Last updated : 28th November 2013
"Anarchy, acts of terror, crimes against the public. To combat it I've got special men – experts from the army, the police, from every service – these are the professionals."
Throughout the whole realm of fictional programming, the genre of crime/action drama has proved one of the most popular with TV audiences. In the UK the last thirty years have seen a wealth of such programmes with the likes of Special Branch, The Sweeney, Target, Hazell, Strangers, Minder, Shoestring, Bergerac, Taggart, The Paradise Club and Spender. Those shows were often 'hard' and 'gritty' and police-orientated programmes such as Sweeney portrayed the lives of officers as often being very dangerous – far closer to the truth than the ever-so-cosy world of Dixon of Dock Green which was a good ten years past its sell-by date when it finished in 1976! The problem with this 'realism' was that, as in real life, strong language and violence tended to play a large part – and therefore kept the Mary Whitehouse crowd extremely busy! (Dear old Mary was the founder - and, I suspect, only member - of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, whose aim was to stamp out sex, violence, bad language and all the fun on British TV and radio.)
One programme that attracted more criticism (and not just from the NVLA) than most for its level of violence was The Professionals – yet many interpreted this as 'action' and 'excitement', and so the show became extremely popular with most of the viewing public. The aim of this article is threefold: to look in detail at this controversial, long-running show, assess its attributes (both good and bad) and to explore its influence or otherwise on the programmes that would succeed it.
The Professionals was the creation of the small independent company Avengers Mark 1 Productions that (as 'Avengers Film & TV Enterprises') had brought us The New Avengers in 1976 and '77. This show had heavily relied on financial support from French television company IDTV (and some input from Canadian company Nielsen-Ferns). Sadly, as had befallen its sixties predecessor, the show's style and content became subject to adverse interference from the overseas backers. The British team resisted defiantly but, as a consequence, found their supply of francs quickly drying up. Creator, co-producer and joint-head of Mark 1 Brian Clemens realised that a third series would be impossible.
In fact it seems that even before the second series went before the cameras, Brian was worried about its survival prospects. In February 1977 he and fellow executive producer Albert Fennell were approached by London Weekend Television head Brian Tesler, who happened to be looking for a rival to Thames Television's highly successful police series The Sweeney. Recognising that, although all was not well on the New Avengers set, Fennell and Clemens had certainly demonstrated they knew how to handle an action-show format, Tesler asked Clemens submit ideas. After several days' consideration, Clemens came up with two suggestions. The first concerned a pair of undercover cops but Tesler far preferred the second idea: an elite squad of crime-fighters formed to tackle the rising tide of professional criminal and terrorist groups that were starting to engulf Britain. Originally christened "The A-Squad", few people except Clemens himself were keen on the title of the show and it was soon changed to the impressive-sounding The Professionals.
In those days, people like Tesler could make a solo decision on whether to "green light" a new show. There were no tiresome, overpaid approval committees to be consulted as there are today...
So from then on things moved very quickly with Fennell and Clemens establishing a new production company, Avengers Mark 1 Productions. Meanwhile Avengers Film & TV carried on with the final few episodes of The New Avengers in France and Canada.
Working feverishly on the concept throughout February, Brian Clemens carved out the following detailed treatment...
In November 1971 the British Home Secretary called a meeting of several law, military and intelligence chiefs to ask for suggestions on how to tackle the increasingly expert and well-armed criminal and terror groups that were starting to wreak havoc across the country. It was recognised that too often the agencies were hide-bound by "red tape", inefficient bureacracy, poor co-ordination and inter-departmental rivalry – such elements often allowing villains to not only escape justice but commit their crimes in the first place...
Attending the meeting was MI5 head George Cowley and he already had a radical proposal: the creation of an "umbrella" organisation to amalgamate the military intelligence-gathering and combat techniques of the other agencies in an effort to efficiently handle such criminal activity before it endangered the public. But Cowley had recognised that such a team would need to work extremely quickly and that under certain circumstances this would mean using underhand methods to achieve their ends...
