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Recent chat here and there about Alfie Enoch has inspired me to haul out my The Adventures Of Sir Lancelot boxset for a rewatch. Not that he's in it, obviously, as it was made more than thirty years before he was born, but he looks so very like his father did back then. So I now present some rambling and effusive glee over a little known series filled with swashbuckle and energetic swordage. The sort of series, in short, that should be far better known, but is instead known only to a handful. Woe.

I watched the first three episodes, as that seemed like a sensible place to start. Remarkably for Old Television, there's some effort to make this into serial story-telling, rather than the completely interchangeable episode order that was the usual way of doing things pre-nineties. So the first three episodes do actually tell a continuing, unfolding story that introduces the show and the characters. In episode one, the gallant Sir Lancelot offers his services to King Arthur; in episode two he takes on rambunctious young kitchen boy Brian as a squire; and in episode three he battles the dread Sir Mordred in order to rescue Queen Guinevere. It's all good fun, but by the far the best thing about it is the sheer joy on display. William Russell hurls himself into the fight scenes with gay abandon, including an absolutely splendid tussle with the guards of Sir Mordred's castle in episode three. It's hardly a complicated plot - Mordred cackles evilly, abducts Queen Guinevere mostly by politely asking her to be abducted (it's a very civilised show), and Lancelot hurtles heroically to the rescue. Cue fighting, bouncing and stirring dialogue. But, seriously, joy. It has to be seen to be believed.

So anyway. Pictures and flailing.

Episode one.

Sir Ian of Jaffa Lancelot of the Lake is seeking membership of the Round Table, and meets a wily old hermit along the way. The hermit, using a mirror, flashes advance news of Lancelot's approach to Merlin, who uses this handy telegraph to make 'predictions'.

Merlin. I like this Merlin. He's sneaky and clever, and a total fraud. Entertainingly, Lancelot figures out all of Merlin's tricks within two seconds of meeting him, whereas nobody else in Camelot has even realised that he has any. Thus neatly establishing Lancelot as smarter than everybody else, as well as braver, stronger, and just generally better. I'd seriously have to consider hating him if he weren't so brilliant. And also played by William Russell, obviously.

Merlin, incidentally, is played by old character actor Cyril Smith, born in 1892. That's another of the advantages of watching old television. Modern TV can't boast co-stars born in the nineteenth century!

But all is not well with Lancelot. Some knights accost him en route, because his armour is battered and worn, but his shield is not, which for important knightly reasons allegedly makes him a coward. This means that Lancelot has to fight them. All. At once. (Hurrah!)

This he proceeds to do, with gusto. Although inevitably out of focus most of the time, once he's been screencapped.

He then goes to Camelot, where he and Queen Guinevere fall completely obviously in love in two seconds flat, and will consequently be having blatant eye sex with each other for the rest of the series. Fortunately for both of them, King Arthur is an idiot.

I'm a bit surprised that they included that bit of the legend in a children's series from 1956, to be perfectly honest. You'd think they'd just have swept it under the carpet. But no, they drool over each other constantly, without the least attempt to be subtle.

Sir Gawaine (with King Arthur). Sir Gawaine, much to my chagrin, is a dick in this version. This annoys me because Gawaine has always been my favourite Knight of the Round Table. He's never the hero, though, is he. That's always bloody Lancelot. And then, just to add insult to injury, this Gawaine is a foppish oaf who needs a good beheading. Anyway, he's all sulky, and looking for satisfaction on the field, because Lancelot killed his brother. I mean really, who hasn't killed somebody's brother at one time or another?

Fight fight fight!

Lancelot proves his heroism and integrity, and general, all round, square-jawed heroism by fighting Gawaine and not killing him. One could argue that all he's really proved is that he's better with a sword than a sulky fop with an annoying voice, but I like this version of Lancelot, so I won't quibble. Anyway, he's invited to join the Round Table. As a reward, he's offered a boon. They're big on boons in this, which is nice. It's not a word that you hear nearly enough of these days. Anyway, Lancelot asks that he be allowed to champion a lady, and then promptly chooses Guinevere. King Arthur, oddly, doesn't hit him and tell him to choose a lady of his own. He just agrees, whilst Guinevere and Lancelot make babies together just by the staring.

