Sunday, 17 February 2013

Sunday 17 February 1963

Of course it's a Space Vacation.  Given that the people of 2063 are even more obsessed with space than the people of, well, of 1963, what other kind of vacation could it be? (I wonder if holiday resorts on earth are still forlornly trying to get the punters in, like holiday camps after everyone started going on cheap package tours).  The location for the Fireball XL5 crew's holiday is the tropical paradise planet Olympus (introduced to us with the music of a steel band), the inhabitants of which are at war with the people of barren, storm-lashed Kemble.  Enwhosiasts may like to note that Space Vacation is written by cult TV legend Dennis Spooner, who later co-wrote the Doctor Who story The Daleks' Masterplan (with his fellow Hancock writer Terry Nation), featuring a planet called Kembel.

As is usually the case, we only meet two of the razor-cheekboned Olympian people - the planet's ruler, Jankel, and his son Ergon (another name with Doctor Who associations, but ones best not gone into).  Here they are, looking... Olympian.  Jankel has a sort of Mexican bandit voice, whereas Ergon has a cod West Indian accent.  Neither really goes with their appearance.

Ergon's birthday's coming up, and Jankel's hit on the ideal way to celebrate: inviting his archenemy Kanerick, ruler of Kemble, to a birthday meal and planting a bomb behind his chair.  Unsurprisingly, it doesn't seem to be quite what Ergon would have chosen.  Kanerick, meanwhile, has his own similarly wicked plans.

Also invited to the birthday meal are Steve Zodiac, Venus and Prof Matt Matic, who are busy getting ready for their holiday.  What an ideal opportunity for sexist jibes about how much Venus is packing.

"Women! Never did understand 'em!"
Commander Zero's kindly allowed our heroes to take Fireball on with them on their trip, and they set off in their delightful holiday garb.  Eagle-eyed viewers may notice that Steve was wearing this shirt as a pyjama top a couple of weeks ago.  It's a bit strange that he only wears his big XL5 captain's hat when he's not actually at work.  Matt, meanwhile, practices his fishing.

I'd guess this is from the Value range
On Olympus, Jankel prepares his swishy dining area for the birthday meal.  There are real fish swimming about in the middle of the table - not puppet ones!

The meal doesn't go how Jankel would have wished though - Kanerick doesn't get blown up, but the elixir of life he gives to Ergon turns out to be a deadly poison.  How brutally ironic.

The only person who might be able to save Ergon is Venus (described here as not just a Space Doctor but a Doctor of Space Medicine), but she's been kidnapped by Kanerick and imprisoned in his strange puppet S&M dungeon on Kemble.

Jankel, in turn, holds Matt hostage until Steve can bring back Venus and the cure for Ergon.  Will he be able to save all the various people who need saving from something or other? Well, yes.  The episode ends happily, with the people of Kemble moving to the more pleasant Olympia and the two races putting aside their differences at Ergon's behest.  "He's got more sense than both of you tooties put together," Steve sagely advises the two leaders.  However, once the Fireballers depart the pair continue to spring nasty surprises on each other.
Smoking puppets!
Oh dear
You can watch Space Vacation here if you want (you should, it's very entertaining).

Now hush please, as ITV's most prestigious drama series makes its TV Minus 50 debut.  Or as, the show's announcer puts it: "And now, for your Sunday night dramatic entertainment, we bring you - Armchair Theatre."

This is not a very good picture of Carroll Baker.  It looks more like Mrs McClusky from Grange Hill.
The Paradise Suite is a tale of the loneliness of fame, clearly inspired by the tragic ending to Marilyn Monroe's story the previous year, and written by Robert Muller with all the subtlety of a bull breaking into a china shop with a sledgehammer.  We witness one night in the life of Hollywood star Lena Roland (played by Hollywood star Carroll Baker), in London for the premiere of her new film and staying in the vast Paradise Suite at the Ritzchester hotel, where the action of the play unfolds.  The centrepiece of the suite is a nude statue of Lena herself, the focus for the episode's most heavy-handed symbolism.
"You're the only one, Baby"
I think they might be trying to say she's narcissistic
Desperately needing love, Lena is surrounded by phoneys, chief among them her publicist and "best friend" (though it's clear to us he's just a parasite), the, er, flamboyant Jamie Norton.  Jamie (Ian Holm) regularly tells Lena "You're the queen, baby!", though Holm's performance makes it abundantly clear who's really the queen of the pair.

Tellingly, when he takes his leave of Lena it's the statue Jamie kisses, not the lady herself.

Constantly washing down pills with champagne, Lena's a woman on the verge if ever there was one.  The Paradise Suite sees her experiencing brief encounters with a series of very different men, but the most important is the one we only hear her talk to on the phone: her psychiatrist.  Lena's fragile psyche is communicated to us through the magic of image masking.

This might be significant
Lena's just held a party in the suite for the press, and finds that stray photographer Sam Wanamaker got locked out on the balcony.  Lena lets him in the pair indulge in flirtatious banter.  Despite herself Lena finds she's drawn to him - and who wouldn't be drawn to a man who describes their teeth as "like tiny Chinese tombstones"?  This scruffy chancer's the first "real man" she's met in years.

The highlights of the episode are two comic segments - one intentionally so, the other presumably not.  Lena's paid a visit by journalist Donald V Staveley (Derek Smith), who's given her latest performance a glowing review.  Lena assumes he's one of the UK's most prestigious critics, but rather than the Addison De Witt-like figure we're led to expect, he turns out to be a meek Northerner who can't even pronounce Dietrich properly.  His reaction to Lena's enthusiastic welcome is one of stark terror.

