Can you remember the first film you saw on colour TV? I can remember mine because, by pure luck, it was a spectacular timeless classic that had me glued to the screen – The Thief of Bagdad.
It was a rainy August Bank Holiday in 1975. As a family, we were late adopters: for whatever reasons (financial, probably), we were several years behind friends and neighbours in having such luxuries as central heating and colour TV. And we never managed a foreign holiday.
So, the delivery of a rented second-hand colour set from Rediffusion was a major event. Dad was on his two-week summer holiday, which meant we’d be based at home in Exeter, and have day trips to Dartmoor or the coast.
But if the weather was bad, we might just stay at home. On this particular day, that turned out to be a blessing, because clicking through our four TV channels (BBC 1 and 2, and two ITV regions) on this new (to us) TV, we came across The Thief of Bagdad, a 1940 Alexander Korda production, being shown as a daytime family film.
And what a treat! It was old even then, and its stars (led by the remarkable Sabu) were people I’d never heard of at the time. But the colour, the scale, the spectacle of it all surely justified whatever extra money my parents were paying each month.
Filmed in Technicolor and pioneering the use of blue screen, its special effects were impressive even 35 years on: a flying carpet, a giant genie, a flying horse, awe-inspiring sets, and a captivating story all kept my sister and me spellbound.
As a big-budget colourful spectacle of its era, it compares well with Fantasia and The Wizard of Oz, and it would go on to influence future films, including Disney’s Aladdin.
Looking at it now, it seems dated in many ways, and the effects are primitive compared with modern CGI. But if (like us on that rainy August day) you find yourself stuck at home with little to do [I write this in April 2020 with most of the world in some kind of lockdown amid the covid-19 pandemic], you don’t need to wait for the Rediffusion man (in those days it was always a man) to arrive: you can see the film here. Or if you want a taster, here’s the trailer.
If you enjoy it half as much as we did those 40-odd years ago, it will be time well spent.
Huge thanks to Dene Kernohan for the detective work in confirming the broadcast date.
And here’s another self-indulgent piece about the first ‘horror’ film I saw.