Friday, 10 May 2013

Friday 10 May 1963

Today it's my pleasure to welcome a new show to the TV Minus 50 fold...

Rather than one of the ITV companies, Richard the Lionheart was produced by the infamous Danzigers, a pair of American brothers quite happy to be regarded with horror by more prestigious outfits as long as they turned a profit.  "Nobody makes 'em cheaper," was their proud boast, and in the 50s and early 60s  they churned out a mind-boggling number of B-movies, as well as various crime-centric TV series including Mark Saber, which was a hit in both the UK and the US.  Lionheart was their first attempt at diversifying in genre, a late-in-the-day attempt at reproducing the phenomenal success of ITC's The Adventures of Robin Hood, with similar vaguely historical tales of derring-do.

The year is 1193.  The place is Austria, and Dickie I of England (Irish B-movie specialist Dermot Walsh) is making his way home after the Crusades.  Here he is (with his suspiciously Brylcreemed-looking hair), accompanied by his friend Hugo (Glyn Owen, of Howard's Way fame) and Hugo's wife Marta (Anne Lawson).

The best word to describe Walsh's performance is "hearty": he does a lot of HA-HA-HA-ing, and though he doesn't actually slap his thigh at any point, it feels like he could very easily do so at any moment.  In fact, there's an endearing atmosphere of panto about the whole enterprise (not least in the rather tatty medieval outfits).

Richard and chums find out from a generic peasant that the local Baron's no fan of the English king, so his swaps his royal garb with Hugo's more modest clothes, and pretends to be his squire.  Meanwhile, Baron Frederick (Ernest Clark), who as well as being a dastardly baron is a bigwig in the Knights Templar, is setting a trap for Richard.  He's made a horse up to look like it's a prize Arabian steed, but he's convinced only Richard, who has "a good love of horseflesh" would even recognise an Arabian horse in the first place.  Therefore, anyone who bids for the horse at the auction he's organised must be the English king (I think that's how it works, anyway.  It's a bit confusing).

Richard chances upon the auction, but is cleverer than Baron Frederick thinks, and soon realises the supposed Arabian steed is a normal horse covered in kohl (goodness knows how many eyeliner pencils that took).

Baron Frederick makes a scapegoat of his steward, Manfred (Richard Shaw - a ubiquitous TV actor of the 60s) and has him hauled off to the dungeons.  Later he'll face trial by the temple lion.  "No, my lord, not the lion - no!" Manfred ridiculously cries as a pair of soldiers carry him off ("Oh yes, the lion!" the audience at home may feel inclined to shout, panto-fashion).

In the dungeons, Manfred is consoled by a friendly priest, played by theatrical luminary Trader Faulkner, who regularly pops up in various parts in Richard the Lionheart - including Richard's brother Prince John.

Out of the goodness of his (lion)heart, Richard sneaks his way into the dungeon in the guise of a hooded monk and slips Manfred some oil reputed to repel lions.  As the monk, he adopts an extravagant French accent, which only causes us to wonder why exactly everyone in Austria sounds English.

Meanwhile, Baron Frederick ruminates over his hatred for Richard the Lionheart.  It all stems from Richard happily allowing many Templars to die at the hands of Saladin's men.  "I will take bloody revenge on the English king!" he announces in enormous close-up (BOO! HISS!).

It's the day of Manfred's trial (which, by the way, just involves him being shoved in the lion's cage), and the Danzigers impress by having laid on a genuine lion.  It's obviously thoroughly tame, and possibly mangy, but it's real nonetheless.  Before Manfred's thrust in with the beast, Frederick works the audience up into a froth of hatred toward the supposed horse-painter.  There's one (sadly uncredited) female bit-parter (on the left) who's especially entertaining in her refusal to join in with the crowd's joint exclamations, waiting till they've finished so she can get the spotlight all to herself.

Richard's special oil manages to put the lion off eating Manfred, and the priest declares it must mean he's innocent.  If that wasn't embarrassing enough for the Baron, Richard announces in front of all the villagers that he and the other templars are idolators, devil worshippers and practitioners of witchcraft.  Take that! Maybe you'll think twice before being nasty about Richard the Lionheart again.

Rather charmingly, the epiodes of Richard the Lionheart I've got hold of feature this insert in the middle:

And don't forget, it's...

Radio Minus 50: The Navy Lark - The Ghost Ship

The last show in the present series begins with announcer Robin Boyle bantering with the Navy Lark cast and sending a message to his wife.  He's one of the show's most engaging characters.  The others are Tenniel Evans's blustering, hearing-impaired Admiral and his sidekick Rear-Admiral Ironbridge (Michael Bates) - the highlight of this week's episode is their bizarre speculations over the state of Mother Brown's knees.  They're visiting the put-upon Captain Povey to demand he gets HMS Troutbridge and its crew out of the way so they can't jeopardise the launch of a new Destroyer.

Povey sends Pertwee, Phillips, Murray and their crew on a pointless mission, Phillips predictably losing the way - this time he's navigating using the map of the world in his pocket diary.  The ship runs aground on a coral reef, but Phillips isn't bothered: "There's bound to be an AA chap or somebody from the RAC about."  The crew having disembarked, Troutbridge mysteriously sails off without them ("I left the handbrake on," says a baffled Phillips.  After 20 minutes or so of dashing about it anticlimactically turns out that Able Seaman Fatso Johnson was still aboard and sailed off by accident.

The series ends with the vital news that Leslie Phillips is currently appearing in Boeing Boeing at the Apollo Theatre, London.

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