Tales of the Gold Monkey – a Blast from the Past

Do you remember this?

One of the problems with having fairly idiosyncratic tastes – not that I would have it any other way – is the sheer number of times I have found myself avidly enjoying a new television series, only for it to be canceled because only about half a dozen other people are watching it.

That wasn’t quite the case back in 1982, with Donald Bellasario’s Tales of the Gold Monkey, a rip-roaring 1938-set drama with somewhat blatant influences. The show, which starred Stephen Collins, Jeff MacKay, Caitlin O’Heaney and Jack, went down well both in America and, especially, the UK, where it was shown by the BBC, but not well enough for it to be renewed, given its high production costs stemming from so much of it being shot on location.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed it immensely all those years ago, and my memories of it are nothing but fond. But, like all TV in those far off days, it came and it went: the BBC has always been accused of too many repeats but nobody repeated American TV series.

It’s not like that now, where so many shows are available for you to watch whenever you choose. About eighteen months ago, I downloaded the complete Tales of the Gold Monkey (one pilot film, twenty episodes), though I never had the time to watch more than that pilot film. Now the summer’s here, the TV schedule is done, or at least drastically diminished, and so, just as Tuesday is Deep Space Nine day, Thursday is Gold Monkey day, and I’ll be watching and blogging every week.

For those unfamiliar with the show, a few basics: Tales of the Gold Monkey is set on the fictional South Pacific island of Bora Gora in 1938. Collins stars as Jake Cutter, ex-Flying Tiger (anachronistic error: the Flying Tigers weren’t about until 1941) plying his transport trade in the islands in a Grumman Goose flying boat. MacKay is his memory-troubled ex-alcoholic mechanic Corky and O’Heaney plays singer Sarah Stickney White, who is actually a US spy, watching for subversive Japanese and German activities: there is a war coming.

Jack? Oh, I think I’ll keep him up my sleeve  a moment longer.

There is, indeed, a lot of stuff going on, and Jake keeps getting into the middle of it. It’s all good fun, Saturday morning serial stuff, with a certain tongue-in-cheek element that my memory says was neatly balanced by the simple enjoyment of what was simple material. Because, at the heart of it, Tales of the Gold Monkey was a pretty blatant rip-off of which massive 1981 movie, starring Harrison Ford? Yes, you’re right, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Not a rip-off in any direct sense, save in the time-period. But the idea is openly to feed off that atmosphere of fast-paced, deliberately knowing, immediately pre-WW2 action. Clean cut heroes, double-dyed villains, thrills, spills and sexual tension. It wasn’t the only TV series to try to capture that Thirties era: ITV had Bring ‘Em Back Alive, about a Big Game hunter, which hoes the same row, though I never saw any of that.

So, here’s to some wallowing nostalgia passed through the filter of my usual interest in seeing how well or otherwise such things have survived.

And Jack? Jack was a Jack Russell terrier with an eye-patch, covering the fact that he only had one eye, the other being artificial, and having been lost by Jake in a poker game, for which Jack was not prepared to forgive him. When it came to star turns, Stephen Collins never stood a chance…

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