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Sir Francis Drake (1961-62)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Sir Francis Drake (1961-62)
ITC/ABC/ATV for ITV, tx. (London) 24/9/1961-18/3/1962
26 x 30 minute episodes, black & white
Directors includeDavid Greene
 Clive Donner
Executive ProducerLeslie T. Harris
ProducerAnthony Bushell
Script EditorIan Stuart Black

Cast: Terence Morgan (Sir Francis Drake); Jean Kent (Queen Elizabeth); Michael Crawford (John Drake); Milton Reid (Diego); Roger Delgado (Mendoza); Patrick Mcloughlin (Trevelyan); Howard Lang (Grenville)

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In 16th Century England, intrepid adventurer Sir Francis Drake serves Queen and country and repeatedly outwits the old enemy, Spain.

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A late arrival for the popular swashbuckling cycle of the mid- to late-1950s, Sir Francis Drake proved itself a rather dignified effort in comparison to the previous period actioners. Producer Anthony Bushell (an actor who had turned to production; he had been Olivier's associate producer on Hamlet in 1948) delivered a robust melodrama that was often as much cloak-and-dagger doings as high seas privateering.

Imbued with zest for the romantic patriotism of Elizabethan times, the series brought considerable pictorial imagination to its small-screen presentation: sunlight and shadow effects, eerily confined narrow streets, sumptuous palace interiors, and decorative Spanish costumes and courtiers of the time of Philip II of Spain.

The storyline broadly traced the adventures of the piratical sea fighter, commander of the legendary 'Golden Hind', as he preyed on Spanish commerce in the late 16th century and outwitted various Spanish agents intent on forcing an unprepared England into open war with Spain.

Terence Morgan's Drake, endowed from the start with an uncanny self-confidence, struck exactly the right balance between poker-faced laconism and Errol Flynn-like exuberance. By contrast, Jean Kent, in a finely measured performance, walked through it all with great patience and dignity as a suitably regal Elizabeth I - though, at times, there were unmistakable moments of dewy-eyed expectation whenever she and the virile Drake convened privately to plot conspiracies against Spain.

Making up the patchwork members of Drake's regular crew were a young Michael Crawford as Drake's wide-eyed nephew John and Milton Reid as the mountainous, glowering Diego, with Patrick McLoughlin's Trevelyan and Howard Lang's Grenville as the stock British officer class. The recurring villain of the piece was the scheming Spanish Ambassador, Mendoza, played by the saturnine Roger Delgado with enough venom to sustain the entire Spanish Inquisition for years.

The interior sets and designs of Allan Harris and the highly decorative costumes of Beatrice Dawson remain impressive and memorable, an ornate and detailed splendour that rewarded the eye but still begged for that finishing touch of colour cinematography.

Tise Vahimagi

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Video Clips
Crawford, Michael (1942-)
Delgado, Roger (1918-1973)
Swashbuckling TV