Last updated : Last updated : 3rd May 1998
As discussed elsewhere, the first season episode 'Klansmen' has never been shown on UK terrestrial television. This is partly due to the fact that in March 1978 London Weekend Television decided that the subject matter of the story was unsuitable and feared that certain terms used in the script would offend some viewers.
Undoubtedly 'Klansmen' is a very powerful and mildly controversial story – ironically making it one of the strongest episodes. However for LWT to later claim one reason for its withdrawal was that "it did not fall into the pattern of the rest of the series" (as quoted in Dave Rogers' 1986 book 'The Complete Professionals') is just whitewash (sorry, no pun intended!), in my opinion. The original statement issued in 1978 claimed they were concerned that "some viewers would have been disturbed by the characters expressing extreme points of view." However the fact that Bodie appears to be racist should not be regarded as being controversial – it is a sad fact that such attitudes prevail in Britain even today – television should not hide this: it should expose it. No, this facet of his character should have been seen as just that – part of his character. Politically incorrect, yes – but that was always a Professionals trademark!
And if LWT were so concerned about the nature of the episode, why did they subsequently allow it to be exported to other countries (where it was freely shown with no apparent problems)? I suspect this was simply down to money – LWT had, effectively, lost £120,000 by pulling the ep and were obviously keen to recoup their losses!
One bizarre aspect of the whole situation is that prior to filming, all episode scripts were sent to LWT for 'vetting'. At this stage they could request changes to the scripts, if they felt these were necessary. Amazingly 'Klansmen' was given the 'OK', apparently with no change requests at all. So Mark 1 naturally went on to actually film it. It was only AFTER filming had completed and Mark 1 had wrapped up production on the first season that LWT suddenly decided that the episode was unacceptable. Brian Clemens has said that had LWT notified him in time, he would have happily adjusted the script to appease them. But I suspect the fact that Mark 1 had all "gone home" and, consequently, various members of the cast and crew were not available, then re-shooting was not possible.
Why couldn't they have simply re-shot the 'problem' scenes when filming commenced on the second season? Well I suppose this comes down to the fact that LWT hypocritically sold 'Klansmen' to other countries – it would have been a bit confusing if there had been two versions of it!
And so decades on we have still not seen 'Klansmen' on terrestrial TV in the UK. It was, however, shown on the now-defunct satellite station Superchannel in 1987 with no cuts. Granada Sky Broadcasting declined to show the episode during their 1997 runs.
To be fair, I must add that Lewis Collins himself was not very happy with the episode and, judging by his remarks in the 1996 Channel 4 documentary on the series, was probably relieved when it got pulled!
For the benefit of UK readers who have not seen the episode, I have given a detailed synopsis of the story below. PLEASE NOTE I have pointed out various specific aspects of the script to illustrate exactly why LWT felt uncomfortable with it.
The story opens with a middle-aged black couple, the Culvers, having their furniture thrown into the street by two white thugs intent on evicting them. Mrs Culver is sobbing and her husband is helpless. Despite the fact that a crowd has gathered to watch, nobody is willing to come to his aid. However a smart Mercedes suddenly draws up and a young black man steps out. We later discover he is a lawyer by the name of Zadie (played by Trevor Thomas). He orders the thugs to return all the furniture back into the house and pay for any breakages. One of the thugs, Dinny (Tony Booth), turns on Zadie: "You wanna mix it with me, nigger?!". Zadie, cool and unflinching, replies that he has obtained a court order to prevent the eviction and that as 'nigger' is simply a deformation of 'negro', the term does not offend him. This retort winds Dinny up even more and he threatens to thump Zadie - who in turn happily invites the thug to take a swing: after all there are plenty of witnesses! Dinny and his mate, Merv, decide they are beaten and start to replace the furniture. Zadie reassures the Culvers and then drives off.
However one of the spectators, Hulton (Edward Judd), approaches Dinny and invites him to join his "Empire Society", a small local establishment devoted to the ousting of blacks. Dinny and Merv had been acting on the orders of a mysterious Mr Miller. Dinny telephones Miller to explain what happened at the Culver's house. Miller tells Dinny and Merv to join the Empire Society, much to Dinny's surprise.
That evening Hulton and his mob, dressed in traditional Ku Klux Klan white robes and hoods, pay a visit on Zadie, throwing a brick through a window and erecting a huge wooden burning cross in his front garden. Zadie runs outside to challenge the men but there are too many of them and he comes under physical attack. Zadie's white wife Helen (played by Sheila Ruskin) witnesses the scene and screams abuse at the men as they run away.
