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TV Acres Newsletter

This month TV ACRES looks at: 

...The British

     American TV has frequently utilized the British in the production of many genres from sitcoms to adventures. As a child in the 1950s, I watched the British import The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Richard Green with Robin and his Merry Men battling the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. In the 1960s Mark Slate, a British secret agent in the mold of James Bond appeared on The Girl from Uncle. The 1970s introduced America to class struggle between the domestic help and a wealthy British family on Upstairs Downstairs. In the 1980s the stuffy British manservant Jonathan Quayle Higgins III regaled us with his boring memoirs of his days in the war. And, in the 1990s, the intellectual British librarian, Giles assisted teenage demon fighter Buffy Anne Summers on how to kick butt on Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The following selections present an overview of the many British characters [butlers, spies, detectives, housekeepers, con-artists, librarians, sidekicks and wandering buffoons] who appeared on American TV over the past fifty years. 

THE ADVENTURES OF SHIRLEY HOLMES, DETECTIVE/YTV/1997-2000
*(Meredith Henderson) Shirley Holmes, the 12-year-old great grand-niece of world famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes who moves from England to Redington, Manitoba, Canada when her British diplomat father is posted to a Canadian embassy. Shirley attended Sussex Academy and pursued an avocation in criminology. Also featured were Elizabeth Shepherd as Shirley's grandmother Peggy Holmes; Chris Humphreys as Peggy's son and Shirley's dad, Robert Holmes. The series was based on the Sherlock Holmes character created by author Arthur Conan Doyle. It also series aired on the Fox Family Channel.

THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW/CBS/1960-68
**(Bernard Fox) Malcolm Merriweather, a prim and proper Englishman touring America on bicycle. He once served as a butler for Colonel Chumley for eleven years and a valet for the Coldstream Guards. He hails from Heckmondwike, England. His mother was born two blocks from Piccadilly Circus. Malcolm visits Mayberry, North Carolina three times while bicycling across America. On episode No. 89 "Andy's English Valet" Malcolm runs up a $40 fine after colliding with a local truck and Andy allows him to work off the damage as a handyman at his house. On episode No. 124 "The Return of Malcolm Merriweather" Malcolm puts his valet experience to work at Andy's house and he does such a good job that Andy's Aunt Bee feels she is no longer needed. The last appearance of Malcolm occurred on episode No. 164 "Malcolm at the Crossroads." Malcolm returns to town on his bicycle and takes a cross-walking job recently held by wild mountain man Ernest T. Bass. Malcolm likes to cook and train falcons. 

BATMAN/ABC/1966-68
**(Alan Napier) Alfred Pennyworth, a British butler in the employ of Gotham City millionaire Bruce Wayne. Alfred was the only one who knew that his employer and his ward, Dick Grayson were in reality the crime fighting dynamic duo known as Batman and Robin. Later in the series Alfred learned the identity of the super heroine Batgirl and kept that little secret under raps as well. Alan Napier had spent his acting career portraying members of the Royal court (kings, prime ministers, etc.) in his native England. It wasn't until he came to America that he ever played a butler (the role of Alfred being his first). Efrem Zimbalist, Jr provided the voice of Alfred in the cartoon series BATMAN-THE ANIMATED SERIES/FOX/1992-93. 

BOSTON COMMON/NBC/1996-97
**(Roger Rees) Harrison Cross, the newly elected head of Randolph Harrington College in Boston. Harrison is snotty, presumptuous, progressive and doesn't mind cutting student services to save the college money, no matter how much his staff, especially the school's student liaison complained. Harrison pretends to be from a fashionable section of Hyde Park in London, but in reality he is just a poor Cockney gent who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks (British white garbage). To get an education, Harrison worked in a mill to pay for college expenses at Oxford. When Boyd, the school’s student liaison accidentally discovered Cross’s secret past, he forced Harrison to sing a verse of "Henry VIII" ("I’m Henry the VIII, I am...") as a provision to keep silent on the matter. Unfortunately, Harrison‘s wife Lucy Cross (whom Harrison kept hidden away in a Boston apartment out of embarrassment) spilled the beans about their Cockney beginnings during an interview with the local press.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER/WB/1997-2003
*(Anthony Stewart Head/costar) Giles, a high school librarian of British descent who guided a 16-year-old teenager in her efforts to fight supernatural creatures in the small California town of Sunnydale." Giles, a former museum curator in Britain, was an expert in ancient mythological monsters, including vampires. James Marsters also appeared as William the Bloody a.k.a. "Spike" (because he liked to torture his victims with railroad spikes), an evil punk-rocker-like vampire with a British accent. 

