There's So Much More In TV Times Part 12: The Changing Face Of Cyril Shaps

From the very earliest days of Gala Night At The Mayfair and Inaugural Speeches By The Lord Mayor, The Postmaster General And The Chairman Of The Independent Television Authority Sir Kenneth Clark, if there was one thing that ITV's top television stars could count on, it was full page photo ahoy cover to cover coverage in TV Times. Whether it was soap stars 'opening up' about their 'personal struggle', newsreaders hilariously trying their hand at an 'ordinary' job for a day, or Brucie making something out of 'leftovers' in an oversized comedy chef's hat, each issue was crammed with page after page after page of features on commercial television's all too often here-today-gone-tomorrow headliners - seriously, you won't believe how many people who warranted a three page interview in the average fifties or sixties edition are almost impossible to find out anything about now - and everyone was happy.

If there was anything else that they could count on, though, it was that TV Times would not allow them to self-promote in any way that at all afforded scope for the retention of a sub-atomic amount of self respect. Or that they would make any effort to avoid printing letters from viewers saying you were rubbish and should be thrown off television and into a skip with immediate effect. Here, then, are just a handful of the series-promoting profiles that probably nobody in their right mind will ever be allowing anywhere near any DVD extras...

If there was one programme that dominated TV Times more or less throughout the sixties, it was The Avengers; indeed, they were right behind it right from the outset, as you can see from this interview with original 'Avengers Girl' Ingrid Hafner in which she is charmingly asked about virtually nothing apart from her two male co-stars. We've seen plenty of examples of the barely disguised perving over her more catsuit-inclined successors in previous instalments of this series, so this time let's turn our attention instead to Patrick Macnee, whose sporting of a bowler hat on television apparently qualified him as a somewhat baffled and reluctant expert on any and every matter related to 'style' and fine gentlemanly living. Here, for example, is an interview in which he's keen to play down any resemblance between himself and John Steed, followed by his struggling to get a word in edgeways in the thick of someone else's breathless opinions on wine and when he does get to spear appears to try and steer the conversation towards whiskey instead, a plaintive 'they're not my real clothes, you know' conversation about his on-screen attire, and finally a frank admission that he knows absolutely nothing about the Football Pools and that if you see fit to adopt his gleefully randomly and panic-strickenly chosen tips then more fool you. With this sort of nonsense going on, you can understand why actors worry about being typecast. Mind you, he was not without his fans, as evidenced by this clear, concise and doubtless warmly received praise from schoolteacher Miss Margaret Tully, and a bewildering missive from (Miss) Jean Higson, which elicits a para-intelligible response that can only be described as purest refined goobledygook. So much so that it's a wonder that they didn't ask Patrick Macnee for his opinion on it.

Not all stars of the brand spanking new commercial channel enjoyed quite so enthusiastic a level of support, though. TV Times initially got right behind Tony Hancock when he pioneered the invariably disastrous 'Going To ITV' manoeuvre, but as soon as his ratings slumped in true When They Went To Thames At The End fashion, suddenly they became a touch more wary and each new series came and went with a simple 'oh and apparently there's been some sort of summit this week as well'-hued throwaway feature, such as a the alarmingly negative and accusatory one seen above. He still had his fans, though, and one took the trouble to write in fuming that even if you didn't like his new material, you should just say you did because reasons. Yes, that usually works out just fine.

Needless to say, widespread viewer bafflement and hastily shifted timeslot antics caused TV Times to more or less turn its back on Anthony Newley's short-lived deconstructionist sitcom The Strange World Of Gurney Slade while it was still on air. Nowadays of course we're all familiar with it as an ahead-of-its-time lost masterpiece rediscovered after half a century of neglect, but back then it had few supporters apart from the young David Bowie. Mind you, Miss V. J. Johnson was sufficiently aggrieved by the mass chorus of 'if it's too hard, I can't understand it' to write in and point out that it actually made perfect sense and was jolly amusing and what in the name of Moogies Bloogies are you all on about etc etc. Her opinion was clearly shared by an undaunted Anthony Newley, who responded to the critics with this fascinating article about how television was a new and exciting artform and should be treated as such, and for that reason The Strange World of Gurney Slade was a mistake worth making. It's that kind of thinking that got us The Prisoner. And Zokko!.