It came as little surprise to Cowley that some of his ideas were met with strong reservations but the Home Secretary welcomed the proposal, providing the team's activities were kept secret. Within a very short space of time Cowley had left MI5 and was setting up Criminal Intelligence ('CI5'), hand-picking around forty men and women for his elite squad.
We pick up CI5's story six years later. Cowley's top two agents are the partnership of Ray Doyle and William Bodie. The three men would form the focus of the series. Doyle had been a detective constable, working in the East End and Docklands areas London – two of the city's toughest beats. Bodie had had a varied past having deserted the Merchant Navy, joined a band of mercenaries in Africa, enrolled with the Paras and then the SAS, where his many talents had been spotted by Cowley, who promptly invited him to join CI5.
Different backgrounds meant contrasting personalities and the partners were often at odds with each other over the approach to the job in hand – Bodie would think nothing of damaging a suspect to 'encourage' them to talk, whereas Doyle tended to ask questions first. These opposing attitudes led the partners to enjoy a spirited relationship while developing an awareness and respect for each other's abilities.
Finding Cowley, Bodie and Doyle: Casting
Although most readers will remember the show's characters being played by Gordon Jackson, Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins, none of them were Brian Clemens' original choices. As with most television shows, a number of actors were considered for the lead roles. Of the list of possibilities considered, those invited to perform screen tests included Simon Oates (best known for the early 1970s series Doomwatch), Ken Hutchison (Sam Peckinpah's infamous Straw Dogs), Oliver Tobias (Arthur of the Britons) and Tommy Boyle. However these candidates were passed over...
Clive Revill had played a gripping part in the excellent New Avengers episode 'Dead Men are Dangerous' and Clemens wanted him to play Cowley. But the offer coincided with the potential of a long-running television series in America following a successful pilot, thus he was unable to commit. (It isn't clear what US series he was offered - possibly Winner Take All - but it never came to fruition)...
Albert Fennell had worked with Gordon Jackson several times in the past (including the 'Castle De'Ath' episode of The Avengers from 1965) and recommended him. Gordon was anxious to get away from his stuffy butler image from Upstairs Downstairs and accepted the new role immediately. In fact it appears he wasn't even required to perform a screen-test.
Jon Finch had appeared in the New Avengers segment 'Medium Rare' and was originally offered the part of Doyle. An actor who had already come to prominence in the likes of cult sci-fi The Final Programme and Roman Polanski's 1971 film version of Macbeth, the producers offered him the role of Doyle immediately after his screen-test. He accepted but then changed his mind, mysteriously exclaiming he "could never play a policeman"...
Martin Shaw had been screentested during the same session and was offered the role as the second choice. In fact at the time he was completing scenes for a New Avengers story ('Obsession'). He accepted, albeit reluctantly after reading some of the scripts, because, in his own words, "there was nothing else on offer at the time".
In an interview given in the 1990s Gareth Hunt (the New Avengers 'Gambit' character, of course) stated that he had been considered. However pressure from LWT meant production on The Professionals had to start while The New Avengers was still filming (in France and Canada), so this wasn't feasible. (Though Gareth briefly dropped in on filming sometime during 1980, as evidenced by a photograph in one of the Professionals annuals.) The original casting of the second principal fell to Anthony Andrews (later to play one of the leads in Brideshead Revisited).
CI5 Mark I: Jackson, Shaw and Andrews
Filming commenced on Monday 13th June 1977 with the small studios at Harefield Grove near Rickmansworth providing the production team with administrative offices and a number of sets for CI5 headquarters. However within three days shooting had to be suspended. Viewing initial rushes on 16th June, it became clear to Brian Clemens that while the two younger actors were fine performers, they couldn't work up the 'abrasiveness' that was the producer was looking for ("They would sit in the car and just giggle" he explained). The on-screen partnership wasn't working in the way he needed and, following an emergency meeting with London Weekend Television, promptly dropped Andrews, considering that of the two, Shaw had greater "screen presence".