The end. Not much of a plot there, I know, but it's only the beginning. Episode two is much better, and also begins a bit of a show tradition.

So, Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere are blatantly making love in the garden, when a young boy turns up at Camelot. He's Brian, the kitchen boy at a neighbouring castle, who says that his home is under siege, and that a damsel inside needs rescuing. Naturally this means that Lancelot has to hurtle to the rescue, only to discover an entire army with a giant catapult awaiting him.


An entire army. Okay, not a very big one. They're making some awesome dents in that castle with the catapult though.

Lancelot gives battle, and single-handedly wins the day with nothing but a sword and a big grin. The lord of the castle is so overjoyed that he hands over his daughter as reward. Lancelot is horrorstricken, and insists that actually he just wants Brian. He also gets splendidly flustered, and tells the daughter that it's nothing personal, and that she's sure to make somebody a good husband one day. Life is not easy for a Knight of the Round Table.

He does get to put in a good speech about how he does what he does not for rewards, but to battle "injustice, greed and prejudice", mind. Which is nice.

The perils of being a hero. The lady in question begs to be freed from the marriage agreement, because she is sworn to another. Lancelot is so unutterably relieved that he practically falls over.

The other to whom she is sworn. This is, of course, Derry Nesbitt, and thus begins a grand tradition in this show - and indeed most of the other ones that were being made at the same time - to stick him in absolutely everywhere. From now on he'll be turning up in almost every episode, playing a different role each time.

Derry Nesbitt is upset about his lady love being handed out as payment to wandering knights. He's also upset that, since Lancelot defeated his father and brothers, his castle is now defenceless, and the people they were attacking are now attacking them. Everywhere there's giant catapults. Apparently the countryside was studded with them back in the old days. Why this isn't still allowed is anybody's guess, but I'm going to play safe and blame Margaret Thatcher.

Lancelot makes everybody's dad settle the argument in a big fight. Then everybody dad falls over, and agrees to just be friends and marry each other. And Lancelot and Brian ride away into the sunset.

It's a rather unfortunate name for a hero's sidekick, and truth be told, the show would probably be better without Brian. But it's a children's show, and children's shows are so often required by ye ancient law to have children in them. Unfortunately. Anyway, Brian is here to stay. And off we ride into episode three.

Where the dread Sir Mordred is kidnapping Queen Guinevere, despite the useless attempts of Sir Gawaine to ask him to behave more like a gentleman. Sir Mordred, oddly, turns out to have exactly the same head as Sir Kay, who was Lancelot's first friend in Camelot just two episodes ago. Nobody seems surprised though, so I can only assume that head-sharing was common behaviour back in the Dark Ages.

Lancelot, returning from last episode's field trip, hears the news of Guinevere's abduction, and does his usual bit of rescue-hurtling. For some reason, hearing the news of Guinevere's peril makes him look twelve.

Meanwhile, Gawaine the Gormless goes off to Camelot to raise the alarm. Quite slowly, it would appear.

Sir Lancelot decides that the best way to rescue Guinevere is to sneak into the castle of Sir Mordred. To do this, he switches clothes with a carter. Right outside the castle, and in full view of all the castle guards. This is an interesting approach to stealth that I have never encountered before.

A cunning, if slightly flawed, disguise.

But it's all good, because fisticuffs. Although less than usual to begin with, due to the entire cast all piling on top of Lancelot at once. Mordred tries to have him summarily executed, but gets dissuaded by his father. Yes... It's a bit off having the Great Evil of Arthurian Legend getting bossed about by his dad. But never mind.

Lancelot seems to be enjoying himself, anyway.

Except for the nearly executed bit, but everyone's a critic.

The not-executed Lancelot gets hauled off to the dungeon, where glorious battles ensue. Although a sneaky guard wallops him over the head with a big heavy something, so things don't go quite as well as they might.

Brian sneaks into the castle as well, and helps Lancelot to escape.

