Archive Gems - The Zoo Gang

Here we look back at some of the shows you may or may not remember.
One of the many series to have come from the ITC stable in the Sixties and Seventies
under the eye of Lord Lew Grade, this was one of the few, like
The Saint, that was
based on something that had gone before.

The Basis

The Saint had, of course, been based on the series of books by Leslie Charteris, and with Roger Moore in the title role, had been phenominally successful. It certainly made a star of Moore, helping catapult him from relative obscurity to Bond, James Bond within a few short years.

The Zoo Gang was also born of a literary stable, but a much smaller one. Based on the single novel by Paul Gallico, it was adapted for television by Reginald Rose. The first episode of the series, Revenge: Post-dated, was basically the plot from the book.

The book and series revolved around the reuniting of four former resistance people from World War II, who were known as the Zoo Gang because of their codenames; the Fox, the Elephant, the Leopard and the Tiger.

Manouche's husband, Claude Roget, known as the Wolf, was killed by the Gestarpo after the gang were betrayed by a contact. Over thirty years have passed and the gang have drifted their separate ways. Steven Halliday is an antiques expert in New York and Alec Marlowe works as a mechanic in Canada. The only members who are regularly in touch with each other are Manouche and Tommy Devon, who runs a jeweler's shop.

When the contact who betrayed them all those years ago, Boucher, turns up in Devon's shop, talking to Tommy's niece and Saturday girl, Jill Burton, Tommy recognises him, alerts Manouche and wires Steven and Alec. They had decided long ago that if there was an opportunity to avenge Claude, they would. Steven and Alec drop everything and fly to the Cote d'Azur, where the Zoo Gang reforms for one last time. Although Boucher is captured and made to pay for his crimes, it is not the end for the gang. They decide to put the reward money for Boucher's capture to good use, putting it towards the Claude Roget Children's Hospital which they hope to build in Claude's memory. It becomes apparant that they do not have enough money from this one score, and they decide to stay together to bring justice Robin-Hood style to the French Riviera while collecting any reward money for the hospital.

The Cast

The Elephant - Tommy Devon

John Mills was born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills in Felixstowe on 22nd February 1908 became a stalwart of the British cinema early in his career. Some of the most notable films he has appeared in during his seven-decade career are Goodbye, Mr. Chips, In Which We Serve, The Way To The Stars, The History Of Mr. Polly, The Baby And The Battleship, I Was Monty's Double, Oh, What A Lovely War, Ryan's Daughter, Gandhi and more recently Hamlet and Bean. His television credits are much fewer, although in addition to guest appearances on shows such as The Morecambe And Wise Show and Tales Of The Unexpected, he starred in the offbeat western Dundee And The Culhane, the sitcom Young At Heart, the mini-series A Woman Of Substance and as the final ( to date ) TV incarnation of Professor Bernard Quatermass in Quatermass ( also known as Quatermass IV and The Quatermass Conclussion ). Married to Mary Hayley Bell and the father of actresses Juliet and Hayley Mills, he was knighted in 1976. As a mark of the acting ability of the man, it is interesting, though sad, to note that although he continues to play both seeing and blind characters at the age of 91, Sir John Mills CBE actually lost the use of his own eyesight in 1990.

The Fox - Steven Halliday

Brian Keith was born Robert Keith Richey Jr in Bayonne, New Jersey on 14th November 1921. The son of character actor Robert Keith and actress Helen Shipman, he grew up on the road, touring with his parents. This led to his first film role at the age of three in Pied Piper Malone in 1924 with his father. He continued to act on stage and radio before World War II, when he joined the Marines and served as a machine gunner. After the war, he returned to the Broadway stage before later branching into film again and the expanding medium of television, where at first he worked as an extra before achieving bit parts. Some of the most notable films in which he appeared include The Parent Trap, Johnny Shiloh, The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! Krakatoa East Of Java, The MacKenzie Break and Meteor. His television credits were many and varied, with guest roles taking in most of the popular series of the day as well as many TV movies; they included Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Rawhide, The Untouchables, Dr. Kildaire, Wagon Train, The Fugitive, 77, Sunset Strip, Archer, How The West Was Won, Hardcastle And McCormick, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Cybill and Touched By An Angel. He was married three times with four children of his own, although his first son died in childhood, and three adopted children. In later years, he suffered from emphysema and finally lung cancer, although this didn't stop him working. His last marriage of 27 years to Victoria Young ended with his death aftered he returned home to Malibu, California from a stay in hospital on 24th June 1997, aged 75.

