Several years before playing school teacher Ian Chesterton in Doctor Who, William Russell had thrilled audiences as the male lead in another Saturday tea-time show, The Adventures of Sir Lancelot. There is a chance to watch this again as UK archive film and television channel Talking Pictures TV will be broadcasting the series on Saturdays at 5.30pm from tonight (13th June 2020).
The show was originally broadcast between 1956 and 1957 on the UK’s commercial channel, ITV. It debuted on ATV London (the regional nature of UK commercial television in those days meant different companies held the ITV franchise in different regions) at 6pm on Saturday 15th September and ran for 30 weeks. The broadcast rights were sold to NBC in America where it was shown the following week on Mondays at 8pm. The success of the programme in America meant that the last 14 episodes were filmed in colour, making it the first British TV series to have colour episodes (although these episodes were initially only broadcast in colour in the States).
The Adventures of Sir Lancelot was commissioned by famous media mogul Lew Grade’s company ITC Entertainment (who would go on to be responsible for many cult classics such as Danger Man, Department S and The Prisoner). It told the adventures of Sir Lancelot (Russell), one of the Knights of the Round Table at the time of Camelot. The show also boasted another future Doctor Who alumni: Ronald Leigh-Hunt (Commander Randor in 1966’s The Seeds of Death and Commander Stevenson in 1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen) as King Arthur.
It was Russell’s performance in this show that led to him being cast as Ian Chesterton, one of Doctor Who’s first companions. In those early episodes, Ian is certainly the more ‘conventional’ hero of the initial cast and it is said that he was the only actor considered for the part. Doctor Who’s original producer, Verity Lambert, later remarked how striking she found him in the role of Sir Lancelot and noted how he would be used to the demanding schedule of filming Doctor Who due to his time making the earlier series.
The Adventures of Sir Lancelot will be broadcast on Talking Pictures TV (Virgin 445, Freesat 306, Freeview or Youview 81 or on the Sky digital satellite platform, channel 328) from Saturday 13th June at 5.30pm and continuing every Saturday at the same time. Saturday’s episodes will be repeated the following Thursdays at 9am.