1 9 6 6 – 1 9 6 8 (USA)
120 x 30 minute episodes
Parents never seemed bothered that our childhood was spent fixated on a man who wore his underpants on the outside, a mask and hung around with a young boy.
When trouble brewed in Gotham City, Police Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) would light the Bat-Signal and rush to the phone and call Batman.
Meanwhile, at stately Wayne Manor, the beeping Batphone alerted the playboy millionaire’s butler, Alfred (Alan Napier), who then delivered the message to his master, Bruce Wayne (Adam West), and his ward Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) who would disappear down the bat poles hidden behind the drawing-room bookcase.
Seconds later they emerged as crime fighters Batman (West) and Robin (Ward), jumped into the Batmobile and blasted through the camouflaged Batcave exit to Gotham City.
Each Batman story consisted of two episodes and the formula never varied: Before the credits, a super-criminal would commit a fantastic crime.
Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) would be baffled, and contact Batman on their red Batphone. The dynamic duo would then race to their office for clues before investigating.
At the end of the first chapter, one or both of the heroes would be caught in a death trap cliffhanger. Viewers would hear the voice of doom (executive producer William Dozier) exhorting everyone to tune in “Same bat-time, same bat-channel” next time to find out if our heroes would perish in some diabolical way.
During the second episode, the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder would escape from their deadly predicament, enter into a camp choreographed fight sequence with their fiendish foes and thrash the villains in a brawl, putting the world to rights yet again.
In 1965, the producers hired Dean Jefferies to build them an iconic car in three weeks. He was inspired by a concept car from 1955, the Ford Futura.
Modifying it heavily by adding wings in the back and elements of the mask in front, it became the most memorable Batmobile ever put on film. Five versions of the car were used for the show, and almost all the gadgets had to be functional in each of the cars for filming.
The series was an overnight smash and ratings went through the roof. The first episode, ‘Hi Diddle Riddle’ aired in the US on 12 January 1966 and seized an immediate 52% audience.
For the rest of the first season, two episodes were aired each week, getting equally massive viewing figures.
The show was designed to have a comic book appearance with tilted camera angles, superimposed comic book titles such as ZAP! POW! BAM! and the use of coloured lights on the sets, amber and green for The Riddler and purple for The Penguin.
Batman hosted a whole swag of villains played by star names: Burgess Meredith as The Penguin; Cesar Romero as the “Clown Prince of crime” The Joker; Mr Freeze played in turn by George Sanders, Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach; Frank Gorshin as The Riddler (later played less successfully by John Astin of The Addams Family fame); and the feline fiend Catwoman played chronologically by Julie Newmar (MEAOW!), Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt.
The success of the show meant that big names would compete for a chance to guest star. Half of Hollywood wanted to appear on the show.
And so we saw the likes of Roddy McDowall as The Bookworm, Victor Buono as King Tut, Vincent Price as Egghead along with Liberace (Fingers/Chandell), Art Carney (The Archer), Shelley Winters (Ma Parker), Tallulah Bankhead (The Black Widow), Joan Collins (The Siren), Milton Berle (Louie the Lilac), Cliff Robertson (evil cowboy, Shame), Ethel Merman (Lola Lasagne), Maurice Evans (The Puzzler), Rudy Vallee (Lord Ffogg) and Zsa Zsa Gabor (Minerva).
Batman was nominated for three Emmys and was responsible for shifting $75 million worth of Batman merchandise in America in 1966. The show even earned a commendation from the National Safety Council of America for the much-screened shot of the dynamic duo buckling up their seat belts when leaving the Batcave.
Unfortunately, the Automobile Legal Association of America declared in 1967 that Batman was television’s worst driver when – in one episode alone, they pointed out – he performed U-turns on a busy street, crashed through safety barriers, crossed road divider markings and completely failed to use his indicator.
A hastily-arranged feature film was released six months after the series began. Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr admitted it was a cash-in and he wrote it in four weeks, only ever producing one draft.
The shoot was completed in 26 days with post-production completed in under a month. The film rocketed into cinemas in the US on 30 July 1966.
By the third season, the fascination of the TV series was fading and in an attempt to rekindle interest, Bat Girl was introduced. Bat Girl was actually Commissioner Gordon’s shy librarian daughter, Barbara, and was a dab hand on the old motorbike.
Played by ballerina turned actress Yvonne Craig (pictured below), in her tight-fitting purple costume and gold-lined cape she gained the series another season, but low ratings eventually signalled the show’s demise.
In February 1968 – after three years and 120 episodes – the show was cancelled – KERPOW! But Batman has lived on.
In September 1968 CBS produced an animated version of Batman in which the super Duo shared one hour with Superman (in separate segments).
Even though the programme introduced a less camp version of Batman and Robin, possibly in response to fan criticisms of the prime-time serial, the series lasted only two seasons.
Between February and September 1977 CBS broadcast an animated version with the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward.
In September of that year, CBS changed the New Adventures of Batman to The Batman/Tarzan Hour, in which Batman and Tarzan shared one hour back to back, in separate segments.
The original TV show is still screened in over 100 countries and there has been a spate of huge budget movies over more recent years starring the unlikely mix of Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney as the Caped Crusader.
It seems big stars still queue to be part of the Batman phenomena, with Jack Nicholson, Jim Carey, Kim Basinger and Nicole Kidman being just some of the major names to have appeared in the new movies.
In 1992 FOX television released a new animated series capitalising on publicity for the movie, Batman Returns. This new series followed the stylistic changes in the comic book hero and earned critical and popular acclaim for its high-quality graphics and action-packed storylines.
Interestingly, as in the two Batman movies released in the 1990s, this new animated series erased Robin from the scene, possibly responding to criticisms of the homoerotic subtext between the two heroes.
Originally shown every afternoon, the FOX series moved to the Saturday morning FOX line-up in the spring of 1994. At the same time, the series also brought Robin back, possibly responding to the word that a new Batman film – to be released in 1995 – would again include Robin in its plot.
A 2016 animated feature film entitled Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders reunited Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the TV series. Happily, the original tone – the irreverence, the self-awareness and the sheer ridiculousness of it all – remained intact.
Adam West died peacefully in Los Angeles on 10 June 2017 after a brief battle with leukaemia. He was 88.
- The exterior shots for the fictional Wayne Manor were filmed at a real mansion located at 380 S. San Rafael Avenue in Pasadena, California. The scenes of the Batmobile roaring from the Batcave were shot in Bronson Caverns in the Hollywood Hills.
- The Caped Crusader’s dancing in a swinging discotheque with Jill St John (of Hart to Hart fame) led to the Batusi dance craze (pictured below right) which briefly swept the US.
- Alan Napier (who played Alfred the trusty butler) was the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens.
Bat Girl/Barbara Gordon
Alfred the Butler
Frank Gorshin (1)
John Astin (2)
Julie Newmar (1)
Lee Meriwether (2)
Eartha Kitt (3)
George Sanders (1)
Otto Preminger (2)
Eli Wallach (3)
Louie the Lilac
The Mad Hatter
Zsa Zsa Gabor