Associated Programmes and Movies

Written by David Noades

The director of The Double Deckers, Harry Booth, and the producer Roy Simpson worked together on a few projects which are closely linked to the Double Deckers, with the cast and crew often including the same people. Some of these were for the Children's Film Foundation which was set up in 1951 to persuade film makers in the UK to make movies suitable for younger audiences, and in turn to encourage children to visit cinemas. Although they were made on a low budget they were sometimes directed by well known names, most famously of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger who made The Boy Turned Yellow in 1972. Although the children in the cast were usually new to acting, and were chosen from acting schools, more often than not the films featured well-known actors in guest roles who were happy to offer their services for a low fee.

In 1967 the CFF invited Harry Booth and Roy Simpson and his production company Century Films to make a 7-part serial for called River Rivals about two families who compete in a boat race. The young cast included a young Sally Thomset (later in The Railway Children movie and Man About The House) while one of the minor roles was played by Glyn Jones who later wrote screenplays and songs for The Double Deckers. Such was its success that a new serial followed, with the idea being to create something which could be continued in further series -- and thus The Magnificent Six and A Half was born!

The Magnificent Six And A Half

 
The Magnificent Six and a Half video (released in Canada only) - shows (left to right) - Toby (Brinsley Forde), Whizz (Michael Audreson), Liz (Suzanne Togni), Steve (Len Jones), Dumbo (Ian Ellis), Stodger (Lionel Hawkes) and in front, Peewee (Kim Tallmadge).

Century Films/Lion-Pacestter Productions. 18 episodes (three series, six parts each). 20 minutes. 1968-72.

This series concerned the adventures of seven children whose headquaters are in an old van in a scrap yard, the series was subtitled "The misadventures of 6 children and a young girl". The first series was released in February 1968, a second followed in August 1969 while a third was produced much later circa 1972. Viewed today, it can be seen very much as a forerunner to The Double Deckers, with similar characters, plots, music, locations, guest actors and, most notably, two of the same stars -- Michael Audreson and Brinsley Forde! Michael was aged 10 at the time the first series was made whilst Brinsley was 13.

The gang members are as follows along, with their "official" descriptions and their equivalent characters in the Double Deckers:

Steve - played by Len Jones -- "the demanding leader" (Scooper)
Toby - played by Brinsley Forde -- "the practical joker" (Spring)
Liz - played by Suzanne Togni -- "a spunky tomboy" (Billie)
Dumbo - played by Ian Ellis -- "a rather large Lieutenant" (Doughnut)
Whizz - played by Michael Audreson -- "is highly intellectual" (Brains)
Stodger - played by Lionel Hawkes -- "is always hungry" (Doughnut again)
Peewee - played by Kim Tallmadge -- "is half the size of everyone else" (Tiger)

As you can see Sticks character wasn't developed at this point (selling the show to America came later) whilst Doughnut's was a clearly combination of both Dumbo and Stodger!

The first episode tells the story of how 5 of the gang members met up with Whizz and his little sister Peewee after rescuing a dog from drowning in a lake. They return the dog to his owner, Old Tom who runs a scrap yard, and in return for saving his dog he lets them make a clubhouse in an old van in the yard. Later Whizz and Peewee are allowed to join the gang after they spend the night in a haunted house, where Peewee proves to be the bravest, despite being the smallest. "I'm not too small -- I'm not!" she yells whenever any of the others moan about her size (this becomes her catchphrase).

The episode titles are as follows:

Part 1: Ghosts and Ghoulies
Part 2: When Knights Were Bold
Part 3: Billy The Kid
Part 4: Kontiki Kids
Part 5: Bob-a-Job
Part 6: Peewee's Pianola

Apart from similar characters (and two of the same cast members) the plotlines for this series were also similar to The Double Deckers. For example, Ghosts and Ghoulies with its haunted house theme is a little bit like A Happy Haunting, Kontiki Kids (the gang's raft runs amok through the town) and Peewee's Pianola (a runaway pianola runs amok through the town) are like Tiger Takes Off, while Billy The Kid (an escaped goat -- a regimental mascot - causes havoc) is a bit like A Helping Hound.


The Magnificent Six and a Half: left to right - Toby (Brinsley Forde), Liz (Suzanne Togni), Stodger (Lionel Hawkes), Dumbo (Ian Ellis), Peewee (Kim Tallmadge), Whizz (Michael Audreson), Steve (Len Jones).


