First Picture:Out on the trail
Second Picture:Major Seth Adams, Ward Bond.
One of the most popular programmes of our youth was ‘Wagon Train’ and no self respecting early teenager in the late 1950’s would miss an episode. To us it represented all that was good, happy, exciting and adventurous. The program went out on BBC between 8.00p.m. and 9.00p.m. on a Monday evening, which meant I was allowed to stay up late to watch it with my parents. We sat in total absorption, immersed in the stories of those brave, ordinary and extraordinary people who dared to load a wagon and strike out for the Wild West as they travelled from St. Joseph to Sacramento during the 1860’s.
Wagon Master, Major Seth Adams, was played by Ward Bond. Scout Flint McCullough was Robert Horton and I knew that no matter what terrors, wickedness or evil deeds occurred, these two, together with Frank McGrath as Charlie Wooster, the cook, would ensure that righteousness would triumph and the Wagon Train would get through. Basically, the ‘goodies’ would defeat the ‘baddies’ and the moral message was that good could often redeem evil, or at least, the wicked would get their just desserts!
The events, scenery, characters and heroism, all combined to capture the essence of the West. Though ‘Wagon Train’ was filmed in black and white from 1958 to 1962, when it was extended in length from an hour to an hour and a half for the seventh series it was shot in colour, but for some unknown reason the production company decided to film the eighth series, which was actually the very last series, in black and white. But as we only had a black and white television I only ever saw it in monochrome. The stories, the acting and the realism of the locations was enough for me, colour was not needed!
Like all good drama, this TV Western drew it sources from real life, plays, history and books, which possibly explains its appeal for so long. It ran from 1957 to 1965, with changes in casts, sadly, the death of Ward Bond, in the saddle, on location in Texas, in 1960, which put the production team in a quandary and after much casting around they put Chris Hale (John McIntire) as Wagon Master, most viewers took some persuading but they soon accepted him. The series still told the stories of pioneers travelling through the unsettled territories to reach California. Along the way they still encountered "wild" Indians, cattle rustlers, con men, blizzards in the mountains, shortage of water in the desert and every other hazard you can possibly imagine. The series also often explored the motivations that caused average people to leave civilization for the unknown lives they would find in the Western United States!
For a lot of households in the UK these central characters were like family and friends but by 1965 the wagons had rolled across our screens for the last time and we had moved on to other great TV Westerns, ‘Bonanza’, ‘Rawhide’ and ‘The Virginian’. On hearing the theme music of any of these programmes I am still instantly transported back to those days of the old West. However so many earth-changing events had happened during the heyday of the TV Western that the simplicity of the world of the Wild West was no longer a means of escape.
So, for many reasons, the Western disappeared from TV in the 1970s, but not before it had delivered thousands of hours of entertainment and created millions of fans. Of them all, ‘Wagon Train’ still stands out as the best and most authentic, never mind the fact that certain aspects of history might have undergone imaginative amendment.
Let’s take a look at some of the facts about Wagon Train.
Ward Bond started his acting career when one of his fellow football players at USC got him some work as an "extra". That team mate was John Wayne! Ward Bond's first job was in the 1929 musical "Words and Music". That was also the first movie where John Wayne got listed in the opening credits!
The TV show was not only popular with audiences. Actors and actresses were very easy to get as guest stars. Here are just a few that appeared:- Dan Blocker, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Chuck Connors, Lou Costello, Bette Davis, Lee Marvin, Agnes Moorehead, Leonard Nimoy, Leslie Nielsen, Ryan O'Neal, Cliff Robertson, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Vaughn and Shelley Winters. One reason why big stars were willing to appear on Wagon Train was that the storylines very often made them the main character. The regular cast members were often given supporting roles while the guest-star became the main focus of the show.
If only life was quite so simple now as it was then! But one scene clearly stays within the memory is Ward Bond standing in the saddle, looking back at the wagon train, raising his arm in the air and calling
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You are right,without refrigerators food shopping was a daily chore ;
but we did have our corner shop. Does anyone remember Mr. and Mrs. Shaw's tiny shop opposite Solent Road School? It was packed with children at lunchtimes and after school, exchanging their pocket money for halfpenny chews, sherbert dabs and fizzy pop etc. Mr. Shaw bottled the drinks himself, using a strange apparatus that Bert Ray would have been proud of. On Saturday mornings I often did odd jobs for Mr. Shaw. It is difficult to believe now, but I sometimes used to collect his weekly small change for the shop. In the bank in Drayton I would give the man a list of monies and receive small bags bursting with everything from farthings to half crowns. I was no more than ten years old! It was obvious it never occured to Mr Shaw that anything could go wrong........People did things differently then!
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Ringo Starr and his wife, actress Barbara Bach, have put their three-bedroom Aspen, Colorado cabin on 16 acres of wooded land on the market for sale. The price? A mere $4.5 million. They have owned the property on the Roaring Fork River for 20 years.
On this day 9th January 1960-1965
On 09/01/1960 the number one single was Why - Anthony Newley and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was not listed and the box office smash was North by Northwest. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Burnley were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 09/01/1961 the number one single was I Love You - Cliff Richard & the Shadows and the number one album was. The top rated TV show was Emergency Ward 10 (ATV) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Sunday Night at the London Palladium (ATV).
On 09/01/1962 the number one single was Moon River - Danny Williams and the number one album was Blue Hawaii - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 09/01/1963 the number one single was The Next Time/Bachelor Boy - Cliff Richard & the Shadows and the number one album was Black & White Minstrel Show - George Mitchell Minstrels. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 09/01/1964 the number one single was I Want to Hold Your hand - The Beatles and the number one album was With the Beatles - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Steptoe & Son (BBC) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Anti-US demonstrations over the Panama Canal.
On 09/01/1965 the number one single was I Feel Fine - The Beatles and the number one album was Beatles For Sale - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.