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 – one of the few remaining Anglo-Saxon nobles at a time when the nobility in England was overwhelmingly Norman – 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 as Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe.
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.
In that debut episode, Ivanhoe’s first act on returning to England from the Crusades was to free two ill-treated serfs, Gurth (Robert Brown) and Bart (John Pike). After their liberation, they insisted on serving him and became regular characters in the series.
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 . . .