A scene from Peewee's Pianola with Derek Guyler

One main difference between this series and the Deckers is that the gang doesn't have a permanent adult friend (ie an equivalent of Albert in the DD). However Old Tom (Eddie Malin) who owns the scrap yard appears in the first episode, and there was a street cleaner in two of the episodes, played by Roy Evans (later the baker in The Case Of The Missing Doughnut) in a non-speaking role. Other familiar faces included Damaris Haymen as a teacher (also a teacher in A Hit For A Miss), George Woodbridge as a policeman (farmer Giles from Summer Camp), Ivor Salter as a policeman (also a policeman in several episodes) and Glyn Jones in an uncredited role (screenplay writer and song writer of several Double Deckers episodes).

Like the Double Deckers the music was provided by Ivor Slaney, with the main theme being a cheeky rewrite of The Magnificent Seven theme (from the famous western), which of course was what the title was a parody of. Unlike the Double Deckers there were not many songs, although in the episode Peewee's Pianola the gang sing a version of the music hall song "My Old Man" accompanied by the pianola as they ride through the streets.

The series was made at the Associated British Picture Studios (later renamed EMI-MGM Studios)where the Double Deckers was also made, and much of the location work was done in the Borehamwood area using many of the same locations. Other locations included Golders Hill Park, Finchely (both in north London), Grimsdyke (home of WH Gilbert) in Harrow and Batchworth Lock in Rickmansworth near Watford. Unlike the Double Deckers where the gangs scrapyard HQ was created in the studio, here the permanent outdoor lot was used giving the scenes a more realistic feel. The same set with shops and houses was also used in numerous other dramas and serials including The Saint and The Avengers.

The series was chosen to be part of the first Children's Film Festival which was held at the Metropole Cinema in Victoria, London in August 1968 where it proved to be very popular. Other CFF films were also shown including Runaway Railway, A Ghost Of A Chance, Cup Fever and another serial Danny the Dragon.

The second series, produced in 1969, featured mostly the same cast although Len Jones who was busy working on other projects was replaced by Robin Davies (later in Catweazle) playing the same character. It was subtitled "More misadventures of 6 children and a young girl".

Part 1: Peewee Had A Little Ape
Part 2: A Good Deed In Time
Part 3: The Magician
Part 4: A Lad In The Lamp
Part 5: It's Not Cricket
Part 6: The Astronughts

The third series was produced circa1971/72 and was made by a different company with a different director (Peter Graham Scot) and featured an entirely new cast. It was subtitled "Even more misadventures of 6 children and a young girl". The cast members were Paul Griffiths, Kay Skinner, Robert Richardson, Jody Lynn Schaller, Jimmy Baxter, Jane Coster and Steven Wallen.

Part 1: That's All We Need
Part 2: Up The Creek
Part 3: Up For The Cup
Part 4: The Ski Wheelers
Part 5: Time Flies
Part 6: Five Survive

None of the series were ever shown on television but the Children's Film Foundation did continue to sell them for cinema distribution, and as 16mm home movies until the late 1970s. In 1968, after the success of the first series Harry Booth and Roy Simpson came up with the idea of producing a similar series for TV in the UK. They approached various companies, including the BBC with the idea of making the series, but they were turned down everywhere, the criticism being that the slapstick approach was too old fashioned. Eventually of course the series was made as Here Come The Double Deckers by 20th Century Fox and was sold to the American market, and ironically the BBC who showed it in 1971. However at the end of 1968 the BBC made their own version called Adventure Weekly.

Adventure Weekly



The Adventure Weekly gang (from left to right) "Fred" Somers (Elizabeth Dear), "Tubby" Taylor (Ian Ellis), Andy Rogers (Len Jones), "Swot" English (Frank Barry), Peter Perkins (Brent Oldfield)

BBC. 13 episodes (one series). 20 minutes. 1968-69.

Unlike The Magnificent Six And A Half this series was not shown in cinemas, but on television in the UK, and was made in black and white. It was subtitled "five boys, a girl and a printing press" and concerned the adventures of a gang of children who live in the seaside town of Cliffesa and decide to run their own newspaper -- Adventure Weekly. The cast included Len Jones and Ian Ellis on loan form the cast of The Magnificent Six and a Half. Ian Ellis' character "Tubby" Taylor was similar to Dumbo (although perhaps a bit more intelligent), whilst Len Jones had to go from playing the leader, to second in command, but was still just as loud! Similar to the MSAAH and the DD the gang were often getting into trouble with a local police constable (played by Michael Wisher who had appeared in River Rivals) and had an adult pal, Mr Filling (Bartlett Mullins) -- their version of Albert -- who worked as a typesetter for the local newspaper. He let the gang use the press to print their newspaper and often (relucatanntly) got involved in their schemes and plans. Interestingly Michael Audreson says he may have appeared as an extra in an episode of this, although this is unconfirmed.

