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Ironside Seasons 1&2 on UK DVD

Monday, 10 August 2015 23:00 Written by 

Ironside - Seasons 1 and 2 out on UK DVDRaymond Burr was a giant of the small screen in more ways than one. Following 271 episodes over nine years from 1957 as the lead in Perry Mason, few expected the actor to go immediately into another potentially long-running show. In fact, waylaid by just a cameo in the pilot episode for the Robert Wagner starrer It Takes A Thief, Burr went into what would be an eight year, 195 episode engagement on Ironside (which, for reasons only known to the hierarchy at the BBC, became A Man Called Ironside in the UK – perhaps Auntie thought folk might think it was a series about domestic science without making that type of qualification!).

This is a show where all four of the major characters are incredibly well-drawn, complement each other well, and make even the most mundane of scripts sparkle. This is NOT one of your run-of-the-mill police procedurals – it has style, gloss and pace. Thanks to Fabulous Films, you could have won one of three sets of the first two seasons of Ironside (a total of 54 one-hour episodes) in our prize competition.

In giving you the skinny on this series, I am grateful for the excellent booklets written by Grant Taylor, which come with each of these releases of Ironside, both of which are full of facts and trivia, and made the writing of this article so much easier! As they say, if in doubt, steal from good sources!

And so to the plot. Ironside has made enemies during his 25 years on the police force. One of them fires six shots at him while on vacation, alone on the front porch of a secluded farm house. Two bullets find their mark, one through his hand, the other into his spine. It’s touch-and-go for several days, but he proves too focussed to die. His recovery is marred by one notable exception - his legs are lifeless, meaning he is confined to a wheelchair. Unable to continue as Chief of Detectives, he cajoles a role as a special consultant to the department.

He enlists a trio of staff to assist him. Heading it is Detective Sergeant Ed Brown, a bright, young policeman played by Don Galloway. Galloway played Mitchell Harris in the 1963-4 legal drama Arrest & Trial alongside Ben Gazzara and Chuck Connors, and had been one of the three stars of short-run sit-com Tom, Dick and Mary in the 1964-5 TV season.

Ironside also has rebellious youth Mark Sanger by his side. Prior to coming into his orbit, Sanger found himself in trouble many times with the law. Don Mitchell played the role, creating an incredible chemistry with Burr, where the pair would joust on various topics. Mitchell regrettably found himself the most typecast of the four leads, and went on to only a handful of guest spots on the likes of Wonder Woman, CHiPs and Matlock, and the co-lead in “Scream Blacula Scream” (1973).

The sassy and self-confident Eve Whitfield, played by Barbara Anderson is the final member of the team. Anderson had the previous year featured as Lenore Karidian in the Star Trek episode “The Conscience of the King”, and later went on to guest in a run of seven 1972 episodes of Mission: Impossible, as Mimi Davies, covering for missing team member Casey (actress Lynda Day George was taking maternity leave). Anderson is also known for her starring role as Jean Manners in the pilot movie for The Six Million Dollar Man (1973).

Of the four major characters in Ironside, Barbara was the only one to not go the distance, leaving after the fourth season of eight, clocking up 105 of the 195 episodes. Her replacement made her debut in the fourth episode of Season 5 - “The Gambling Game” – Officer Fran Belding, played by Elizabeth Baur, who had just come from starring as Teresa O’Brien in Lancer (1968-1970). Both Anderson and Baur would feature in the reunion movie “The Return of Ironside” in 1993, alongside Burr, Galloway and Mitchell.

Above Ironside and his team was Commissioner Dennis Randall - it was his ranch where Ironside was staying when he was gunned down by the sniper. Randall (played by Gene Lyons, who died at the end of the seventh season of the show) tolerated Ironside and his gruff manner because he got results. Actor Lyons had been a guest star on dozens of TV series, but Star Trek fans will recall his role as Ambassador Robert Fox in “A Taste of Armageddon”.

Ironside meanwhile, has its own set of iconic props and locations. The first is a special wheelchair designed to allow Ironside to be very mobile – it has a specially constructed motor which allows him to steer and move himself with a single, universal lever mounted on the right arm of the chair. This appears and disappears at will throughout the first season, changing to a similarly leopard-pattern chair without the electronics from episode to episode, probably noting that the stories were not screened in their original production order.

In the pilot movie we see a custom-built security truck built for Ironside from a decommissioned police vehicle. It is practical as well as functional, with a powerful Rolls-Royce engine added within its robust shell. A hydraulic lift is installed which lowers Ironside to the ground from his mobile office in the back. Initially black in the pilot movie, the van transformed into a dark grey for the first two seasons proper.

The key set is Ironside’s combination office and living quarters, Room 48 in the attic of an unused area of the police department’s headquarters. Using footage of the former San Francisco Hall of Justice for external shots, a portion of the quarters is taken up by an old double bed with a trapeze-like bar which Ironside uses to get in and out. A barber’s chair, with a 360-degree swivel action, serves as Ironside’s lounge chair. In the corner there’s a stove from which a pot of Ironside’s favourite dish, chilli, is almost continually available.

The TV broadcast of the feature-length pilot of Ironside, in March 1966, was one of Universal’s ‘World Premier’ motion pictures, and proved to be very successful. It scored a National Nielsen average audience per cent (rating) of 22.2, with an average 36.8 share-of-audience, seen in 12,190,000 TV households by an estimated 23,700,000 viewers. Excellent stuff, even at a time when there were only three channels available.