DEAR JOHN/NBC/1988-92
**(Jane Carr) Louise Mercer, a counselor with a British accent working as a group leader for a singles support group (the One-to-One Club) that met every Friday night at 9PM at the Rego Park Community Center in Manhattan. Seemingly obsessed with the intimate problems of her self-help group, she often asked "Could it be something...sexual?" Louse was born in Cheshire, England. She now lives in apartment 5G in Manhattan. Her family included her ex-husband and her never-seen son Nigel. Louise spent time in a mental hospital recovering from her broken marriage. Some notable facts about this over-sexed Brit: She is a former Miss Cheshire beauty pageant winner and is a close friend with the Queen of England.

THE DREW CAREY SHOW/ABC/1995-2004
**(Craig Ferguson) Mr. Nigel Wick, a pompous, unfeeling supervisor of British descent working in a Cleveland Department Store. During his childhood Nigel lived in a coldwater flat in East London with an alcoholic mother. He mused about all the men that visited his mother saying "They all can’t be uncles." When he was sent to boarding school, Nigel was so disliked that his school chums got him a room off campus. Despite his cold-hearted manner, Nigel is frightened of thunder and lightning storms. At work he delights in firing employees and makes a game out the firing process. Later in the series, he entered a clinic to battle his drug addiction and pretended to be gay and married to avoid deportation.

FAMILY AFFAIR/CBS/1966-71
*(Sebastian Cabot/costar) Mr. Giles French, an English gentlemen's gentlemen working in a Fifth Avenue Manhattan apartment of bachelor engineer, Bill Davis. Mr. French was responsible for his employers three adopted children. Mr. French was later replaced by his brother Niles (John Williams) when Giles was called off to England to work in the service of the Queen of England.

FRASIER/NBC/1993-2004
**(Jane Leeves) Daphne Moon, British [originally from Manchester, England] live-in-caregiver/physical therapist to Martin Crane, a retired cop who lived with his son Dr, Fraser Crane. Daphne hails from London and is a borderline psychic. When Daphne prepared to get married in the seventh season, her family from Britain arrive for the event. Millicent Martin appeared at Daphne’s mother, Mrs. Moon; and Anthony LaPaglia appeared as Daphne’s mooching brother, Simon.

THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E./NBC/1966-67
*(Noel Harrison) Mark Slate, a British secret agent transferred from U.N.C.L.E.'s (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) London headquarters to their New York facility. Mark was teamed with the beautiful American agent April Dancer, whom he regularly rescued from perilous situations (in the nick of time, don't you know).

HOGAN'S HEROES/CBS/1965-71
**(Richard Dawson) Corporal Peter Newkirk, a British prisoner of War. He has a saucy manner, a good sense of humor and talent for scheming and picking pockets. Newkirk reported to American Colonel Robert Hogan, but was a leader in his own right. In his spare time Newkirk played poker, dreamed of beautiful women, and dupped the German soldiers on guard at the camp. In his efforts to thwart the Nazi war machine Newkirk, sabotaged ammunition factories, cracked safes to steal top-secret war plans, posed as a general's wife to get penicillin to an ill underground leader and even had time to create a number of handsome looking Nazi uniforms that Hogan and the other POW's used on covert operations outside the camp. Actor Bernard Fox played the occasional role of Colonel Crittendon, an inept British officer who used the fact that he out ranks Colonel Robert Hogan by 29 days to hamper the covert sabotage and rescue missions at Stalag 13. Crittendon appeared in episodes "The Flight of the Valkyrie" (The Gestapo place Colonel Crittendon in charge of the POWs); "The Crittendon Plan (Crittendon wants to plant flowers along an airplane runway); "Hogan Go Home" (Hogan is sent home and Crittendon replaces him); "Hogan's Trucking Service…We Deliver the Factory to You" (Crittenden fouls a plan to destroy a ball bearing plant); "Crittendon's Commandoes" (Crittendon and his commandos parachute into camp to capture Rommel); "Lady Chitterly's Lover: Part 1&2" (An English traitor is a dead ringer for Crittendon); and "The Assassin" (Crittendon is ordered to kill a scientist but Hogan wants to help him defect); 

JACK OF ALL TRADES/SYN/UPN/2000
*(Angela Dotchin) Emilia Rothschild, a strong-willed, beautiful British secret agent operating undercover in the East Indies to thwart the expansion of Napoleon's empire in the year 1801. A wealthy entrepreneur to the world at large, Emilia teams up with a a swashbuckling American spy name Jack (a.k.a. the Daring Dragoon) on secret missions against the French, aided by ingenious devices she invents in a hidden lab.

