Once Upon a Classic
In the late 70s, PBS ram a series called Once Upon a Classic that was, essentially, Masterpiece Theatre for kids. Hosted by Bill Bixby (whose Incredible Hulk series wouldn’t begin airing until 1978), the series featured adaptations of classic novels like Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities; Richard Doddridge Blackmore’s historical novel Lorna Doone, and The Talisman, by Sir Walter Scott.
Many of the shows were BBC or ITV-produced miniseries that featured a who’s who of British actors, many of them stage veterans, who brought a touch of gravitas to every production.
The Talisman was one of the best of these productions.
Set at the time of the Third Crusade, The Talisman starred Patrick Ryecart as an idealistic young knight named Sir Kenneth who interacts with both Richard the Lionheart and Saladin.
Now a respected theater director and producer as well as actor with an imdb entry several screens long, Ryecart’s biggest credit up to that time was playing the title role in Romeo and Juliet, part of the Time-Life/BBC series that dramatized all the Shakespeare plays. (He was also in the same series’ version of Pericles.) He’d also done a segment of the mini-series Lillie, starring as one of Lillie Langtry’s lovers, Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria.
With his fair hair, blue eyes and earnest manner, he was like Luke Skywalker’s curly-haired English cousin, a knight with a sense of honor beyond his years. In the 30 years since The Talisman was made, Ryecart has starred in other adaptations of classic novels (including Silas Marner) but he’s also showed off a supremely silly side of himself in shows like the short-lived The High Life, a raucous comedy starring Alan Cumming. In the show, set at a struggling Scottish airline, Ryecart played the wifty, Star Trek-loving airline captain Hilary Duff (no relation to the actress/singer). That show’s not available on dvd either, but you can catch episodes of it on YouTube.