CI5 Mark II: Jackson, Shaw and Collins
With filming now three weeks behind schedule a replacement had to be found very quickly. Brian and Albert Fennell discussed possibilities and remembered when Shaw had played in the 'Obsession' episode, he had not got on very well with his co-star... a certain Lewis Collins. Maybe the animosity between the actors could provide the 'explosive' partnership required for the new show?
Towards the end of 'Obsession' Lewis' Kilner character says to Martn's Larry Doomer "Maybe we should work together again sometime - a good team!". In fact this was sheer co-incidence - as stated previously, other actors were being considered for The Professionals at this point.
Lewis remembered things slightly differently. According to an interview given in 1996, he had actually been contracted to play the minor role of a police sergeant in the first episode 'Old Dog with New Tricks' (probably the role that was eventually taken by John Judd) and was picked out when the producers realised things weren't working with Shaw and Andrews, they turned their attention to Lewis.
Shooting recommenced on Monday 20th June 1977. Unsurprisingly Shaw was horrified at the prospect of having to work again with this actor and also doubted the newcomer's abilities. However as filming progressed, his view changed and he came to respect Lewis - the two becoming friends. By this time, however, they had settled very well into their roles and were able to keep up the on-screen abrasiveness.
Of the three leads, Doyle was perhaps the most interesting and 'three-dimensional' character. Although obviously a very tough man, later episodes would often reveal quite a compassionate nature. He was portrayed as tending to stick to health foods (a constant source of derision for Bodie!) and in one episode he talks about his time as an art student. He would often question CI5's methods. Doyle's physical appearance also indicated his more placid nature – he favoured casual clothes and, of course, that infamous 'bubble-perm' hairstyle (which, amazingly, was Shaw's idea!). Yet there were occasions when he would 'snap' or become quite brusque.
Seemingly at the request of the production team, Lewis Collins played his character with fewer facets - on the surface Bodie was little more than a ruthless thug who seemed to lap up 'villain-bashing'. Yet he possessed ample wit and charm to attract the ladies and his loyalty to CI5 was beyond question. His appearance was usually of tailored smartness (in the first season, at least) and short hair - both completely opposite to Doyle. His full name was revealed as William Andrew Philip Bodie ("All the princes - I was such as regal-looking baby!") in one episode, though preferred to be addressed solely by his surname.
Gordon Jackson brought a good compromise to the part of Cowley. Like Bodie his decisions could often be quite merciless. In one episode he threatens to force-feed an uncooperative drug dealer with heroin to turn him into an addict. Unlike Bodie, however, and with occasional prompting from Doyle, such actions did trouble Cowley's conscience. With years of playing espionage games in MI5, Cowley had become a master tactician and constantly amazed his juniors with his ability to turn around seemingly hopeless situations into ones which CI5 could win - even if his methods were occasionally morally qustionable! An old bullet wound had left him with a limp and frequent twinges of pain that seemed to aggravate his rather gruff attitude. A man of little humour, he would rarely appreciate Bodie and Doyle's jocularity.
During filming breaks Shaw and Collins were put through rigorous physical training courses to get them fit and were taught advanced driving skills – they were going to need them!
Despite the scripts containing much humorous banter, the quirkiness of The Avengers almost completely disappeared as The Professionals' style of rough, tough cops against the violent, criminal world quickly established itself.
Clemens may have been frustrated at not getting the actors he wanted, but at least he was able to assemble his choice of writers and directors. Veterans such as Anthony Read, Dennis Spooner, Gerry O'Hara, Don Houghton and Roger Marshall formed a crack team of writers and would each contribute many storylines during the series' lifetime - though in the early years Clemens himself was the most active scriptwriter. Also drafted in were well-proven directors such as Douglas Camfield, William Brayne and Charles Crichton. Producer for the first season was the highly-respected Sid Hayers, although Ray Menmuir took over from the second season when Hayers went to America in 1978 to pursue a successful television career - he directed episodes of Magnum and Knight Rider among other things. Many of these people had started out in the 1950's and earned their colours during the following decade on Lew Grade's ITC series (The Saint, The Prisoner, Randall & Hopkirk, etc) and, of course, The Avengers and New Avengers.
