When I was a child, if I wasn’t spending my time hopping about in the wind with an umbrella trying to be Mary Poppins, I was standing in front of the mirror wiggling my nose and trying to be Samantha Stephens. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, Bewitched's Samantha Stephens (played by the beautiful Elizabeth Montgomery) was a modern day witch, who wriggled her nose every time she wanted to use a magic spell. She looked cute when she did it; I just looked like I was trying to manage a severe cold without a tissue.
If you had wandered past at 1164 Morning Glory Circle when the Stephens family lived there then you would have been forgiven for seeing nothing but a regular suburban house, in a regular suburban street. If you were a neighbour, friend or work colleague of the family inside however, you’d often have been party to some fairly odd happenings.
When Samantha fell in love, and subsequently married non-witchy mortal Darrin Stephens (played first by Dick York, and then later on by Dick Sargent) she vowed to give up her witchy lifestyle, and become a conventional housewife, but unsurprisingly this was not as easy as she had envisioned. She often found herself slipping back to using the odd spell when Darrin wasn’t around, and on occasion she was also forced to step in to rescue her poor husband when one of her relatives meddled in his life with a sneaky bit of sorcery.
One of the main themes of the show centred around this latter occurrence; her magical family were not overjoyed with the witch/non-witch union, and spent much of their time throwing magical disruptions into their life in the hope that they would split the couple up and Samantha would then return to her true magical roots. The all-powerful Witches Council also voiced their disproval and Sam would find herself constantly defending the life she had chosen.
One of the worst offenders of the supernatural chaos was Sam’s mother. The strongest character of the show, Endora (played by Agnes Moorehead) was always on hand to meddle in Darrin’s affairs by casting hundreds of ludicrous spells on the beleaguered man in the hope that it would be enough to break the couple up. They may have annoyed Darrin no end, but the spells never came close to achieving their aim as his and Samantha’s relationship was strong enough to withstand whatever she threw at him. Endora of course, being a witch, could easily have done Darrin serious harm with her magic, but she always stopped short of this; mischievous she may have been, but she was also canny enough to realise that he loved her daughter, and more importantly, Samantha loved him. Endora contented herself instead by irritating Darrin through ploys such as always ‘accidentally’ getting his name wrong, referring to him variously as ‘Darwin’, ‘Durwood’, ‘Dum-Dum’ etc. Amusingly, when Samantha’s father Maurice (Maurice Evans) also got Darrin’s name incorrect (‘Hi Duncan’ etc.), Endora would say ‘It’s DURWOOD.’
Another character central to the programme was Larry Tate (played by David White), Darrin’s boss at the advertising agency McMann and Tate. Their offices were on the now well-known Madison Avenue, and many episodes featured scenes of Darrin at work, trying to hide the mystical mayhem that was inflicted on him from their clients. Larry must have thought that Darrin was pretty insane a lot of the time, as he was unaware of Samantha’s witchy status, but he always backed him up, mostly because when Darrin wasn’t clucking like a chicken, or speaking exclusively in gobbledygook he was damn good at his job; and what Larry Tate valued more than anything, was profit. Tate was happy to switch his opinion to suit whatever client he was talking to, and he was even happier when an expensive contract was won. Larry and his wife Louise (played first by Irene Vernon and then by Kasey Rogers) were close to the Stephens, and the four of them often entertained important clients at the Stephens’ house; although the amount of times something strange happened via an unseen magical hand, you would have thought Larry would have suggested that they ate out instead…
Added to Samantha and Darrin’s problems in containing the fallout from naughty spells was nosey neighbour Gladys Kravitz (Alice Pearce, then Sandra Gould). She was the only outsider who was correctly convinced that Samantha was a witch, and spent her day desperately trying to prove it. She often saw the witchcraft happening, but any attempts to show her husband Abner (George Tobias) left her the one looking slightly bonkers, as Samantha always managed to cover it all up before he got a decent view of anything.
Two of my favourite characters had only occasional appearances in the show. Endora’s brother Arthur popped in and out of the action from time to time; he was less antagonised by Samantha’s marriage to Darrin then the rest of the family, but still managed to wind the easily-stressed businessman up by playing endless practical jokes on him. I loved him mostly however, because the actor who played him, Paul Lynde, had a very distinctive voice, and also brought the fiendish Hooded Claw to life in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (who I harboured dreams of becoming when I grew up).
If any of Samantha’s relatives had to show up, Darrin was always relieved when it turned out to be Aunt Clara (Marion Lorne). The loveable, bumbling, not-quite-so-good-at-this-witch-business-as-she-should-have-been Clara was guaranteed to mess up both her magic and her entrance; suddenly appearing in cupboards, fireplaces and on the roof was not unheard of, and it was rare that any spells she cast actually turned out with the result she was hoping for. She was also obsessed with collecting doorknobs, which sounds peculiar, but was actually inspired by Lorne’s own collection. Actually, that doesn’t make it sound any less peculiar.
The Stephens family was completed by the arrival of daughter Tabitha in season two, and later on in the show’s run with son Adam. Both inherited Samantha’s witch gene, and Tabitha especially got to have a lot of fun (and create havoc at the same time) with her own experiments at nose-twitching.
Bewitched was originally aired on American television channel ABC for eight seasons, from 1964 to 1972 and was extremely successful; finishing as the number two show in the whole of the country during its first series. It also holds the slightly bizarre accolade of ‘longest running supernatural-themed sitcom of the 1960s-70s’. Seriously? How many others was it competing against exactly?