The Vital Spark (1959–1974)

TV Series   |  Comedy

Episode Guide
The Vital Spark (1959) Poster

A tale of a Scottish tug And their travels up and down the Argyll coast.


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Cast & Crew

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Neil Munro

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1 November 2006 | highlandland
| Remembering Hogmanays past
The stories of Neil Munro (written between 1905 and 1932) have been adapted for both the big and small screen several times. Fans should check out earlier adaptations and homages - the Ealing comedy "The Maggie" and the Scottish folk album "Highland Voyage", which are currently available on DVD and CD respectively.

The first TV series "Para Handy Master Mariner", starring Duncan Macrae, was broadcast in 1959 (with lots of location footage, apparently) but sadly - like a lot of BBC shows of that era - no film of these original six episodes exist today.

In 1965, "Para Handy", the second incarnation of Munro's tales, debuted as part of the "Comedy Playhouse" series of pilots - and two series (broadcast 1966) were commissioned. This time, Roddy MacMillan played the captain Para Handy (in the books, his real name is revealed as "Peter MacFarlane" - but he's never named that in this seres), with Alex McAvoy joining the cast as the (elderly looking) cabin boy "Sunny Jim". Again, all of these 1960s episodes have been wiped.

However, in 1973, "Para Handy" returned again - with an hour-long special remake of one of the older shows, featuring the 1966 cast now filmed in colour (to celebrate the BBC's 50th anniversary). This show proved popular, and so another six episodes (all colour remakes of older scripts) were made. Strangely, they were contemporary - based in the seventies - and filmed on a Clydeside that was visibly declining on-screen. Some of these episodes are still regularly shown as part of Hogmanay scheduling on BBC Scotland.

Earlier this year, a DVD was released on all five remaining "Para Handy" episodes from the seventies, along with a "promo" film for the "Highland Voyage" album. Couthy, cosy and kind - there's no denying, that with his crew of bitter, delusional and trapped puffer-men, Neil Munro had managed to create the perfect sit-com set-up a good fifty years before "Bilko" (whom Para Handy resembles at times).

The series was resurrected yet again in 1994, with Rab C. Nesbitt's Gregor Fisher in the role (arguably, the closest depiction of the Captain to the original stories). For more info see "The Tales of Para Handy".

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