Jamaican Film and TV Classics: Oliver at large

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Caribbean King of Comedy, Oliver Samuels

As series star Oliver Samuels this year marks 50 years in entertainment, its a good time to look back at the show which made him a a household name, both in Jamaica and with members of the Jamaican diaspora.

Created by producer Calvin Butler and playwright, the late Aston Cooke, Oliver At Large, debuted on the then JBC in 1987.  Nine of the thirteen episodes of the original series, including the pilot episode, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, were written by prolific Jamaican playwright, Patrick Brown. In this series, Samuels played his alter ego Olivius Adams, aka Oliver. The series featured sketches from Oliver’s exploits, often with his sidekick, Maffi–a character created by Brown.

Butler said the aim was to showcase the versatility of the then noted theatre star, and not limit him with a traditional sitcom format. The formula was felt to be a winning one, but the production costs were high, and potential corporate sponsors were initially unwilling to come on board.

The team produced several 5-minute vignettes which got an enthusiastic reception, and attracted sponsors in the form of Island Bottlers and Kentucky Fried Chicken. the 30-minute full show was an immediate hit, and bootleg copies soon found their way into Jamaican homes in the U.S. UK and Canada. Oliver’s success also spawned a number of  spin-offs.