Saturday, June 23, 2018

Space Academy ( 1977 ) - Television Series

Shortly after Star Wars premiered in theatres in 1977, a space frenzy hit the entertainment industry and other similar-themed sci-fi films and television shows premiered, one of which was Space Academy. This half-hour production was aimed towards a juvenile audience and aired on Saturday mornings at 10:30am EST on the CBS network. It was set in the far far future and centered around a group of bright young students belonging to the intergalactic Space Academy ( "founded in the star year 3732" ) and the various lessons they learned from encountering strange beings from space and handling problems that arose on missions to different planets.

One of the heads of this academy was Commander Gampu, portrayed by none other than Jonathan Harris, the notorious Dr. Zachary Smith of Lost in Space. In Space Academy, his character is quite the opposite of Dr. Smith; he is a wise leader and a dear friend to all of the youngsters, especially little Loki, whom he rescued from the planet of Zalon. Indeed, it is Jonathan Harris' presence that makes the show so enjoyable.

This Filmation series featured excellent set design and special effects ( Space Academy had a $150,000 per episode budget ), especially considering this was a children's television show and not a feature film production. Most impressive are the shots of the Seeker, the Academy's smaller space-exploration vehicle ( the Ark II redressed ), returning to its port within the Space Academy's floating complex. 

Space Academy began its season with some clever storylines injected with appropriate morals but, as the series progressed, the scripts, unfortunately, became more and more juvenile in theme. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining series that has held up well over the years. 

Space Academy lasted but one season and then its spin-off Jason of Star Command took over its timeslot ( it was since moved to 12pm EST ) and this show did considerably better. The character of Commander Gampu was to have continued his leadership with a new group of students but Jonathan Harris had a "falling out" with Filmation and was replaced by James Doohan as Commander Canarvin, who was then replaced by the blue-faced Commander Stone ( John Russell ). 

The Characters 

Like Star Trek, each of the students belonging to Blue Team of Commander Gampu's squadron had various abilities as well as different character strengths and weaknesses. 

Commander Issac Gampu - Jonathan Harris

The 300-year-old Commander Gampu continually drives his cadets to do better and to think out problems for themselves. He is always there to dispense advice when needed and is an excellent leader, putting wisdom before action. 


Peepo is a little robot that becomes indispensable to the Blue Team. He is actually a "self-determining type-A manu-droid" that Gampu had built years earlier. Peepo often displays human-like emotions such as happiness ( a high-pitched laughter sound ) and fear. Peepo is especially close to Laura. 

Chris Gentry - Ric Carrott

Chris is the captain of the Blue Team and chief pilot of the Seeker when they are sent out on intergalactic missions. He shares powers of telekinetics and astro-portation with his sister Laura. Chris also has a sweet-spot for Adrian. 

Laura Gentry - Pamelyn Ferdin

Laura is often placed second in command - "co-captain" - on missions and is a valuable team member, both on the Seeker and at the Academy where she helps to watch the monitors. She appears to be the most empathic of the group. 

Tee Gar Soom - Brian Tochi

Every team needs a good doctor. Tee Gar is not only the Blue Team's medical man but he is a whiz with electronics and karate as well. He carries out orders with promptness and is always there to give a helping hand. 

Paul Jerome - Ty Henderson

Paul comes from a "pioneer planet" where survival was of the utmost importance. After a rocky start with the Blue Team he comes to be relied upon as a trustworthy member of the team. He is often acting as co-pilot and is a role-model for little Loki. 

Adrian Pryce Jones - Maggie Cooper

Adrian is the scientist of the group, a geologist, and third in command. Whenever the team land on an alien planet, Adrian begins collecting soil samples and analyzing the minerals. She is also clever with gadgets and helps build devices that the Space Academy may use. 

Loki - Erik Greene

Named after the Norse god of mischief, this heavy-eyelashed youth was rescued from the planet Zalon by Commander Gampu and joins the Blue Team as their mascot, general errand boy, and chief troublemaker.


