Home Television Drama Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe

1 9 5 8 – 1 9 5 9 (UK)
39 x 30 minute episodes

Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel about the knightly scourge of evil Prince John was a natural port of call for ITV in the 1950s, given its penchant for costume swashbucklers.

The Anglo-American production had all the elements for success – rousing swordplay, excellent stunt work, clean-limbed direction – but was raised above the throng by the casting of smooth Roger Moore – in his television debut – in the title role.

The former cardigan model caught the notice of many and he followed up the transatlantic success of Ivanhoe with The SaintThe Persuaders and a sequence of James Bond movies.

At first, the interior scenes were shot at Elstree Studios until it was decided to move the location shooting to the Columbia Ranch in California to film the series’ exteriors, as the winter in England at that time presented a rather bleak landscape.

Supporting actor Robert Brown joined the cast as Gurth while the company was filming in California.

The unit then returned to England and began shooting at Beaconsfield Studios, and with the weather improving, the exteriors were filmed in the fields around the Buckinghamshire studios.

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 and before Richard the Lionheart).

Although the pilot episode (‘Freeing the Serfs’) was filmed in colour, the remainder of the series was shot in black & white.

Two of the most noteworthy Ivanhoe guest appearances were by Christopher Lee (in ‘The German Knight’) and actor/director John Schlesinger (in ‘The Masked Bandits’).

A television industry clearly short of ideas has returned to Ivanhoe several times since Moore hung up his chainmail in 1959.

A BBC TV series was broadcast in 1970 with Eric Flynn in the title role, in 1982 there was an American telemovie starring Anthony Andrews, and in 1997 the BBC serialised the novel in six parts with a decidedly hirsute Steven Waddington as Wilfred of Ivanhoe – high on 12th century atmosphere, romantic passion and action, but low on heroic charisma, it was produced by Jeremy Gwilt.

Ivanhoe, Ivanhoe to adventure, bold adventure watch him go
There’s no power on earth can stop what he’s begun . . .

Ivanhoe
Roger Moore
Gurth
Robert Brown
Bart
John Pike
Prince John
Andrew Keir
Blackheath
Ivan Craig

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