New series of ‘The Unforgettable’ returns to ITV

In this the fifth series of the biographical documentary series, stars such as John Thaw, Dudley Moore and Norman Wisdom have the spotlight turn on them once more.

Since the first series back in 2000 a host of popular personalities have been celebrated by the ITV and North One Television production, including Bob Monkhouse, Diana Dors, Leonard Rossiter, Pat Phoenix and Mike Reid to name only a few.

The previous series of new episodes were made in 2010 and filled an hour long 5pm slot on ITV, however recent repeats of ‘The Unforgettable…’ in primetime at 7.30pm have proved successful for the broadcaster and so the 2011 series will air in this half-hour slot.

Norman Wisdom

Norman as a guest on BBC One sitcom Last of the Summer Wine.

The first personality featured in the new series is Norman Wisdom who became a huge television and film star in the 1950s. Described as an actor, comedian and singer-songwriter Wisdom was at his peak with comedy, and slapstick falling around, in the 50s and 60s.

Popular comedy movies, with Wisdom in the lead role, ran from 1953 until 1966 and made Wisdom a huge star around the globe. It was noted that comedy icon Charlie Chaplin stated once that Norman Wisdom was his “favourite clown”. He starred in series such as Last Of The Summer Wine, Going Gently, Sunday Night at the London Palladium and Coronation Street.

In later years he was seen in more serious roles, and this gained the star much praise. Norman died aged 95 in October of last year.

Leslie Crowther

Leslie (centre) on Central Television’s The Price Is Right.

Another popular television face who made his name in the medium back in the 1950s. From those early days, through to the 1990s, Crowther was rarely off the TV screens with a long line of popular series fronted by the presenter and game show host.

Leslie is possibly best remembered for his presenting of shows such as BBC childrens’ series Crackerjack, A Merry Morning – an annual broadcast from a hospital on Christmas day by Thames Television, Central Television game show The Price Is Right and Granada’s Stars in their Eyes – which took everyday people with a sound-a-like singing talent and transformed them ‘into’ that star for a performance.

Leslie Crowther died aged 63 in September 1996.

Rod Hull

Emu with Rod on The Pink Windmill Show for Central Television.

Hull was hugely popular with children thanks to his side-kick, the aggressive puppet Emu – which unsurprisingly with a name like that was a glittery version of the flightless emu bird.

Rod moved to Australia from England in the 1960s and this is where his television career began, initially behind the scenes before moving in front of the cameras as an actor in children’s programme Kaper Kops. Several other series followed and when he turned to presenting on a Saturday morning children’s magazine show he soon found himself with a new co-star, Emu. They would rarely be seen apart on TV for the next three decades.

In 1971 Hull returned to the UK and began a touring the cabaret circuit with his vicious bird. Spotted by ATV Network talent scouts he was offered a slot on ITV entertainment series Saturday Variety, which lead to a slot on the highly prestigious Royal Variety Performance in 1972. Other guest spots followed on shows such as Sunday Night at the London Palladium and Shut That Door – where Emu attacked Larry Grayson with some force on both programmes.

It was however his BBC and ITV children’s series, on air from 1975 to 1989, that are possibly his most fondly remembered programmes. Emu’s Broadcasting Company, Emu’s World and Emu’s Pink Windmill Show became a popular part of many children’s childhood. He did stray occasionally into the world of grown up TV, notibily appearing on chat shows, where Emu would of course attack the host – as Michael Parkinson knows only too well. Rod Hull died aged 63 in 1999.

Russell Harty

Russell on his LWT chat show in the 1970s.

Someone else who knew only too well how vicious Emu was is Russell Harty; who became one of Britain’s top chat show stars in the 1970s and 80s.

Harty joined ITV in 1969 working for London Weekend Television in their factual department where he fronted serious documentaries on popular culture. In 1973 LWT launched him into the world of celebrity chat with Russell Harty Plus.

In 1981 Russell was lured away from ITV to the BBC where he launched a new chat show on BBC Two, firstly entitled simply Harty, before re-branding as Russell Harty a few series later. His most infamous chat show episode involved singer and actress Grace Jones who decided Harty was being rude by turning away from her and ultimately lightly slapped him repeatedly on his back.