Space Academy did not have the usual range of coloring books, posters, puzzles, etc, that most children's series inspired, but that is probably because the series ended after one season. The only collectible associated with the show that I was able to find was a series of dolls manufactured by the Aviva Toy Company of Hong Kong and distributed throughout the by F.W. Woolworth and Co. department stores. There were four dolls issued: Issac Gampu, Chris Gentry, Loki, and Tee Gar. They are quite valuable today since they are quite rare and were poorly made ( plastic deterioration is a concern ). 

Top 5 Favorite Episodes

Survivors of Zalon ( September 10, 1977 ) 

Unusual activity on Adrian's computer monitor suggests that there may be life on the planet Zalon, which is due to explode in 48 hours. Commander Gampu organizes a mission to Zalon with the Blue Team, and there they discover and rescue Loki, a curly-haired waif who has been tasked with guarding a pair of glowing crystals. 

Castaways in Time and Space ( November 17, 1977 )

Paul, a new recruit to the Academy, joins Chris and Tee Gar on a mission to rescue Commander Gampu and Laura who are stranded on an alien planet after entering a black hole with their Seeker. Paul and Chris share differences of opinion about risk, which relates to their backgrounds...Paul having come from a planet where personal survival is considered most important.

Countdown ( October 1, 1977 )

The Blue Team is sent in a Seeker to destroy floating space debris left-over from the Vegan Wars, three-hundred years ago. While surveying the surrounding area they discover a massive war vessel and explore it. Inside, in a freeze-chamber, is the body of a hostile Vegan named Roarg, and outside, attached to the hull, is an unexploded magnetic mine. 

The Rocks of Janus ( October 15, 1977 )

Two comets are hurtling towards the Space Academy and so Commander Gampu sends Blue Team out in a Seeker to plant explosive charges and destroy the comets before they come any closer. While Chris and the team set up the charges, Maggie and Laura take a rock sample - and discover that the rock they "tapped" bleeds! Once they discover it is a living organism they no longer wish to destroy it. 

My Favorite Marcia ( November 26, 1977 )

Commander Gampu leads a cadet team to study a star about to go supernova, when he determines that a "galactic distress beacon" has been activated on the fourth planet in a nearby star system. The signal is being sent by his old friend, Marcia, a rogue space trader who was hunting diamonds on the planet's surface when her spaceship's power was neutralized by an evil root - Robby the Robot ( of Forbidden Planet fame ).

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Bells of Astercote ( 1980 )

Penelope Lively's ghostly children's novel "Astercote" ( 1970 ) was brought to the small screen in 1980 as a one-hour television movie that aired the evening of December 23, following in the BBC tradition of airing ghost stories for the Yuletide season.

The Bells of Astercote, as it was renamed, was memorable to many of the little Brits who stayed up to watch it that night because of its unusual subject matter ( the Black Death ) and because it simply was an excellent production.

In the 1970s, many British childrens-based television productions were aimed towards mature youngsters, those of the 10-15 year-old age group, most of them being of the mystery, sci-fi, or "horror" genre. Unlike The Children of the Stones, the excellent 1977 mini-series that approached such diverse matter as black holes, occultism, time-loops, and energy-exuding rocks, The Bells of Astercote had a much simpler plot and yet still managed to pack in a fair amount of eeriness in its brief 50-minute run-time. It could have been an even more chilling and engrossing production had it been stretched to mini-series length like The Children of the Stones, but that did not happen. 
The Bells of Astercote tells the story of two children, Mair and Peter, who discover a simpleton named Goacher in a mysterious patch of woods. He guards a chalice that he believes protects the villagers from the Black Death, the plague. The children, who are fairly new residents of the village, are skeptical that the infamous plague of the 14th-century could return to modern-day England when so many antibiotics abound, but they soon come to realize that most of the villagers believe, like Goacher, that their health is safeguarded by that chalice. When the mysterious cup vanishes one day, Mair and Peter are as anxious as the villagers to discover its whereabouts and return the chalice to its rightful place in the forest.
The children who portrayed the lead characters, Siobhan Brooks and Ifor Williams, were quite convincing actors, as are all of the adults. Even though it is a television production and the budget was obviously limited, it is more entertaining than many of the feature films that were released that same year.  

