What do you do when you're being murdered in the ratings? Go for broke. In September 1970 ABC unleashed their secret weapon - Lancelot Link.
Based on classic sixties spoofs such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the recently defunct Mel Brooks-inspired Get Smart! Two agencies would battle it out for world supremacy, one good and one evil. With a record-breaking one million dollar budget there would be car chases, seductions, slick outfits and glamorous locations. Nothing unusual there, except the cast would be chimpanzees (plus one orang-utan) and the series would be aimed at kids. Real chimps but with human voices dubbed on.
The goodies were APE (Agency to Prevent Evil) and the baddies were CHUMP (Criminal Headquarters for Underworld Master Plan).
APE was headed by Commander Darwin and his top agent was Lancelot Link. Lance's romantic interest was his fellow agent glamorous southern belle, Mata Hairi (you must be getting the gags by now). Lance's main way of communicating with his fellow agents was at a club called the Coconut Groove, where Lance would jam with his psychedelic band the Evolution Revolution (You're surely with it now).
Bring on the Foreigners
CHUMP were of course bent on world domination. The American Civil Rights Movement obviously didn't apply to non-Americans and so CHUMP recruited all its agents from the school of nasty foreign stereotypes. At the head of the organisation was Baron von Butcher (nasty German), aided by Dr Strangemind (another nasty German), Dragon Woman and Wang Fu (nasty Chinese types), Creto (thuggish Spaniard) and Ali Assa Seen (needless to say, a murderous Arab). If all this sounds a bit too Sam Peckinpah for kids, remember Ali Assa Seen drove around in a beach buggy!
The stories of course were an irrelevance. Episode titles such as Lance of Arabia or The Dreaded Hong Kong Sneeze tell all you need to know. What really mattered were the humour and the action. Lance and his buddies at St Moritz, in skis and full gear battling it out on the piste with CHUMP and a 'Wild Ones' style bike chase with them all in full leathers on motorbikes with stabilizers!The Players
Lance was the brainchild of the Sandler-Burns-Marmer Studio. The scripts were by Mike Marmer and Stan Burns who were already a successful duo including episodes of Get Smart! Providing the voices:
Joan Gerber and
Malachi Throne was already a veteran with performances ranging from Beckett on the New York Stage to televisions Star Trek. He is still alive and has since appeared in Star Trek TNG and Babylon 5. Bernie Kopell had a varied acting career but will be best remembered as Dr Adam Brickner in The Love Boat. Dayton, Joan and Steven were radio veterans who had moved into animation voice overs.
Rise and Fall
Lance Link ran for only a short time in the UK during 1971 on ITV daytime.In the US the thirty minute show was originally filled out to an hour on the Saturday morning slot by including old cartoons.In series two and three the cartoons were dropped in favour of a thirty minute show.But in 1972, barely 18 months after his debut, Lance bit the dust. He might have been able to combat CHUMP but he was no match for the onslaught of cartoon animation. With lucrative sponsorships and tie-ins Lance couldn't cope with the likes of Josie and the Pussycats, the Pink Panther and the mighty Scooby Doo. As befits a rebel however, Lance didn't go quietly. Execs, aware of the ease with which the series could be dubbed sold it to numerous countries around the world and it even surfaced in 1987 as the number one programme in Zaire.