|BOOTH|| ||...Little girls should stay around the house, don't you think?|
|HONEY|| ||Wouldnt that be rather dull for little boys?|
|(The Flame and the Pussycat, 12 November, 1965)|
|The Honey West television series is the best cure for the blues that I know.|
No matter how despondent I may be at dire personal circumstances or the lamentable state of the world, if I spend twenty-six minutes at the side of the female proprietor of H. West and Company and her partner, Sam Bolt, my spirit becomes renewed and invigorated to a level where I feel things may turn out alright after all. With my overdraft, at least, if not with the ultimate fate of homo sapiens.
Over the decades, the people behind television have offered up of protagonists for us to realte to and follow.
None of them are like Honey and Sam.
And that, really, is the crux of the matter. How many of the denizens of The Tube would you want to spend time with, in the real world?
There may, I suspect, be many websites devoted to vintage television series that owe their existence purely to the obfuscatory effects of nostalgia, rather than merit. This may even be true, perhaps, of some of my own. This site, however, isnt one of them.
Although I was around when the Honey West TV series first appeared here in England, I never saw it. The Independent Television company covering the area in which I was living chose to air the series late on a Thursday eveningat 22:30 P.M.well past the bedtime of the nine year old I happened to be.
I was, however, acutely aware of the series existence.
For some reason, in the mid-1960s, the department stores, toy shops, and market stalls in the U.K. were overflowing with accessory sets designed for a range of twelve inch character dolls manufactured by the Gilbert Toy company of America. This wonderous collection of figures included semi-articulated likenesses of two senior law enforcement agents at the U.N.C.L.E, an intelligence agent by the name of James Bond, an astronaut called Moon McDareand somebody called Honey West
Perversely, however, while there was an abundance of scaled representations of SCUBA equipment, carbines with night scopes, and pet ocelots, the dolls these items were designed for were nowhere to be seen. As an avid follower of the exploits of the men from U.N.C.L.E., I left no potential repository for their miniature counterparts to remain unvisited, but failed in my every effort to find them. I did, however, buy one of the beautifully manufactured U.N.C.L.E. guns, and it was from the catalogue included with this that I learned of the existence of Honey West. The colourful leaflet informed me only that she was a private eye portrayed on Television by Anne Francis
but it was enough to pique my interest.
Over the years I encountered other references to the character, in books and magazine articles dealing with vintage Television, and the opinions expressed about the series were uniformly negative. The general concensus was that Honey, wasnt the star of her own show, that she was portrayed as incompetent, and was always getting into predicaments that her more heroic male partner, Sam Bolt, was having to extricate her from. I also read that in the novels on which the series was based, Sam did not exist and Honey worked alone.
It wasnt until the 1990s that I was finally presented with the opportunity to decide for myself.
A British cable company named Bravo began to air the series (along with, incidentally, the monochromatic episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.something that was probably unique at that time.).
Out of curiosity, I sat down to watch an episode. It was a segment called A Stitch in Crime, from about half way through the run. After only a few minutes, in the short space of time it took the teaser to unfold, Anne Francis, John Ericson, and the writers had delineated two remarkable characters that I liked and wanted to spend more time with.
By the time the episode had finished, I knew that the criticisms I had read over the years were wrongand I was hooked. While Sam Bolt is tough, courageous, street-wise and highly skilled in electronics and engineering, he believes in doing things by the book to the point where he can be over-cautious, andwhile far from unintelligentlacks the ability to link effect and cause in criminological terms. Honey is the brains and driving force behind the business. Possessing an incisive, analytical mind that sees connections between events that others miss, she is as courageous, strong-willed, and as physically capable as her male partner (it is noticable that, in the climactic altercations in the later entries in the series, Honey will disable two bad guys to Sams one). Above all, she is motivated by a deeply compassionate nature allied to a strong moral sense. Sam (at least in the early days) is in it purely for the money
I probably couldnt have picked a better and more unlikely episode to demonstrate all this than A Stitch in Crime. In it, Honey and Sam are hired to guard a new collection of gowns that are the work of an imaginative fashion designer. Although, several times during the proceedings, Honey gazes covetously upon the feminine finery under their protection, at no point does her behaviour make her appear frivolous. Nor to we feel she is being patronised or subjected to stereotypingbecause of the way she is characterised throughout the rest of the story. She appreciates elegant clothing; she takes pride in her appearancebut she is also focussed on the job she is being paid to do. It is interesting to contrast this with the way the Barbara Anderson character, Police Officer Eve Whitfield, was portrayed a few years later in the long-running Raymond Burr series Ironside (1967-1974). Often used for comedic effect, this professional policewoman was frequently shown to be more interested in buying a new hat than solving that weeks case
I can appreciate why Skip and Gloria Ficklingthe authors of the novels the Honey West series was based onwere reportedly unhappy with the liberties Four Star took with their creation. The adventures of the small screen H. West and Company are far removed from the Chandler-esque exploits of their print-based source of origin.
The Honey West TV series is a delight. It is that rare thing: an intelligent piece of entertainment that is, I have found, the best therapy for the blues that I know.
The scripts are artfully constructed. They tell complex, atmospheric tales in only twenty-six minutes, and employ echoed dialogue and visual puns to link scenes. The writing is literate (how many other teleplays credit their audiences with the intelligence to appreciate throw away references to the aphorisms of Diogenes?) and the outcome of the adventures of Honey and Sam is never formulaic or obvious.
In tandem with this, the lead performances are exceptionaland this is demonstrated not by the series best moments, but by its worst.
On two occasions, Anne Francis and John Ericson are handed material that would humiliate most actors: firstly, a nightclub scene in which Honey and Sam are cajoled into dancing The Honey Westa twist-based routine that involves holding your hands like pistols and poking your fingers in the air (Come to Me, My Litigation Baby), and secondly, an episode in which they are confronted by a rampaging gorilla that is (quite understandably) enacted by a man in a costume (Slay, Gypsy, Slay). On both occasions, the actors play the scenes with honesty and credibility. In the former, they appear embarrassed; in the later, terrified. Consequently, they emerge with their professional dignityand the integrity of the characters they are playingintact.
It has often been said that when someone turns on their television they are, essentially, inviting its occupants into their homes. Over the years, Ive come to realise that most of the fictional characters presented to us as potential icons on the tube are not only people you would not otherwise invite into your home, but are also one-dimensional entities who do not appear to have lives beyond the running time of their shows
Honey and Sam are an exception on both counts.
Unlike most Television heroes, theyre not perfect. They frequently let their emotions get the better of them. We see them exhibiting spectacular diplays of ill humournot only with each other but also with their clients. They make mistakes. They can be fooled. The path they follow to the resolution of a case is never straightforward, and when they ultimately prevail they do so not only because of the sharpness of their wits and their courage, but also because of their compassion. And along the way they crack some wonderfully funny jokes.
The virtues of Honey West and Sam Bolt deserve to be recognised, celebratedand above all savoured.
That's why this site is here.