Archive for Thursday, September 10, 2009

TV’s British Invasion

September 10, 2009

A decade ago, I always looked forward to Thursday nights. No, it wasn’t because the week’s newspapers were completed or because it was one of the few free nights I had each week. I enjoyed Thursday evenings because it was my favorite night to watch television. However, I will admit my favorite programs might seem a bit unusual.

For many years, KCPT featured a couple hours of outstanding British programs. The evening started with “Are You Being Served,” “The Vicar of Dibley” or “Keeping Up Appearances.” After that, the programs turned serious with “Mystery Theatre.” This was a series of British mysteries, many taken from famous writers and well-known stories. Sadly, that all ended in the early 2000s, and now you can see the mystery stories as part of the summer “Masterpiece Theatre” on Sunday nights and comedy reruns on Saturday nights.

The “Mystery Theatre” series dates back to 1980 and was the brainchild of the Mobil Corporation and an off-shoot of “Masterpiece.” In the USA, it was produced by WGBH in Boston. The show has a unique animated opening that was created by Edward Gorey. The show had a host who set the scene for an adventure into the underworld of London. The hosts were well-known personalities or performers. I didn’t remember this, but the first host was movie critic Gene Shalit who was followed by my favorite, Vincent Price.

Diana Rigg served as the hostess for seven years, and she introduced shows in which she starred. The roles she sometimes played were sinister characters which were far different from her career as a beautiful TV actress.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, my favorite shows were the presentation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes.” What impressed me was the accuracy of the presentations, which faithfully followed the stories. If you remember, many of Doyle’s stories were printed as an on-going series in the newspaper. This meant they were relatively short and could easily be adapted into an hour TV program. The dialogue was nearly the same as that of the characters in the book. The late Jeremy Britt played “Sherlock Holmes,” and he looked almost exactly like the drawing of the character in the original stories.

Another of my favorites was the “Brother Cadfael” series starring Derek Jacoby. As has been the case with all of the British mysteries, the sets are excellent and portray life in 13th century England.

Agatha Christie has been well represented on the shows with series featuring “Miss Marple” and “Hercule Poirot.” In England, it seems actors and actresses are interchangeable. Three different women have played “Miss Marple” during the years. The original actress, Joan Hickson” was in her 80s when she played the spinster detective. She was followed by Julia McKenzie and Geraldine McEwan, both of whom are in their 70s.

The series “Prime Suspect” introduced Jane Mirren to the United States, and she has moved on to a career on both sides of the Atlantic. Other series included “Inspector Morse,” “Inspector Lynley,” “Foyle’s War,” “Campion,” “Hetty Winthrop,” “Adam Dagliesch” and “Rumpold of the Bailey.” I know a couple of lawyers who really liked the latter series about Rumpold who was an unorthodox curmudgeon and an excellent defense attorney.

The series featured the stories of one American author, Tony Hillerman who has written many books featuring Navaho tribal detective “Lt. Leaphorn.” All of the others have been by British authors.

In my case, watching the series spurred me to read other novels by the authors. I became a fan of the Dick Francis stories and have read many Agathie Christie books. This was a case when a television shows spurred an increased interest in reading.


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