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Feet up, slippers on, it's time for another trip down memory lane

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: October 09, 2008

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NOW that the summer is officially over and those long, drawn out cold evenings are once again upon us, watching television beside a warm fire in the living room at home sounds like an offer too good to refuse.

With today's technology opening our eyes to innumerable TV channels covering a wide variety of subjects, several now broadcasting in high definition, the future of the flat, digital, wide screen appears rosier than ever. It's a far cry from the little wooden box in the corner with its tiny domed screen, that half a century ago was screening a limited number of programmes in black and white for those who could afford a television. But the enjoyment levels for those lucky viewers of fifty odd years ago were just as high as they are now, if not more so. The whole television concept had more magic and mystique than it does today, and there were no experiences to compare it with bar a visit to the local cinema, and there were some obvious advantages over the silver screen. You could watch a late evening show in your dressing gown and slippers and retire to bed immediately afterwards with a hot mug of cocoa, instead of having to stand in the fog waiting for the last bus home.

With the thought of that cup of cocoa giving a warm feeling inside, we'll take another journey down memory lane in the company of TV historian Alan Keeling, as once again we glance over our shoulder and remind ourselves of some of the television programmes that caught the imagination, pulled at the heart strings, or just thoroughly entertained television audiences during the '50s and '60s:

"From this latest batch of TV memories, the first of yesteryear's television programmes I have chosen takes us back to the mid fifties when we were on the high seas aboard the American motor freighter The Shipwreck. The programme was in fact called Sailor of Fortune and starred future Bonanza actor Lorne Greene. He played the captain of the vessel, a man named Grant (Mitch) Mitchell (Now where have we heard that name before?), and sailed the waters of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, earning a living carrying legal cargo and at the same time trying to keep his crew out of harm's way. His crew consisted of Sean (played by Jack MacGowran), Johnny (Paul Carpenter) and the ship's engineer Seamus (played by Rupert Davies).

"It may be a series that few might recall as only 24 half-hour episodes were made. But they were all produced here in the UK at Elstree Studios, by a Canadian company called Mid-Ocean Films during 1955/56. Viewers here in the Black Country were able to watch Sailor of Fortune for the first time in 1957 when it was broadcast by ATV after 7pm in the evening. The first four episodes were edited to make two cinema second feature support films, and were entitled Dust and Gold, and Double Jeopardy. The series writer was Lindsay Galloway.

"During the course of the 26 episodes several up and coming actors made guest appearances, including Lois Maxwell, Christopher Lee, Ewen Solon, Ferdy Mayne, William Lucas, Raymond Huntley, James Hayter, and a young Sean Connery. The last time re-runs of the series were shown was on two ITV regions in 1970.

"Zero One was the BBC's third Anglo-American film co-production and was all about the cases of an airline detective. With this month celebrating 50 years of trans-Atlantic passenger airline travel, it was appropriate for the programme makers of the day to produce a series of a topical nature. In Zero One Nigel Patrick was the main character and played Alan Garnett who was head of airline security. His assistant was Jimmy Delaney (Bill Smith), and his secretary Maya was played by Katya Douglas. Guest stars included Michael Goodliffe, Brenda Bruce, George Baker, Margaret Rutherford, Eric Pohlmann, Lana Morris, Ferdy Mayne, Jack Watling, Warren Mitchell, Sarah Lawson, Patrick Barr and Cecil Parker. Filmed at the MGM British Studios during 1962, Zero One was an MGM production in association with the BBC, and in total 39 half-hour episodes were made in black and white and were screened throughout the country on BBC TV from October 1962 onwards.

"Over the last sixty years or so there have been a number of feature film versions of Daniel Defoe's classic novel Robinson Crusoe. But in my opinion by far the best version was a 13 half-hour television series that was made in 1964, produced by Henri Deutschmeister, filmed by Franco-London Films, mainly on location in the Canary Islands, and starring an Austrian actor called Robert Hoffman as Robinson Crusoe.

"The haunting theme tune and incidental music that accompanied each black and white episode was composed by Robert Mellin and Gian Piero Reverberi, who at the time were very much involved in the European popular music movement. Episode 1 depicted Crusoe being cast onto a desert island, after a violent storm had wrecked the ship he was travelling on en-route from South Africa to Brazil. Then throughout the series there were flashbacks showing Crusoe's earlier life in the city of York, and then his decision to run away to sea. Episode 10 revealed how Robinson Crusoe rescued Man Friday (played by Fabian Canalos) from a tribe of cannibals, and in the final episode the pair are rescued from their desert island experience and Friday is introduced to civilisation.

"The show proved very popular with old and young alike and was sold to countries throughout the world. The first screening by the BBC was in October 1965 and the series enjoyed a cult following with further re-runs being broadcast during summer school holidays right up until 1983. The series proved so popular it was even released on videotape, then DVD, and the soundtrack was also released separately on a CD.

"The Adventures of Hiram Holliday was an American import that was first screened by the BBC in August 1960 at a 6.50 pm evening slot. There were later repeats for children from April 1966 at the earlier time of 5 pm. The comedy/adventure series was all about a meek and mild mannered proof reader of a large New York newspaper who corrected a story concerning a multi-million dollar libel suit and was rewarded with a one year round the world tour by his boss. The proof reader in question was Hiram Holliday (Wally Cox), and his co-reporter and friend, Joel Smith (Ainslie Prior) was sent to accompany Hiram on his adventure and report on his activities.

As he travelled the world Hiram surprised everyone with his array of hidden talents which included air-piloting, art forgery, skin diving, and fencing with his trusty umbrella to ward off any villains, of which there were plenty throughout the series. Based on stories by Paul Gallico, the series was produced in monochrome by California National Productions for NBC in 1956/57 and ran for 26 half-hour episodes. Star of the show Wally Cox was also a recording artist in his own right.

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