Sometimes, though, you just couldn't win against the viewers. Flirty, zany and not averse to singing filthy songs on the b-sides of her singles, satire's leading redhead Millicent Martin was almost literally everywhere in the early sixties, and you could scarcely move for articles like the one above featuring TV Times columnist Dave Lanning practically slobbering over her. But familiarity breeds contempt, and overexposure breeds people writing letters to a listings magazine demanding to see less of you as if that was in some way an achievable objective and the indeed direct responsibility of the hapless layout editors pasting up regional variations for Television Wales And West. Noele Gordon and Troy Tempest must have been thrilled with the idea that Millie was on every time viewers switch the TV on, though.

Anyway, back to the BBC-to-ITV ship-jumpers, and the cautionary tale of Carole Ann Ford, who left Doctor Who at the absolute height of 'Dalekmania', bringing the never-bettered original Tardis crew to an all-too-hasty conclusion, as she wanted to avoid typecasting. Hence this prominent feature on 'The Back To Earth Girl' to promote her appearance in gritty down-at-heel detective series Public Eye as what TV Times cautiously described as a 'vice girl'. As she herself has wryly reflected, this resulted in angry letters from mothers who had allowed their youngsters to stay up to see the new thing with 'Susan' in, little anticipating the exceptionally mild filth therein. By the end of the year they were still sufficiently taken with their new star to include her in resident astrologer Maurice Woodruff's 'Gemini Prediction Party', but the dazzling lights of fame soon fell elsewhere, leading her to embark on a lower-key career that if Doctor Who fan writers are to be believed consisted entirely of an endless procession of 'comebacks'. Apparently her stars suggested that in 1965, she'd be falling in the sea fully clothed for a film or TV part. That must have been quite a comeback.

Quite what fixation Maurice Woodruff had with 'Geminis' will have to remain a mystery, but here he is taking a fraudulent sham punt at what 1967 might hold for 'Dinners'. Even aside from saying he will put his money in 'building' rather than a big brown bag inside a zoo, it doesn't mention Carnival Of Light once!

Of course, Carole Ann's screen grandfather William Hartnell was a star on ITV long before Doctor Who, thanks to his appearances as the aptly named Sergeant Major Bullimore in National Service jape-wrangling sitcom The Army Game. However, TV Times apparently only ever owned one photograph of him. Here we see it called up to accompany some trademark grumbling about The Army Game not being 'legitimate' acting and how he was sick of authority figure roles and would rather be playing Polonius than policemen, despite revealing right at the end that he was literally just that minute off to make Brighton Rock, followed by a baffling piece about how he gets recognised in the street but something or other about wanting to wear 'civvies' on screen. No, us neither.

Character Actor Cyril Shaps, as it is apparently a legal requirement to refer to him as, had to wait until Patrick Troughton had taken over to get his first of many roles in Doctor Who - nearly all of them playing 'characters' funnily enough - but he was a regular sight in co-conspirator type roles in ITV series for years before that. In an early incarnation of the time-honoured 'you'll know the face, but you might not know the name' article that still thrives to this day, TV Times presents a profile of Cyril and his 'changing face'. Which you have to admit looks practically identical in all of the examples they've chosen.

Far more successful in the 'changing face' stakes was Bob Monkhouse, seen here in the little-remembered flop original live action version of Mr. Benn.

We've seen quite a few examples of the much-favoured TV Times gambit of getting telly stars to do something zanily unlikely and different for a the sake of filling a couple of column inches, but few can have provoked as much bafflement as this surely spurious filler item about Arthur Lowe, then starring as Leonard Swindley in Coronation Street spin-off Pardon The Expression, taking up judo. Answers on a postcard if you've got any idea of how they posed that photo.

And finally, here's Brucie, sans comedy oversized chef's hat, managing to get a full-page comic-pose-ahoy feature out of the fact that he's just had his tonsils out. A procedure that they're keen to point out will not affect his weekly presentational schedule in any way whatsoever. But then again, that's the typical ITV star for you - cheerful, professional, enthusiastic, able to put a positive spin on just about anything, and with bags of the right kind of talent for their chosen mass audience-pleasing niche. Good clean family fun, and with absolutely no reason to suspect they might have been up to no good.

Oh right. Yes. Still, THEY ALL KNEW at the BBC, eh?

If you can work out what the joke is here, or how and why it involved Peter Cook, you're doing better than us. Anyway, join us again next time, when we'll be looking at some of the many occasions on which TV Times printed something that made absolutely no sense whatsoever...

If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots more slightly more serious writing about fifties and sixties television in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.