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Buccaneers, The (1956-57)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Buccaneers, The (1956-57)
Sapphire Films/ITP for ITV, tx (London) 15/9/1956-6/7/1957
39 x 30 minutes episodes, black & white
ProducersSidney Cole
 Ralph Smart
 Pennington Richards
Executive ProducerHannah Weinstein
Directors includeRalph Smart
 Leslie Arliss

Cast: Robert Shaw (Dan Tempest); Paul Hansard (Taffy/Alfie); Peter Hammond (Lt. Beamish); Edwin Richfield (Armando); Alec Clunes (Governor Woodes Rogers); Neil Hallett (Sam Bassett/Hornigold); Brian Rawlinson (Gaff/Davies)

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Adventures on the high seas with Dan Tempest and his ex-pirate crew aboard 'The Sultana'.

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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.

Tise Vahimagi

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Video Clips
1. Secret Orders (0:59)
2. A hard bargain (3:16)
3. An impossible plan (1:42)
4. Intelligence (2:09)
5. Rescued (1:51)
Complete episode: 'Dead Man's Rock' (24:32)
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Arliss, Leslie (1901-1987)
Cole, Sidney (1908-1998)
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Weinstein, Hannah (1912-1984)
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