In a round-about way, Masterpiece Theater gave you to the world.
My history with television was much different from that of your mother. You professor grandfather insisted his five children limit watching to an hour a day and then only to “quality” shows without violence.
At my house, we glued ourselves to the television for every slapstick humor or macho action series the three networks offered. I could sing the entire theme song to both The Beverly Hillbillies and Rawhide and knew every dogface serving with Sgt. Saunders in Combat.
One of my earliest memories was going to the appliance store in Los Angeles to pick out our first TV – a huge mahogany-doored, black-and-white sporting the Victrola dog on its base. We must have put it on layaway, because I can remember being bundled up for a walk where we stood outside the closed appliance store and stared at “our” television through the window. I could not have been more than 4 years old at the time.
(You still have a piece of that TV, by the way. Dad later made it into locker boxes for Mark and I. I passed mine along to you.)
By the time I got to college and met Cecile, I was a die-hard fan of junk TV. Then that beautiful coed with the dimples said we could cuddle on their couch while watching a new show on Educational Television.
I didn’t really care what was on the old black-and-white set in the Gibbs’ family room as long as I could have my arm around Cecile as we sat on the Naugahyde couch on a Sunday night.
But I was absolutely enthralled when a silver-haired English gentleman eloquently explained that there was so much more to Churchill than “Never in the field of human conflict…” My mom was one of the so few in RAF blue to whom so much was owed by many.
And thus began Episode 1, Season I of Masterpiece Theatre: The First Churchills. Throughout the winter of 1971, Sunday was my day of joy. Not only did I get to cuddle up to my sweetheart on a winter night, but I got to watch how John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, fend off his 17th Century political rivals as skillfully as he did the French invading Ireland.
I was hooked. We haven’t always spent our Sundays with a Masterpiece, but there were many memorable ones. As young marrieds, Poldark was almost a shared vice. We were, of course, swept up in the global excitement of Upstairs, Downstairs and we could not get enough of Lord Peter Wimsey in The Nine Tailors.
You should be able to speak Latin for all the hours Mom and I rocked you while watching I, Claudius.
There were other favorites, of course. Danger UXB is still, for my money, the most gripping wartime drama ever filmed. Jeeves and Wooster is among the funniest. Prime Suspect defined the woman detective genre.
We now get most of our British dramas on Netflix and have a Masterpiece-like addiction to the Swedish mysteries on Mhz network. Masterpiece is now split between Mystery and the dramas, so we dive in and out to taste what we like.
In my mind, though, there is only one Masterpiece Theatre. I can close my eyes now and feel the warmth of your mom’s head on my shoulder as the melodious voice of Alistair Cooke bids me “Good Evening. I know in an instant he will tell me some bit of history that I never knew I would want to know so much.