Donald P Bellisario has had quite an influence on television over the years. Cutting his teeth on shows like the original Battlestar Galactica, he went on to create Magnum PI, Airwolf, Quantum Leap, JAG and NCIS.
But today, we’re going to be looking at another of his shows, Tales of the Gold Monkey, a slightly fondly remembered programme from the early 1980s that was a homage to stupid adventure films of the 1930s.
Guess what – it had a slightly prosaic but very weird old title sequence.
Set in the South Pacific in 1938, the series is about an ex-Flying Tigers pilot named Jake Cutter (Stephen Collins, whom you may remember either as Commander Decker in Star Trek: The Motion Picture or from one of the 241 episodes of TV series Seventh Heaven) who is the operator of an air cargo delivery service based on the fictional South Seas island of Bora Gora. He frequents the Monkey Bar – hence the show’s title, since there’s a gold/brass monkey inside the bar – owned by “Bon Chance” Louie (played by Ron Moody in the pilot, Roddy McDowall in the series), who also happens to be the French magistrate for Bora Gora.
But most of the episodes involved espionage, with Jake doing daring-do stuff and patronising/fighting natives around the South Seas, so if all that weren’t realistic enough, Jake’s love interest is also a US government spy called Sarah Stickney White (Caitlin O’Heaney), who sings in the eponymous Monkey Bar as a cover for her espionage activities.
For the opposition, there’s the SS as well as Reverend Willie Tenboom (John Calvin), a phony man of the cloth who likes to “bless” the natives but is actually a Nazi spy named Willy. And to top it all off, Jake owns a one-eyed Jack Russell terrier named Jack, who barks once for “no” and twice for “yes” (or the opposite if it suited him).
As you can see, practically a documentary.
It was all good fun, albeit more than a bit daft, but despite doing well in the UK, it was too costly given its ratings for ABC in the US so it got cancelled. But it’s out on DVD now and you can enjoy this clip for illustrative purposes.