Rolls-Royces, Assault Courses and Stunts
Renowned screen musician Laurie Johnson was a co-director of Mark 1 and on hand to provide the music (in fact he still had a few New Avengers episodes to score as The Professionals started production) and his powerful, unforgettable title theme certainly grabbed the attention of the viewer (in a 1999 newspaper poll, it was selected as the second favourite TV theme ever, just pipped by that of Hawaii Five-O). Laurie also composed the incidental themes.
The original opening titles commenced with a Rolls-Royce hurtling down a narrow road, rounds a corner and slews to a halt in the grounds of the CI5 training building. Bodie, Doyle and two other agents leap out while Cowley emerges from the driver's seat and activates a stopwatch. The partners charge into the building where they are presented with an army assault course. We see them tackle a rope-net which they quickly negotiate before bursting into a narrow corridor to engage in hand-to-hand combat with several dummy 'baddies' (one of which wears a "target" motif which struck me as being a nod towards the show's Avengers roots) and the other two ops. The seconds tick by. Next the lads descend a death-slide and crash through a line of doors. Cut back to the stopwatch again. They emerge from the building to find Cowley beckoning excitedly, jump back into the Rolls and shoot off back round the corner! The viewer was probably out of breath, never mind the lads! Originally this was accompanied by a voice-over by Jackson/Cowley – the quotation that starts this article, though this appars to have been dropped after just two episodes when a slightly revised version of the theme was substituted (which, sadly, softened the great opening "chime", toned down the bass and brought up the treble, while adding other small effects). The end titles were of a wonderful landscape shot of London, gradually panning further and further back over the Thames. Again there is debate on how many episodes originally contained this and indeed why it was dropped in favour of the green caption card.
One similarity with The New Avengers was that the two younger stars insisted on performing their own stunts – but whereas Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt had done much of their own stuntwork, Shaw and Collins handled almost all of theirs. Cuts, bruises, concussion and stitches were occasional problems over the following four years!
Although undeniably a fine scriptwriter, Brian Clemens' original plan was to simply pen a couple of "establishing" episodes to act as templates for the other writers. Having worked non-stop on The New Avengers for eighteen months, he understandably felt the need for a long rest and set off on holiday, handing over to script editor Kenneth Ware. Things didn't work out the way Brian had hoped - within days he was urgently recalled to London to be told by Kenneth that the series was in trouble. It would appear the other writers were struggling and Brian was needed to invigorate their scripts. Brian agreed, citing the main problem as being the stories were not moving quickly enough. It was also felt some scripts were completely unsuitable and were abandoned. Even some of the viable scripts that were filmed turned out to run short of the required fifty minutes, notably P J Hammond's 'Heroes' which barely reached a half-hour!
In the end Brian wrote, re-wrote or added scenes to a further seven stories. In some cases the script for an episode was being revised while it was actually in production!
The original intention was to allocate two contiguous "blocks" of Monday-to-Friday filming for each episode, before moving on to the next the following week. Not surprisingly this plan quickly fell apart! With the reworking required on so many stories, yet London Weekend Television still pressing for the series to be ready for transmission in late 1977, on some days scenes for up to four episodes were being shot! "It really was a crisis situation!" as Brian said.
In the end the series did premiere in 1977... but only just!
"Fight fire with fire!"
The thirteen-episode first series provided a great variety in plots. It kicked off with 'Private Madness, Public Danger' – broadcast on 30th December 1977 in the UK – which dealt with a chemicals expert (played by Keith Barron) threatening to kill the population of London by poisoning the reservoirs used as the city's water supplies.
