Pop culture was bananas for apes in the late '60s and early '70s. They lorded over humans (Planet of the Apes), provided comic relief (Judy on Daktari) and decided what programs would go on TV (Kurt Russell's pet in The Barefoot Executive). And that's not even counting The Monkees or The Banana Splits. But none of those simians had the savoir faire of Lancelot Link.
As the top spy for A.P.E. (Agency to Prevent Evil), he and his cohorts battled their counterparts at C.H.U.M.P. (Criminal Headquarters for the Underworld's Master Plan) in a world where chimps dressed and talked like humans. ABC aired the Saturday morning action-adventure, a homage to the hit comedy Get Smart! and other espionage shows, from 1970 to 1972.
The complete series is now available for the first time on home video with Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp (Film Chest, not rated, $30). The three-disc set includes all 17 of the series' two-part episodes.
The Get Smart! parallels are not surprising. Lancelot was created by Allan Sandler, Stan Burns and Mike Marmer, and the latter two were Get Smart! writers who had also worked for Flip Wilson, the Smothers Brothers and Carol Burnett. Lancelot purportedly had a seven-figure budget, which was used to costume the animal cast and stage elaborate stunts that saw them driving cars, riding horses, surfing, skiing, playing golf and performing other human activities. Producers went to great lengths to make it seem that the overdubbed dialogue and chimps' lips were in sync.
Like Maxwell Smart, Lancelot (voiced by comedian Dayton Allen of The Steve Allen Show fame) had a female partner, Mata Hairi (Joan Gerber) and a no-nonsense boss, Darwin (also Allen). His nemesis was Baron von Butcher (Bernie Kopell, who was Siegfried on Get Smart! and later starred on The Love Boat), whose underlings included Dragon Woman and the Dutchess (both Gerber); Creto, Dr. Strangemind and Ali Assa Seen (all Allen); and Wang Fu (Kopell). The character names, much like the story titles (i.e. "To Tell the Tooth," "Lance of Arabia" or "The Spy Who Went Out in the Cold"), were all tongue-in-cheek. Deep-voiced actor Malachi Throne (It Takes a Thief) narrated the episodes with mock seriousness.
As part of his cover, Lancelot led a psychedelic pop band called the Evolution Revolution, which passed secret messages to A.P.E. operatives through song. Lancelot played guitar, with Mata Hairi on tambourine, Sweetwater Gibbons on organ and Bananas Marmoset on drums. They wore wigs and outlandish outfits and sang original songs produced and written by Steve Hoffman. Each week their numbers were introduced by TV host Ed Simian. The 1970 self-titled album included such bubblegum pop songs as Sha-La Love You, Wild Dreams (Jelly Beans) and Yummy Love.
Bonus features include the 1999 documentary I Created Lancelot Link by filmmakers Diane Bernard and Jeff Krulik, featuring Burns and Marmer; an interview with Sandler; and one with Lancelot (Tonga), who lives in retirement at the Wildlife Waystation outside Los Angeles.
The animal shelter will get some of the proceeds from the DVD sales.