Time has not been kind to The Buccaneers. Produced by Sidney Cole, Ralph
Smart and Pennington Richards with an economy that meant members of the
supporting cast often appeared as two different characters in the same episode,
this rudimentary attempt at a television pirate adventure also offered a
buccaneer captain of immaculate decency (no gambling, no stealing, no wenching)
who clearly personified the contemporary young viewer's idea of hero.
The setting was the pirate-infested island of New Providence in the Bahamas
in the early 18th century. The opening episodes explained how English privateer
Woodes Rogers (with Alec Clunes in fine Fairbanksian form) was made governor of
the Bahamas with a brief to pardon or suppress the pirates in the Caribbean.
With the aid of reformed pirate Captain Hornigold (a rather taciturn Andrew
Crawford) and Royal Navy Lieutenant Beamish (Peter Hammond) he finally brought
most of the pirates in with an offer of a free pardon.
The real hero around whom the series was formed, however, was famed ex-pirate
Captain Dan Tempest, played with hands-on-the-hips style youthful panache by a
young Robert Shaw. According to modern sources, Shaw was set from the start to
star as the heroic Tempest but was unable to join the unit until the third
episode, the production having to start without him in order to meet the CBS
network transmission schedule (22 September 1956).
The notorious Blackbeard (a terrier-like George Margo playing the psychotic
villain with enjoyable melodramatic relish in the early episodes) was one pirate
who did not accept the King's pardon and became the series' recurring villain.
On the sidelines, but not without malicious presence, was the shady businessman
Van Brugh (played with oily solicitude by Alec Mango). Whenever things flagged,
however, there was always the threat of invasion from the common enemy Spain.
While The Buccaneers did display some stirring, full-blooded moments in its
under-the-skull-and-crossbones saga, the buffoonish behaviour of its would-be
cutthroat types often tended to test viewers' patience. Among Tempest's regular
complement of merry brigands on the formidable gunship 'Sultana' was the gawky
Gaff (Brian Rawlinson in a mercilessly irritating comic performance), the
swarthy Armando (Edwin Richfield), Taffy (Paul Hansard) and the impetuous young
Dickon (Wilfrid Downing).
The action was constant but predominantly bloodless and the acting often
self-conscious and mocking. The Buccaneers, dashing enough in its way with its
traditional piratic flavour, was still too land-bound by far.