In 1985 the studio format chat show was dropped, and plans were made for a new out-and-about talk show, Russell Harty’s Grand Tour. However only a handful of recordings were completed during filming in 1987. Russell died in June 1988 aged 53.

Dick Emery

Dick (second left) with Noele Gordon (left) at a showbiz party.

It was 1946 when the world became aware of Dick. His early work included acting in theatre and on radio – later turning more to comedy performances. In 1950 he made his television début on the BBC with a succession of programme appearances on the beeb including in Hancock’s Half Hour, Round The Bend and his own sketch show series, The Dick Emery Show which launched in 1963.

He also made a notible contribution to ITV comedy in its early years. He had a part in Granada Television’s The Army Game sitcom, After Hours – alongside former Goon Michael Bentine and ITV’s version of a former BBC comedy, Educating Archie which revolved around a ventriloquist’s dummy.

It was his BBC sketch show however which brought him fame and gave the nation a host of catchphrases and characters.

These included the sex-starved, menopausal, man-eating spinster Hettie with her “are you married, I’m looking for a nice young man like you”, the ‘Camp Man’ who would gaily say “Hello Honky Tonk, how are you?” and his most fondly recalled creation Mandy who was a busty peroxide blonde whose catchphrase, “Ooh, you are awful … but I like you!” would follow a question full of innuendo. The show ran until 1981.

Emery died aged 67 in January 1983. He had just launched a new series the year previous, Emery Presents of which only two editions were recorded.

Hughie Green

Hughie Green on Thames Television’s Opportunity Knocks.

Best remembered as a talent and game show host. His career began on BBC radio before switching to television in 1955 when ITV launched. Working for Associated Rediffusion he became the face of Double Your Money – the quiz show which ran for 260 editions and 13-years.

It was however talent show Opportunity Knocks, which often would pull in 18 million viewers per week. which gave him his greatest success. Thames Television axed the programme in 1978 after Green’s on-air political bias and out-of-place rants – which at one point saw the production company reprimand their host. The final live edition of the family talent series saw Green rant about the shows demise and his distaste for Thames Television.

Hughie Green died in May of 1997 aged 77. It was later revealed that he was the father of television presenter Paula Yates, who had been believed to be the child of other television personality, Jess Yates.

John Thaw

John Thaw in Central Television/Zenith Productions’ Inspector Morse.

John is still fondly remembered for his roles in ITV’s lavishly created drama productions. He started his acting career in 1960 and would remain a regular part of television output for over 40 years.

Early work included bit-parts in BBC police drama Z Cars, action adventure series The Avengers and movie The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. In 1964 ABC Television in Manchester cast him in the lead role of Sgt John Mann in ITV drama series Redcap. Other guest roles followed in dramas throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s until 1974 when again he was given another leading role in Thames Television’s gritty crime drama, The Sweeney – where he would star as detective Jack Regan until 1978.

From the hard faced serious grit of The Sweeney, many may have found his next big part rather a strange career diversion – a sitcom. Yorkshire Television lured John to Leeds to star as Henry Williows in the domestic comedy Home to Roost. Running for 29 episodes over five years it proved to be one of ITVs list of successful sitcoms of the 80s.

It was however the lavishly produced Inspector Morse, of which John plays the title role, that possibly he is best remembered for. Made by Central Television for ITV the show ran for 13-years of crime solving in and around Oxford. Inspector Morse opened the door to many more drama leads for Thaw including in Goodnight Mister Tom, A Year In Provence and Kavanagh QC. John died in 2002 aged 60.

Noele Gordon

Noele Gordon poses with one of her many TV awards.

Noele Gordon became a star of stage aged only 2-and-a-half. She toured across the UK in many theatre productions before proving a critical hit in West End productions. It was at this time she became noted as the first woman to be transmitted in colour to television sets when John Logie Baird carried out experiments in 1938. She a year earlier had appeared in one of the BBC’s first major live drama productions for television at Alexandra Palace. Subsiquently while continuing her West End theatre works she became a regular in BBC Radio Drama.