In the excellent 'Close Quarters' the German Helmut-Meyer terrorist group assassinates a prominent British businessman. An injured Bodie captures the group's cunning leader but finds himself and his girlfriend trapped in an old vicarage unable to alert his colleagues. Meanwhile the remainder of the group plan an assault on the house. This tense episode appeared to be inspired by real-life events – the fictional Helmut-Meyer gang was undoubtedly modelled on the notorious Baader-Meinhof group who were so active in the seventies. Indeed in his Writers' Guide for the series, Clemens actively encouraged fellow scribes to adapt real-life news events into their stories, thereby furthering the show's attempts at realistic portrayals of criminal and terrorist activity.
'Old Dog with New Tricks' was actually the first episode to be filmed, though the third to be transmitted. This dealt with a gangster's plan to spring his brother from prison by taking a "top cop" hostage. The story included Cowley instructing several new recruits. He preached that CI5's concept was to "Fight fire with fire" and "Do unto them what they are only just thinking about!" and it soon became apparent that the squad would often resort to such tactics. Indeed their official brief was to inhibit criminal activity "by whatever means necessary" – a very handy loophole! Given these plot elements, it is surprising that this was not chosen as the opening story, after all.
In 'Heroes' a newspaper irresponsibly publishes the names of witnesses to a political assassination and CI5 are given the job of protecting them while also trying to apprehend the killers – but not before several of the witnesses are also murdered.
In 'When the Heat Cools Off' the daughter of a prisoner whom Doyle had put away argues her father's innocence. Doyle becomes emotionally involved with the girl (played by a pre-Dr Who Lalla Ward) and decides to re-investigate the case. The apparent emergence of new evidence leads Doyle to believe the man is indeed innocent...
The final episode of the first season has never been transmitted on terrestrial television in the UK. 'Klansmen' was a Clemens script concerning inner-city racism. Several black people are taunted and murdered apparently by members of a Ku Klux Klan and a landowner is trying to evict the black tenants from his houses by racial aggravation. When a black lawyer steps in to help the tenants, he finds himself and his white wife under attack from the Klan. What seems a straightforward case ends with a real twist in the tale.
It was LWT's decision to withdraw 'Klansmen', citing the sensitive subject matter of the story and the strong racist terms used throughout the script. Bodie himself is rather racist until his life is saved by a black doctor. Indeed Lewis Collins was unhappy with the way his character was scripted and LWT's reaction is perhaps not too surprising. Nevertheless it remains one of the finest episodes from all five seasons. And as Clemens argued, the story was not racist, merely about racism. Incidentally no other country ever stopped this episode, as far as I'm aware and, indeed, it wasn't until the now-defunct satellite broadcaster Superchannel transmitted the story in 1987 that UK viewers finally had a chance to decide on it for themselves. Unfortunately very few people had satellite equipment at the time! For a more detailed examination of this episode, click here.
Butler with a machine-gun?
Despite the myriad problems encountered during production and hastily rewritten scripts, the first series ended with much acclaim from the viewing public: its ratings having steadily climbed to around ten million viewers in the UK - not bad for a new series transmitted during the New Year period! Admittedly many couldn't quite accept the casting of Gordon Jackson in such a 'hard man' role, having recently finished as Hudson - and publicity shots of Jackson grimacing threateningly at the camera with a sub-machine-gun did look faintly ridiculous!
Reaction from the critics was initially mixed - the Times' television correspondent applauded the new show, while others found it difficult to accept that some of the cases CI5 took on wouldn't normally be handled by the police - a fair comment, but this could be levelled at a lot of 'Secret Service' shows. Later, however, many more critics became dissenting towards the programme. Several cited Bodie and Doyle's need to drive everywhere at top speed with wheelspins and handbrake turns at every opportunity and the level of violence as moronic and "comic-strip". Inevitably Mary Whitehouse lobbed in her usual overreaction: "Violent, uncouth and thoroughly unsavoury!"
