Celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, The Monkees was one of those shows you couldn’t avoid if you lived in the UK during the 80s. Every time school holidays rolled around, along with The Red Hand Gang and The Flashing Blade, there was The Monkees on BBC1, every morning. This was despite having been made in the 1960s, mind you – I do wonder how the kids of today will ever get to watch classic TV without the likes of the Beeb and Channel 4 to force feed them it any more.
The Monkees was odd. One of the first US shows to feature teenagers as its leads, it starred an eponymous pop group of four youngsters, Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, all with Beatles-esque haircuts – guess what network NBC was trying to cash in on? What was odd was:
- It was a sitcom, set around the group’s often surreal, often fourth-wall breaking adventures, in which they all played versions of themselves
- Davy Jones was British, which was a rare thing on US TV in those days
- It had musical breaks during which the band sung their songs, although frequently the action would continue while the group played
- The group had never met each other until the show, having been recruited by an NBC casting call, yet they still managed not only to gel, but to become a successful band in their own right.
In fact, so well did they gel, despite the tragic loss of Davy Jones, the remaining Monkees are still touring and writing music to this day, and the group created a number of classic 60s songs, including ‘I’m A Believer’, ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ and ‘Daydream Believer’. Not to forget the theme tune to the show itself.
The show lasted for an impressive two seasons, after which the group’s metaness reached a peak with the movie Head, written by the show’s creator Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces) and none other than Jack Nicholson. This was actually an odd, stream of conscious, series of scenes about the difficulties of being a public figure, interspersed with satire about war, drugs, and politics. That and getting stuck in a giant Victor Mature.
One of the classics of 60s sitcoms, The Monkees’ legacy endured for years. In the 70s, The Banana Splits was largely The Monkees but featuring men wearing animal costumes, with just a hint of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. And arguably the 1980s’ The Young Ones‘ musical interludes owed a heavy debt to The Monkees‘.
You can watch most of the episodes of The Monkees on YouTube, but here’s the first, just for your enjoyment.
And for true fans, here are the screen tests for the cast: