1 9 6 8 – 1 9 6 9 (UK)
10 x 60 minute episodes
This series of bawdy and boisterous stand-alone plays from Granada Television was set in Newgate Prison during the 1750s – a time of superb elegance and brutal squalor.
Originally broadcast under the Playhouse banner, the first four episodes aired on Monday evenings between 3 February and 24 February 1968. A second series began on 10 May 1969, running for six more Saturday night episodes.
Each episode featured Barbara Couper as Mrs Plucker, the raddled old pickpocket who queened it over Newgate from her four-poster bed in the corner of the shared cell. The other recurring cast members were Ricardo Alleyn as Erasmus, Leslie Anderson as Mr Rust, and Robert Fyfe as Ratface.
The individual plays featured self-contained tales told to Mrs Plucker and her associates, each with their own guest cast.
The opening play told the story of Jane Rawley (Jane Bond), a well-brought-up young woman who dresses as a man for a joke, turns highwayman and ends up in Newgate.
Unsophisticated country girl Lucy Hodges (Judy Cornwell) arrives in London, bestows her favours “too generously” and is accused of murder, sentenced to death, reprieved – and then finds herself being transported to America where adventures with Red Indians await.
Captain Jacob White
Jonathan Wild & Jack Sheppard
Amos Wild (Nicky Henson) is in Newgate Prison and about to be whipped for the debt of a shilling. Mrs Plucker pays off the debt.
Amos thanks her and Mrs Plucker tells him that she knew his mother, Letitia Wild (Hannah Gordon).
Then the story goes on to tell the tale of Letitia, her husband Jonathan (Ronald Fraser) – a celebrated thief-taker – and wild-living villain Jack Sheppard (Paul Shelley).
Jonathan Wild is an elaborate go-between, bringing together thieves and their victims. He recovers the stolen goods for a fee, shares it with the criminals, and is then not slow to betray them, also for a profit.
Sir Roland Fordham
This final instalment in the original series of four plays told the tale of Lancelot Wishart (Michael Pennington) and how he was separated from his fortune.
The second series of Rogues’ Gallery starred Diane Cilento as the main recurring character, Lady Sarah Bellasize (sister-in-law to the Lord Mayor) – a glamorous contrast to old Mrs Plucker.
Prison warder Gideon (Danny Sewell) regaled Lady Sarah with tales of other Newgate inmates and the circumstances which led to their incarceration – in return for a place at Lady Sarah’s prison-hall dinner table.
Lady Sarah Bellasize
Sir Esmond Bellasize
Sir William McAvity
The Bright-Eyed Body-Snatcher
The year is 1750 and Newgate Prison has a new First Lady – the lovely but unscrupulous Lady Sarah Bellasize (Diane Cilento). She’s the widow of a judge and – where men are concerned – no mean judge herself.
We meet this provocative, bosomy creature when the cantankerous old judge, in flashback, is soon to meet his end. How does this lady, accustomed to the elegance of aristocratic salons, come to find herself among the riff-raff of Newgate? Perhaps not wholly by her own fault; that is the irony of it.
The Wicked Stage
There’s nothing monotonous about the career of Lucifer Kane (Jim Dale). One minute he’s a pugilist at Southwark Fair, the next he’s “walking-on” at Drury Lane Theatre. And after that, he’s a prisoner in Newgate Gaol.
It’s not such an unhappy ending, though, with the lovely Lady Sarah Bellasize (Diane Cilento) to share his cell – and to encourage him to recount his adventures.
Personable, muscular and handy with his fists, Lucifer had come up from the country seeking fame as a prize-fighter. In the boxing booth at Southwark Fair, he has instant success – but he attracts the attention of more than the fight fans.
There are, for disagreeable example, a lieutenant and a bosun of His Majesty’s Navy on the lookout for likely recruits to be pressed into service. More pleasantly, there is the vivacious George Anne Bellamy (Harriett Harper) – leading lady of David Garrick’s (Ian McShane) company at Drury Lane – and it is she who comes to Lucifer’s aid when the Naval men close in.
Mrs Hannah Pritchard
George Anne Bellamy
The Timorous Rake
Matthew Fairchild (David Dundas) is a young man who has done his languid best to keep up with the permissive society of 18th-century London – and got much more than he bargained for.
Matthew, by nature, is a man out of step with the dissolute life of his time. Well-born and comfortably supported by a wealthy father, he has felt no need to make an impression upon society by any kind of extravagant behaviour, and he has steered clear of amorous intrigue – simply because it all strikes him as too fatiguing.
Even so, he is finding it hard to bear the scorn of his family and friends for his virtuous reputation. And when his raffish chum, Simon Herrick (Michael Mackenzie) points out that the pursuit of women is not always necessary – so many of them are eager to do the pursuing – he begins to weaken.
According to Simon, Mrs Tindal (Maria Charles), for example, would require no exhaustive wooing. Married to an elderly alderman (Raymond Huntley), she would clearly relish the attention of a young lover.
Matthew’s pulse quickens at the prospect of so easy a conquest, and Simon is quite right – Mrs Tindal is only too anxious for the ravishing to begin. But there is an unexpected snag. How else would Matthew come to be telling his story to Lady Sarah in Newgate?
The Fearful Image
Allan Erskine (Barry Andrews) grows up in a Gloucestershire village and goes to London aged 25, apparently with the world at his feet. But why do total strangers seem to recognise him and what is his relationship with the eccentric Sir Silas Wintersett (Wallas Eaton) and his beautiful daughter Kate (Morag Hood)?
Is this man really his father? – hardly a comforting thought when he finds his feelings for Kate are far from brotherly – or has Allan become part of some sinister experiment by a man who is surrounded by the paraphernalia of necromancy?
Sir Silas Wintersett
A Bed-Full of Miracles
Mary Toft (Amelia Taylor) – a young woman living in the little town of Godalming – announces that she has given birth to a rabbit which brings the curious flocking to the town. Even the gentry and nobility, encouraged by the interest of the King himself, come down from London by the carriage-load to the delight of the local merchants.
It is just the commercial fillip needed by a district stricken with sheep-blight that was bringing ruin to farmers and wool traders. Was it all a carefully planned hoax?
Dr St Andre
King George I
Duchess of Kendall
Princess of Wales
Sir Richard Manningham
The Prude Pursued
Dr Peppercorn (John Woodnutt) – with the help of the disreputable Mrs Fumble – hits on a plan for securing the release from Newgate of Lady Sarah Bellasize (Diane Cilento). And so the series comes to an end with a story that moves from Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens to Bedlam, and from there to a happy ending in an unexpected place.