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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.5 – You Can Always Find a Fall Guy

Deeply weird coincidence alert: I broke disk 1 of this set the other night, and so we started the second disk tonight. That means that this morning and this evening we happened to watch two separate programs that were filmed on the grounds of Grim’s Dyke Hotel. It appears in several episodes of The Champions, including “The Mission,” and was also the villain’s stately manor in the Avengers episode “Game.” I kept thinking to myself “Man, this big house looks familiar.” Well, that’s because you just saw it ten hours ago, Holmes.

I deliberately don’t know a great deal about Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), but I’ve read many times that Jeff Randall gets clobbered more than your average TV hero. In Donald James’s “You Can Always Find a Fall Guy,” he gets one heck of a beatdown, not a simple club on the back of the head like Simon Templar often received. Amusingly, Jeremy Young plays a character who owns the houseboat where Randall gets the daylights thrashed out of him, but he’s an effete dandy who cowers against the wall when the real bad guy storms in to do the business. Since we’ve seen Young cast as a villain and give a good account of himself in so many other programs, usually with a sword in hand, I found that funny.

Joining Young this week are several other familiar faces, including Patrick Barr, Juliet Harmer, Garfield Morgan, and Tony Steedman. None of these actors took me out of the experience nearly as much as a throwaway sign on a grocery store window. The episode is packed with lovely location filming on the streets of London, and in one scene, finished back in the studio with rear-screen projection, Mike Pratt and Garfield Morgan are having a conversation in a parked car. There’s a sticker on the grocers’ window for Findus. I don’t know that Findus products were ever sold in North America; I only know them as the purveyors of fish fingers with a crumb-crisp coating. Takes me right out of the action when I’m replaying Orson Welles commercials in my head. At least I didn’t subject my family to my poor Welles impression.

It’s a great story with some really amusing ghost business. Our son really enjoyed the scene where Marty puts the frighteners on a pair of guard dogs, but I most loved the moment where Marty visits several hospitals in London looking for just the right surgical situation. I think this would be a fine little show even if one of the detectives wasn’t a ghost, but since he is, the writers are finding a lot of humor in the situation.

Numbering note: Not that I imagine anybody’s all that bothered, but we’re watching The Champions in broadcast order and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) in production order because I have no idea what The Champions’ production order is, and there’s a downright terrific R&H site that you should visit and bookmark that confirms the Network DVDs have the episodes in the sequence that they were made.

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The Feathered Serpent – 1.3 and 1.4

I’m really enjoying this. It’s moving incredibly quickly. Part three of The Feathered Serpent begins with the assassination of the emperor. His body isn’t discovered until the end of the episode, leaving Princess Chimalma the new empress, but Nasca’s not going to let her reign be a very long one.

Nasca’s a fascinating villain because his motives are so clear and so horrifying. He’s afraid of the people abandoning his religion for something that should have been old and forgotten, and so, with the righteous fury of a religious maniac, he declares doubt in his god to be the greatest sin of all and won’t let anything get in his way of murdering the nonbelievers and stopping the union of the tribes.

Meanwhile, there’s torture, secret potions, hidden passages, and a fascinating and very theatrical sword fight in part three. It’s just a shade over our son’s head, to be honest, and he’s not entirely sure what’s so funny when we chuckle at Nasca’s evil and his manipulations, but I’m having an absolute ball with this.

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The Feathered Serpent – 1.1 and 1.2

I don’t know that I’d ever heard of The Feathered Serpent before last year. I mean, I must have, but it didn’t sink in. But last year, as I was absorbing the completely wonderful first volume of Scarred For Life, which focuses on the 1970s, I hit the small chapter about this program, read a little bit of the rave review, and figured we needed to watch it. I figured correctly.

The Feathered Serpent is a pair of six-part serials written by John Kane and made by Thames Television. It was shown on Monday afternoons in London, and was aimed at older kids, though there’s a lot here for all ages. The first serial aired in the summer of 1976 and it introduced us to one of Patrick Troughton’s most deliciously fun characters: a manipulative, scheming, and deeply evil priest called Nasca. The story is set in Mexico, long before any Spanish warships showed up on the horizon, and pits the bloodthirsty Nasca against the powerful Emperor Kukulkhan, played by Tony Steedman.

The people of this great city love Kukulkhan, and seem to be willing to abandon Nasca’s blood-demanding god Teschcata in favor of an older, kinder god, the feathered serpent Quala. To this end, Kukulkhan plans for his daughter, played by Diane Keen, to marry a Toltec prince, in part because the Toltecs all worship the peaceful feathered serpent. Nasca’s not having any of that. He’s been planning for months as our story opens, and has ensured that the builder of the new palace has honeycombed it with secret passages so that he can spy on his enemies. Now all he needs to do is turn the emperor’s trusted general against the boss. Meanwhile, a Toltec messenger boy meets an old, blind, disgraced priest played by George Cormack. This priest has been having some freaky dreams of prophecy and doom, and hopes that the young messenger can save his prince from Nasca.

Well, I thought this was just grand fun. There are bits where the dialogue gets a little too formal-slash-Shakespearean for me to believe in it completely, but this is just a great scenario for some good character actors to really sink their teeth into. It’s palace intrigue with bare feet and huge headdresses, with some fabulous sets which sparked our son’s principal question: how do the secret passages in this palace work when this all takes place so long ago? We enjoyed pointing out that just because it’s set seven hundred or so years ago, that doesn’t mean that the Toltecs or the Aztecs were technologically inept. We’ve learned a lot about the pyramids and tombs and neat architectural tricks from many old civilizations around the world.

(I’ve just reminded myself that I obviously need to remind him of the tomb at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sure, that place may be ridiculous, but he didn’t stop to ask how anybody built it!)

We also talked about how Nasca is able to manipulate people by identifying their weaknesses. We’ve been discussing how people who get angry very easily can be talked into doing the wrong thing, and here comes Mahoutec, the emperor’s general, who is hot-tempered and easily offended and a total sucker for Nasca’s scheming, to prove our point. We’ll see what happens next in a couple of nights.

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