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Carpenter, Richard (1929-2012)

Writer, Producer, Actor

Main image of Carpenter, Richard (1929-2012)

Richard 'Kip' Carpenter was undoubtedly the King of Sunday Afternoon TV, in an era when that timeslot was considered something special.

Born in 1933 in King's Lynn, Norfolk, he trained at the Old Vic Theatre School. He appeared in BBC family serials before finding a regular role in Emergency - Ward 10 (ITV, 1957-67) and character parts in staples Crane, Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78), No Hiding Place (ITV, 1959-67) and The Baron (ITV, 1966-67). By the decade's end, feeling that "acting had given me up", Carpenter diverted into writing. A one-page treatment about an ancient magician transported to the present became Catweazle (ITV, 1970-71) a huge Sunday teatime hit for the new LWT that won a Writer's Guild Award.

Now in demand, Carpenter scripted cliffhanging adventure serials for schools slot Look and Read (BBC, 1967-2004). The Boy From Space (1971) concerned a silver-faced alien boy landed on Earth. Carpenter later said it was: "about the most difficult thing I've ever written - you're restricted to the first two-hundred words of the English language plus a few words like telescope and telephone and television." Later came Cloud Burst (1974), where a mad scientist threatened the world with a rain gun and King's Dragon (1977), about a missing archaeological artefact.

LWT upheavals ended Catweazle, but Carpenter became the most prolific writer for replacement The Adventures of Black Beauty (ITV, 1972-74) providing 17 out of 52 scripts. He next devised comedy The Ghosts of Motley Hall (ITV, 1976-78), featuring a group of ghosts seeing off human interlopers to their old mansion. Alongside this was Enid Blyton's Famous Five (ITV, 1978-79), a successful modern day update of the children's adventure stories.

Fascinated by English folk heroes , Carpenter formed independent production company Gatetarn with producer Paul Knight and filmmaker Sidney Cole. Action-comedy Dick Turpin (ITV, 1979-82) starred Richard O'Sullivan as a Robin Hood-like folk hero fighting injustices on behalf of the little people. A similar Hood-like premise informed Smuggler (ITV, 1981). Oliver Tobias played Jack Vincent, a mistakenly disgraced 19th Century naval lieutenant smuggling contraband for the over-taxed poor. Gatetarn and Anthony Read jointly devised The Baker Street Boys (BBC, 1983), about a gang of Victorian urchins aiding Sherlock Holmes.

Gatetarn's biggest success was Robin of Sherwood (ITV, 1984-86), injecting elements of pagan mysticism into the Robin Hood legends. Financed by film company Goldcrest, the series ceased with its backer's wavering fortunes and Gatetarn also waned. Smuggler sequel Adventurer (ITV, 1987) witnessed Jack Vincent commuted to penal servitude in New Zealand. Carpenter was dismayed by ITV's lacklustre scheduling. A subsequent lean spell saw Carpenter write episodes of detective series Pulaski (BBC, 1987) and period adventure series Hannay (ITV, 1988-89).

Much of the '90s was spent at Central TV. The Winjin' Pom (ITV, 1991) was a short-lived anarchic puppet comedy featuring Spitting Image-designed Australian animal characters in a talking caravan. Stanley's Dragon (ITV, 1994), developed from feature film treatment Puff, concerned a boy protecting a dragon from exploitation. Knockabout comedy Out of Sight (ITV, 1996-98), about an invisible 12-year-old, won another Writer's Guild Award. Concurrent were BBC adaptations of Mary Norton's The Borrowers (BBC, 1992-93) and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's True Tilda (BBC, 1997), the canal-going trek of a spirited young circus urchin. Carpenter returned to adventure yarns with the Richard E. Grant vehicle The Scarlet Pimpernel (BBC, 1999-2000). I Was a Rat (BBC, 2001) adapted Philip Pullman's Cinderella-rooted fantasy novel about a boy who claims to have once been a rat.

Assessing his huge body of work, Carpenter commented in 1978: "I always intended writing for children, not for adults... all the most successful films are children's films, like King Kong."

Alistair McGown

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Selected credits

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TV adaptation of Anna Sewell's classic children's novel

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Children's drama series about six-inch people

Thumbnail image of Catweazle (1970-71)Catweazle (1970-71)

Children's comedy series about a time-travelling sorcerer

Thumbnail image of Robin of Sherwood (1984-86)Robin of Sherwood (1984-86)

A new incarnation - or two - of the hooded outlaw for the acquisitive 80s

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