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|Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp|
|Narrated by||Malachi Throne|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||13/17|
|Production company(s)||Sandler-Burns-Marmer Productions|
|Distributor||CBS Television Distribution|
|Original release||September 12, 1970– January 2, 1971|
Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp is an American action/adventure comedy series that originally aired on ABC from September 12, 1970 to January 2, 1971. The Saturday morning live-action film series featured a cast of chimpanzees given apparent speaking roles by overdubbing with human voices.
Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp had a "seven-figure budget" with location filming, props and costumes, and the laborious staging and training of the animals. The filmmakers made the most of the budget, staging multiple episodes with the same settings and wardrobe, occasionally reusing the more elaborate chase footage that sometimes included a Rolls Royce.
Two of the three producers/creators were Stan Burns and Mike Marmer, former writers for Get Smart! Both resigned from their jobs as head writers on The Carol Burnett Show to work on Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp.
According to The Believer, "to make the dialogue fit the chimps’ lip action, Burns and Marmer went to ridiculous lengths. Voiceovers were ad-libbed on the set, giving birth to beautifully absurd moments of the chimps breaking into songs at the end of sentences or spontaneously reciting Mother Goose rhymes just so it would look right."
Owing considerable lineage to Get Smart, the plot was always played for laughs and featured Lancelot Link and his female colleague, "Mata Hairi," whose own name in turn was a play on Mata Hari, in secret agent and spy satires. Link worked for A.P.E., the Agency to Prevent Evil, in an ongoing conflict with the evil organization C.H.U.M.P., the Criminal Headquarters for the Underworld's Master Plan. APE's chief Darwin gave Link and Hairi their orders as part of his "theory," a play on the Charles Darwin (after whom the character had been named) theory of evolution. CHUMP's monocled chief Baron von Butcher inevitably hatched the latest plan to endanger the world. The Baron's network of international fiends included his shifty chauffeur Creto, mad scientist Dr. Strangemind, imperious Dragon Woman, drowsy Wang Fu, singing sheikh Ali Assa Seen, and the cultured Duchess. One or more would appear in each episode.
A regular weekly feature was chimp TV host "Ed Simian" introducing a musical number by an all-chimp band, "The Evolution Revolution." An album of these songs was released on the ABC/Dunhill record label. There were also Lancelot Link comic books and other merchandise, including Halloween costumes. Another regular feature consisted of a short series of brief comedy sketches which showed a chimp sneezing causing a funny gag to happen.
A curious feature of the apartment set which Lancelot Link and Mata Hairi used as their base was that the sofa had a secret entrance/exit which was opened by simply lifting one of the cushions.
The episodes were all narrated, in a mock-sober delivery, by Malachi Throne.
This all-chimp band, dressed in colorful hippie-style wigs and wardrobe, featured Lancelot Link (played by Tongo) on guitar and Mata Hairi (played by Debbie) on tambourine, with Blackie as "Bananas Marmoset" on the drums. "SweetWater Gibbons" (in fringed vest and granny glasses) was credited for playing Farfisa organ, although the organ usually pictured in the clips was a Vox Continental organ.
In the episode "The Evolution Revolution", it was established that the band's music was used to communicate coded messages for APE agents.
The songs were usually co-written and performed by Steve Hoffman, in the Bubblegum pop style then in vogue; Hoffman received "voices" credit along with the various character actors. A Lancelot Link record album was released on ABC/Dunhill, as well as a single titled "Sha-La Love You", a song originally intended for The Grass Roots; the music shared some of its style with the music of The Grass Roots, who used the same recording facilities and studio musicians. Some songs contained heavy guitar riffs, reflecting the growth of hard rock.
An Evolution Revolution song, "Wild Dreams, Jelly Beans", was later covered by the Spanish alternative rock band Hello Lilliput.
The show's first seasonepisodes were an hour long each and also included Warner Bros. cartoon shorts from that animation studio's final years. The second season consisted of repeats from the first season with the cartoons removed. The original network broadcast included a laugh track; this was later removed for the syndicated and video releases.
Reruns aired for one season on Nickelodeon's Nick at Nite during the late-1980s; the program was also shown on TV Land for a brief time in 1999 as part of their "Super Retrovision Saturdaze" lineup. The Comedy Channel (now Comedy Central) aired reruns of this as well as Gerry Anderson stop-motion series Dick Spanner, P.I. in a block hosted by detective-themed stand-up comedian Tommy Sledge.
On May 29, 2012, SBM Productions and Film Chest released the complete series on a 3-disc collector's edition. The Chimpies skits and Evolution Revolution music videos were included as separate items as well as inside the various episodes. The documentary I Created Lancelot Link was included in the bonus features, along with an interview with the original producer Allan Sandler, an interview with music composer Bob Emenegger, and an interview with Tongo, the chimp who played Lancelot in the series.
A 1999 documentary short, I Created Lancelot Link, was made by Diane Bernard and Jeff Krulik; it includes a reunion between the show's two creators and was "shot in shlocky Hi-8 video, and [featuring] an entertaining juxtaposition of anecdotes from Burns and Marmer and some of the show's finest moments."