Cult Movie: Adam West was the best fit for Batman suit

Adam West in the pop-art 60s TV show version of Batman
Ralph McLean

MANY an actor has donned the mask and slipped on the dubious lycra to play Batman down the years. No-one has owned the role quite like Adam West, however.

West, who died of leukemia last week at 88, brought a magical lightness of touch to a role too often steeped in gothic gloom and existential misery. In West's hands the role of the Caped Crusader would have none of the self-questioning darkness and moodiness that was there in the comic books and that would later pull the character into the shadows on the big screen when directors like Tim Burton got their Goth gloves on it.

West's take was all about having fun – navel gazing simply didn't come into it.

Over three series of prime time TV pantomime in the 1960s, West played Batman as the ultimate good guy, righting wrongs, standing up for the American way and generally having an action-hero ball.

His Bruce Wayne was no tortured orphan trying to find his place in the big bad world. His portrayal branded the comic-book crime fighter as a chisel-jawed millionaire playboy who loved nothing better than dishing out justice with a smile and a cringeworthy one-liner. For those who marvelled at his camp creation in the 60s and those, like me, who devoured the TV re-runs a decade or so later, he was the only Batman you'd ever want to come calling when the Bat signal was beamed on the skyline.

For the swinging 60s he was the perfect superhero. He was good looking, righteous and never short of a knowing wink when things got particularly crazy and the show's madcap pop-art playground got a little over populated with larger-than-life villains hell-bent on world domination – which was every week, basically.

With his faithful sidekick Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) sharing his underground Batcave and overground Batmobile as the sexually ambiguous Robin, he breezed his way through some of the coolest, most outrageous mainstream telly ever. His was a Gotham City crammed with madmen and women like Burgess Meredith's Penguin, Cesar Romero's Joker and Julie Newmar's super slinky Catwoman and he ruled the roost with panache, zapping the bad guys with a comic book charm that was like nothing else.

The Batman that West oversaw between 1966 and 1968 was a place where guest villains like Vincent Price (Egghead), Tallulah Bankhead (Black Widow) or Joan Collins (The Siren) would rub celebrity shoulders with passing pop groups and glassy-eyed crooners.

Through it all West was style personified, keeping a straight face despite the outlandish events unfolding around him. Slyly satirical, he would ladle on the American-values nonsense while creating sexual sparks with both Catwoman and little old Robin. The show was a knowing, pop-art pleasure and West was the conductor, leading the participants through their merry tune.

When Michael Keaton arrived in Tim Burton's bloated 1989 reboot some felt West's lighthearted version of the character was merely one dimensional. Time has proven that wrong.

West was a true TV superstar and a cult hero to all who enjoyed his small screen world.

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