Tag Archives: forgotten television

PROTO-MUPPETS IN COMMERCIALS: JIM HENSON’S WILKINS AND WONTKINS ADS (1957-1961)

wilkins and wontkins

Wilkins (rear) and Wontkins

Balladeer’s Blog’s recurring feature Forgotten Television takes a look at some vintage commercials from a future big name. Long before his Muppets would become internationally known Jim Henson presented and voiced a pair of puppets named Wilkins and Wontkins. From 1957 to 1961 the duo appeared in a series of 8-second commercials for a variety of products, just like Jim Varney’s “Hey, Vern!” character Ernest P Worrell decades later. In the 1970s they still popped up from time to time.

Wilkins and Wontkins had a sort of Itchy & Scratchy feel with occasional undertones of Bert & Ernie. Wilkins, voiced by Henson in his future Kermit the Frog style, inflicted bizarrely sadistic punishments on Wontkins for not liking the products they were advertising.

Wilkins with Wontkins getting shotWontkins sounded like Oscar the Grouch crossed with either Statler or Waldorf and came complete with a Bert-style nose and perpetual frown (and no wonder). Wilkins, on the other hand, looked like a phallic object with arms and a face.

Wilkins had so many Kermit the Frog mannerisms that it adds to the humor of these vintage advertisements. It’s especially dark-humored to see the puppet go through Kermit’s “silent laughter” motions after so many of the casual acts of violence that he inflicts on Wontkins.

Wilkins and Wontkins in colorWhat started as a team of spokes-puppets for Wilkins Coffee morphed into greater things as surely as Barry Manilow’s old commercial jingles paved the way for his singing career!

These Wilkins & Wontkins ads even contain topical references to the Cold War, the Space Race and the Quiz Show scandals! Just watch:       Continue reading

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RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES: LINKS

rivals of sherlockThank you to those Balladeer’s Blog readers who reminded me that I hadn’t provided a post with the links to ALL my reviews of the episodes of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. That was a 1971-1973 British television series which adapted Victorian Age and Edwardian Age stories about detectives other than Sherlock Holmes.

1971 SEASON

masc graveyard smallerA MESSAGE FROM THE DEEP SEA – R Austin Freeman’s police surgeon detective Doctor John Evelyn Thorndyke (created in 1907) uses his unique talents to investigate the murder of a London prostitute. Click HERE.

THE WOMAN IN THE BIG HAT – Molly Robertson-Kirk aka Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, was created by THE Baroness Orczy in 1910. In this mystery she solves the murder of a man left poisoned in a public eatery by the title suspect. Click HERE

THE AFFAIR OF THE AVALANCHE BICYCLE & TYRE CO. LTD – Arthur Morrison’s 1897 creation Horace Dorrington, a roguish and frequently dishonest private investigator, gets to the bottom of the public stock offering from a mysterious new corporation which may be running a scam. Click HERE.

THE RIPENING RUBIES – Bernard Sutton, a jeweler who solves mysteries, was created by Max Pemberton in 1894. In this case he solves a series of spectacular jewel thefts in London high society. Click HERE.

MADAME SARA – In 1902 L.T. Meade (Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith) and Robert Eustace published this first of six mysteries pitting their detective Dixon Druce against Madame Sara, a female combination of Professor Moriarty and Dr Fu Manchu. Click HERE. Continue reading

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WORLD OF GIANTS (1959): FORGOTTEN TELEVISION

World of GiantsWORLD OF GIANTS (1959) – Don’t confuse this program with Land of the Giants, the later Irwin Allen series about normal-sized people trapped in the title land. For that matter, don’t confuse it with the old spy series Man in a Suitcase, either. World of Giants involved secret agent Mel Hunter (Marshall Thompson), who was accidentally shrunk down to six inches in height by radiation while on a mission behind the Iron Curtain.

Mel still worked with his old espionage partner Bill Winters (Arthur Franz), who was not exposed to the radiation but got his stricken pal back to the U.S. to recover from his exposure to it. Now the pair were sent out on missions requiring Mel’s specialized skill-set. Bill would transport his diminutive partner in his briefcase, where Hunter would sit strapped into a test-pilot’s seat to prevent being battered around as Winters and the briefcase traveled. Continue reading

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RAFFLES (1975-1977) – FORGOTTEN TELEVISION

Raffles 1RAFFLES (1975-1977) – A. J. Raffles, the master thief and star Cricket player was created by E.W. Hornung – the brother-in- law of Arthur Conan Doyle. As all Raffles fans know, A.J. and his bumbling assistant Bunny Manders were intended as a tongue in cheek criminal answer to Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.  

The camaraderie was similar, the Victorian to Edwardian Age setting was similar, the use of the sidekick as a device to have the expert character explain things to the reader was similar and good GOD, was the unintended homo-eroticism similar.

