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The Tyrant King

If you're at all into vintage TV, you're probably going to want to watch this, so I have to try to wax lyrical without giving away the plot. Beneath the cut, then, is me shouting "W00t!" a lot, whilst showing you stupid amounts of screencaps of people in ridiculous clothes.

So, The Tyrant King is a Thames TV production (their first, as it turns out), from 1968. It tells the tale of three school children, siblings Charley and Bill, and their splendidly nerdy friend Peter who, in the finest tradition of children's stories, get mixed up in an adventure during the school summer holidays. Exploring an apparently abandoned house, they overhear a mysterious telephone call, in which a man sets up a meeting, and comments that the police suspect nothing. Very considerately (since otherwise there'd have been no story), the kids decide to throw personal safety to the winds, and see if they can figure it all out by themselves. And it's wonderful. From beginning to end, the whole thing is an absolute delight.

Mysterious Telephone Man (played by a fabulously supercilious Murray Melvin) tells his crony that they're to meet by the Tyrant King. The kids therefore need to figure out what that means. (What it means, in practice, is me spending quite a bit of the six episodes yelling "Go to the Natural History Museum, you blithering idiots!" at the television, but I'm quite glad they didn't hear me). And off they set to visit as much of London as they possibly can, in an effort to find their tyrant; which is part of what makes the series so charming. It's an absolutely perfect snapshot of London in 1968. We visit practically every London landmark, and get a good look inside all of the famous museums. We sail around the streets on the back of a Routemaster, and we wander across parks filled with ordinary people. Little old ladies eating their sandwiches on park benches, with their fifties spectacles and their headscarves; men in their suits - because you can't go out in public without a tie, for goodness sakes. That would never do. Shops that don't exist anymore; lovely (and not so lovely) old cars. Arguably this is the ultimate in vintage TV, because there's nothing staged about any of this stuff. The whole thing is filled with ordinary people, doing their 1968 thing. Whilst, in their midst, three school kids hurtle about, and try not to get scrobbled by Philip Madoc.

I promised some pictures, didn't I. Here are probably far too many, and here's me not caring. You try choosing which ones to miss out.

A publicity shot introducing our three heroes. Fashion victim Bill, peril magnet Charley, and professional nerd Peter. Why aren't people called Peter anymore? It's the sort of name that goes brilliantly with children who speak RP, and investigate mysterious goings-on during the summer hols.

The gang, on one of many jaunts around London. Check out Bill, who elects to spend the whole of episode two in a pink corduroy suit, and an orange shirt.

Which is probably no surprise, when you get a look at their kitchen. Dear heaven, just look at that wallpaper.

And their mother's jacket.

Not to mention their father's quite astonishing matching-shirt-and-tie combo.

Off on another jaunt. Bill's bonkers clothing appears to have rubbed off on the usually sensible Peter, who's suddenly come over all pink.

Meanwhile, Philip Madoc prowls the streets of London, being creepy.

And the mother, as her children head off in search of more peril, immediately changes into an entirely new outfit to do the washing up in.

On the steps of a museum. Check out Charley's plastic shorts, and Peter's awesome camera case. He looks like he's going on a week's holiday.

Temporarily running out of inspiration, they go back to Bill and Charley's place, where their mother has yet again changed clothes, and is now sporting her special tea-making outfit. Clearly life was pretty dull for a well-to-do housewife in 1968.

A bedroom, somewhere in London. Inflatable cushions!

Meanwhile, Charley has inexplicably got lost in a Victorian melodrama.

Whilst Peter, free of that dreadful pink number, is now wearing possibly the nerdiest T-shirt ever.

And Bill, never one for subtlety, sports the most startling pair of shoes he could lay his hands on.

He clearly has issues, though. Even his nightclothes are insane. That dressing-gown ought to carry a health warning.


Not one to be out done in the sartorial department, Murray Melvin has the most off-putting breakfast since... well, since the one further up the page. What the hell is he wearing?! And that haircut is definitely the worst in recorded history.

His evil accomplice, meanwhile, sets out for their not-so-secret rendezvous on an almost disturbingly white bike. Every inch of it is white. She could easily get done for dazzling motorists.

He's not the scariest bad guy ever, is he.

Having finally found their way to the Natural History Museum, the children explore. "Look!" says Peter. "It's called Tyrant King!" At which point I punch him violently, whilst bellowing that, yes, I've been telling him that for the last six episodes. Except that that would be mean. I like Peter. His bedroom has its own en suite dark room, for goodness sakes. And if he wears that BBC orchestra fan club T-shirt very often, he probably doesn't need anybody else punching him, let's be honest.

Even whilst threatening children with a pistol, our bad guy fails to look particularly bad. He comes across a bit as though he was aiming for Robert Helpmann in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but accidentally got stuck on Angela Lansbury in Bedknobs And Broomsticks.

Awesome 1968 police car. Imagine if the police drove around in Jaguars nowadays. Now that's the way to get the force taken seriously.

They wouldn't actually be able to afford any policemen, admittedly, but the cars would be amazing.

