Sunday 26 January 2014

Honey West (1965-66)

Produced by Aaron Spelling, Honey West ran for a single season on the American ABC network from 1965 to 1966. Glamorous female spies, secret agents and crime-fighters were enjoying a major vogue at that time and Honey West appeared to have all the right ingredients for success.

The character of private eye Honey West originated in a series of entertainingly trashy pulp crime novels in the 1950s, beginning with This Girl For Hire in 1956. She made her first appearance, with Anne Francis playing the role, in a second season episode of Burke’s Law in 1965. The character was popular enough and seemed to have sufficient potential for a spin-off series to be commissioned.

One rather odd decision was to go for half-hour episodes, a feature that was starting to be a bit passé in 1965. By that date the half-hour format was starting to be associated mainly with series aimed at younger audiences.

Anne Francis proved to be the ideal choice for the title role. She could be both glamorous and likeable and could deliver the necessary wisecracks very capably. And she was reasonably convincing in the action scenes. She’s superb in the role and is certainly one of the show’s main assets, in fact its number one asset.

Honey West is your basic private eye TV series, played slightly tongue-in-cheek. Honey has a partner, Sam Bolt, played by John Ericson. Although he was presumably intended to provide the necessary muscle it’s actually Honey herself who takes on most of the dangerous tasks with Sam keeping in touch with her by radio from a van parked close by. The producers also provided Honey with an exotic pet in keeping with her glamorous image, an ocelot named Bruce. She also obviously needed the right kind of car and her sleek and sexy AC Cobra sports car is just right.

The Honey West series was apparently partly inspired by the success The Avengers was having in Britain at the time. This proved to be somewhat ironic since ABC eventually decided that it would be cheaper to simply buy the British series and cancel Honey West. This was unfortunate, although it has to be admitted that it proved to be a wise business decision with The Avengers becoming a much bigger hit for the network that Honey West had been.

Despite its brief run Honey West stands up pretty well. It has a nice balance between action and humour and it’s as sexy as a series could be in 1965. It doesn’t make the mistake of leaving the fight scenes to Honey’s male sidekick. Honey handles herself quite capably in both unarmed combat and with a gun.

The half-hour format does mean that there’s limited scope for complex plotting but on the other hand it also means that this series can’t waste time on lengthy buildups. It gets straight into the action and this gives it the sort of energy that perfectly reflects its heroine’s no-nonsense approach to the private eye business.

The series was shot in black-and-white and in a fairly stylish manner. 

It may have been partly influenced by The Avengers but Honey West avoids the more fantastic elements that were starting to feature more and more in the British series. Honey West also sticks to straightforward crime plots without any hints of espionage. Perhaps the series might have done better had the producers introduced some of these elements but in that case we’d have ended up with a series that would have been merely a clone of The Avengers, instead of which we are left with a series that has its own distinctive flavour and its own distinctive charm.

And Honey West, both the series and the character, has plenty of charm. I wouldn’t quite put it in the top rank of 1960s action/adventure series but it’s certainly a very worthy entry in the second rank. All in all it’s a good deal of fun and is highly recommended.

The complete series of thirty episodes has been released in DVD boxed sets by Delta in the UK and by VCI in the US.

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