Martin Shaw himself often took issue with the production team over these points and even hardened fans of the show would have to admit that these criticisms weren't without foundation. It is surprising that Clemens and co never sought to redress these vilifications. That said - and perhaps in recognition of this - episodes from later seasons were occasionally self-mocking - Doyle chastising Bodie's 'enthusiastic' driving technique or a young police constable decrying the "screeching tyres - just like on television"!
In its favour, though, the series mostly offered good scripts, varied plots, pacey direction, sharp editing and Jackson, Collins and Shaw all handled their parts with conviction, despite the latter's repugnance of the show and his character. In fact Shaw recently stated that he never expected the programme to last more than two seasons. Had he not been bound by a four-year contract it seems certain he would have left after the first series – indeed he allegedly attempted to resign after just six weeks! Had Clemens had more control, he would probably have fired Shaw anyway. "Had I been in sole charge, I would have just got rid of the two and had another team... [CI5] was a big organisation, so why stick with them? We could have easily brought in someone else".
Many actors who had appeared in The New Avengers also popped up here. They included Keith Barron, Keith Buckley, John Castle, Peter Cellier, Gabrielle Drake, Robert Gillespie, Gary Waldhorn and Pamela Stephenson (twice!). It was almost as though Mark 1 had their own little repertory company!
In the meantime LWT, obviously delighted with the high viewer ratings (and subsequent overseas sales made The Professionals one of the company's biggest money-earners), quickly commissioned a further batch of episodes...
"All change at Euston!"
...Yet Mark 1 and LWT agreed the production needed notching up a gear or two. The broadcaster ploughed additional funding into the show but decided to exert more direct control over proceedings. In early 1978 production had wrapped up on the final season of The Sweeney, leaving much of its freelance crew seeking new employment. Leaping at the opportunity to acquire such a talented bunch of people, LWT signed them up en masse! The Professionals effectively became the new Euston project in all but name. The newly-acquired expertise allowed for far more use of outdoor shots and real building interiors as opposed to studio mock-ups. Sound recordist Dave Crozier refined his kit to make it much more portable. The crew could literally follow the actors around the locations and record their dialogue "on-the-fly", rather than having to redub it later in the studio - a technique used extensively in the first season. All this greatly enhanced the look and feel of the production, giving the viewer a superior sense of "immediacy".
With a view to bringing inner-London locations closer to hand, the production moved from its Harefield Grove base to the larger Lee International Studios at Wembley.
First-season producer Sidney Hayers left the programme to find work in America. LWT drafted in Raymond Menmuir, a younger man who had some ideas on how to improve the show further...
The second season (transmitted in the UK between October and December 1978) continued in much the same vein, though with some significant enhancements to the format. Bodie and Doyle were each assigned permanent cars: Bodie favouring a Ford Capri and Doyle a Ford Escort RS2000. Ford's sales of these cars increased duly - and both models are now considered semi-classics, of course. Cowley was usually to be seen chauffeured in a red Ford Granada Mk II. The first season had seen the stars mainly using a mix of Triumphs and Rovers – a surprising choice given the terrible relations between Mark 1 and British Leyland during The New Avengers. In fact a deal had been struck with Ford about halfway into filming of the first season and we saw the lads readily swap between Capris and BL cars.
Although CI5's existence was well-known by other military and police agencies, the identities of its members was intended to be secret. (Although there were inconsistencies over this in some episodes - which really should have been rectified by Script Editor Gerry O'Hara!) As such call-signs were allocated to the three leads and, occasionally, other agents. Bodie became "3-7" and Cowley was often referred to as "Alpha-1". Doyle was initally "3-6" but later changed to "4-5" for unknown reasonsm which led to confusion and continiuity blunders in some of the early second season scripts.