You can see here that Brian takes peril about as seriously as Lancelot does. He may annoy me, but he's certainly well suited to his chosen knight.

They bust out of the dungeon, with further energetic battling. My favourite bit is when a guard on the ramparts boshes Lancelot over the head with a big battleaxe, and Lancelot doesn't even flinch. Then Lancelot heroically battles his way up to Queen Guinevere's apartments, in order to get her to safety.

But the queen is already gone. Arthur has eventually turned up, and agreed to sign over Northumbria to Mordred in exchange for his wife. Lancelot is absolutely livid. Really, massively, entertainingly so. You're going to handle this with diplomacy! Seriously?! When you could be using swords?! Lancelot is my kind of hero.

He and Mordred have a fight anyway, because of reasons. Guinevere drools throughout, but fortunately everybody is too busy watching the fight to notice.

Lancelot wins, but spares Mordred because of further reasons. Guinevere then ignores her husband, and every other knight present, in order to ask Lancelot if he fancies a nice ride home together by moonlight.

And thus ends episode three. If we're lucky, King Arthur won't have Lancelot executed just yet, and he'll live to fight another day. It will no doubt help Lancelot's cause that Arthur will be changing heads in episode four, so will presumably no longer remember the infidelity.

I recommend this series. Well, obviously - it has swords and William Russell. It's just so nice, though. The fight choreography isn't wildly impressive; it certainly can't compete with the sort of thing that Hollywood swashbucklers of the same era were doing, for example. But there's an excellent team behind it, and the sheer enthusiasm involved in every fight makes it extra special. This is the sort of show that you can put on just because you want something to make you smile. That's always a good thing every now and again.

Also it's got swords and William Russell. There's not many shows that can boast that, more's the pity.


( 21 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )
Jan. 12th, 2014 04:55 pm (UTC)
1956??? Oh wow ... ;-)
Jan. 12th, 2014 05:07 pm (UTC)
Old TV is good TV. :p I think the oldest that I have is a toss up between "The Colgate Comedy Hour", a live series that Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis did, and "I Love Lucy", both of which began in 1951. The Dean and Jerry series was released on DVD with all the original commercials included, so it's like time travel on a disc!
Jan. 12th, 2014 05:55 pm (UTC)
This is one I've had sitting on my wishlist for a long while. I don't know if and when I'll ever get to it, but - as you say, William Russell. :-)

The joy sounds pretty good, too. It's probably needed because Lancelot is the Most Annoying Knight In the World in general.
Jan. 12th, 2014 07:53 pm (UTC)
He is, yes! I've never understood why Lancelot is supposed to be the Big Hero. He so clearly isn't. This version is, though. He's a bit too good almost, from a modern viewer's perspective. If you're at all used to 1950s movies or TV then you'll be used to that sort of thing though of course. I highly recommend it, anyway. William Russell is clearly having a ball. It really is quite funny how very like Alfie he looks, too. Alfie's 25 now, and his father would have been about 32 when this was made, so not that big a difference.
Jan. 12th, 2014 07:56 pm (UTC)
Lancelot is the big hero because the French liked Arthurian stories, but there were a sad lack of French heroes, so they made one up and had him be awesome at everything and steal other people's stories, basically. He is an early Gary Stu with a sword.

I don't know much 1950s TV, but I can see it's an adventure serial of a certain kind. :-)
Jan. 12th, 2014 08:38 pm (UTC)
Oh, I see. That's interesting, thank you! I think the French are responsible for adding Maid Marion to the Robin Hood legends as well, although obviously she didn't get to steal everybody else's adventures.

The thing about the '50s was that everybody was very uncomplicated. Heroes were heroes and villains were villains, and ne'er a shade of grey between. Sometimes it can be a bit irritating, but sometimes it's just rather nice.
Jan. 13th, 2014 01:29 pm (UTC)
I'm not an Arthuriana expert by any means, but I had a phase of being very interested, especially in the earliest, often Welsh material, which has no Lancelot. (He generally takes things from Kay, Gawain, Percival and Mo(r)dred, I think.) I don't know if it was Chretien de Troyes or someone else who added him, but Medieval storytelling is rarely a clear matter.

