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Gay Cavalier (1957)

Main image of Gay Cavalier (1957)
George King Productions for ITV, 13/5-13/8/1957
13 x 30 min episodes, black & white
DirectorsLance Comfort
 Terence Fisher
WritersJack Andrews
 Brock Williams
 Charlotte Hastings
 Gordon Wellesley

Cast: Christian Marquand (Captain Duval); Larry Burns (Dinny O'Toole); Ivan Craig (Major Mould); Sydney Bromley (Purdy); Joyce Linden (Katie)

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The exploits of legendary highwayman Claude Duval in Cromwell's England.

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Surprisingly, the English Civil War has inspired only a handful of films and a small number of television productions, the latter most often versions of Captain Frederick Marryat's children's classic The Children of the New Forest (BBC, 1955; 1964; 1977). Rather annoyingly, both big and small screen forms tend to portray the conflict from a Royalist perspective.

While the 1950s television costume adventure series abounded with pirates, knights and assorted period freedom-fighters, the figure of the colourful, folkloric highwayman was sorely missed - although a British pilot episode attempt was made with The Highwayman, starring Louis Hayward (ITV (London), tx. 14/6/1958).

In late 1956, veteran film director-producer George King, remembered now chiefly for his vigorous melodramas with Tod Slaughter (e.g. Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 1935; Crimes at the Dark House, 1940), noted the increasing popularity of the swashbuckler trend and entered television production with the Civil War-era escapades of the Gay Cavalier.

The series' hero, Captain Claude Duval, was based on a real-life highwayman (1643-1670) whose exploits, embellished in contemporary popular literature, made him second only to Dick Turpin in the public's imagination. In 1953 the British comic paper Comet reintroduced the character, now as a gallant Frenchman who had become a Royalist captain during the war and afterwards served as an agent working for the exiled Charles II.

So popular was Duval as a comic strip hero (the serial strips ran until 1959) that astute producer King quickly began adapting the stories into a TV series. He cast French actor Christian Marquand as the dashing Duval, and Ivan Craig as his sinister Roundhead adversary Major Mould, chief of Cromwell's intelligence service (the latter character also a cross-over from the pictorial strip).

While little seems to be known about this apparently 'lost' series - with no record or trace of existing prints (so far) - available information suggests that its horse-and-rapier, chase-and-rescue format differed little from contemporary swashbucklers.

Terence Fisher, no stranger to small-screen swordplay with his body of work for Sapphire's The Adventures of Robin Hood (ITV, 1955-59), and Lance Comfort, who previously toiled on The Count of Monte Cristo series (ITV, 1956), were the alternating directors of this yet-to-be-proved intriguing swashbuckler.

Tise Vahimagi

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