Also in the cast is John Branwell ( The Return of the Antelope ), Davyd Harries, Kristine Howarth, and Janis Winters. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name That Movie Game

A pretty woman seated at a desk...doing something quite unusual. She is obviously sending a message, but to whom ( or is it who? ) Clues abound in this scene and if you put your detective skills to work you may just uncover the title to this month's Impossibly Difficult screenshot!

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!


Congratulations on DKoren for correctly guessing "Dr. No" ( 1962 )! This classic action film starring Sean Connery launched the James Bond film franchise. This scene occurs within the first five minutes, where in a secluded island house this young woman gets murdered for sending out a secret message via radio. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Skippy and the Intruders ( 1969 )

It's Lassie Down Under! ....

....only he jumps... and clucks! Some may say that a dog is a man's best friend, but Skippy the kangaroo can best a dog any day - especially in a boxing match. Skippy premiered as a television series in March 1968, in Australia, and quickly became one of the country's top children's television programs, rivaling the popularity of Lassie here in the States. Since it was such a hit, the producers of the series thought that a feature film would do equally well so, prior to filming the second season, the cast assembled for this adventurous 96-minute feature film entitled Skippy and the Intruders.

Little Sonny ( Garry Pankhurst ) and his marsupial pal Skippy live with his father, Matt Hammond ( Ed Devereaux ), and his brother Mark ( Ken James ) near the Waratah National Park, where his father works as the chief park ranger. One day a pair of divers come by for a permit to dive for abalone in the waters off Mallacoota and, while they seem to be legitimate divers, they are really in the area diving for a sunken treasure of gold bullion... a treasure that rightfully belongs to the Navy.

Sonny, Skippy, and their friend Clancy ( Lisa Goddard ) accidentally stumble upon this operation, forcing the treasure hunters to keep the children as hostages until they can carry off their diving operation and abscond with the stolen gold. 
While the plot to Skippy and the Intruders isn't entirely original, the film itself packs in a lot of excitement and is highly entertaining - especially considering it is geared towards children. It features beautiful location scenery throughout the Sydney coast, some great underwater diving footage, and criminals who aren't bumbling or stupid. To add a little romance to the film there is Meg ( Jeanie Drynan ), a young woman who works at the seaside pub. She is the girlfriend of one of the "kidnappers" and looks after the children while they are in hiding. Also in the cast is Ron Graham, Kevin Miles, and Jack Hume. 

Skippy himself gets to relax through most of the movie and only steps into fighting-mode at the climax, but his presence is certainly one of the highlights of the movie. Perhaps Australians may have found a pet kangaroo commonplace, but for American audiences, he is quite a novel hero, bouncing around here and there to save his pal, Sonny. 
In Australia, Skippy and the Intruders was just a moderate success at the box office but it became popular overseas when it was later sold to the Children's Film Foundation ( CFF ) and aired on television in the UK as an edited 60-minute film. If you enjoy this film then it is well worth checking out the original television series - Skippy the Bush Kangaroo - which ran for three seasons ( 1968-1970 ). 

Skippy and the Intruders is available on DVD and by streaming through Kanopy or Youtube

Friday, June 1, 2018

Sea Bird II at The Derby ( 1965 )

Tomorrow will take place the 234th running of The Derby at Epsom Downs and to help you get into the mood for enjoying that race we have unearthed here a clip from the 1965 Derby ( pronounced "Darby" ) in which "Sea Bird II" made his historic victory run. 
"Sea Bird II" was a chestnut colored French thoroughbred who many consider to be the greatest racehorse of the 20th century. In this particular race, he gives a magnificent performance easily passing "I Say" - the favorite to win - by two lengths. Pat Glennon, an Australian, was Sea Bird's jockey for this race. 