The other major change was that of the opening title sequence. Readers will doubtless remember the black Granada blasting through a plate-glass window, Doyle chasing a villain across a factory roof, Bodie working out in a gym and Cowley waiting impatiently to be joined by the two subordinates. LWT deemed this new sequence as being superior to the original "assault course" titles. Mark 1 were asked to graft the new sequence onto the existing first season episodes for repeat and overseas showings and, surprisingly, this appears to have been applied to a set of negatives. (Laurie and Brian still possess the episodes with original titles intact but, sadly, some of them are in poor condition). The "London landscape" of the original end titles was replaced, too, with a simple green-coloured caption card bearing a variation on the famous Professionals "silhouettes" logo.
Lewis Collins also felt an image change was in order. Out went the tailored suits as he switched to smart but casual gear, now kitted out in a variety of leather and plaid jackets (some of which, although probably the height of fashion then, now look awful!). Unlike Doyle, however, he hardly ever wore jeans.
Menmuir and Clemens were keen to get all three leads involved in the action, so Cowley's leg wound was quietly forgotten and we saw the chief out "in the field" a lot more - a move which pleased Gordon, apparently.
Given the move away from a fixed base, Cowley's secretary, Betty, also disappeared. As a more "active" replacement, ex-model Diana Weston was brought in as CI5 agent Ruth Pettifer. But despite the sparky on-screen chemistry between her and the three leads, she was mysteriously dropped after just three stories.
Although a more "mobile" format, repeated use was made of Cadby Hall in Hammersmith, a massive complex that could serve as several supposedly different locations, though it was most obviously used as CI5 HQ. In the previous season whenever Cowley needed to converse with Government ministers, the latter would usually conveniently come to the CI5 building (Harefield Grove). This saved the expense of having to construct additional sets. This time, however, being based much nearer the capital, the National Liberal Club in Whitehall aided authenticity, along with the luxury touches of oak-panelled walls and leather chairs discovered by the production at The Tower Theatre, Islington. Both locales were repeated pressed into service during the second season when requiring the illusion of Government offices.
This time Brian Clemens only contributed two scripts as by now the other writers seemed to have grasped the concepts of the series. Highlights included 'The Rack' which involved the death of a suspect being held by CI5, apparently killed by Doyle. This leads to a public enquiry and an influential lawyer (a blistering, fearsome performance by Lisa Harrow) calls for CI5 to be disbanded. Cowley has a tough fight on his hands to save the organisation.
This freed up Brian to go to the USA to write a pilot for what was hoped would be an American version of The New Avengers.
'In the Public Interest' concerned a Chief Constable who had imposed a virtual police state in his city in order to quell all criminal activity – but this led his own officers to break the law by abusing suspects' rights.
Not a Very Civil Civil Servant' was an interesting departure from the norm as the Squad tackled bribery and corruption between the building trade and government. Despite being an excellent episode, Brian Clemens - who oversaw all proposed scripts - recommended against LWT commissioning it!
The opening 'Hunter Hunted' had quite a Hitchcock flavour involving Doyle testing a new high-technology sub-machine-gun (which incorporated the then-new "red dot" laser-lock sight). But the gun is stolen and 'tested' on him by an unknown attacker. A lethal and sadistic game of cat-and-mouse ensued.
The season ended with 'Fall Girl' in which Bodie became involved with an old girlfriend who was part of an assassination plot, leaving Bodie framed for the murder and on the run from CI5.
"Break a leg!"
With the writers now having a better "understanding" of the show, production of usable scripts became the norm and subsequent filming more straightforward. Most episodes did use a day or two extra, though - slotted in at a later date - for scenes that the crew, for whatever reasons, had been unable to accommodate during the original shoot. However this run of good fortune wasn't to last!...
The intention was to film the usual 13-episode "block" but Lewis Collins suffered a broken ankle performing a parachute jump - a "stunt" unconnected to the show and strictly against the terms of his contract with Mark 1 - in November 1978, part-way though filming of the eleventh story. Production on the series came to an abrupt halt and a decision was taken to restart in March '79, when the third series was to get under way.
