We would make a mental mark on the times and days, call to each other excitedly when the hour arrived, grabbed the kauci, grabbed the lychee, pulled up chairs from anywhere and gathered around our in-house entertainment box for the highlight of the day.
I was maybe like 6 or 7 or 8 at the time, too young to follow plot and dialogue but I watched all the action in earnest all the same. My parents were quite in-step with all the popular series of the time. The weekly must-sees were Mission Impossible, The Man from UNCLE, Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, a host of others including Here’s Lucy reruns and the now-little-remembered Simon Templar, AKA The Saint, starring Roger Moore.
Little did I know then, that many years later, Moore was to take over from Sean Connery as James Bond. Connery, at the time was still starring as the suave and darkly handsome secret agent 007 up on the silver screen for our Sunday matinees in Rex or Pavilion theatres. Sundays were always cinema day for the family when we watched Connery and Bruce Lee and all the Shaw Brothers kungfu films you can remember, including the One Armed Swordsman, David Chiang. But weekdays was reserved for TV.
I can’t recall all the TV programmes that we glued our eyes on but here are a few that will surely bring back memories for all you Baby Boomers as it did for me. I’ve included videos too.
Mission impossible (First Episode 1966)
The signature theme is unmistakable. You know it’s Mission Impossible the moment you hear it. To this day, they still use it in all their MI film series and that’s what I call a cast-in-solid-gold-gem-of-a-masterpiece. Just a little Did You Know here. The theme was composed by Lalo Schifrin back in 1966. Imagine the royalties.
More lessons for you young ‘uns out there: The Mission Impossible that you may know better today are probably from the Tom Cruise headlining franchise but did you know that the entire franchise (along with the theme of course) owes its idea from the 1966 hit TV series of the same name? The original cast were Peter Graves (the “Jim” referred to in “the tape”, the guy with the white hair), Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Barbara Bain and Martin Landau. And of course, even you of th younger generation know these words: “Good morning, Jim….Your mission, should you decide to accept it…. this tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim.”
The Avengers (First Episode 1961)
The Avengers was a hugely popular spy-fi British TV series back in the 1960s but I didnt enjoy it all that much. I thought it got weirder and weirder and one fine day, it lost me completely. But loads of people would beg to differ I am sure because they loved it and kept the show on for years. There was John Steed (the enigmatic Patrick Macnee) and Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) playing the case-solving duo in their strange costumes. It was this role as Macnee’s sidekick that made Rigg famous although Macnee had other equally stylish co-stars, dressed just as strangely, along the way. The Avengers series ran from 1961 until 1969. Not bad for a show I didn’t quite enjoy.
Now, the The Avengers up on the silver screen today is a totally different take from the original. Gone are the bowler hat and brolly and dressed-up-to-the-teeth female associate charged with preserving the safety of 1960s Britain. In their place are super sexy superheroes who can blow hot and cold and bend bodies out of shape in the Marvel cinematic version. I guess British spy stories ran out of fashion somewhere in the last century.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (First Episode 1964)
This wasnt one of my favourites either but my parents loved it. Like The Avengers, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. borrowed from James Bond stories; yeah, British spies again. The good guys, suave US operative Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and blonde Russian Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), worked for U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) and battled evil international syndicate THRUSH. Hmmmm…. vaginal thrush? The British may have loved their spies but seriously, couldn’t they have swabbed their enemies with less genitalia?
Another spy thriller from the UK! We sure had a lot of spy thrillers from the UK in the 60s I must say! Well, OK, at least the protagonist was handsome and intelligent-looking too. Yes, I’m talking about Roger Moore. I loved his eyebrows. And he talked smart. Of course I didn’t know then he was just memorising from a script. The series aired for seven years until 1969. Not bad. It was based on the literary character Simon Templar (Templar, geddit? Knights of Templar? The saint?) created by Leslie Charteris in the 1920s.
