who can recall a series called O.S.S. or Sentimental Agent? These are just a few of the latest batch of programmes to be brought back from the past via Alan Keeling's continuing recollections. Alan writes:
"Cast your mind back to 1967 when a very popular family adventure series called Daktari premiered on BBC 1. It starred Clarence, the cross-eyed lion, who was not just a movie star. The film he appeared in initially served as a pilot for the series and the producers never looked back.
Filmed at the Wameru Game Reserve somewhere in Africa, the main character in the story-line was Dr Marsh Tracy, otherwise known as Daktari to the local inhabitants, played by Marshall Thompson. He was joined by his studious daughter Paula, played by Cheryl Millar, and Yale Summers as Jack Dane, a keen, young zoologist. But of course the series' most popular characters were the docile Clarence and his side-kick Judy, the rather mischievous chimpanzee. There were 89 episodes made altogether, all in colour, produced by Ivan Tors Films and M.G.M. Television. The Americans saw it first, a year before it was screened in the UK.
"The Abbot and Costello Show from the late fifties also included a chimpanzee on the payroll. His name was Bingo and he became another popular primate to appear on the TV screen. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello started their TV career in Hollywood back in 1951 and featured in a show called the Colgate Comedy Hour. It wasn't long before the comedy duo outgrew the show and branched out on their own, creating the Abbott and Costello Show the following year in 1952. In the end 52 half-hour length films were shot between then and 1954.
"The series was set at a boarding house, No. 214 Brooklyn Avenue, owned by Sidney Fields, who played himself, with Abbott and Costello as guests who resided at the same address. But most of the time they had trouble finding work and were unable to pay the rent which resulted in being constantly harassed by their landlord. To add a little spice to some of the hilarious scenes, Lou was given a girlfriend, played by Hillary Brooke, to banter with, and then of course there was his pet chimp, Bingo. ITV screened the series in a few areas from 1957 until 1961. Then in 1982 it had a renaissance when Channel 4 revived the show and continued until 1988 with a number of re-runs.
"There were many films and TV programmes made as a result of the Second World War, great battles and famous events, heroes and heroines, a subject that still warrants fresh productions over sixty years later. A programme with a slightly different slant, although still to do with the war, was called O.S.S. - short for Office of Strategic Services.
"At the beginning of every new half-hour adventure of tension and intrigue, against the background of World War Two, the following would bellow from the TV screens: This is an account of the O.S.S., en-route to a mission behind enemy lines. One of the faceless army who fought the lonely war, the silent war. Stories untold of heroes unknown. This is a mission from the annals of the Office of Strategic Services.
"The regular cast featured American actor Ron Randell as O.S.S. agent and spy-smasher Major Frank Hawthorne, Canadian actor Lionel Murton who played the Chief and sent Hawthorne on numerous hazardous missions behind enemy lines, and Robert Gallico, who played Sergeant O'Brien, but didn't appear in every episode.
"With memories of the war still fresh in their minds, producer Jules Buck was assisted in the making of the programmes by O.S.S. veterans, people who had gone under cover and infiltrated enemy positions, trying to disrupt Hitler's intelligence system. There were only 26 programmes made, all in 1957, but every one of them, each with a unique and true story to tell, attracted a huge viewing audience.
"Some 15 years later it was Oliver Tobias with his long hair and swarthy looks that stole the show. He starred as Arthur in Arthur of the Britons, a Dark Ages swashbuckling adventure which was premiered on children's television in September 1972. Arthur was a young 6th century Welsh warlord who was constantly at odds with the English barbarians, and was helped out in many of the battle scenes by his side-kicks Kai, played by Michael Gothard, and Clud the Silver Hand, played by Jack Watson.
"The glorious character actor Brian Blessed played Mark of Cornwall, Arthur's arch enemy, and appeared in most of the 24 half-hour full colour episodes, which were filmed on location at Stroud in Gloucestershire. The theme music, composed by Elmer Bernstein, suggested the programme was intended to be screened in the US and woo an American audience with the rough and tumble of life in primitive Britain. Apart from Brian Blessed, and of course Oliver Tobias, other well known actors making appearances were Bernard Bresslaw, Alfie Bass, Clive Revill, Michael Craig, Tom Baker and Michael Gambon. One of the more outstanding features of the series were the violent, somewhat bloodthirsty battle scenes, which although deemed a little near the mark, were well received by adults and children alike.
"Now you have to be good if you can remember The Sentimental Agent, of which 13 hour long episodes were made in the early '60s. Filmed by ATV for ITC, reputedly in colour, the show starred the dreamy eyed Carlos Thompson as the sentimental agent, Carlos Varela. He was an import-export agent based in London, but was always flying off to exotic locations, and like Simon Templer in The Saint, would always find romance, excitement and danger, but not always the girl of his dreams. For most of the episodes Carlos would wear a smart white suit, with a large broad-brimmed hat, and smoke small cigars from a long holder.
"Chinese actor Burt Kwouk played Carlos's faithful man servant Chinn, whilst Clemence Bettany played his ever faithful secretary, Miss Carter. It was also an introduction to the small screen of a very young Diana Rigg. However there was one big snag that bedevilled the show. Thompson appeared in only ten of the episodes and could not continue due to illness. He was replaced by his business partner, Bill Randle, played by John Turner, for the remaining three instalments. This long forgotten series was first screened by ABC in 1964 on a Saturday evening, and was subsequently re-run by Midlands ATV late on Saturday nights."