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Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel, The (1955)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel, The (1955)
Towers of London/ITP for ITV, tx. 28/9/1955-24/7/1956, 18 x 30 min episodes, black and white
Directed byMichael McCarthy, David MacDonald, Wolf Rilla, Dennis Vance
Produced byAnthony Gilkison, Dennis Vance, David MacDonald
Writers includeAngus MacPhail, Diana Morgan

Regular Cast: Marius Goring (Sir Percy Blakeney); Stanley van Beers (Chauvelin); Anthony Newlands (Lord Richard Hastings); Patrick Troughton (Sir Andrew ffoulkes); Alexander Gauge (The Prince Regent); Lucie Mannheim (Countess la Valliere)

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English aristocrat Sir Percy Blakeney, aka the intrepid 'Scarlet Pimpernel', risks life and limb to rescue innocent French aristocrats from the guillotine during the post-revolution 'terror', in the process outwitting Robespiere's fiendish agent, Chauvelin.

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An exceptionally competent production, the result of a rewarding collaboration between actor Marius Goring and producer Harry Alan Towers, this was perhaps the first of the costume adventure series to reach the 1950s ITV schedules. The origins of this television version, however, go back to the 1952-53 independent radio series produced by Towers and starring Goring as the title character (some 50 episodes were recorded and first broadcast via America's NBC radio network).

Revived for television, the plotting was fundamentally the same. Based on the 1905 play and 1908 novel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, this (surprisingly) short-run series was set in England and France during the period (1794) when the politically ambitious Revolutionary leader Robespierre - under whom a Reign of Terror saw all opponents of the regime and anyone else considered a threat ruthlessly executed, usually by guillotine - dominated the country.

As with the earlier film versions of this historical romance (Alexander Korda's 1935 version with Leslie Howard and Powell/Pressburger's 1950 remake with David Niven), English aristocrat Sir Percy Blakeney takes up the challenge to save as many of the innocent victims as possible. To effect this he adopts the role of a foppish member of English society to deter suspicion, while his real, heroic identity is that of the 'Scarlet Pimpernel', daredevil adventurer.

Rather than attempt to compete with their big-screen predecessors, the producers wisely, and effectively, decided to treat the 'elusive Pimpernel' theme as something of a period espionage yarn (not too far removed from Leslie Howard's own wartime updating, "Pimpernel" Smith, 1941).

Goring's imperturbable Pimpernel was a curious combination of Scaramouche and Sherlock Holmes, full of insolent charm and a dab hand at crafty disguises. Effecting a series of ingenious rescues from under the enemy's nose, the hero remained always impeccably polite, always reassuring (rescued countess: "Do your friends call you the 'Scarlet Pimpernel'?"; Pimpernel, nonchalantly, "My friends call me... a friend. The other name is for my enemies.").

The villain of the series was Robespierre's Minister of Police, Chauvelin, played as a lethal Gestapo-styled officer by Stanley van Beers. The Pimpernel's regular confederates were Patrick Troughton's Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Anthony Newlands' Lord Richard Hastings, while Alexander Gauge made an agreeably jolly Prince of Wales. Chauvelin's spy at the Regent's Court was the countess de la Valliere, played by the striking Lucie Mannheim (the real-life Mrs Goring).

Tise Vahimagi

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Elusive Pimpernel, The (1950)
Scarlet Pimpernel, The (1935)
Goring, Marius (1912-1998)
MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)
Morgan, Diana (1908-1996)
Rilla, Wolf (1920-2005)
Troughton, Patrick (1920-1987)
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