This 6-minutes long British Pathé clip gives us a glimpse of the atmosphere at the race and also shows Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Princess Margaret, and other royal personages in attendance.

Ready to see them charge? Simply click on the link below.

Other similar British Pathé clips: 

The Derby ( 1959 ) - 3:49 min

The Derby ( 1962 ) - 6:06 min

The Derby ( 1968 ) - 4:01 min

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

From the Archives: Bowery to Broadway ( 1944 )

Handsome Turhan Bey and pretty Susanna Foster are performing at the piano in this scene from RKO's 1944 production Bowery to Broadway. Ms. Foster was born Suzanne Larson but took the name Susanna after the song "Oh, Susanna" and Foster from the song's writer, Stephen Foster.

From the Archives is a series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Walt Disney's Ballerina ( 1966 )

"When you no longer have the ballet, what have you?"

Ballerina Mette Hønningen stars as Mette Sorensen, a young woman who spent years training to become a ballerina for the Royal Danish Ballet only to find her sparkling dream tarnished by her mother's desire to have her quit ballet, wed boyfriend Sven, and raise a family. Her mother ( Astrid Villaume ) simply wants Mette to enjoy her youth like other girls her age instead of spending hours constantly in ballet training. But she fails to realize that for Mette, ballet is her enjoyment. It is her life. 

Mette's father ( Poul Reichhardt ), a musician, supports her in her dream, as does Mette's idol, the famous ballerina Kirsten Holm ( Kirsten Simone ). Kirsten sees great potential in Mette and is saddened to see her despondent and slacking in her training. In fear of losing this talented pupil she convinces the director of the ballet company to give Mette a solo performance in the company's upcoming production of "Swan Lake" by making a typical prima-donna demand:

"I might dance Swan Lake next week....or I might not. I'm very tired from my recent tour. If I dance Swan Lake, so will Mette Sorensen."

The mentorship and encouragement that Kirsten gives her, helps Mette to convince her mother that the beauty of ballet danced to perfection - no matter how difficult the work involved - is worth the effort. Mette, in turn, also offers little Ingrid ( Jenny Agutter ), one of the star-struck students at the ballet, the same encouragement and support that she received in order to help Ingrid becoming a better dancer. 
Shortly after Walt Disney Studios entered television in the mid-1950s with the Disneyland series, the studio began producing full-length made-for-television movies. The Wonderful World of Color offered an excellent opportunity for up-and-coming directors to learn the ropes before they progressed to feature films and also provided the studio with a training ground for actors. 

Many of the films made for television covered a wide variety of topics that may have had minimal box-office appeal and would not have been worth producing had they been released directly in theatres. Almost Angels ( showcasing the Vienna Boys Choir ), The Magnificent Rebel ( the life of Ludwig Beethoven ), The Tattooed Police Horse ( harness racing ) and Ballerina ( the Royal Danish Ballet ), are just some of these films. 
Ballerina is a particularly entertaining picture and one of the rare films to focus entirely on ballet. It is also unusual in that it features actual ballet artists from the Royal Danish Ballet in the lead parts. Because of this, their acting is not up to par with theatre-trained actors, but it is quite good considering they are primarily dancers who are accustomed to acting without the use of their voice. 

The storyline is engaging and Ballerina features quite a number of excellent ballet dance sequences from Coppelia, a lovely Scottish number ( which I don't know the name to ) and naturally, the famous Swan Lake. Henning Kronstam of the Royal Danish Ballet is also given a large role as one of the principal dancers. 
Ballerina was filmed on location in Denmark. In one scene, the audience is given a tour of the beautiful Tivoli Gardens which was the park that inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland. 

Unfortunately, Ballerina is not yet available on DVD or online for streaming...but some kindly soul has posted a VHS transfer of the film on Youtube which can be viewed here. 
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