THE JEFFERSONS/CBS/1975-85
**(Paul Benedict) Harry Bentley, an educated Englishman, naive to many American customs and euphemisms, who was the next-door apartment neighbor of George Jefferson, a successful black New York City dry cleaner. When not working at the United Nations, Bentley visited the Jeffersons, occasionally asking for their assistance in putting his bad back to rights again.

MAGNUM P.I./CBS/1980-88
*(John Hillerman/costar) Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, stuffy British manservant who ran the Hawaiian Oahu estate of wealthy writer, Robin Masters. Higgins was often at odds with Thomas Magnum, the estates live-in security man. Higgins, a former member of British military intelligence (MI5 & MI6) had a nit-picky nature, built model bridges and painted as a hobby; created his own blend of tea called "Lady Ashley Tea; and chronicled his early life's experiences in a diary called "Crisis in Suez" He is also rumored (but never proven) to be the world famous pulp writer Robin Masters. Hillerman also performed in the roles of two of Higgins' distant relatives Father Paddy MacGuinness, an Irish half-brother; and Don Luis Manqueo, a Spanish half-brother. Robert Mederros III appeared in flashback sequences playing Higgins as a young boy. Other cast included Gillian Dobb as Agatha Chumley, a proper British woman who had the hots for Higgins (during the 1982-88 seasons). In reality John Hillerman put on a fake accent each week to portray Higgins' British character.

MAUDE/CBS/1972-78
**(Hermione Baddeley) Mrs. Nell Naugatuck, a hard-drinking English maid (Maude’s second) who worked for Maude Findlay, a liberated housewife living in Tuckahoe, New York. Nell got along well with the man of the house, Walter Findlay but never saw eye to eye with the opinionated wife. Mrs. Naugatuck later married her gentleman friend, Bert Beasley and retuned to England. 

MR. BELVEDERE/ABC/1985-90
*(Christopher Hewett) Mr. Lynn Belvedere, a worldly English gentlemen's gentleman who answered an ad for domestic help placed by a sportswriter's wife in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On a 1986-87 episode, the Immigration Department deported Mr. Belvedere for working in the U.S.A. without the proper papers, but he soon returned to the States (this time legally) to reclaim his job. Christopher Hewitt had previously starred as the manservant, Lawrence on FANTASY ISLAND/ABC/1978-84. David Rappaport appeared as Galen Belevdere, Lynn's dwarf cousin who bested him in everything.

RELIC HUNTER/SYN/1999-2002
*(Christien Anholt) Nigel Bailey, a brainy twenty-something British teaching assistant raised in upper-middle class England, who now worked at Trinity College on the East Coast in the United States. He often accompanies an Indiana Jones type historian named Sydney Fox on her many globetrotting adventures. In the field, however, Nigel is often hopelessly out of his element and puts himself--and sometimes Sydney--in danger. 

SUDDENLY SUSAN/NBC/1996-99
**(Eric Idle) Ian Maxtone-Graham, an eccentric Englishman and former publishing whiz-kid who buys the San Francisco based magazine "The Gate" and becomes Susan’s (Brooke Shields) new boss during the fall of the 1999 season. Ian is constantly snotty to the staff whom he refers to as "you Yanks." Eric Idle is perhaps best known for his work as part of the ensemble cast of the classic, award-winning British sketch comedy series, "Monty Python’s Flying Circus" and the many feature films and specials created by that troupe, including "Monty Python’s Life of Brian," "Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life," "Monty Python and The Holy Grail" and "Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl." Idle was born in South Shields, Durham, England.

UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS/LWT/1970-75
*(Jean Marsh) Rose, one of a group of English house servants working for the Bellamy family from the years 1903 through the depression. The series was a contrasting study of Edwardian life and its class structure dramatized through the upstairs lives of the aristocratic Bellamy family and the downstairs lives of their servants. The 55 episode series were shown as part of Masterpiece Theatre on the PBS Network. Upstairs residents were David Langton as Lord Richard Bellamy; Rachel Gurney as Lady Marjorie and Simon Williams as their son, James Bellamy. Downstairs staff included Gordon Jackson as Scottish butler, Angus Hudson; and Angela Baddeley as house cook, Kate Bridges.

  *   - Indicates the person was the star or costar  of  the program.
**
  -  Indicates the person was a regular or a recurring actor on the show.



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