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"A day wouldn't go by without the kids in the playground whistling the catchy theme tune from Whirlybirds"

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: August 31, 2006

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We are indebted to Alan Keeling's continuing contributions on the subject of early television programmes, which in recent weeks have sparked a host of memories for our readers.

Terry Johnson of Regent Street, Woodsetton, has also been putting pen to paper, supplying us with a comprehensive list of Western TV programmes, the names of the stars that made them famous (or visa versa), and the lyrics of several of the theme tunes which he hopes will this week have Bugle readers singing the ballads they remember; in the privacy of their own homes of course.

But first, do you remember the popular series called Whirlybirds that first appeared on British TV in the late 1950s? Alan Keeling has vivid recollections of this American TV adventure from his time at school:

"During the series run and the repeats that followed, a day wouldn't go by without the kids in the playground whistling the Whirlybirds' catchy theme tune. Sadly that's a long time ago because the programme hasn't been screened since 1975. It first came to Britain in 1958 and was seen on children's television. The two main characters, Chuck Miller played by Ken Tobey and P. T. Moore played by Craig Hill (the Whirlybird pilots) became instant heroes. They worked for Whirlybirds Incorporated, a helicopter charter service. The helicopter they used was provided by the famous Bell Helicopter Company. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a few of the youngsters watching the programme back then were inspired to fly helicopters themselves when they grew up. Produced by Lucille Ball's Desilu Production Co. for C.B.S., the two Whirlybird pilots had 39 black and white half-hour adventures, during which they rescued children, freed hostages, put out what seemed like countless forest fires, helped the police solve crimes, and in one particular episode delivered an iron-lung to a little boy deep in the heart of the country.

"Another series that stirred the imagination back in the mid fifties was "The Buccaneers" starring Robert Shaw, who later found fame in films like "The Sting" and "Jaws". Shaw played former pirate Dan Tempest, a loveable rogue who together with deputy governor Beamish (Peter Hammond) fought the Spaniards week in week out. Every episode was action-packed with Tempest sailing the high seas at the helm of his ship "The Saltana" together with his motley crew, and almost inevitably ending every one of the 39 episodes produced with a sword fight. First shown in 1957, it had a re-run four years later and was shown again on the cable and satellite channel Bravo in 1996. As the credits rolled after every half-hour adventure, the programme ended with its swashbuckling theme song. "Let's go a roving, a roving 'cross the ocean. Oh! let's go a roving and join the Buccaneers. We'll find adventure, adventure 'cross the ocean. Oh! we'll find adventure with the Buccaneers."

Signature tunes have always been an important ingredient in the popularity of a programme, and even thirty years or more since a show may have last been seen on TV, a theme tune can still glide easily through the memory banks. Terry Johnson has a theme tune collection at home with many of the famous TV Westerns from the 50's and 60's, and he has provided us with some of the lyrics which we have included at the end of this article. See how many you can sing along to!

"There were some great tunes, some more popular than others." Terry continues. "What about "Casey Jones" and his Cannonball Express; "Champion the Wonder Horse" like a streak of lightnin' flashin' 'cross the sky; or the unforgettable "Rawhide."

"Many of these shows featured supports from then relatively unknown actors like Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, Buddy Ebsen and Gerald Mohr, etc. Remember John Russell as Marshall Dan Troop in "Lawman", with Peter Brown as deputy Johnny McKay. John Payne in "Restless Gun;" James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon in "Gun Law" and the irrepressible Dennis Weaver as Chester his deputy; Will Hutchins as Tom Brewster in "Sugarfoot" (later renamed Tenderfoot); James Garner as gambler Bret "Maverick;" Ian Flemying as trail boss Gil Favour, Clint Eastwood as cowhand Rowdy Yates in "Rawhide;" and Ward Bond as wagon master Seth Adams and Robert Horton as scout Flint McCullough in "Wagon Train." (The original series was accompanied by Ron Grainger's brilliant orchestral instrumental theme tune which captured the essence of a wagon train rolling across the prairie).

"There was also William Boyd in "Hopalong Cassidy;" "Boots and Saddles, "which ironically starred Jack Picard as Captain Adams in a series written by Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame; Dale Robertson as detective Jim Hardie in "Wells Fargo;" "Tombstone Territory" starring Pat Conway as sheriff Clay Hollister; and in 1956 Gail Davis was sharpshooter "Annie Oakley;" and a very young Steve McQueen starred as a bounty hunter in "Wanted, Dead or Alive."

For a refreshing change away from the stereotype image of the cowboy, "Broken Arrow" was a series that concentrated on the native American Indian. And of course everyone must remember the Cartwright family in "Bonanza" with Lorne Greene as Ben the father, trying to keep his sons out of mischief."

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