The Gangs of Old York

No, that's not Black Adder

Sure, you’ve meant to read Shakespeare’s history plays — especially those eight plays having to do with the War of the Roses — but the same thing always stops you: You can never remember which of the roses, the York or the Lancaster, was red and which white. Allow me to pry up that stumbling block and roll it to the side of the road. As a public service NiceWork offers this handy mnemonic device which will forever affix the rose colors of those feuding Dukedoms forever in your mind:

Burt LANCASTER drove a RED Ferrari.
There are many WHITE Bichon Frises in New YORK City.

If that doesn’t help, you might want to pick up this classic production of Shakepeare’s king cycle: An Age of KIngs, an epic TV mini-series made by the BBC way back in 1960. It ran to great acclaim over in Great Britain back in those pre-Beatle days, and was televised once in the US shortly thereafter, but the video tapes have languished since in the Secret BBC Memory Vault deep below the streets of London. In March 2009 the doors of the Vault parted and out stepped, blinking in the sun, pretty much an entire generation of British actors, wondering what had happened in the nearly half century that had passed while they were suspended in time.


Some became famous. Look! There’s one now on the back of the DVD case: A young Sean Connery playing Harry “Hotspur” Percy. And look again: in the starbar along the bottom you can see a young Judi Dench (M) wearing a lofty veiled hat and chatting up, um, Blackadder, I think.

Fans of the Brit TV series All Creatures Great and Small may be flabbergasted — aye, dumbstruck — to see a youthful, svelte Robert Hardy playing Henry (“We happy few, we band of brothers”) the Fifth — not what you’d expect if you’d grown used to him as the portly, blustering vetrinarian Siegfried. But there you go; that’s him (not Blackadder after all) on the front of the DVD case.

There's James Bond again, upper left, cut off a bit.

In his eight plays Shakespeare condensed to about twenty hours (give or take an alarum and excursion) all the action-packed years of English history from 1398 — when Richard II unwisely exiles the young Duke of Hereford, who returns, much honked off, with an army all his own and introducing himself as Henry IV — to the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, during which evil Richard III offers his “kingdom for a horse” but, far from getting a horse, instead gets stabbed by Elizabeth I’s grandfather.

The producers of An Age of Kings further condense the condensation to fifteen hours of TV. Those fifteen hours have been skillfully compressed onto five discs; those five discs slipped into one box.

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