FOLLOWING on from Alan Keeling's feature on TV programmes of yesteryear in last week's Bugle, this week we're on the trail of some more old, and perhaps a little obscure, TV Westerns of the '50s and '60s. Alan writes:
"I wonder how many of us can remember the following TV Westerns, when every child bar none played cowboys and Indians. I'll start down at the river's edge with Riverboat, which was broadcast from the late 1950s to the early '60s. The series was based on and around the Mississippi River and was a scheduled summer replacement for the more recognisable Wagon Train. Darren McGavin starred as Grey Holden, captain and owner of the Enterprise, a one hundred foot long steam wheeler riverboat that travelled the length of the great waterway. Its passengers included gamblers, merchants, law-breakers, and immigrants, each one telling his or her own story.
"Guest artists included Vincent Price, Vera Miles, Eddie Albert and William Bendix, to name but a few. In the show's early episodes a young Burt Reynolds co-starred as pilot Ben Frazer, but was later replaced by Noah Beery Jr., who played pilot Bill Blake. Replacing the star actors seemed to be common place in Riverboat, as Darren McGavin also left towards the end of the run. Dan Duryea stepped into his shoes as Captain Brad Turner. In all, 44 black and white episodes were produced between '59 and '61 by Revue Productions (Universal), and the impressive theme tune was composed by Elmer Bernstein. The show enjoyed encouraging audience figures when it was screened on ITV networks in 1961.
"Many Bugle readers probably remember the theme song, written and performed by Frank Ifield, that went something like this:
"Whiplash, whiplash, whiplash, whiplash, In 1851 the Great Australian gold rush.
The only law a gun, the only shelter wild-bush..."
"TV critics in 1961 called it the Aussie Western, and all 34 half-hour episodes were produced by ATV at Artransa Studios in Sydney and at various locations throughout New South Wales. The two main stars were Peter Graves, who had just finished playing the part of rancher Jim Newton in Fury, and Anthony Wickert. Graves played Christopher Cobb, the owner and founder of Australia's first coach-line called Cobb & Co., and Wickert was his co-driver named Dan Ledward. Robert Tudawali, an aboriginal actor, took various parts in several episodes, and guest stars included Chips Rafferty, Annette Andre and Grant Taylor. ITC distributed the series world-wide and one of the shows' writers was the famous Gene Roddenbury of Star Trek fame. Whiplash was first shown by ABC TV in the Midlands and North on Saturday evenings, and had its third and final re-run with ATV.
"Klondike might not be the most recognisable of the old TV Westerns, but James Coburn played one of its main characters. It was an enterprising half-hour series based on Pierre Berton's book, The Klondike Fever, and tells the story of four people who were drawn to the Yukon during the Alaskan gold rush of 1897. The show's hero was Mike Halliday, played by Ralph Taeger, and his friend was local con man Jeff Durain, played by Coburn. 'Goldie' was Durain's girlfriend played by Joi Lansing, and Mari Blanchard played Kathy O'Hara, a rather shrewd business woman. It was first screened by NBC from October 1960 to February 1961, and a year later was snapped up by the BBC for a prime time broadcast.
"Finally I'd like to mention Broken Arrow, a Twentieth Century Fox production that was based on a feature film. On the small screen Cochise was played by Michael Ansara with co-star John Lupton playing an Indian agent called Tom Jeffords. The shows were set in Tucson, Arizona, and were all about the Apache uprisings of the 1870s. Captain Jeffords was assigned to prevent Indian attacks on the mail-train and at the same time tried to bring peace between the warring factions of white settlers and the native Red Indians. His efforts in this regard earned him the title of Blood Brother among the Apaches and the respect of their chief Cochise. John Upton also served as narrator for every one of the 72 half-hour programmes produced between 1956 and 1960. With later distribution by ITC, the show reached Midland ATV screens in 1960.
"That's all for now folks, see yer next time."