Next day the incident comes to the attention of Cowley and, as a man who has seen and been appalled by much racial hatred in his time, decides to send Bodie and Doyle in to investigate. Bodie thinks it is a waste of CI5 resources: after all "all they did was plant a cross in a spade's garden". Cowley reacts furiously to this remark, warning Bodie not to use that term again, then sends the lads on their way. They go to interview Zadie and Bodie is plainly aghast when he sees that his wife is white. Zadie notices this but Bodie clumsily tries to cover up his feelings. However shortly after leaving Zadie's home, Bodie expresses to Doyle his resentfulness at the fact that a black man should own a nice, large house and drive a brand new Mercedes. Doyle, like Cowley, rebukes Bodie for making such remarks.
The lads then go on into the area of the town where the tenants live and try to make further investigations. At the same time a young black man by the name of Arty has discovered an accounts book with some information in it that he thinks Zadie should be made aware of. However before he can speak to Zadie, he is cornered by the hooded Klansmen and pushed off a rooftop, falling to his death.
The lads arrive on the scene and Bodie tries to investigate by questioning some black youths. However they don't take kindly to this and when Bodie threatens to take one of them, Tommy, in for interrogation, the others stab him and leave him for dead. Semi-conscious Bodie is able to radio for help. On the way to hospital in an ambulance Doyle wants to know who was responsible for the attempted murder and a delerious Bodie manages to gasp further racist insults about his attackers. On arriving at hospital, Bodie has lost so much blood that he is now in a very demented state and goes beserk when he sees that the doctor who will be treating him is black. The doctor manages to administer an injection which subdues Bodie into sleep.
In the meantime Hulton has called a meeting of the Empire Society to express his fury about Arty's murder: although he doesn't completely disapprove of the action, he fears that to take such extreme measures might make the white population turn against the Society. He demands to know which members of the group were responsible for the death but nobody owns up. The second item on the meeting's agenda is Zadie and a decision to step up further the crusade against him: "Let's go scare the arse of that flash nigger lawyer!". Meanwhile Doyle, anticipating that there might be another attack on Zadie, is watching in the bushes when Hulton's men - again, dressed in the familiar white Klansmen attire - arrive. Zadie, inside the house, hears the doorbell and opens the door to be greeted with a tin of white paint thrown over him: "Now you're as white as that wife of yours!" bellows the disguised Hulton. On hearing the commotion, Mrs Zadie runs to her husband's side only to be drenched in paint herself - but this time it is black: ".... and you're the same colour as him!" Hulton roars before the whole gang turn and run off. Doyle, seeing that the Zadies are unharmed, follow Hulton's gang as they retreat to the safety of the Empire Society building. On seeing the name of the club, Doyle realises what is going on and informs Cowley.
In the meantime Bodie remains in a poor state at the hospital and his demented outbursts continue. They are overheard by a young black nurse and she is visibly upset but nevertheless continues to attend to his wounds.
Doyle suggests he goes undercover and joins the Empire Society. By staging a racially-motivated fight with black CI5 operative Jax in front of Hulton, his invitation to become a member of the society is soon forthcoming. At yet another meeting that night, he not only plays along with the group's attitudes but actively encourages them to take much more extreme measures - "I've got a shotgun in my car!". Hulton is appalled by this and rebukes Doyle, explaining that is is not the group's intention to murder anybody. "What about the guy on the roof, though?" Doyle excitedly points out, referring to Arty.
The group goes out on one of its hooded jaunts and we see Dinny (he and Merv having joined the society as well) telephoning somebody: "There's a guy here with a shotgun.... should make a nice connection!". Shortly afterwards a middle-aged black man is gunned down by a Klansman. In the meantime the rest of the group are daubing racist slogans on the walls and garages of several tenants' houses.
The dead man was Zadie's business partner, Carter. Cowley is now very worried about the escalating violence. In the meantime Doyle visits the Empire's office and, on the pretence that he has been summoned by Hulton, searches the various filing cabinets and desks. But Hulton himself turns up unexpectedly with Dinny and Merv and the three of them, catching Doyle rifling the office, beat him senseless - his injuries are appalling but he remains conscious. The three interrogate him and he convinces them that he is working as a freelance reporter, trying to find out more about the Society so he can publish an article in a local black newspaper. Dinny and Merv then pile Doyle into their car and dump him at a nearby water-tower - ironically the same place at which Bodie was knifed. Doyle lapses into unconciousness.
A little while later the young kid Tommy turns up at the tower to play with his tennis ball and racquet. He discovers Doyle and administers food and water. Doyle manages to struggle to his feet and slowly start to recover, but his bruising is horrifying! Tommy tells Doyle about Bodie being knifed and Doyle explains that he is after the men who have been tormenting and murdering the blacks in the area. Tommy explains that he thinks Arty might have been murdered because of a robbery he pulled at the offices of Mr Miller, the property owner. It seems that Arty had discovered the account book contained some figures in it that would incriminate Miller. Yet witnesses had described seeing Klansmen running away fom the rooftop, so they would be Hulton's men, not Miller's.