Later, Lena attempts to seduce hotel bellboy Jess Conrad by encouraging him to do the twist with her.  Jess's performance is, incredibly even worse than the one he gave a couple of years before in Killer Ape movie Konga.  He certainly knows how to swivel his hips, though.

"Take it, baby!"
Without a decent central performance The Paradise Suite could easily have been unbearable rubbish.  Fortunately Carroll Baker is superb, and totally compelling even in the play's more ridiculously overwrought moments.  She manages to supply a degree of likeability to a character that, as written, is really just a pain in the arse.  She just about avoids having the show stolen from her by the incredible Paradise Suite itself, created by Armchair Theatre's wonder designer Voytek.  Some of the exotic items littering the grandiose set now seem thoroughly commonplace (Buddhas, Thai statues) while others are downright bizarre (see huge image of Scots guard above).  Perhaps the most striking part of the set is the wall-size painting of the Thames.

But perhaps the most memorable part of the episode is the end credits sequence, Norman Kay's discordant chimes accompanying defaced contact sheet images of Lena - it summarises the play's message far more eloquently than the preceding hour of drama has managed.

Jet Harris & Tony Meehan are still at number 1 in the hit parade with "Diamonds".  Here's this week's number 2 - it's Frank Ifield with "The Wayward Wind".


  1. Sunday February 17th 1963,ITV Programmes Fireball XL5 & Armchair Theatre.

    Fireball XL5 with Steve Zodiac,Venus & Professor Matic on Holiday in Olympus and greeted by Jankel,Kemble & Ergon's Birthday in Space Vaction written by The late Dennis Spooner.

    Venus is tied up by Jankel and Professor Matic is held hostage and Steve Zodiac saves the day.

    Armchair Theatre episode The Paradise Suite Starring Carroll Baker as Lena Roland,The lovely beautiful Hollywood Movie Star is the wonderful original episode alongside Jess Conrad,Ian Holm & Derek Smith are the great cast indeed.

    The Ex Shadows are sadly no longer with us anymore is The late Jet Harris & Tony Meehan Diamonds written by The late Jerry Lordan is still at number one in The British Charts and Frank Ifield's The Wayward Wind since 1963.

    The Stars of The Show icons of 1963 are Fireball XL5 & Armchair Theatre.

    Carroll Baker is Lena Roland in Armchair Theatre episode The Paradise Suite are the great episode on Sunday February 17th 1963 for ABC Television(UK).

    Terry Christie,from Sunderland,Tyne & Wear.

  2. Thursday September 22nd 1955,Independent Television is celebrating 60th Birthday.

    ITV Regional Companies,ABC(Midlands & The North),Anglia(East Anglia),
    Associated-Rediffusion(London),ATV(London-Midlands),Border(The Borders & The Isle of Man),Channel(Channel Islands),Grampian(North East Scotland)
    Granada(North-Lancashire),Scottish(Central Scotland),Southern(Central Southern & The South East England),TWW(South Wales & The West of England),Tyne Tees(North East England),Ulster(Northern Ireland),Westward(South West England) & ITN.

    The Original ITV Classics including Professional Wrestling,Sunday Night at The London Palladium,Oh Boy,The Larkins,Coronation Street,Emergency Ward 10,Crossroads,The Saint,Danger Man,The Avengers,Man of The World,The Sentimental Agent,The Human Jungle,Four Feather Falls,Supercar,Fireball XL5,Stingray,Thunderbirds,Captain Scarlet & The Mysterons,Joe 90.The Sercet Service,UFO,Space 1999,World of Sport,The Eamonn Andrews Show,The Plane Makers,Armchair Theatre,Callan,Budgie,
    The Golden Shot,Ready Steady Go,Thank Your Lucky Stars,The Baron,Man in a Suitcase,The Champions,Department S,Randall & Hopkirk(Deceased),
    Hine,Jason King,Spyder's Web,Special Branch,The Sweeney,Minder,This is Your Life,Take Your Pick,Double Your Money,Top Secret,No Hiding Place,
    Our Man at St'Marks,This Week,Emmerdale,The Army Game,Bootsie & Snudge,Thriller,Cliff Richard & The Shadows,George & The Dragon,Two in Clover,Bless This House,Please Sir,The Fenn Street Gang,Bowler,On The Buses,Crown Court,The Tommy Cooper Hour,Police Woman,The Persuaders
    The Dickie Henderson Show,Crane,The Informers,Ghost Squad,Public Eye,
    Harper's West One,The Power Game,The Adventures of Robin Hood,Wham,
    Cool For Cats,The Morecambe & Wise Show,Hippodrome,William Tell,Sir Lancelot,Do Not Adjust Your Set,At The Last The 1948 Show,The Professionals,Dial 999,Interpol Calling,The Arthur Haynes Show,On The Ball,
    The Big Match,Professional Boxing,Football,The 64'000 Question,All Our Yesterdays,Queenie's Castle,How,Sez Les with The late Les Dawson,Those Wonderful TV Times,All Our Saturdays,Freewheelers,Father Dear Father,
    Out of This World,Hancock,Oppotunity Knocks,New Faces,Spot The Tune,The Army Game,Bootsie & Snudge,Criss Cross Quiz,Skyport,The Sky's The Limit,Stars On Sunday,The Sunday Break,The Return of The Saint,
    The Strange Report,Man About The House,Robin's Nest and Rainbow.

    Happy 60th Birthday ITV(Independent Television).

    Terry Christie,from Sunderland,Tyne & Wear.