The first season would also attract present and future household-name guest stars to the format. Among these were Jack Lord (a year before his long-running role as Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0), Harrison Ford, Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Susan Saint James (twice, as different characters), David Carradine, Pete Duel (as Peter Deuel), Robert Reed, Dwayne Hickman, Ed Asner, Robert Lansing, Marcia Strassman, Don Marshall, Lee Grant, Jeanette Nolan, James Farentino, Gavin MacLeod and Vera Miles.

Support came from other now-familiar faces including Kathleen Freeman, Kent McCord, Joel Fabiani (a year before his starring role as Stewart Sullivan in the ITC series Department S), Pernell Roberts, Donnelly Rhodes, William Windom, Ingrid Pitt, Richard Anderson, Bernie Hamilton, Gary Collins, Marion Ross, William Lucking, Lorraine Gary, Russ Conway and the uncredited Mike Farrell of M*A*S*H fame and Susan Olsen of The Brady Bunch.

Ironside - Season 2 and Season 1 out now on UK DVDThe second season episodes include the likes of Sorrell Booke, Joseph Cotten, Rocardo Montalban, Milton Berle, Anne Baxter, Burgess Meredith, Bill Bixby, Diane Ladd, Lisa Todd, Andrew Prine, Troy Donahue, Don Stroud, Robert Alda, Paul Winfield, Julie Adams, Warren Stevens, Bob Hastings, John Dehner, Fred Williamson, Ellen Corby, Clifton James, Richard Bull, James Gregory, Lynn Borden, Chad Everett, Simon Oakland, Susan Howard, Francine York, all of Ed Asner, Richard Anderson, Lorraine Gary and Gary Collins again, talk show host Les Crane as himself, and an uncredited OJ Simpson.

Right from the Pilot movie, Ironside would have on board some renowned jazz musicians to work on the score. Top of these was Quincy Jones who, during the 1950s, became an arranger for such artists as Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Duke Ellington, and Ray Charles. Jones then became musical director at Mercury Records, eventually being promoted to Vice President in 1964. In that same year he penned the score to Sidney Lumet’s “The Pawnbroker” which started a long association with the big screen which included “Mirage”, “Walk, Don’t Run” and “In The Heat Of The Night” and would lead to later films “Cactus Flower”, “The Getaway”, “The Italian Job” and “The Colour Purple”.

His excellent theme was used from the Pilot onwards, and became the signature tune for the series, with variations used over the course of its eight year run. Jones also provided much of the incidental music during the first season, with fellow jazz musicians Oliver Nelson and Benny Carter handling duties on other episodes. The Ironside theme has gone on to become one of Jones’ most remembered compositions, even turning up in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Volume 1” (2003). In addition to providing the music for Ironside, Jones appeared in the first season episode “Eat, Drink And Be Buried” as Les Appleton, a jazz musician.

Towards the end of the penultimate, seventh, season of Ironside, a two-part story introduced the world to a spin-off, in the form of Amy Prentiss, which failed to ignite much interest and made just three subsequent TV movies. Prentiss was San Francisco’s first female Chief of Detectives, and was played by Jessica Walter, who went on to big things when she landed the role of Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development.

Meanwhile, Raymond Burr would see his Perry Mason character resurrected from 1985 to 1993 for a series of 26 TV movies, the final one, “The Case of the Killer Kiss” being his last role. Burr had earned Emmy Awards for Mason in 1959 and 1961, although he was Nominated as Best Actor for Ironside every year from 1968 to 1972.

I recall A Man Called Ironside being appointment television on BBC1 during my formative years – something I was allowed to watch every week, despite it always being heralded as a ‘treat’ due to its comparatively late slot for a ‘little nipper’. Even then, Raymond Burr’s no-nonsense approach was a delight, the themes of stories at the cutting edge of the current affairs of the time, and his three associates being characters you wished you could count as your own friends.

Pacing for a near-on 50 year-old show is upbeat, and the colours on the prints fresh and vibrant. One can only hope these sets shift enough copies so the subsequent six seasons all get a UK release, as I can soon see me getting anxious if I don’t get a regular ‘fix’ of Ironside.

As to these DVD releases, Special Features are sparse on both sets, but both seasons benefit from a ‘Viewing Notes Booklet’, although Season One’s weighs in at 28 DVD-box-sized pages, whereas Season Two’s is just 8 pages.

Thanks to Fabulous Films, you had the opportunity to win one of three copies of both Seasons One and Two of IRONSIDE to put on to your mantelpiece, in our prize competition. All you had to do was tell us the answer to the following question: Which actress, an Ironside regular cast member, played Mimi Davies in Mission: Impossible? The answer was BARBARA ANDERSON, and the three lucky winners were Margaret Clarkson of Whitby, Joy Whitelock of Bridgwater, and Kristy L Brown of Haverfordwest. Well done all!

Ironside – The Complete First Season (‘PG’) from Fabulous Films / Fremantle Media Enterprises has all 28 episodes, and a running time of 1,450 minutes over 8 DVDs. It has an RRP of £39.99.

Ironside – The Complete Second Season (‘PG’) has all 26 episodes, a running time of 1,260 minutes over 7 DVDs, and also has a RRP of £39.99, or you can get either for less at  


Last modified on Saturday, 26 November 2016 05:14