Raffles 5Raffles was portrayed by a long line of suave, debonair actors, from John Barrymore in Silent Movies on up through David Niven and others in Talkies. In my opinion, this 1970s British television series served up the best rendition of the iconic character.

Anthony Valentine perfectly embodies the sly, charming bon vivant whose public fame as a first-rate Cricket player helps conceal his secret avocation as a master jewel thief. Christopher Strauli does the best that any actor can be expected to do with the thankless role of the baby-faced, naïve and often inept sidekick Bunny. Continue reading

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THE MOABITE CIPHER: RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1973)

rivals of sherlockFor Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the very first episode of this 1971-1973 series about London by Gaslight detectives from both the Victorian and Edwardian Ages you can simply click HERE

Jervis and ThorndykeEpisode: THE MOABITE CIPHER (March 26th 1973)

Detective: Doctor John Evelyn Thorndyke, created by R. Austin Freeman. The first Doctor Thorndyke story was published in 1907.

Comment: This will complete my look at this neglected television series. My reviews of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes began with the Season One episode featuring Doctor Thorndyke played by John Neville, so it’s kind of appropriate to end with a review of this Season Two episode starring Barrie Ingham as Thorndyke.

Review: At a public London procession in honor of a Russian Grand Duke a man suspected of being an anarchist is accidentally killed while running from police. Our medical man Doctor Thorndyke arrives on the scene with his sidekick Doctor Jervis (Peter Sallis) just as the authorities are cordoning off the area over fears of an anarchist bombing.

The dead man is found to have no bomb or other weapons, just a mysterious note in an ancient language which Thorndyke recognizes as Moabite. This raises the possibility that a larger anarchist plot is in the works, possibly even the assassination of the visiting Russian.

With press vultures sensationalizing the incident and with fears for the safety of the Grand Duke overwhelming Scotland Yard, our hero’s old friend Inspector Miller shows up to bring the good doctor deeper into the investigation.

A further demand is made upon Thorndyke’s time by Alfred Barton (Julian Glover), who is convinced his brother’s young bride is poisoning her husband’s meals with arsenic. Continue reading

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PROFESSOR VAN DUSEN: RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1973)

rivals of sherlockFor Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the very first episode of this 1971-1973 series about London by Gaslight detectives from both the Victorian and Edwardian Ages you can simply click HERE

*** This review will cover the two Professor Van Dusen stories that were dramatized in Season Two of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

Superfluous fingerEpisode: THE SUPERFLUOUS FINGER (March 11th, 1973) 

Detective: Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, created by Jacques Futrelle. The very first Professor Van Dusen story was published in 1905.

Comment: Though the professor, also called “The Thinking Machine,” was an American character created by an American author, this British series saved money by depicting him as a British detective solving crimes in England.

Professor Van DusenReview: Professor Van Dusen (Douglas Wilmer) is engaged by his acquaintance, Doctor Prescott (Laurence Payne), to solve a mystery. A perfectly healthy woman (Veronica Strong) wanted the physician to amputate one of her fingers but refused to say why.

When the doctor refused, she immediately inflicted an injury on herself forcing the amputation of that finger by the MD. Prescott wants the professor to find out what was behind this strange incident.

The woman refuses to offer any explanation or to give her real name, so Van Dusen has her followed by his reporter friend, Roderick Varley (Mark Eden), a replacement for the original story’s Hutchinson Hatch. (In those original Van Dusen stories Hatch worked for the fictional newspaper called the Daily New Yorker. In this series the reporter character is employed by a London newspaper.) Continue reading

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OBJECT Z (1965): FORGOTTEN TELEVISION

Object ZOBJECT Z (1965) – Directed by Daphne Shadwell and written by Christopher McMaster, this was one of the many six-episode science fiction serials from British television of the 1950s and 1960s. The Quatermass serials are among the best remembered of those programs but there were also items like The Trollenberg Terror, a serial later adapted into the B-Movie The Crawling Eye.

If you’ve seen any of the other British programs like this you’ll know what to expect and whether or not you’ll enjoy this one. Personally I find them fun AND fun-bad all at once so to me they’re more than worth watching.

The storyline in Object Z involves the sighting of a distant space object which, as it draws nearer to the Earth, is determined to be at least six miles long and made of either stone or metal. Soon it becomes clear that it is going to collide with the Earth. Continue reading

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DUCKWORTH DREW: RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1973)

rivals of sherlockFor Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the very first episode of this 1971-1973 series about London by Gaslight detectives from both the Victorian and Edwardian Ages you can simply click HERE

Duckworth DrewEpisode: THE SECRET OF THE FOXHUNTER (February 3rd, 1973)

Detective: Duckworth Drew of the Foreign Office, created by William Le Queux. The first Duckworth Drew story was published in 1903. Apparently the creative team on the television show found “Duckworth” to be too silly sounding so they instead gave the character the first name of his creator, William. 

Comment: In Drew’s adventures he wasn’t so much a rival of Sherlock Holmes as a detective, but more in terms of the handful of Holmes stories in which he served as a spy. Duckworth, or “Ducky” as he’s called by intimate friends, is the archetypal British spy whose diplomatic titles are just a cover for his espionage antics. Derek Jacobi shines as the intelligence operative.

Drew is often cited as one of the many, many supposed influences on Ian Fleming’s much later character James Bond. He does periodically use Q-style devices (Was Q a subtle nod to Le Queux?) like drugged cigars and drugged pins that can render people unconscious or paralyzed.

Duckworth Drew againSomething I found interesting about the Duckworth Drew spy stories was the way that, despite their national chauvinism in which it is just assumed that Great Britain is “the good guy,” the rival powers of Germany, Russia and France are not depicted as devils incarnate. Certainly they’re never presented in truly sympathetic ways but since these stories were written before the World Wars and the Cold War, they’re comparatively restrained in dealing with Drew’s opposition.     

That restraint is typical of the relative maturity of the stories. England would often adjust its policies to court support from one or two of those powers against the others. Therefore, it wouldn’t do to hysterically demonize those other nations since HMG is sometimes in league with each of them in turn. And – another refreshing element – it is taken in stride by Drew and his superiors that Germany, Russia and France do the same thing. There’s almost an air of the Mario Puzo attitude “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” Continue reading

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CHARLES DALLAS: RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1973)

rivals of sherlockFor Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the very first episode of this 1971-1973 series about London by Gaslight detectives from both the Victorian and Edwardian Ages you can simply click HERE

Charles DallasEpisode: THE MISSING Q.Cs. (April 9th, 1973)

Detective: Charles Dallas, created by John Oxenham (pen name of William Arthur Dunkerley). The first Charles Dallas story was published in 1898 in Harmsworth London Magazine.

Comment: John Oxenham’s crime novels and short stories deserve to be rediscovered and made available to a much wider audience. A Mystery of the Underground, his 1897 detective story about a serial killer committing seemingly impossible Phantom of the Opera-style murders on the London Underground was his best-known crime thriller. However, his mystery-solving lawyer Charles Dallas should also be remembered since he was basically a Victorian Age forerunner of Rumpole of the Bailey.

As an example of the impact of Oxenham’s writing consider this – it’s a historical footnote that while his subway killer tale was being serialized, Tuesday night use of the London Underground plummeted to record lows because the fictional murderer only struck on Tuesday evenings. You can look it up for yourself.

Synopsis: Handsome young lawyer Charles Dallas (Robin Ellis) is a Junior Defense Barrister for Queen’s Counsel (Q.C.) defense attorney Sir Revel Revell (seriously), played by John Barron. Like the Victorian Age’s fictional master thief A.J. Raffles, he’s also a top-notch Cricket player whose athletic accomplishments are often in the newspapers.

Milly Revell and Charles DallasCharles has been dating Sir Revel’s daughter Milly (Celia Bannerman), a practicing nurse who keeps pressuring her beau to ask her father for her hand in marriage. Between his law career, his Cricket games and his sleuthing he just can’t seem to find the right moment for it, which causes periodic tensions between the two lovebirds. Continue reading

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J.T. LAXWORTHY: RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1973)

For Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the very first episode of this 1971-1973 series about London by Gaslight detectives from both the Victorian and Edwardian Ages you can simply click HERE 

rivals of sherlock holmesEpisode: THE SECRET OF THE MAGNIFIQUE (February 19th, 1973)

Detective: Mr J.T. Laxworthy, created by the incredibly prolific Edward Phillips Oppenheim. The first Mr Laxworthy story was published in 1912.

Comment: In J.T. Laxworthy’s adventures he wasn’t so much a rival of Sherlock Holmes as a detective, but more in terms of the handful of Holmes stories in which he served as a spy. However, while Holmes was motivated by patriotism, Laxworthy was largely interested in the money he could make from his espionage activities.

Bernard HeptonSynopsis: The enigmatic but well to do Mr J.T. Laxworthy (Bernard Hepton) recruits two men fresh out of prison – the handsome and smooth conman Sydney Wing (Christopher Neame) and the brawny safe-cracker & thief called Anderson (Neil McCarthy).

After a six-month period in which the two ex-cons acclimate themselves to their restored freedom AND refine themselves into useful agents for Laxworthy, the trio kick off an illicit operation on the Cote d’Azur. Continue reading

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