August 08, 2015


(ABC, September 12, 1970-January 2, 1971)

Sandler-Burns-Marmer Productions

Dayton Allen – Lancelot Link, Commander Darwin, Dr. Strangemind, Ali Assa Seen
Joan Gerber – Mata Hairi, Dragon Woman, The Duchess
Bernie Kopell – Baron von Butcher, Creto, Wang Fu
Malachi Throne – Narrator
Steven Hoffman – Evolution Revolution singer

Tongo – Lancelot Link
Debbie – Mata Hairi

            It was the end of the 60s. People were still enamored with spies, thanks to the James Bond series and the comedic stylings of Get Smart. And people were always in love with the human-like chimp. So, Stan Burns and Mike Marmer decided to combine the two to create their next show: Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp.

Lancelot Link and Mata Hairi on the case.

            The long-time writing duo pitched the series to ABC as a spy spoof using chimpanzee characters instead of humans. Because of their credits on The Carol Burnett Show and the aforementioned Get Smart, ABC bought it and gave it an unprecedented $1 million budget. That budget came in handy, because Burns and Marmer weren’t making a cartoon; they were using real, live chimps. Most of the budget went into set construction, training the chimps with Frank Inn, costume design and props. The sets proved especially tricky, as a new lighting technique had to be developed in order to not lose the darkly-colored chimps’ faces to shadows on film. 

The logos of the rival spy agencies.

Lancelot Link revolved around the Agency to Prevent Evil (or A.P.E.) in their quest to keep the world safe from rival agency Criminal Headquarters for the Underworld’s Master Plan (or C.H.U.M.P.). A.P.E.’s top agents were Lancelot Link (played by Tongo and voiced by Dayton Allen) and his partner, Mata Hairi (a play on Mata Hari, played by Debbie and voiced by Joan Gerber), under the leadership of Commander Darwin (after Charles Darwin, also voiced by Allen, who would often deliver information as theories). C.H.U.M.P. was led by Baron von Butcher (voiced by Bernie Kopell, whose character Siegfried from Get Smart inspired the character and the voice impression), distinguished by the monocle he always wore. While C.H.U.M.P. had an assortment of colorful agents at its disposal, their primary agents were Dragon Woman (based on Dragon Lady from Terry and the Pirates), The Duchess (both voiced by Gerber), Wang Fu (a play on Kung-Fu), the Baron’s chauffer Creto (a play on the word “cretin” and Kato from The Green Hornet, both voiced by Kopell), Ali Assa Seen (a play on “assassin”), and scientist Dr. Strangemind (inspired by Dr. Strangelove, both voiced by Allen with the latter’s voice patterned after Bela Lugosi). Malachi Throne served as the series’ narrator, delivering his lines with a mock seriousness.

Darwin issuing orders.

Although scripts were written for the show, it was impossible to get the chimps to mouth the words exactly as needed. As a result, much of the dialogue was improvised on set. Lines were either changed to match the chimps’ movements, or fluffed out by breaking into song or nursery rhymes after their dialogue for no apparent reason. Also taking a cue from Get Smart, everyday common objects often hid a communication device for the characters such as a banana, a tennis racket, etc.

After the fictional band created for The Archie Show proved a roaring success, every network followed suit by either incorporating a band or musical numbers into their programs in the hopes of finding the next crossover hit. Link was no different, with producer Allan Sandler asking for both elements to be incorporated into the series. The result was the all-chimp band The Evolution Revolution. It featured Link and Mata playing with Blackie and “Sweetwater Gibbons” in music video-styled segments filmed after the songs were composed. Each musical number was introduced by Ed Simian (a parody of Ed Sullivan) and served as a means to deliver secret codes to A.P.E. agents. Most of the songs were co-written and performed by Steve Hoffman, with series score composer Bob Emenegger contributing some songs for the band to play. The chimps were all over the place until the music came on, and they instinctively took to pretending to play the instruments along with it.

Born to be wild?

Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp debuted on ABC on September 12, 1970. Each episode, except the first, was broken up into two different 10-minute story segments. For its original run, the series was an hour long and featured Warner Bros. cartoon shorts from their animation division’s final years. Despite high ratings, the series was never produced beyond the first season. ABC did rerun it for a second season in a half-hour format without the shorts, as it also ran later on in syndication. ABC/Dunhill Records released an LP featuring the music from the Evolution Revolution, as well as the single “Sha-La-Love You”, which was originally intended for The Grass Roots. Unfortunately, the album didn’t sell well. Among other Link merchandise was a View-Master set, a coloring book, and two lunchboxes by Thermos. In 1971, a year after the initial run, Gold Key produced an 8-issue comic book series based on the show. 

