Roy Rogers & his Supermarionation cousin Tex Tucker

When my husband received a parcel containing a collection of DVD box sets that had been on his wish list a long time, I was perhaps more curious than anxious to experience such vintage TV series as the short-lived sitcom Two in Clover, starring Sid James and Victor Spinetti; and much loved The Arthur Haynes Show.

It’s not that I’m anything less than enamoured with much of the content from those eras, in fact, I often pester him to dust off a DVD set and let me binge watch a good TV series from the 1950s or 60s. It’s just that, on this occasion, I was already binging through a few shows, including the original American version of Password with Allen Ludden, and reruns of classic British soap Coronation Street.

So I must confess, I was not expecting to discover the delights of an early Gerry Anderson production, children’s western series Four Feather Falls, last seen on screens in 1960.

Inspired by the popularity of American imports such as Bonanza, and featuring the voice talents of Nicholas Parsons, Kenneth Connor, David Graham, Denise Bryer and Michael Holliday as the sort of resident singer, this series is an early example of the innovative Supermarionation techniques later employed by Gerry Anderson in such series as Supercar and Thunderbirds.

In the first episode, we discover that Sheriff Tex Tucker, the main character, has been endowed with mystical powers, in the form of four magic feathers bestowed upon him by a Native American chief when Tex rescued his grandson. As a result, Tex has magic six-guns which aim and fire themselves when required, and his animal companions, horse Rocky and dog Dusty, can talk (although can only be understood by Tex and each other). After watching on, I began to see some parallels with another family western series, The Roy Rogers Show.

The differences appear to stretch beyond one being live-action and the other Supermarionation. In Four Feather Falls, Tex does not have a lady friend or a human side-kick, whereas Roy Rogers had Dale Evans and Pat Brady; Four Feather Falls takes place exclusively in the late 1800s, the traditional cowboy’s heyday, whereas Roy Rogers‘ TV show was placed in a contemporary setting with cars and telephones, while the main characters still rode horses and carried six-shooters.

However, here I really want to emphasise the similarities, and why I think the echoes of Roy Rogers have made me love Four Feather Falls.

First, both main characters are traditional cowboys, walking around in a garb of cowboy boots, check shirt, neckerchief, leather vest and a wide-brimmed hat. Not only this, but both seem to sing and strum their guitar at will, the odd song being worked into the plot. Not surprisingly, Tex‘s singing voice was not his own, voiced in a Bing Crosby style by singer Michael Holliday, whereas Roy Rogers was a well-known recording artist.

Now, I say that Tex doesn’t have a Pat Brady-style friend, but they have incorporated a character type from many Roy Rogers movies, and I will call him the Gabby Hayes type, here in the guise of an old bearded man whose function seems to be to introduce stories of Tex’s adventures. A welcome familiarity from a franchise I find very comforting and pleasant to watch, and a further feature in favour of my new guilty pleasure, Four Feather Falls.

Another similarity is the inclusion, as regular fully-fledged characters, of two animal companions. Roy Rogers had the intelligent, communicative horse Trigger (albeit stopping short of actually speaking!) and pet dog Bullet who often drew Roy’s attention to someone who needed rescuing and looking after the family. Tex of Four Feather Falls has his talking horse and dog, trusty Rocky and bold little Dusty.

The subject matter in the stories is close in type and style. The baddies faced by our heroes are rustlers, swindlers and bandits who try to take advantage of our bold cowboys and their friends and townspeople, but they are foiled by the end of the episode, and both shows wrap up with a cheery western song to leave us waiting impatiently for their next adventure.

Perhaps Four Feather Falls feels a little more child-like in mood and running time, coming in usually around 12 minutes versus the full 30 minute Roy Rogers episodes, but it also lacks the Christian message often put across by the latter, a less popular feature in British television.

Some may think, in these modern times, that plot lines like a bandit keeping control of a road in order to demand money from those who want to pass, are a little simplistic and safe, but frankly in a world where, wherever you look, much of what you see is negativity and unrest, I for one am glad when I can have a bit of escapism.

I’m not the person saying “wasn’t it better years ago?”, partly because that is not my era and all I can do is look back at television, photographs, movies and books, and partly because that feels too political. Some people would refer to entertainers like Roy Rogers and use them to illustrate a party line, wanting to turn back progress and recreate the past.

I look back at a time before I was born, a world which often looks simpler and happier in hindsight in the media which remains to us from then, with a wistful wonder and appreciation. At a time when there were still a fair share of troubles, the fact that they made programming to entertain people, to make them feel lighter and forget the dark side of life for a few minutes, makes me feel inspired and so grateful that we still have much of it left to enjoy. I don’t want to recreate the past, just visit and admire its wonders.

My only wish is that more people still appreciated it. I might as well admit, too, that I would love to have a TV channel or service in the UK which would provide such programming as The Roy Rogers Show and its contemporaries like Burns & Allen and Jack Benny!

All in all, I cannot say which I prefer, my new guilty pleasure Four Feather Falls, or The Roy Rogers Show… But I will let my final thought be of Tex’s talking horse Rocky… Who would not adore with comic delight a fluffy puppet horse who speaks with an upper-crust English accent, using phrases such as “What an utter, utter cad!” in the middle of a Supermarionation western series?

I have just one thing to say, in a world where nice is sadly underrated: It’s just so cute!

The complete series of Four Feather Falls is available from Network.

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