The Leopard - Manouche Roget

Lilli Palmer was born Lillie Marie Peiser in Posen, Germany ( now in Poland ) on 24th May 1914. She began her career on stage in Berlin, but left Germany when Fascism came to the forefront in her home country and lived in France and England, before eventually moving to America in the latter years of her life. In 1943, she married Rex Harrison, with whom she had one son before they were divorced in 1958 and she married her last husband Carlos Thompson. Her early career on film consisted of many French or German-speaking roles, and it wasn't until the end of the 1940's when her English-based film career really began with Cloak And Dagger, Body And Soul, My Girl Tisa and The Long Dark Hall. It was after this that she first appeared as a named star on television in The Lilli Palmer Show as host, something she would also do in The Lilli Palmer Theatre in 1956. However, her career always consisted of film and stage work, and her television appearances were few and far between with The Taming Of The Shrew being her only other major appearance until The Diary Of Anne Frank in 1967. The rest of her career up until the early 1970's consisted of European-based films, many of which didn't receive wide circulation outside the continent, and this connection with the region was probably a contributory factor to her being cast as Manouche in The Zoo Gang for generating sales there. Her last work was, surprisingly, not in film, but in the TV mini series Peter The Great screened in 1986. Unfortunately, Lilli died from cancer on 27th January that same year, aged 71.

The Tiger - Alec Marlowe

Barry Morse was born in London's East End on 10th June 1918. He attended RADA and while performing in plays in the West End in the evening, he would also work during the day for the BBC as one of the first actors seen on British pre-war television. After the war, Barry visited relatives in Canada as part of a working holiday and became one of the most famous faces on CBC Edmonton as well as radio and live theatre. Because he quickly became established there, other English actors would often seek him out; his house was once known, at least to actors, as 'The British Embassy'. His film career began in 1942 with When We Are Married and continued until his family's relocation to Canada in 1950, where it didn't pick up again until 1963 with Kings Of The Sun. During the intervening time, his television, radio and stage presence increased in leaps and bounds. On television, amongst his guest appearances in shows including Naked City, The Untouchables, Way Out, The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train and The Saint was a little-known series which made Morse as famous as the show's star, David Janssen; The Fugitive. As Lieutentant Gerard, he quickly earned the moniker 'the most hated man in America' for his character's pursuit of Janssen's Dr. Richard Kimble. Later television roles include The Adventurer, Whoops Apocalypse, The Ray Bradbury Theatre, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and the recent Space Island One. His other best known role, debuting shortly after The Zoo Gang on screen, was as Professor Victor Bergman in Gerry Anderson's Space: 1999, a role he still promotes today through many convention appearances. Barry was married for over sixty years to actress Sydney Sturgess, by which he has two children, until her death from Parkinson's Disease in September 1999. He actively supports the charity for this illness and has toured for many years performing a play, Merely Players, for this concern. A television performance is due to be broadcast this year in Canada, although a UK transmission is unknown at the moment. Barry continues with his career at the age of 81.

The Series

As a series, it looked good. Location filming in France was extensive and helped contribute to the series. The performances, from the leading actors and guest cast were all very good. The scripts, though like those in a good many adventure series before it, were good all the way through, if a little lacking in humour. Direction by Sidney Hayers and John Hough, both of whom had worked on The Avengers, was very good, although not as action-packed as that show had been. With the background that the characters had, and more scripts to develop things, this could, in its own way, have been Lew Grade's answer to America's successful export, Mission: Impossible.

However, looking and feeling as it did like many other ITC series, this may have been the show's downfall. Designed to appeal to the American audience where Lew Grade tried to sell his series probably wasn't in the show's best interests. Unlike the location filming, the interiors were all shot at Pinewood Studios and the general feel was the same as on other ITC series. Also, a lot of the French was 'Anglicised' or 'Americanised', which, while it didn't matter to English or American viewers, didn't add to the atmosphere and probably didn't go down too well with the French - French newspapers printed in English, Manouche's bar being improperly signed 'Chez les Pecheurs' and Manouche's policeman son, Georges, being a Lieutenant when the rank doesn't exist in France... Hmmm...

Ultimately though, the real reason The Zoo Gang wasn't a success was probably down to one reason; lack of episodes. Only six episodes were made, hardly enough time for the audience to get to grips with the series before it vanished, never to be see again except in occasional repeats. This length of a series from ITC was unheard of; all had run for at least 16 episodes, and most of them for far more. Why was this? Barry Morse once explained it in an interview in 1994:

'The difficulty was that all of us, Lilli Palmer, John Mills, Brian Keith and myself, were to some extent locked into other things, so it was only possible to do a limited number of episodes. It was whatever we could shoot in the space of about two and a half months. We had a lovely time down in the South of France. We were rather rueful that we weren't going to be able to do any more, because it was better than most of the other things we'd been doing. It was certainly better than The Adventurer ( which Morse was appearing in with Gene Barry ) where the quality of the writing was poor.'

A shame, and a missed opportunity. The Zoo Gang was a good piece of 'action-drama', for want of a better hook, and could have done so much more.

article copyright PPS / M.Hearn 2000 -
thanks to Michele Tirone of the
Brian Keith Site for some information