TELEVISION / BRIEFING: The return of baddie stubble

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GUNSMOKE (6.50pm BBC2) chalked up 635 episodes between 1955 and 1975 - the longest running US TV series with the same cast. In the Sixties, it was so popular that Bob Dylan named himself after the lead character, the impossibly righteous US marshal Matt Dillon, before amending the spelling to evoke more poetic echoes of Dylan Thomas. James Arness brings to the role the squarest jaw and the slowest drawl this side of John Wayne, who was first choice for the part. Like a precursor of 2000 AD's incorruptible law-giver, Judge Dredd, Dillon is given to declaring things like 'There'll be no gun-fighting in my town'. The baddies all have stubble, smoke cheroots and mutter darkly, 'I just aim to water ma hoss and drink the dust outta ma craw.' In the first episode, Dillon makes a 'Snap Decision' to resign after shooting a friend-turned-thief. But when a no-good varmint bounty hunter rides into Dodge City, Dillon begins to reconsider his decision. The series has a certain period charm (and has no doubt been hitched to the nostalgia bandwagon). But in the wake of Unforgiven it is hard to take seriously all that 'a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do' stuff.

(Photograph omitted)