The complete series.

In 1999, Diane Bernard and Jeff Krulik made a short documentary I Created Lancelot Link, where they reunited the show’s creators who regaled them with anecdotes about the show’s production. In 2004, Lancelot Link was featured in statue form on the episode “Milhouse Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” on The Simpsons in the Museum of Television and TV’s “Things That Shouldn’t Talk, But Do” exhibit. In 2006, Image Entertainment finally brought 12 episodes of the series to home video with a 2-DVD set, while the complete series would be released six years later by SBM Productions and Film Chest. The set featured interviews with Sandler, Emenegger and Tongo and the documentary as bonus features.

“There’s No Business Like Snow Business” (9/12/70) – Link and Mata head to the Big Mountain Ski Resort to intercept the theft of the Star of Karachi Diamond.

“The Lone A.P.E. / Missile Beach Party” (9/19/70) – Lance heads to a chicken ranch to foil a chicken rustling plot. / Lance has to stop the destruction of missiles.

“The Mysterious Motorcycle Menace / The Great Beauty Contest” (9/26/70) – CHUMP’s motorcycle gang steals APE’s payroll. / Lance has to help a Soviet beauty queen defect.

“C.H.U.M.P. Takes A Holiday / To Tell the Tooth” (10/3/70) – Lance invades a CHUMP convention to steal their codes. / A CHUMP dentist hides transmitters in the teeth of military officials.

“The Great Brain Drain / The Great Double Double Cross” (10/10/70) – Lance ends up ingesting a formula that reduces the drinker to a child while intercepting it. / Baron and Dragon Woman disguises themselves as Lance and Mata and infiltrate APE headquarters.

“Lance of Arabia / The Doctor Goes A.P.E.” (10/17/70) – APE agent Reginald Ressis searches for CHUMP’s gold horde, but he’s captured by Ali Assa Seen. / Lance and Mata have to retrieve a microfilm CHUMP obtained of all the APE agents.

“The Surfin’ Spy / The Missing Link” (10/24/70) – Lance hides out on the beach to find out how Dragon Woman and Wang Foo are smuggling in silver. / CHUMP kidnaps Lance’s uncle Mortimer.

“Bonana / The Greatest Chase in the World” (10/31/70) – Lance and Mata go undercover at a dude ranch. / Lance and Mata follow CHUMP all around the world.

“The Reluctant Robot / The Royal Foil” (11/7/70) – Dr. Strangemind’s robot assassin proves to be defective. / Lance and Mata are assigned to protect a visiting king.

“The Great Great Race / The Great Plane Plot” (11/14/70) – APE challenges CHUMP to a race. / Mata goes undercover to prevent the abduction of a visiting dignitary.

“Landlubber Lance / The Temporary Thanksgiving Turkey Truce” (11/21/70) – Lance goes undercover on Dragon Woman’s boat to save Darwin. / Lance’s holiday is disrupted by a search for microfilm.

“The Dreaded Hong Kong Sneeze / The Great Bank Robbery” (11/28/70) – Baron plans to unleash an Asian virus on the world. / Lance steals back stolen money.

“The Sour Taste of Success / The Baron’s Birthday Suit” (12/5/70) – Secret data is hidden in a lemon. / Lance ends up attending the Baron’s birthday bash.

“The Golden Sword / The Chilling C.H.U.M.P. Chase” (12/12/70) – CHUMP plans to steal an Arabian symbol of authority. / Lance and Mata infiltrate CHUMP to steal back nuclear power pills.

“The Spy Who Went Out in the Cold / Too Many C.H.U.M.P.S.” (12/19/70) – Lance pretends to defect to CHUMP. / Lance and Mata target Dragon Woman’s junk to prevent the arrival of new CHUMP agents.

“The C.H.U.M.P. Code Caper / Weather or Not” (12/26/70) – CHUMP figures out The Evolution Revolution broadcasts secret codes through their music. / Dr. Strangemind invents a weather-manipulation machine.

“The Evolution Revolution / The Great Water Robbery” (1/2/71) – CHUMP deciphers the band’s code. / CHUMP takes the city water supply hostage.

Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2020.

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