When I say I’m a fan of the western, I include the memorable TV shows I watched in my circus days. A lot of people imagine that my life in the circus must have been pretty cushy. “GB,” they say, “you were a natural performer who didn’t need to rehearse, so you must have had loads of free time to get up people's noses and generally arse around.” They’re basically right, of course. However even arsing around gets boring if you’re doing it all the time. That’s when watching a TV programme featuring gunmen, gamblers, cowboys and Injuns can rescue you from a daily routine of putting itching powder in the ringmaster’s trousers (and deeds of similar frivolity).
So which TV westerns did I enjoy the most? A lot of people loved Bonanza, but it certainly wasn’t my favourite. I could never believe that the men were brothers, nor understand why the big fat one was called “Hoss”. Did he eat like a horse? Did he smell like a horse? Did someone ride him like a horse? That unexplained mystery nagged away at the back of my mind and stopped me getting into the stories. I generally preferred humorous, wisecracking shows like Alias Smith and Jones and Bret Maverick. Yet the one I relished most of all was a fairly serious cowboy drama called The High Chaparral. This was the name of a cattle ranch in
Especially commendable was the show’s sympathetic portrayal of the Native Americans. The local Apaches, it must be said, were not the friendliest types – prickly customers to a man, particularly when forcing their hapless foes to canoodle with a cactus plant. Yet when the Indians stole a cow from the ranch, the last thing on Big John’s mind was summoning the US Cavalry for dose of retribution. Instead, he’d ride off to the tepee park for a pow-wow with Cochise & Co, listening patiently to their grievances against the arrogant Palefaces. More often than not, it was all the fault of a corrupt federal agent, who’d typically end up as buzzard food in some dusty canyon after one double-cross too many.
Yet in all honesty, it was worth watching the show just for Big John’s wife