Doyle happens to find Jax and asks to borrow his gun. Jax, shocked by Doyle's condition, contacts Cowley and arranges for him to meet Doyle at Miller's offices. Although still in a bad shape, Doyle arrives at the building before Cowley and discovers Dinny and Merv - who are two of Miller's employees, of course. He manages to overpower and tie them up - with Tommy as 'back-up'! A quick search of the offices reveals that the reason Miller wants the tenants evicted is so that he can sell the land for redevelopment and make a quick fortune. Interrogation of Dinny throws up a more pressing problem, though. It seems that Miller has arranged for some other men to murder Zadie that evening. Miller thinks that with Zadie out of the way, he will be able to carry out his evictions. Leaving Tommy with Jax's gun, Doyle rushes off, asking the youngster to explain things to Cowley when he arrives. Tommy: "This Mr Cowley - is he white or black?", Doyle: "Hmmm.... I never thought to ask!"
At around the same time Zadie receives a phone call from the tenant that we saw in the opening scene, Mr Culver. He says that some men have come back to his house to try to throw him out again. Zadie sees this as an ideal opportunity to land Miller in court and, grabbing various legal documents, heads for Culver's house. However when he arrives he discovers the house is intact and that men are actually Klan members waiting to kill him: Culver had been forced into making the telephone call. Doyle arrives and is forced to shoot the men when he sees Zadie is just about to be killed. Zadie, grateful to Doyle, expresses his distaste for the men: "White trash!". However removing the hood of one of the men reveals that he is actually black!?!
By now Cowley has arrived at Miller's office and discovers young Tommy guarding the bound Dinny and Merv. Cowley gets Dinny to phone Miller to ask him to come to the office. Dinny, a "dyed-in-the-wool black-hater" has never actually met Miller, merely spoken to him on the telephone. So he is absolutely shocked to discover that when Miller arrives, he himself is black! It would appear that Miller had decided run his tenants out of town by using Hulton's Empire Society as a cover - with Miller's own men dressed in Klan robes, they would naturally appear to be associated with Hulton! It was Miller's men, not Hulton's, who had murdered Arty and Carter and had just tried to kill Zadie.
By now Bodie has recovered well and we see him thanking the doctor who has just saved his life. He also apologises for his behaviour. But to top that, Doyle is amazed to see his partner strolling off hand-in-hand with the young black nurse who treated him. A bit envious of this, Doyle declares to Jax: "Right, now we start our campaign.... to get rid of some of these damned whites!"
In terms of plotting, pace and action this is an excellent story. Yes, some of the scripting is alarming and there is no way dialogue like this would be allowed into modern-day TV shows. I can certainly understand LWT's reservations about it. Yet, why did they give it the green light to begin with and change their minds when it was far too late? The theory proposed by some folk is that there must have been some sort of slip-up at LWT and the 'Klansmen' script somehow never actually got vetted. However it seems a huge co-incidence that the most controversial storyline in the series was accidentally "overlooked". My own theory is that whoever was responsible for vetting the scripts did indeed give the episode the go-ahead, Mark 1 filmed the story, presented the film to LWT and then someone higher up (maybe even LWT head Brian Tesler himself) happened to view the story and was aghast at it. (And perhaps gave the script-vetter a right, er, stern talking to!). In a couple of interviews, Brian Clemens has stated his belief that as Tesler and his Jewish family had suffered racial taunts during the war, perhaps this had made him "sensitive" to the storyline.
Bodie's attitude, although highly disagreeable, is well-balanced in the story by that of Cowley and Doyle, both of whom condemn him for his. And by the end of the story we see Bodie has mended his ways! In a way, it was also another way of exploring Bodie's fascinating "not evil, but no angel, either" character.
Overall I do not agree with LWT's decision to disallow the release of this episode to the UK terrestrial network. The dialogue may be strong and unsettling but plenty of contemporary television programmes at the time used similar terms. That is not to condone the use of such words but I do not see why The Professionals should have been singled out. That said, I don't think the episode would have lost any of its power had certain parts of the script been changed. I think we have to conclude that this was perhaps one huge clanger dropped by LWT. After viewing the completed episode and realising that, by that stage, it was too late to do anything about it, they panicked and pulled the plug on the segment completely.
I think what troubles me most is that all these years later satellite channels like Granada Plus continue to refuse to screen the episode, yet happily rerun series like Mind Your Language, a programme whose single purpose was to stereotype and make fun of different races and cultures (and indeed was axed for this reason when management at LWT changed in 1979). I think you can regard this in one of two ways: either it is an act of breathtaking hypocrisy on the part of Plus or the people running this station actively prefer to promote racist, rather than anti-racist, sentiment. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.