Well, yes. I like shades of grey, but every now and then it can be a relief to have black and white - it just depends on the circumstances. Certainly, I'd like to give these a try some day and have ever since I realise they still actually existed. :-)
Jan. 13th, 2014 07:21 pm (UTC)
Lancelot steals adventures from Gawaine?! The bastard! I like Gawaine, damn it. It's just as well that this version of Lancelot is so likeable.

It turns out that this show is available on YouTube, but I know that you prefer not to watch TV that way. The link to the first episode is here if you feel like giving it a go, though.
Jan. 13th, 2014 08:19 pm (UTC)
I think it's more from the other three, but Gawain was very much the English hero, so once the dastardly French started inserting their own hero - well, you know... ;-)

Thanks! It's not really about preferences - I just can't watch very much TV online at the moment for technological and health reasons. YT, iPlayer, anything really.
Jan. 13th, 2014 01:23 am (UTC)
This looks like so much fun. :D I keep seeing it on my tumblr dash (I follow an Arthuriana blog) so I guess I should watch an episode one of these days.
Jan. 13th, 2014 08:19 am (UTC)
I'm sure you'd love it. You're one of the few people I know who won't be put off by '50s TV. It's very uncomplicated, but that's really only to be expected of a family serial from 1956. It is fun though, certainly.

Here, have the first episode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhWmfPUKgEE

I haven't looked too hard, but that user seems to have uploaded most if not all of the episodes. The only advice I would give is to be wary of the colour ones. They were made specifically for the American market, by a slightly different production team, and to me there's something missing about them; they just don't seem to represent the show too well. There's only a handful of them, made after all of the others, so perhaps they're best left until last. Some of the b&w episodes do need to be watched in order though, so here, have an episode guide as well.

Jan. 14th, 2014 02:50 am (UTC)
Thank you! It was a lot of fun..and I may or may not be slightly in love with William Russell's voice now. :D
Jan. 14th, 2014 08:45 am (UTC)
He is a very well-spoken knight! Have you seen much of his time in "Doctor Who"?
Jan. 14th, 2014 08:53 am (UTC)
None at all, unfortunately. :( It's almost impossible for me to find copies of the First Doctor's episodes through the library here (I'm poor and cheap and can't just buy them) so I've only gotten to see one episode of his that I found on VHS there.
Jan. 14th, 2014 10:09 am (UTC)
Oh, how frustrating! There's so much there that I'm sure you'd love, especially with all the historical adventures. And the cast being so awesome, obviously.
Jan. 14th, 2014 10:12 am (UTC)
I'm sure I would. Hopefully someday since they seem to be buying a few more of the classic episodes now than they had before - I'm getting to see Four's episodes now - so maybe they'll eventually get One's episodes, too.
Jan. 14th, 2014 09:05 pm (UTC)
I hope so! They really are too good to miss.
Jan. 13th, 2014 03:55 pm (UTC)
Yay, Sir Lancelot! I quite like Brian and his stupidly un-mediaeval/dark ages name.

I like it in the first or second episode where the guest King of the week isn't bothered about the castle being attacked - happens all the time!

The theme tune is great to sing along to. Come on 'Three Musketeers' you'd better not disappoint (thought not being Sherlock is a winner with me at the mo')

There are episodes available on internet archive if people prefer to download.
Jan. 13th, 2014 07:23 pm (UTC)
"The Musketeers" is premiering on Jan 19th at 9pm, which is hopeful. If it's that late, it shouldn't be at all Merliny or Atlantisy. Of course that doesn't mean it won't be Sherlocky. I very much doubt that it'll have a sing-a-long-a-theme-song though. TV doesn't anymore, which is really quite rubbish of it.
Jan. 14th, 2014 04:48 pm (UTC)
I saw a clip on TV this morning and it looks like they'll be too busy fighting & firing pistols to stick in graphics and montages to fill the time.
Jan. 14th, 2014 09:04 pm (UTC)
Well that sounds promising! I shan't huzzah too much though, lest I jinx it.
( 21 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )

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