Grr. Actually they probably didn't growl. But whatever.

So, there you have The Tyrant King: The Edited Highlights. Seriously, I had so much fun watching this series. It's six episodes of about twenty-five minutes each, so it's not a big watch (I would have been perfectly happy with more). Philip Madoc is as good as you'd expect, and the rest of the adults are all very effective, although they don't have nearly as much to do. The children are very capable actors as well (all three went on to do other things, according to the IMDb); and although the plot is arguably quite a thin one, since it's mostly just chasing about London, that doesn't seem to matter in the slightest. In short, this is one that I recommend unhesitatingly. It's a little piece of history, wrapped around an old-fashioned adventure; and it's also the very beginning of Thames Television. A good start for a much missed icon of British TV.

And it has a dinosaur in it. Recommendations don't come any higher than that.


( 11 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )
Sep. 1st, 2013 12:31 am (UTC)
You had me at the outfits.

Looks fantastic. Never heard of it though, or know how I'd get hold of it, but when as that ever stopped a true fan.

Sep. 1st, 2013 02:29 am (UTC)
I hadn't heard of it before either. Although it's in colour, the back of the box says that it got one transmission, in black and white, back in 1968, so it was probably completely forgotten. It's been released by Network, who like digging obscurities out of the vaults. Their DVDs are available in all the usual places, but the print runs are often quite small. Understandable, in the case of something like this, I suppose.
Sep. 1st, 2013 07:30 am (UTC)
Thank you for the screencaps! The 60s outfits (in COLOUR) are truly something to behold. I assume the villains were really the fashion police?

I had thought that when (also Thames) Special Branch suddenly jumped into dazzling colour between eps 12 and 13, they had really hit the heights in awful matching tie-and-shirt-combinations, but I see I was wrong. Maybe Thames TV wardrobe got a batch of free outfits that no shops could sell?

Chasing about 1960s London in colour does appeal, though. That was one of things I liked about The Strange Report and Special Branch. (SB had one episode where they went sight-seeing for most of the ep, and though it was b&w, it was still pretty great as far as time travel goes.)
Sep. 1st, 2013 01:15 pm (UTC)
What's the point of matching your shirt and tie anyway?! If your tie is invisible, why are you bothering to wear it? And then they make it out of hideous material, to compound the mystery.

They either got the costumes free, or they were specially designed to help their engineers calibrate the colour signal. I can't believe anybody actually chose them by preference.
Sep. 1st, 2013 07:32 pm (UTC)
I think they must have got a job lot of free High Street rejects at Thames TV. Colour calibration is a possibility, but then again, I've seen Special Branch and they clearly had dodgy tie and shirt combinations before switching to colour. (Or maybe they did it for b&w and then forgot the hideous effect in colour because nobody in the UK actually had a colour TV set, it was only when they sold it to the US it'd be a problem...?)

Sep. 1st, 2013 01:55 pm (UTC)
Ah, the matching flowery tie & shirt combo, yes Ladies and Gents. if you will forgive me for being so informal: it's the late 60's and we've had the summer of love! Let's get orange! Actually, I found the outfits fairly normal, for the time - must watch more new TV. But then I shout at the male presenters for not wearing ties, grrr. I'm going back in time to steal the Mum's outfits.

The baddie's haircut is indeed dreadful. I think he was going for 'Look & Read' baddie and failed.

The wallpaper was quite restrained, now that's a mystery.

Thanks for the screencaps, it looks a worthy purchase.
Sep. 1st, 2013 03:29 pm (UTC)
Tut tut. This is 2013. You should be shouting at the female presenters for not wearing ties as well. Or the blokes for not wearing evening gowns, I suppose.

You think that wallpaper is restrained?! What on earth have you been watching lately? Or should I not ask?
Sep. 1st, 2013 03:43 pm (UTC)
Lol, watching old TV is making me sexist(!).

Seeing Pee & Emm's wallpaper in "A Clockwork Orange" on a legal copy is eyewatering. The heart wallpaper in the Jeremy Brett/bleeding car episode of 'Thriller'. And they've got a nice, bad line of wallpaper in 'Callan' (the fashion is dull tho').
Sep. 1st, 2013 06:14 pm (UTC)
No, I can't see Callan going in for psychedelia, somehow. Too cheerful!

I've not seen "A Clockwork Orange". Read the book, but not seen the film. I should probably get around to it.
Sep. 1st, 2013 03:28 pm (UTC)
They didn't go Grrrrr, they went RAAARRRR, everybody knows that!

My uncle had a Jag, I still love them.

I love tacky sixties wallpaper!! So garish!

Very surprised I have no memory of this show, it sounds like a glorified travel log with a story tagged on. I remember The Double Deckers, I think that was somewhat similar.

Sep. 1st, 2013 03:50 pm (UTC)
"The Double Deckers" was mostly studio-bound, wasn't it? Same era, certainly, but lots of singing, and excruciating slapstick. Like an English, pre-teen Monkees. I haven't seen much of it though.
( 11 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )

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