Sunday, 24 April 2011

There's a voice, keeps on calling me!

Littlest Hobo

The Littlest Hobo is a Canadian television series based upon a 1958 American film of the same name directed by Charles R. Rondeau. The show first aired from 1963 to 1965, and was revived for a popular second run on CTV from 1979 to 1985.

All three productions revolved around a stray German Shepherd who wanders from town to town, helping people in need. Although the concept was similar to that of Lassie, the Littlest Hobo did not have an owner, and despite the attempts of the many people whom he helped to adopt him, he appeared to prefer to be on his own, and would head off by himself at the end of each episode.

Never actually named on-screen, the dog is often referred to by the name Hobo (though he was often given names by his many temporary owners). Hobo's background is also unexplained on-screen, and several questions are never answered: Where does he come from? How and why did he end up on the road? Is he just going anywhere and everywhere, or is he looking for someone or somewhere in particular? Although there were recurring actors in both series, the only constant was the dog.

Following the 1958 film, the 1960s TV series was aired in syndication around the world, and is best remembered for a scene (later included in the closing credits of most episodes) showing the dog actually riding a parachute. This was before animal treatment regulations discouraged such activity in film productions.

The German shepherd dogs featured in both 1960s and 1980s series were owned and trained by Charles (Chuck) P. Eisenmann. The primary star was London, but several of London's relatives, including Toro, Litlon, and Thorn, also played scenes as the Hobo. Chuck used his own training methods to work with his dogs which involved educating them to think and understand very specific directions, to recognize colors and to understand English, German and French. He promoted his education method by touring with his dogs to offer live demonstrations, appearing on TV and radio shows and by writing books. Eisenmann recounts many stories from the filming of the series in his 1968 dog training book Stop! Sit! and Think. Other books he wrote include The Better Dog: The Educated Dog which contains updated training material and A Dog’s Day in Court which offers a dog's point of view towards training methods.

The dogs are German Shepherds with "reverse mask" markings. After purchasing London, Chuck began to breed his own dogs. Mostly studding out his males, even though he owned some females that he bred to as well. He bred particularly for the reverse mask, that is commonly seen on all of his dogs, and is unpopular with breeders of the German Shepherd dog as it is not in the breed standard. There is no proof of the German Shepherd bloodline for London and so there is speculation that another breed could have been mixed in as that particular brown and white sable with reverse mask coloration is achieved in mixed dog breeds such as the Tamaskan Dog, Northern Inuit and Utonagan.

Shiloh Shepherd dogs are stated to trace their heritage back to London's relatives and are inspired by the intelligence Chuck's dogs were reputed to have.

In In 979, CTV revived the series. The New Littlest Hobo (as it was sometimes called), which ran for six seasons, was shot on videotape rather than film. It has since been syndicated in many countries including the USA and UK. In the course of its run, many Hollywood guest stars appeared such as John Ireland, Alan Hale, Jnr., Deforest Kelly, Morey Amsterdam, Patrick Macnee, Vic Morrow, Henry Gibson, John Carradine and Leslie Nielsen. In 1979, 16-year-old Mike Myers made an early acting appearance playing a paraplegic boy in the episode "Boy on Wheels".

The series aired on CTV on Thursday nights at 7:30 P.M.

Plots ranged from the simple "dog-helps-person" stories to secret agent type adventures. The series theme song, "Maybe Tomorrow", was sung by Terry Bush. In 2005, Bush commercially released the song on his debut album, entitled Maybe Tomorrow. The theme song is also used in a Dulux Paint television commercial in the United Kingdom in 2011.

Trainer Chuck Eisenmann used several dogs to play the role of "London" as he had selected dogs entirely based on their appearance. He determined which dogs to use for the scenes by making use of their abilities such as if one dog did not mind carrying objects or if one were small enough to safely jump through a car window and maneuver through the seats. In Chuck's book A Dog's Day in Court one of the dogs used in the 1970s series was London's grandson, who was also known as London. Chuck Eisenmann passed away in Roseburg, Oregon on September 6, 2010 at the age of 91. This series, which remains a popular children's program, continues to be shown as reruns on CTV, A and other national networks.

