Remember the days when television was
in black and white? Good always triumphed over evil, there was
invariably a happy ending, the strongest word even the most
case hardened criminal ever used was "darn" and the
closest anyone got to sex was a chaste kiss?
Today it's impossible to avoid docusoaps,
house or garden makeovers and cookery programmes. Back in the
early 1960s we lived on a diet of Westerns. "Wagon Train",
"Rawhide", "Laramie", "Bonanza",
"Wyatt Earp"; there was one on every single night
of the week and we watched them all.
Everyone had a favourite and they were
all discussed at length on the school playing fields at lunchtime.
It's difficult to imagine how the scriptwriters managed to come
up with so many different plots and yet I don't remember seeing
the same storylines going the rounds the way they do now on
all the soaps. Perhaps it was because they just set out to entertain
in those days and left it to the documentaries to increase our
awareness of serious social issues. Helpline numbers for those
of us needing to deal with bullet wounds hadn't been thought
The series I remember liking the most
were those in which the main characters didn't take themselves
too seriously, so "Maverick" episodes featuring James
Garner, and "Sugarfoot" with Will Hutchins were both
high on my list. But at the very top, head and shoulders above
the rest, was "Riverboat".
a short life in Britain. It was on air for less than a year
and, to the best of my knowledge has never been seen or heard
of over here since. Instead of a cowboy, or lawman, the main
character was a riverboat captain and each episode followed
one of his adventures on a riverboat called the Enterprise,
as she plyed her trade up and down the Mississippi in the 1840s.
Captain Grey Holden was played by Darren McGavin.
In common with, I imagine,
every other series at the time and some of today's too, Grey
Holden's character could sometimes change from week to week
to fit in with the plots. This of course quickly turned him
into a truly remarkable person. They certainly don't make men
like that any more! (It must have
been quite challenge for Darren McGavin, who, to his great credit,
made Grey Holden credible despite everything.)
At a loose end one evening,
I decided to look up some ghosts from my past and stumbled upon
a website full of pictures of "Riverboat". What a
trip down Memory Lane that was! If the hit rate for that web
page rose noticeably around the beginning of May, it was probably
due entirely to me.
When I was finally able
to drag myself away, further surfing revealed a thriving little
Internet community collecting/swapping and trading videos of
just about any television series you can think of. Apparently
as long as you don't do it for profit and the tapes are for
private use only, it's not illegal. That's what one website
said anyway, although it was US case law they were quoting.
If you're in Britain, presumably you just have to take your
chances. (So don't blame me if you decide to give it
a try and end up in the dock!)
Turning the clock back so
many years is always a gamble. What if you hate it now? What
if you shatter all those adolescent illusions? Having debated
the issue for all of 2 seconds, naturally I went ahead anyway.
The first tape arrived.
"I'll be grown up about this and wait until this evening
to watch it", I thought. Five minutes later I'd convinced
myself that I really ought to check that it played on my VCR.
Five further minutes and I was under the spell of Captain Grey
Holden all over again. Whatever I'd planned to do that day,
never got done. I was far too busy wallowing in nostalgia.
Reversion to a second childhood
has been rapid and collecting more episodes has temporarily
become my new mission. I'm just relieved I chose a relatively
short series to remember with such affection, even if it is
proving very hard to track down. Anyone taken with "Gunsmoke"
for example, which ran for 20 years, is likely to be bankrupt
and on a zimmer frame by the time they've finished amassing
all the available episodes!
a masterpiece of classic television drama. I didn't think it
was at the time and I certainly don't think so now. But it's
great fun to watch and Grey Holden still does it for me, just
like he always used to all those years ago.
A character in a series
can only be as compelling as the skill of the actor who plays
him,.so I take my hat off (a peaked captain's one of course),
to Darren McGavin for creating Grey Holden.
Grey Holden played by Darren McGavin
Grey Holden and Pilot Ben Frazer played by a young Burt
Since I first wrote this
webpage, I've had a number of people emailing me because they
too remembered "Riverboat" with great affection. In
particular, Elmer Bernstein's theme music from the first series
seems to have made its mark. The quality isn't too good and
you may have to turn your speakers up, but if you'd like to
hear it again, click
If you'd like to find
out more about "Riverboat" I can recommend www.darrenmcgavin.net/riverboat.htm
My thanks go to the webmasters there for their kindness to me.
If you fancy dabbling
in a bit of video trading try
Video Trading Post &
P.S. If there are any other
Riverboat fans out there, feel free to email
P.P.S.If you're female and over 35, I'll
bet you're now heading off to the nearest search engine to look
up your old favourites!