RIP Caped Crusader

15 Jun

Last week I had just returned from an exhausting yet exhilarating bike ride in the Andalusian heat to see that Adam West, for many the first and most iconic Batman had passed away, aged 88. Although not in the same league as the devastating recent news stories that have come from Britain in the past month, seeing the news still had an effect on me, albeit for different reasons. It represented the end of an era.

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Needless to say, I didn’t know nor had ever met Adam West, but I am one of multiple millions for whom Adam West was their first cultural ‘hero’. While I was not alive in the 1960s to see the cultural impact the series had first hand, I was at least around to see it’s second wave of popularity during the late 80s and early 90s, when the series was repeated in response to the furore and excited anticipation that surrounded the upcoming release of Tim Burton’s 1989 film. In a life-defining moment, my parents had taped a Channel 4 screening of “Batman: The Movie” in 1988, and made the blessed decision that it was something that my 3-year-old self might enjoy. Oh how well they knew me. In the years that followed, I watched that tape so many times that not only did I know practically every word of dialogue from the film itself by heart, but even the adverts that interrupted it (such as this beauty from Ariel, featuring the colourful cockney Mrs B and her droopy tenant Mr H). From the moment I could talk, I was a Batfan, not to mention an expert over the benefits of choosing Ariel and Oil of Ulay (later ‘Olay’) instead of other leading brands.

A big part of the reason why is because Batman was a series perfect for young children – the colours the bright, the action was plentiful and the characters were unforgettable. The casting of the key players and the most popular super villains was note perfect – in particular Cesar Romero as the Joker who somehow made the leap from his trademark suave Latin lover persona to an ADHD-riddled hyena in clown makeup almost without effort. But in the middle of all the zany madness was West as Batman, the cool as a cucumber protagonist our young minds instantly knew it would be wise to get behind – he was the respected parent in a world of the naughtiest of children. For lack of a better word, the straight man. It wouldn’t be until much later when I, like many others, revisited the series at an older age and saw the true comedic genius in his performances – something that completely went over my head as a youngster. In short, the reason why the series was just as enjoyable for adults.

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The beauty of it was in the tone. It is my belief that one of the key reasons why Monty Python became such a big hit all over the world was the way in they (In particular John Cleese and Graham Chapman) could say the most the most ridiculous things in the most sensible manner. It messes with our minds – you expect one thing yet hear another. As a comedic device it’s timeless, while others come and go according to tastes and fashions of the era. Chris Morris was able to take it several steps further in the 1990s with The Day Today and Brasseye, able of getting the public and celebrities alike to believe practically anything he said, no matter how ridiculous, purely due to deadly serious way he was able to say it. However, before them all, there was Adam West.

Few could speak lines such as “True. You owe your life to dental hygiene” or “In future, be more careful from who you accept free lemonade.” with the utmost sincerity as he was able to do. His school-master tone could convince anybody that his words were gospel irrespective of what they were, and I suspect is a big reason as to why the series has stood the test of time. Even after the groovy pop-art atheistic of which the series revolution began to look dated, the comic gold of West’s delivery remained as fresh as ever.

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As mentioned above, Adam West’s Batman was the first and best of my childhood heroes. One tragedy of getting older is the fact that these heroes inevitably begin to pass away, cutting another tie with your youth as you move further and further away from it. With adulthood, for better or worse, comes a lot of unpredictability and instability, so it can be a nice thought that at least some consistencies remain. For me, Adam West was one such consistency – being that I still watch and love the Batman TV series, he’d been a part of my life for just shy of 30 years and I simply liked the idea that he was still around. Better yet, he wasn’t just a relic. In recent years, he has won over a new legion of younger fans due to his appearances as the deranged “Mayor Adam West” in Family Guy – easily one of the series’ more popular characters, based on the sheer number of compilation videos on youtube alone. For me, his “This is my Jam” scene in the drycleaner kills me every time.

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As for the Batman series, Adam West is now added to the extensive list of main players that are now sadly no longer with us. All that really remains now is Burt Ward and Julie Newmar, better known to I suspect even their friends and family as Robin and Catwoman. While I have absolutely nothing against Newmar, I’m actually one of those who prefers Lee Meriwether’s slightly more sensitive portrayal of Catwoman, when she replaced Newmar in the film due to scheduling conflicts (Meriwether, incidentally also still with us, on twitter and somehow still gorgeous at the age of 82). As for Burt Ward, for me he’s always come across as a bit of a wally and is known to lie extensively about his experience as Robin (See here for his baffling claim that he was suspended in the air over a real pit of tigers when all evidence points to the contrary). Neither, with the possible exception of Meriwether (first crush after all) can hold a candle to Adam West. But then again, not many could.

Rest in Peace Caped Crusader!

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