A True Classic - Champion the Wonder Horse: 1955

Champion the Wonder Horse Champion the Wonder Horse
Champion the Wonder Horse
Champion the Wonder Horse" was an all time School Holiday classic. I seem to remember watching this program wishing I had a dog like Rebel who was actually intelligent & useful. Champion, as you have no doubt already guessed, was a horse but this was no ordinary horse. This horse had a brain in his head and would always come to the aid of Ricky and Sandy North who owned a ranch somewhere out on the South West frontier. The time is supped to be the late 1880s and the boy Ricky does not have any parents or they were never mentioned in the series. Ricky lived and worked on the ranch owned by his uncle Sandy. Ricky had befriended a wild stallion whom he called "Champion" or "Champ" for short. Champion was never really a pet, he ran free all over the country but was always there for Ricky. I may be wrong here but I seem to remember that only Ricky (and perhaps occasionally Uncle Sandy for emergency use only) was permitted to ride the horse. Champion would reject all other riders. Champion would always save the day turning up just in the nick of time to rescue Ricky, Sandy, Rebel or any of the good guys whilst foiling the evil plots of the bad guys.
The horse Champion actually belonged to Gene Autry who produced the later episodes. Champion was also the only horse ever to visit the top of the Empire State Building (not entirely sure why). Gene Autry actually had several "Champions" as the one that made him famous was not the same was as that which appeared in the television series. Champion was the name given to a series of stallions who were able to perform a wide variety of tricks when performing in front of an audience. Sadly Gene Autry died in 1998 after starring in nearly one hundred films not counting the vast number of television series he was also involved in and the countless themes he composed for the film industry. A remarkable man with a a remarkable talent. Alas, the show didn't last too long - but it was one of the earliest television shows that was centered around the adventures of an animal (and in many episodes, where the animal outsmarted the human). This latter theme of having clever animals was later picked up by the television in the 1970s with children or gangs being accompanied by animals and/or pets.
Uncle Sandy Rebel the dog
First shown on C.B.S. back in 1955, this little adventure series only ran for a few years before it was dropped. I believe a total of twenty six episodes were made for television each lasting around 25 minutes. The B.B.C. then picked it up in the early 1960s and continued showing it right through the 1970s. It was a hugely popular series in the United Kingdom and kept myself and my sister glued to the television during those lazy summer months. This has to rank with the highest in terms of popularity with kids during the 1960-1970s era.

The opening lyrics of the song were performed by Norman Luboff. Frankie Lane did record a version of it and is often credited with the recording but he does not sing on the original transmissions.

Original verse (used in episode One)

Champion the Wonder Horse

Like a streak o' lightening flashing cross the sky

Like the swiftest arrow whizzing from a bow

Like a mighty cannon ball he seems to fly

You'll hear about him everywhere you go

The time will come when everyone will know the name of

Champion the Wonder Horse

Champion the Wonder Horse

Original verse (used in episode Two)

Champion the Wonder Horse

Like a streak o' lightening flashing cross the sky

Like the swiftest arrow whizzing from a bow

Like a mighty cannon ball he seems to fly

You'll hear about him everywhere you go

Out West there's not man who doesn't know the name of

Champion the Wonder Horse

Champion the Wonder Horse

Champion the Wonder Horse Credits Champion the Wonder Horse Credits

Champion the Wonder Horse Credits Champion the Wonder Horse Credits

Champion the Wonder Horse Credits Champion the Wonder Horse Credits

Champion the Wonder Horse Credits

And so would end another chapter of the school holiday television history. A classic from start to finish but from a very much different era. Sadly that era has completely gone from our television screens but a little of it still remains here on Ado's Blog. Hopefully it will stir a few memories of happier times when we could not wait for the schoolbell to ring on the last day of the Summer term.


Carrying On Through the 60s & 70s!

through the 60s & 70s

Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!
- Kenneth Williams, Carry On Cleo

They're as British as fish and chips, moaning about the weather and losing at international sports. They hold a special place in the hearts of young and old alike. And of course, they're the most successful series of British films ever made. They're the Carry On... films, and if you don't like them you probably had it whipped out at an early age. Your sense of humour, that is...

The Carry On movies hark back to a time when men were only after one thing ('What's wrong with the other one?!'); when women were wooed ('Oh, you can be as wude as you like with me!'); and when the only response to the exclamation 'Oh, what a lovely looking pear' is to chuckle lasciviously and say 'You took the words right out of my mouth!'

The Carry On... collection consists of 31 films (so far) of admittedly varying quality. Few would describe them as 'great', though if greatness in terms of how memorable they were and how they've made successive generations roar with laughter they should be right up there with the very best that cinema has to offer. Thanks to regular repeat runs on television, they've become an essential part of British film history, like Hammer horror and Alfred Hitchcock, while the jokes themselves have since been absorbed into the routines of pantomime that had also inspired the films in the first place.

The series began in 1958 with Carry On Sergeant, an adaptation of the war stories of RF Delderfield (author of To Serve Them All My Days ). The producer for all 31 films was Peter Rogers who, along with director Gerald Thomas, insisted that the productions were made as economically as possible. This thriftiness extended to casting, with ensemble casts ensuring that no one performer would rise to sole star status - though as it turned out, a few of the stars became indelibly connected to the Carry On series: at 26 appearances, Kenneth Williams was by far the company's most regular star turn, followed by Sid James at 19, Charles Hawtrey with 23 and Joan Sims, whose 24 appearances put her well ahead of Hattie Jacques and Barbara Windsor, who made 14 and 10 respectively.