The Lone Ranger (First Episode 1949)
Now this one I loved. We were probably watching the series reruns in the 1960s but it didnt matter. I would watch The Lone Ranger in the early evenings after school. Who can forget those urgent calls of “Kimosabe” and that famous last line uttered by some grateful undead at the end of every episode: “Who was that masked man?” Why, it’s The Lone Ranger of course; the sole survivor of a group of ambushed Texas Rangers who was nursed back to health by Tonto, his trusty American Indian companion. The pair roamed the Old West, defending the helpless against the forces of evil and along the way, yodelled, “Hiyo Silver!” a lot. That trusty horse. What a magnificent creature it was. It won the Award for Excellence in 1957 for outstanding performance did you know? A lot of people have been asking: If The Lone Ranger rode Silver, what did Tonto ride? Well, he rode Scout, a piebald I think it’s called, the brown horse with patches, no? The series ran till 1957, a good eight years and we enjoyed many episodes. And really, who was that masked man? Why, it was Clayton Moore of course, while Jay Silverheels played trusty Tonto.
Batman (First Episode 1966)
I used to love this one too. (I was a kid at the time OK?) Looking at the old pictures, the Batman costume has thankfully come a long way since Adam West first wore his underwear on the outside. The story behind the Batman of today is the same as the Batman of yesterday, only yesterday Bruce Wayne wore tights to fight crime and was aided by his Spandex-clad sidekick Robin (played by Dick Ward). But don’t laugh. The Batman series was hugely popular and spawned an enormous amount of Batman merchandise to cash-in on the TV show’s vast popularity. Yes, Batman gave birth to merchandising back in the 60s. This included trading cards, scale model kits of the Batmobile, colouring books, board games, figurines, you name it. And Adam West? He was a 6ft 2in hunk who became a household name. Born in 1928, he is still alive and is 87 years old today.
Star Trek (First Episode 1966)
I think the boys in the family liked it better, as did my father. The younger generation probably know of Star Trek as Star Trek: The Next Generation starring Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. But did you know Star Trek and the starship, the USS Enterprise first made its voyage to the 23rd century from the 19th century, led by an original team under Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Scotty Scott (James Doohan), and Dr “Bones” McCoy (DeForrest Kelley)?
The most memorable was Leonard Nimoy. He was such an original Vulcan. And those ears. Whoever designed them should have been awarded an Emmy. I also loved that memorable narration that came at the beginning of every episode: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” To this day, people still quote: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Oh, and that was Shatner’s voice, by the way.
Lassie (First Episode 1954)
I’ll save the best for the last. Who doesnt remember Lassie? One of the longest running and most successful television series ever, Lassie ran for so long, it initially filmed in black and white but was transitioned to colour by 1965 until the series ended in 1974. From 1954 to 1974. That’s a whopping 20 years! Here’s an interesting piece of trivia about the show. Lassie was about the adventures of a boy and a female Rough Collie called Lassie but the title role was played by male dogs throughout. That’s right. Lassie was male. The male dogs were Pal (who played the original Lassie in its pilots, and his descendants − Lassie Junior, Spook, Baby and Mire. Each played the role of Lassie for about five years before retiring from showbiz and each lived till the ripe old age of 17 except for Baby who died at age eight.
I remember, I was so taken by the intelligence of Lassie that I said I would want a Rough Collie of my own when I grew up. But now that I have grown up, I’ve learnt a few things about training and what is required of canine actorship when on a set in front of cameras. I also know why the male was chosen to play the female’s role. Rough Collies have run out of fashion since the days of Lassie and other herding breeds like the Border Collie have now taken over as the more preferred working breed instead.
There were other favourites that we made a point to watch every week and these include:
The Andy Griffith Show (First Episode 1960)
The Flintstones (First Episode 1960)
I Love Lucy (First Episode 1951) The show was actually my mother’s favourite.
One Step Beyond (First Episode 1959)
The Twilight Zone (First Episode 1959)