By John Riddle
If you cast your mind back just 20 years you may be able to remember the start of the internet. Most of our younger readers now take the www for granted but if the current crisis had struck before 1990 people would have turned to television as one of the few means of communication.
When television arrived in Hartlepool most TV sets were black and white and we had a lot of American imports including western shows like Bonanza and Have Gun will travel, some lighter moments with the Beverley Hill Billies, and who can forget The Adams Family and the Munsters.
Of course, we had some cracking British shows which included The Avengers, The Prisoner and Danger Man starring Patrick McGoohan. On the lighter side, many shows today considered as being politically incorrect including Till Death Do Us Part, Steptoe and Son, Benny Hill and for goodness sake Morecambe and Wise.
Police shows were very popular with Dixon of Dock Green, No Hiding Place and Z Cars. Variety shows like The Good Old Days Sunday Night at the London Palladium plus the quiz programme Double Your Money and talent competitions like Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green. Add to that the long-running pop shows Juke Box Jury and Top of the Pops and
you get just a taste of what life would have been like if we had been locked down before the advent of the internet.
The popularity of television really took off in the town when colour sets and new channels arrived. In Hartlepool, Howie Scarborough, the well known local quizmaster and entertainer remember he got his first colour TV from Rediffusion in York Road in 1973. “I remember it as though it was yesterday, the first programme I saw in colour was “Crystal Tipps and Alistair”. Some readers may recall it was about a girl and her dog. The cartoon series ran for fifty 5minute episodes from 1971-74.
American western programmes were popular in the period 1957-73 and here are just a few that people may remember.
Bonanza appeared on our screens for 14 seasons and more than 430 episodes making it one of the longest produced by the NBC network. The show was set in the 1860s and featured the Cartwright family, starring Lorne Green, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker as the incomparable “Hoss” and Michael Landon, later to star in another popular western, “Little House on the Prairie”.
“Have Gun Will Travel” Originally a radio show it found its way on to our TV screens in 1958 and followed the adventures of a gunfighter Paladin, played by
Richard Boone. Like many cowboy shows of the day, it was set in the years after the American Civil War and although the radio show gave a specific year before
each episode, the TV series only gives one specific date, 3rd July 1879 in an episode called “A Drop of Blood”.
Gunsmoke was based in Dodge City, Kansas and the main character was Marshall Matt Dillon played by James Arness and his faithful sidekick Chester, played by Dennis Weaver. Who can forget those immortal lines; “I am a coming Mr. Dillion”? Chester walked with a limp, it is thought injured in the Civil War and although Dennis Weaver was 6’2” he looked small compared with Arness who was 6’7” tall.
The Lone Ranger was one of the earliest westerns seen on TV and starred Clayton Moore as the title character. He was supported by his trusty Indian sidekick Tonto. Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto belonged to the aboriginal tribe originating in Canada, the Mohawks. The Lone Ranger was one of ABC’s best-loved shows and favourite phrases viewers may remember also included “Hi Ho Silver Away”, the masked man’s horse and “Kemosabe” a term of endearment used by Tonto.
In 2009 a boxed set on DVD featuring all 220 plus episodes, was released by Classic Media. It was to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the show. “Little House on the Prairie”: The show usually featured members of the Ingalls family who lived on a farm near Walnut Grove in the state of Minnesota. The shows main characters were Charles Ingalls, his wife Caroline and their three children. Michael Landon, who played Charles Ingalls also wrote some of the storylines and directed almost 100 shows. Storylines had been recycled from the “Bonanza” western series.
Little House on the Prairie was adapted from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s best-selling books “Little House” published by Harper & Row.
Other American imports in the early days included The Virginian in which Lee J. Cobb appeared in the first four seasons which also starred Doug McClure and
James Drury. It ran for nine seasons and was third most popular behind “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke”. It was based on a 1902 novel by Owen Wister.
Cobb would star in “On the Waterfront” with Karl Malden, Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando. The film was nominated for 12 Oscars, winning eight and a
Best Actor Award for Brando.
Of course, if westerns are not your thing you may have watched other shows involving crime. Some are being re-shown on some of the 600 channels we
now have on UK television. My own particular favourite at the time was Perry Mason.
Perry played by Raymond Burr was a fictional lawyer in Los Angeles. It ran for an hour each week and Burr received two Emmy Awards, as did his secretary
Della Street played by Barbara Hale. Efforts were made to revive the series in 1973 with a different cast but it only ran for 15 shows. If you want to watch the
“old series” they are currently shown on one of the USA channels.
Raymond Burr also appeared on our TV screens at this time as Robert T. Ironside, a consultant with the San Francisco Police Department. It was
broadcast in the UK under the title “A Man Called Ironside”. It would earn Burr six Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations. Over the years many of the
episodes would feature guest stars. They would include Harrison Ford, Bruce Lee, and William Shatner of Star Trek fame.
The original series of “Hawaii Five O” was aired by the CBS network in the UK and follows the adventures of an elite task force set up to fight major crimes in
Hawaii. In 2018 the series was renewed. In the original series Jack Lord played Detective Stephen McGarrett and who can forget his catchphrase “Book ‘em
Danno”. The New “Hawaii Five O” is into series ten and is very popular with the current crop of UK viewers.
Telly Savalas starred as the title character Kojak, a lieutenant in the New York City Police Department. The bald, tough, incorruptible, lollypop sucking Theo Kojak coined the phrase “Who loves ya baby” and frequented taunted his co-workers, especially the rotund Stavros, who he often referred to as “Fatso”.
Kojak was often abusive towards criminals and very often giving his interpretation of the truth by saying he had seen them doing something when
he actually didn’t. That would never happen in our police force, would it?
Telly Savalas had a one-hit-wonder in the UK charts in 1975 when “If” rose to number one.
Well, that’s it for this week folks but join me again when I shall be looking at the lighter side of television.
In the meantime look after yourself and each other.