Friday, January 6, 2017

Top TV Moments: Bernard Fox

The 2016 passing of Bernard Fox was not among the year’s high-profile casualties, but for classic TV fans it was another reminder of an era in television that will one day exist only in memory. 

Most of the characters Fox played fell into one of two categories: distinguished British gentlemen and parodies of distinguished British gentlemen. His aristocratic look, military posture and robust voice found its way into nearly every province of TV Land, from the remote western fort in F Troop to the mysterious tropical splendor of Fantasy Island.

Along the way he created two characters that remain beloved by those who treasure comfort TV, while also elevating guest spots that called for an accent more than an actor. Here are some of Mr. Fox’s most memorable TV moments. Please share any I’ve missed in the comments.

Make Room for Daddy
“Danny’s English Friend” (1962)
Bernard Fox played a seemingly never-ending series of butlers, waiters and valets – some more qualified than others, some more sarcastic. His first memorable role on American television is here as Alfie Wingate, a waiter in Danny’s nightclub. He made four appearances on Make Room for Daddy, including in one of the show’s most enjoyable Christmas episodes.

The Dick Van Dyke Show
“Never Bathe on Saturday” (1965)
Fox played three different characters in three different episodes of this series. He had a bigger part as Laura’s amorous writing teacher in “Teacher’s Petrie,” but “Never Bathe on Saturday” is one of the show’s classics. Fox plays the house detective at the hotel where Laura gets her toe stuck in the bathtub faucet. 

The Andy Griffith Show
“Malcolm at the Crossroads” (1965)
Malcolm Merriweather, the innocent abroad from England who takes a liking to Mayberry, offered Fox a chance to play a less blustery role (and to shave off his mustache). There is a soft-spoken sweetness to the character that is worlds away from his more familiar screen personae. “Malcolm at the Crossroads” was the last of his three series appearances, one that builds to a fight between meek Malcolm and Ernest T. Bass. 

The Flintstones
“No Biz Like Show Biz” (1965)
Even the most casual Flintstones fans will recall this episode, in which Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm become overnight singing sensations with their hit single “Open Up Your Heart and Let the Sunshine In.” Fox voices their manager Eppy Brianstone, an awkward Bedrock variation of Beatles manager Brian Epstein. The song is still catchy.

Hogan’s Heroes
“The Crittendon Plan” (1967)
Next to Dr. Bombay, Fox’s most recognized recurring character was Col. Crittendon, the bumbling British officer that inadvertently upsets Hogan’s best-laid plans. This is my favorite of his eight Hogan’s Heroes appearances, because of the contrast between the challenge of Hogan’s mission and the cluelessness of Crittendon’s contributions. 

The Monkees
“Monkees Mind Their Manor” (1968)
Peter Tork directed this episode, which is typical of many second season shows in which The Monkees seem to be barely paying attention to the script. The plot is some nonsense about Davy inheriting a British manor, with Bernard Fox (as Sir Twiggly Toppin Middlebottom) standing in his way. The medieval fair scenes give Fox a chance to sing “Greensleeves” (badly) and engage in the silliest fencing duel in TV history. 

“Okay, Who’s the Wise Witch?” (1970)
If all the other shows on this list never happened, Bernard Fox would still own a place of distinction among classic TV fans for his creation of Dr. Bombay.

As a general rule with Bewitched, the earlier in the run, the better the episode. But after the series lost some of its magic when Dick York was replaced by Dick Sargent, there was more reliance on the show’s deep bench of recurring characters, which means frequent house calls from Bombay in the final three seasons. I’ve selected this episode because of its unique plot – Samantha’s non-use of her powers causes a vapor lock that traps everyone who enters the Stephens’ home inside.  

“Tabitha’s Weighty Problem” (1978)
This was the first series profiled in my “Terrible Shows I Like” series back in 2013. Four years later I still think the show is pretty bad and I still kind of like it anyway – and one of the reasons is Bernard Fox’s reprisal of his most famous role. The best scene in “Tabitha’s Weighty Problem” begins as soon as Dr. Bombay pops in for a house call.  

“Tea and Empathy” (1978)
We’ve seen Fox play clueless military men before; but the laughs aren’t as broad in “Tea and Empathy,” which seems at first to explore the real-world, life and death consequences of incompetent leadership. But all is not as it appears. 

The Dukes of Hazzard
“Southern Comfurts” (1980)
It’s not one of the better Dukes episodes, but Bernard Fox in the General Lee? Sold.

1 comment:

  1. Fun list! I also enjoyed his Dr. Watson in the made-for-TV HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES.