Then & Now

Adam West, actor

Adam West, actor

“TO THE BATPOLE, Robin!” He was known as the Caped Crusader; these days, he’s better known as the Dark Knight; and at the end of this month, Batman (for it is he) will be swinging into Dublin’s O2 for three audio-visual, acrobatic shows.

Batman has undergone many reboots and transformations over the years, from Tim Burton's 1989 film to the graphic novel series, to his apotheosis in Christopher Nolan's box-office smash The Dark Knight. But although Batman has grown into a towering cultural icon, some of us still have fond memories of the cult 1960s TV series featuring Adam West as the camp crusader. For many of a certain age, West will always be the real Batman. There was something about West's straight-faced silliness that subsequent Bruce Waynes were never quite able to replicate.

West, real name William West Anderson, landed the part of Batman after the series producer saw him in a Nestlé ad, playing a suave secret agent type. The series ran twice-weekly in the US between 1966 and 1968, but endless repeats have ensured that its der-ner, der-ner, der-ner, der-ner theme tune has become embedded in the popular consciousness. The first of each two-part episode usually ended in a cliffhanger, with a voiceover urging viewers to “tune in tomorrow – same bat-time, same bat-channel!” The show became so popular that the stars of the day queued up to play cameo roles, and the heroes were often upstaged by the parade of outrageously over-the-top villains.


It all got a little too campy and kitschy, however, and Batman was finally given the chop halfway through its second series. West’s biggest concern was that he might be typecast as the caped crusader, so when he was offered the part of James Bond in 1970, you’d think he’d have jumped at the chance to swop the Batsuit and Batmobile for a tux, an Aston Martin and a Walther PPK. But West turned down the most coveted role in the movies, because he felt that 007 should be played by an Englishman.

Alas, West was unable to shrug off the batcape, and he found it difficult to get taken seriously in non-bat-related roles. He starred as a tough guy in The Girl Who Knew Too Much, but the audience knew him too well as Batman, and the movie tanked. He landed guest roles in episodes of such TV series as The Love Boatand Laverne Shirley, and reprised his Batman role in a 1979 TV one-off.

Since he couldn't land serious acting roles, and he couldn't shake off the bat-typecasting, he did the only logical thing – he decided to play himself. Such was his pop-cultural status, he was able to make cameo appearances as himself in such films as Drop Dead Gorgeous, and TV shows such as Murphy Brownand The Simpsons. And just to let everyone know he had accepted his fate, he titled his autobiography Back to the Batcave.

In recent years, West has found a new lease of life – playing the part of Mayor Adam West in the hit animated series Family Guy. But although the character shares his name, any resemblance to the real Adam West is purely for comedic value. As viewers of Family Guyknow, the mayor of Quahog has a few bats in the belfry. West, who has been married three times and will be 83 on September 19th, is still in control of all his bat-faculties, and made a hit appearance at Comic-Con in San Diego last July, along with his former TV sidekick, Burt Ward.