A medieval-set action adventure series based on some of the characters in Sir
Walter Scott's 1819 novel, this sure-handed Anglo-American production gave a
youthful Roger Moore his first starring television role. As an adaptation of
sorts, Ivanhoe was disappointing in its shortcomings; as a swashbuckler series
it was bold, striking and distinctly enjoyable.
A somewhat untidy production account, however, preceded the series. In
December 1956, Moore signed a contract with Columbia Pictures (Screen Gems was the studio's television subsidiary). Shooting started in
early 1957; at first, the interior scenes were shot at Elstree Studios. It was
decided to move the location shooting to California (to the Columbia Ranch) to
film the series' exteriors (the winter in England at that time presented a
rather bleak landscape).
Supporting actor Robert Brown joined the cast while the company was filming
in California. The unit then returned to England and began shooting at
Beaconsfield Studios. With the weather improving, the exteriors were filmed in
the fields around the Buckinghamshire studios. The series premiered on ITV
(various regions) in January 1958 while filming continued to complete all 39
episodes through to June 1958. Although the pilot episode ('Freeing the Serfs')
was filmed in colour, the remainder of the series was shot in black &
Although the plotting was brisk but unoriginal (the earlier
The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (ITV, 1956-57) having trotted out similar plundering knights and
treacherous noblemen yarns), and the obvious photogenic talents of Moore
were heavily exploited, some unusually adult-level dialogue and an uninhibited
gloss on the traditions of the genre made this a splendid romp.
Cut from the same ride-boldly-into-danger fabric as their contemporaries, but
sufficiently exciting, the robust hero and his companions - Robert Brown's
sturdy, dependable Gurth and his son Bart (John Pike) - upheld the Arthurian
chivalric code wherever they went.
Once again, the central villain of the piece was the cold-blooded Prince John
(grimly sardonic and effectively played by Andrew Keir), who was becoming a
stock figure on the television swashbuckler scene (after The Adventures of Robin
Hood (ITV, 1955-60) and before Richard the Lionheart (ITV, 1962-63))
Even though it basically represented a familiar knighthood-in-flower
escapade, the series was perhaps raised somewhat above the level of its class by
the Hollywood influence of its producers and by unfussy characterisation which
managed to avoid many of the obvious clichés. A satisfactory treatment of the
inevitable chivalric panoply.