A regular favorite BBC television program of mine during the Bank Holidays of the 1970’s and early 1980’s was Disney Time. For a fan of the great film-maker, like me, this was an ideal opportunity to see clips of his classic work and forthcoming releases.
In the early days of television Walt Disney was of course, a great pioneer, and at a time when film studios feared the small screen, he was the first of the major Hollywood producers to venture into the ‘new’ medium. His very first one hour TV special was sponsored by Coca-Cola and was called One Hour in Wonderland. The show was aired by NBC in America, on Christmas Day 1950 and managed to pull in a massive 90% of the television audience. A year later he repeated this success with The Walt Disney Christmas Special.
Along with his brother Roy, Walt Disney now began to discuss a possible television series with NBC or CBS. But eventually a deal was struck with the third place, ABC Television network. Part of the package was a secured financial loan of $500,000 for the construction costs in Anaheim of Disney’s new project, a theme park called Disneyland.
On 27th October 1954, Walt Disney himself hosted the first of his weekly hour long programs for ABC, known like his forthcoming theme park, Disneyland. The show included various cartoons and material from the Disney Studio's vast family orientated library. The series was popular right from the start and soon became ABC’s first ever top ten show.
With Tinkerbell beginning each hour long episode with a wave of her magic wand, accompanied by the song ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’, the show would start from either, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland or Tommorowland. This would cleverly familiarize the television viewers with Disney’s up and coming ‘Magic Kingdom - his Disneyland park, which would open in July 1955.
Along with the classic Disney cartoons, educational shorts and film promotions, Disneyland also featured a number of mini-series, including True Life Adventures, The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca, Texas John Slaughter, Spin and Marty, The Swamp Fox and Davy Crockett. With Fess Parker as the historical American frontiersman, Davy Crockett was first shown in December 1954. Two more hour long episodes were aired in early 1955 and America was soon gripped with ‘Crockettmania.’ The Ballad of Davy Crockett became a chart topping hit record later that same year. The three Crockett episodes, shrewdly filmed in Technicolor, were edited into a full length feature film, which was then given a worldwide release in the summer of 1955, making millions of dollars in merchandising.
In 1958 the television series changed its name to Walt Disney Presents. The ABC loan was paid back and Disney now gained total control of his Magic Kingdom. But he had always been keen to progress into colour broadcasting, so in 1961 he moved his television show to the more technologically advanced NBC and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color hit the small screens at 7.30pm on Sunday September 24th of that year.
It was on the 2nd November 1955, during the second series of Disneyland that the Story of Robin Hood was first aired. The feature film had been edited, like many at that time, into a two part television presentation, with the second part broadcast during episode 9 on the 9th November 1955.
During Walt Disney Presents on ABC, The Story of Robin Hood was shown again in two parts, on 26th December 1958 and 2nd January 1959. In the 1964-1965 hour long NBC season of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Part 1 was aired on 16th May and Part 2 on 23rd May 1965.