After their parody of National Service, the team went on to examine the worlds of the National Health Service (four times), the London cabbie and the schoolroom before heading for more exotic subjects like espionage and historical farces set in ancient Egypt, Tudor Britain or revolutionary France.

In 1966, after Rogers took his productions from Anglo Amalgamated to Rank, a decision was made to drop the 'Carry On...' tag from the films. This was why, on initial release, Don't Lose Your Head and Follow That Cameldid not carry the Carry On name. The films were, however, bona fide Carry On adventures.

As the British Film industry soared in the 1960s, so it fell in the 1970s. Both the Hammer Studios and Peter Rogers struggled to keep on churning out their traditional fayre and it's significant that both production houses wrapped their final films within a year of each other and both have subsequently traded on their great history thanks to a wave of nostalgia that now includes collectable DVDs, toys and other novelty items.

The Characters

It would be untrue to say the Carry On films contained a wide variety of characters that stretched their actors' abilities. Each of them was cast with a specific archetype in mind, and generally each of them stuck to that archetype to the bitter end.

The Snob - Kenneth Williams

From his first appearance in Carry On Sergeant to his last in Carry On Emmannuelle, Kenneth Williams flared his nostrils, over-accentuated his vowels and played the role of sexless aesthete to the hilt. In Sergeant, he was a louche college student; in Cleo a paranoid emperor. But in all of them, he was an extension of the depressive, quick-witted, acid-tongued persona familiar to people across the UK from personal appearances and TV interviews.

The Letch - Leslie Phillips / Sid James

Appearing like the wrinkliest of naughty schoolboys, Sid James' battered face was lit up each time he delivered a blast of his filthy laugh. If he wasn't trying to get 'it' with a nubile young woman, he was trying to avoid 'getting it' from his buxom, middle-aged wife. The unlikeliest of romantic leads, his role in later films changed to the nearest thing the series ever had to a villain. He was by no means the sole lusty gent in the movies - in early films, Leslie Phillips recreated his familiar persona of suave lothario from the equably popular Doctor films from around the same time (Doctor in the House, Doctor at Large...).

The 'Bird' - Joan Sims / Barbara Windsor

The object of the letch's affections, the role of the 'bird' was to lead the letch on until the final reel, at which point she might just give in. As Joan Sims matured, her place as the buxom lady went to other actresses, most often Barbara Windsor, while Sims took on another position entirely...

The Battleaxe - Hattie Jacques / Joan Sims

The matriarchal figure in the films, it was the role of the battleaxe to be the butt of many a cruel verbal jibe while ensuring that the heroes were thwarted in their plans for promiscuity and debauchery. Such characters might be the matron of a ward or 'the wife', but they were essential elements in the overall story.

The Fool - Bernard Bresslaw / Terry Scott / Jack Douglas

'Wahey! Geddoff!' The fool was present so that the plot could be explained to him (and the audience) and to give other characters a break from the humiliation. Bernard Bresslaw played the role throughout the films, trading upon public awareness of his character in the popular TV sitcom The Army Game, but occasionally the role would be taken up by others, notably Jack Douglas, whose contribution to the films consisted mainly of a series of twitches and sudden jerks that would be guaranteed to make him spill his drink or knock things over.

The Lad - Kenneth Connor / Jim Dale

The young, sexually eager young man was a staple element of the films. The plots often revolved around a love affair doomed to be trapped in a state of coitus pre-interruptus, the lovers struggling to find time to consummate their relationships while separated by National Service, illness or disapproving authority figures. The poor Lad was also the character most likely to be involved in slapstick, falling into the water, being catapulted down staircases on trolleys and being covered in gunge. While the position of Lad was filled by many young actors over the years, for many the most familiar of them all was Jim Dale...

Innocent naughtiness personified, the rather dashing Jim Dale is a much-loved figure in Carry On film lore. He often played the love interest and there was always a frisson of sauciness wherever he went. Take for example, in Carry On Again Doctor, he gets to 'examine' Barbara Windsor who is scantily-clad in a sparkly heart-shaped bikini:

So Which Ones Come Out On Top?

Of course, any value judgement about an extensive film series like the Carry On movies is likely to be highly subjective - just as everyone has their favourite James Bond film, so most of the Carry Ons will have their supporters. However, going on the ratings given by ordinary members of the public to each of the films (as seen on the Internet Movie Database), the five most popular 'Carry Ons' are:

  1. Carry On Up The Khyber
  2. Carry On Cleo
  3. Carry On Screaming
  4. Carry On Don't Lose Your Head
  5. Carry On Sergeant

... with Carry On Camping coming up close behind in sixth place. Way down at the bottom of the popularity stakes are the final three films, Carry On England, Carry On Emmannuelle, and Carry On Columbus.