The gang members are as follows along with their "equivalent" characters in The Magnificent Six And A Half

Peter Perkins - played by Brent Oldfield (Steve)
"Swot" English - played by Frank Barry (Whizz)
Andy Rogers - played by Len Jones
"Tubby" Taylor - played by Ian Ellis (Dumbo)
"Fred" Somers - played by Elizabeth Dear (Liz)

Each gang member had a different role on the newspaper -- Peter Perkins was the editor (his dad owns a real newspaper, The Cliffsea Recorder), "Tubby" Taylor was the Sports reporter, "Swot" English was responsible for reporting news from schools, whilst Andy Rogers was the official photographer. Fredrica --"Fred" -- Somers joins the team in the second episode when she helps them with a story and becomes one of their roving reporters.

The series was filmed on location in the Seaford/Newhaven area which doubled for Cliffsea (the fictional town in the series) while the interiors were filmed at the BBC studios in Bristol. The writers included John Tully who went on to write the episode United We Stand for The Double Deckers and Peter J Hammond, writer of the notorious Ace Of Wands series. Unfortunately it was not considered a success and no more episodes were made. Perhaps if it had been made in colour it might have stood a better chance and might have been repeated as often as The Double Deckers was. As it was 10 of the 13 episodes were repeated in 1970 but it has never been seen again, and now only 3 episodes survive. It is interesting to compare this show with the Double Deckers. Whilst the scripts are equally well-written and witty, the direction is rather flat and slow, and without the lively music and slapstick approach it is nowhere near as memorable as its later big budget counterpart.

Harry Booth went on to make other films for the Children's Film Foundation including The Flying Sorcerers in 1974 which featured Debbie Russ among it cast members. She also popped up in an episode of the Robert Vaughan drama series The Protectors which Harry Booth directed for TV in 1973. He and Roy Simpson also produced a series of films based on the popular TV series On The Buses, which starred Reg Varney and in 1972 he directed a solo project for Reg Varney titled Go For A Take, in which he cheekily included several references to The Double Deckers!

Go For A Take (AKA Double Take)


1973 US poster for Go For A Take (renamed Double Take)


Go For A Take and Double Deckers producer Roy Simpson (on left) with Reg Varney at the UK premier of Go For A Take, London, December 1972


Go For A Take and Double Deckers director Harry Booth at the UK premier of Go For A Take, London, December 1972

Century Films. 80 minutes.1972.

The plot of this comedy film concerned two waiters played by Reg Varney and Norman Rossington, who on the run from a money lender, hide in film studio. Here they find jobs as stunt men and take part in various films and live on the sets at night. Interestingly the cast include many of the familiar faces from The Double Deckers, as follows -- Melvyn Hayes (Albert - most episodes), John Clive, (teacher in A Hit For A Miss), Jack Haig (shopkeeper in The Case Of The Missing Doughnut), Lauri Lupino-Lane (councillor in United We Stand), Michael Sharvell-Martin (floor manager in Robbie The Robot), David Lodge (security guard in Star Struck) and Bob Todd (director in Star Struck). Clearly the director had a group of actors whom he preferred to work with and used them on various projects. However he also decided to make reference to his previous series The Double Deckers in this film by recreating the scrapyard HQ set, complete with bus, and by having Debbie Russ make a guest appearance as Tiger complete with toy Tiger! She first appears on the scrap yard set where Reg Varney has been sleeping, and tells him that she and the others are making the series in the studio (in reality it was a different studio because this was filmed at the Pinewood Studios in Middlessex and not the ABPC/EMI-MGM in Borehamwood). She makes reference to Brains, although none of the other characters are seen. She re-appears at the end of the film when the duo have stolen a necklace and persuades them let to let her return it. Debbie is clearly much older than she was when she made the Double Deckers and presumably that is why none of the others appear because they would all have looked far too old to be in a gang!

Links:

Harry Booth (IMDb)
On The Buses (Go For A Take)



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