It seems like an age ago, but back in June I was at the Bloggers Bash in London. It was my third and, like the others before it, was a great day out with some fantastic people. Some of them I’d met before and they’d become good friends, others were new to me and no less interesting for it.
But others have written about the Bash elsewhere, and it is only relevant here because, as I travelled home on the train afterwards, I read the news that Adam West had died.
I know this is a delayed reaction, but – believe me! – I have been busy with other things.
For a lot of people these days, West is the mayor of Quahog, the fictional town in Family Guy. But for a whole generation, he will always be remembered as Batman. Indeed, for some he was the definitive Batman.
Unusually for me, I have been able to move on with subsequent incarnations of Batman, particularly the franchise launched by Tim Burton in 1989. But that may have something to do with the complete change in tone the films have adopted.
The strange thing is, as I reflected on my experience of Batman as a child, I realised that I had been given two different perspectives on that 1960s TV series.
When it was first released, I wasn’t quite old enough to go to school, so recall watching it, but not a lot of detail. Instead, it was more a sense of the show rather than specific memories of it. And that sense was one of excitement and action. So, when it was announced that it was to be re-run in the 1970s, I was looking forward to recapturing some of those feelings.
It’s strange how your perceptions change as you get older. And that time between 4 years old and early teens can see a massive difference.
Looking back on it now, it seems odd that I should ever have seen Batman as anything other than funny. As a teenager, I revelled in the preposterous plots, the overacting, the ridiculous dialogue and the outrageous costumes. The fact that the cast played it straight, in spite of all this, only added to the enjoyment. And then, of course, there were the fight scenes punctuated with cartoon style “biffs”, “whacks” and “splats”.
And who didn’t love the Bat Poles? To be fair, there was pretty much a Bat- everything as the series progressed.
One of the great joys was the way in which every episode ended on a cliffhanger, usually with Batman and/or Robin about to face death in ways even more contrived than you’d find in a Bond movie. Then you were left with the invitation to find out how it would turn out next week… Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Channel!
Another element I hadn’t appreciated when I was younger was the range of guest actors playing the villains. Shortly before it was rerun, I’d seen Burgess Meredith in a short-lived series called Search Control (a great premise that didn’t quite get the ratings). He played a very serious and thoughtful character in that, so watching his OTT performance as The Penguin was a real contrast. My previous experience of Frank Gorshin was as a comedian and impressionist (worth watching his Kirk Douglas impression just for how he creates the dimple in the chin!), so seeing him as The Riddler gave me a different perspective on him. (Do bear in mind that, even as a teenager, I assumed all actors were just playing themselves.) Then we saw movie actors like Vincent Price and Cliff Robertson playing villains, before a wider range of guest actors would show up just to poke their heads out of a window as Batman and Robin walked up walls (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google it!).
The series also spawned a notorious movie, and I mean notorious in the most positive way. If you haven’t seen it, don’t expect anything remotely resembling a Dark Knight tone. It is over the top and played for laughs. A particular favourite for those who’ve seen it is the scene with the shark – Jaws, it ain’t!
Batman from the 1960s was a phenomenon of its time. It would be hard to imagine it working these days, when we demand a harder edge to our heroes, not to mention a fractured psyche. But I’m glad it happened, and I’m grateful for the creators who were able to break this small child in gently to the darker world Bruce Wayne would inhabit in later incarnations.
So, belatedly, thanks Adam West for the hours of entertainment you provided me with in the ‘60s and ‘70s – and, if the truth be known, the decades since.