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1969: Start of most successful Bulgarian TV series of all time At Each Kilometer

БНР Новини
Photo: archive

On 20 August 1969 there was not a single person to be seen in the streets across Bulgaria – it was the premiere date of the Bulgarian TV series At Each Kilometer. A total of 26 episodes were aired and as we say nowadays, the series had two seasons: tracing the period of resistance and over the years after 9 September 1944 when a pro-Soviet government was installed in the country.

The series’ script-writers were Svoboda Buchvarova, Pavel Vezhinov, Evgeny Konstantinov, Kostadin Kyulyumov and writer Georgi Markov, whose name was erased from the film credits after he left Bulgaria in 1969. It was Georgi Markov that actually created the character of the policeman Velinski in whom he expertly combined facts and legends from the biography of notorious secret service chief Nicola Geshev. Velinski was brilliantly portrayed by actor Georgi Cherkelov.

Writer Pavel Vezhinov was the script-writer who came up with the male lead character – that of Nicola Deyanov, molding him into a super-hero from the communist party resistance against the regime at that time. Film director Lyubomir Sharlandjiev had no qualms in his choice of actor for the role of Major Deyanov. He had already worked with Stefan Danailov and knew his acting potential all too well. Sure enough, though he was just 26, Danailov was brilliant as Major Deyanov and was quickly to become a household name.

Two super-heroes crossed swords with the super-cop – the second one being the comedy character in the film – Mitko Bombata (the bomb), a nickname that was to stick to actor Grigor Vachkov for a long time to come. To begin with his character’s potential had not been fully unfolded but as the shoot progressed, editor Nicola Petrov and script-writer Svoboda Buchvarova were so impressed by his talent that they decided to breathe more life into his character.

Interviews with Stefan Danailov and Georgi Cherkelov are kept at the Bulgarian National Radio Golden Fund audio archives describing what people thought of their characters and the “battle” between them. Stefan Danailov remembers:

“Once the first episodes were aired, together with Grigor Vachkov we had around 400 meetings with people from all over the country and everywhere we went we would feel how thankful people were for this film. When we started making the first episodes there were always people coming to see us, wherever we may be. And every time we turned around, there was always a pair of eyes looking at us in admiration and with a very real understanding of what we were doing. It was as if it wasn’t me at all, but Major Deyanov himself – that is something that cannot be easily forgotten.”

And how did Georgi Cherkelov feel in the shoes of Velinski:

“For me it was more difficult to share my colleagues and partners’ elation. Velinski is a character who evokes a negative response. And it is mostly children who have been challenging me, in their own innocent way, challenging the “enemy” Velinski. And alternately, they naturally developed a liking for the positive character; along with a desire to be involved in the action themselves, a rare and curious thing, especially in film-making. How can we explain the contradictory, complex way the negative character in this series was perceived? Above all with a heightened sense of the aesthetic, even in the youngest viewers. In a word – I have nothing to complain about, I have not been the target of a single ill-behaved gesture by a single child.”

At Each Kilometer was a thundering success in the country and abroad. The series was aired in all of what were then the socialist countries, and was even watched in faraway China. Unlike nowadays when another Bulgarian National TV series Undercover has been a success commercially, back in those years the Bulgarian National TV received no money, as films and TV series were bartered within Intervision – the organization bringing together the TV networks from the socialist countries.

Out of all people who have worked on the most successful Bulgarian TV series of all time, the only ones still among the living are actor Stefan Danailov and poet Naiden Vulchev, who wrote the lyrics to the song which is very popular to this day. But the names of all those who worked on it have gone down in the hall of fame of Bulgarian film-making, which this year marks its centennial anniversary.

English version: Milena Daynova

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