In the 1940s she starred in a couple of films and toured with the Entertainments National Service Association who performed for troops during the Second World War. In 1949 she starred in her first, of two, Royal Variety Performance shows (the second time she would be the first woman to host the show), but it was the 1950s that would set Gordon onto the path of international stardom.

In 1954 Lew Grade – boss of ATV – sent Noele to America to study television production for a year at New York University. On her return she helped launch ATV London, and a few months later, ATV Midlands. Noele became the first female television executive in the UK when she was hired to oversee the lifestyle output, a role she would also oversee in the Midlands. It was just the first of a number of TV firsts credited to her.

For the Midlands region she presented an ‘ad Mag’ called Fancy That?, became the first female sports presenter when reporting and hosting Midland Sport and later hosted her own sport show A New Angle on Noele Gordon. Somewhat considered the ‘have-a-go-girl’ she also fronted her own series Noele Gordon Takes The Air which saw her learning to fly a plane and within other ATV programmes she went Skin-Diving, became a firefighter, went out with a sea rescue team, trained as an Army soldier, rode a camel and horse. Drove a racing car and steam train, performed with the Chipperfield Circus – including bear and lion training, went mountain climbing, became a coal miner and sweet factory worker- to name a few.

In 1957 ATV launched the first weekday daily live lunchtime variety, chat and music show – Lunchbox. Numerous times the Friday outside broadcast proved to be more successful than expected. In Nottingham an expected 3,000 audience turned into 27,000! It was however her return to acting in the low-budget, American inspired, daily teatime soap Crossroads that made her into a superstar with the show reaching up to 16 million viewers nightly in the UK and many more viewers around the world. Hated by television critics, Crossroads also placed Noele as a top award winner. Currently she holds the record for the most gongs given to a ‘soap star’, a feat unlikely to be beaten. Noele died in April of 1985 aged 65.

Gordon Jackson

Gordon (centre) on LWT’s action series The Professionals.

Gordon started his acting career in 1942 starring in a number of British movies. He had previously been a child star of BBC radio featuring in shows such as Children’s Hour.

By the 1950s commercial television had launched and Jackson began to appear in more and more ITV programming, including for ATV-ITC The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gideon’s Way and for ABC, The Avengers. He also continued to feature in movies including parts in The Ipcress File and The Great Escape.

It was 1971 however that one of his most iconic roles came to ITV. In London Weekend Television’s Upstairs Downstairs Gordon Jackson became Scottish Butler Hudson, starring in sixty episodes of the period drama.

His second most remembered role is that of George Cowley in all 57 editions of The Professionals, a hard hitting crime drama from London Weekend Television.

He won an Emmy Award for his Upstairs Downstairs role and a Logie for his performance in the drama A Town Like Alice. In later years as well as continuing to act in film and on television he also began working as a narrator for a number of television series. Gordon Jackson died aged 66 in January 1990.

Dudley Moore

Dudley, left, with comedy partner Peter Cook in the 1960s at ATV.

Moore first came to prominence in the early 1960s as one of four performers in the comedy stage revue Beyond the Fringe, which the foursome, including Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller, also wrote. On television Dudley became a household name alongside the other Beyond the Fringe writer, Peter Cook.

Their partnership became a huge success on the TV series Not Only… But Also, for the BBC. They also worked on a couple of films together and several live tours.

During the sixties Dudley also showed off his music skills as part of the Dudley Moore Trio, a jazz group, which recorded records, made television appearances and performed in London nightclubs. He would later write a handful of filmscores.

It was however the late 1970s that saw Moore become a massive international star when he relocated to Hollywood. A string of successful movies followed. These include, Foul Play alongside Goldie Hawn and Arthur alongside Liza Minnelli and Sir John Gielgud.

Moore took the death of Peter Cook badly in 1995 and not long after ill health began to plague the star. He died in March 2002 aged 66.

The Unforgettable series starts this Tuesday, November 8th, on ITV.

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