Not much on TV though. Beside a few orientalist episodes on an anthology show or two, the Empire apparently never made sense to television producers. Unlike the movies, which played across the world, the television audience in America had a taste for more domestic fare; stories of American cowboys, American families, and American crime. Would a 50's (so-called) nuclear family gather around the set for pith helmets and fanatical tribal hordes? Well, apparently not, as The 77th Bengal Lancers was only broadcast for a six-month run on NBC. 1956 was probably one of the best years for the western, but for the northwestern frontier of India, the love was quite absent...particularly (as Wiki points out), opposite the CBS dreadnought LASSIE.
Starring the two (quite un-British) American actors Phil Carey (Captain Parmalee on LAREDO) and Warren Stevens (who rocked one of my fave episode of the Twilight Zone, DEAD MAN'S SHOES), TALES OF THE 77TH BENGAL LANCERS told the kind of stories that made GUNGA DIN legendary. Two stalwart pals stationed in the border regions, using their cunning and bravery to protect the interests of the empire against the native forces (rightfully) working to (appropriately) kick Queen Victoria in her (greedy, racist, war-mongering) backside. The scripts were very nice, typical of the westerns of the time, and also too was the quality of the production. Although filmed at the ubiquitously used Ray Corrigan Ranch in sunny Simi Valley California, the costuming and sets gave a respectable frontier vibe. Lots of rocky hills and deserts, with plenty of gruff-looking shrubs for turbaned insurgents to hide behind. It's good fun for fans of the genre.
The casting could be an issue for many of our more politically-sensitive watchers today. Though it had a fun bunch of guest stars (pretty much always playing white people), including John Dehner, Reginald Denny, Patrick Knowles and Eva Gabor, all of the native people were played by either Caucasian or Jewish actors, and some Latinos (which is not actually any better). Characters with names like Noor Ali, Muhammad Akbar, Faziz, Balwant Dari, and Yasin Karim were played by guys with names like Michael Carr, Lou Krugman, Mel Welles, Abraham Sofaer, and Roy Kerwin. Lots of squinted and/or wildly open eyes and dastardly poses. All in all, though, as a Muslim who deals with Islamophobia on a daily basis, and who has traveled to the region in question in this modern era, it really doesn't bother me, at least in the way that it's done on the show. It's no more offensive than the average western, which I love dearly, and honestly, these sort of Raj-tpe tales are either a love-hate thing. One either loves a GUNGA DIN and admires out three stalwart soldiers, or one doesn't, and despises them for the agents of an evil empire...which they technically were.
TALES OF THE 77TH BENGAL LANCERS is a very good time. They're exciting, full of pulp fiction flair, and, if one can get past the socio-political issues, is a rousing load of adventure. Though unavailable on commercial DVD, I managed to get a good handful of episodes from an Ebay grey market source, with watchable to pretty fair quality, having been taped from the telly with a VCR at some point in the distant past. It's worth it just to see the shows. It's a great curio in the Phantom Empires universe, seemingly from an excellent, "I say, old chap", alternate dimension.