Horror writer Chris Wicking's psychological 'The Madness of Mickey Hamilton' was a standout episodes (though was actually one of the delayed second season stories). This saw a man whose wife had died and child been left a vegetable due to a hospital blunder decide to seek revenge by systematically assassinating the hospital's staff. The difference with this story was that the viewer could perhaps sympathise a little with the killer. But other writers struggled to maintain the quality and inventiveness of Clemens. Although the series retained the action, pacing and humour, most stories revolved around espionage and terrorism. Martin Shaw went public with his desire to quit the show - his interview for the Professionals annual, published in November '79, making this all too clear. Additionally Lewis had started to become a problem, regularly turning up late for work.
The Britain of the 1970s was beset by poor economic management by the Conservative and then Labour governments. By 1979 inflation - the measure by which prices for goods and services rise annually - was around 13%. Naturally this led to high payrise claims by workers and their unions. Many of the vast array of skills - particularly technical ones such as electricians - the broadcasters needed to produce programmes were represented by individual unions, so the ITV network, including London Weekend Television, found itself embroiled in infeasibly complex demands talks. Some unions insisted on a 25% pay increase for their members, to not only counteract inflation but to compensate for what they felt had been effectively a gradual erosion of salary worth since 1975, when inflation had been around 24%. But management had its own difficulties as the general financial malaise of the period led to advertisers, whom ITV relied upon for funding, demanding lower advertising rates. Agreement couldn't be reached with the unions and led to the longest and most widespread dispute in ITV's history. With several unions calling its member out on strike, the network simply couldn't function and it closed down almost entirely between August and October 1979. (The only region still operational being "Channel", which covered the small islands of Jersey and Guernsey!)...
Thirteen episodes of The Professionals plus the three delayed from the previous year had been filmed but the strike led to transmission being curtailed to just eight episodes.
Silver Screen Professionals...?
With the continuing success of the show, Brian Clemens (having returned from the US after the Avengers pilot flopped) proposed the idea of a Professionals theatrical movie. One of the aims of this would be to promote the TV series in the United States in the hope it might gain a decent network screening there. To this day US television networks are keen to use ninety-minute pilot films as a launchpad for potential new TV series. A couple of American companies expressed an interest in providing some financial backing for the movie (and, quite possibly, some creative input) but the bulk of the funding would come from LWT. Gordon and Lewis were happy enough to be involved. Although Martin agreed to partake, he apparently laid down conditions, one of which was that he should be allowed to vet and, if he deemed necessary, have the script amended. "Martin wanted script approval and there was no way I would ever give an actor that" said Brian in a interview with Dave Rogers for 'Stay Tuned' magazine in 1995. Ultimately, however, the demands were inconsequential and a script was never completed because London Weekend decided not to go ahead. In fact they were moving away from The Professionals completely...
The Purging of CI5...?
The aforementioned strike had resulted in all of the ITV network's regional broadcasters being starved of advertising revenue, thus forced to make drastic cutbacks on programme-making costs. For LWT this led to some of its series (including the Upstairs, Downstairs spin-off Thomas and Sarah) being unfairly terminated. It seems that they came very close to axing The Professonals too - and the fanclub and magazine dedicated to the show were closed. Although there was no official announcement that the series was to be cancelled, Martin Shaw had his first opportunity in three years to appear in another production, starring in Dennis Potter's lame TV play Cream in My Coffee (ironically also made by LWT). In what was supposed to be publicity for it, Shaw chose to use an interview for The Daily Mail newspaper to attack The Professionals and, specifically, the show's producers, whom he accused of being "accountants", not even prepared to provide seating during breaks between shooting scenes and forcing him to turn down offers of film work.
In late March 1980 LWT formally decided to retain the series, given that it had started to attract considerable overseas sales. (Although in 1996 Brian Clemens revealed that Mark 1 didn't see an actual profit from the show until the late 1980s.) However Martin Shaw's increasing outspokenness caused series producer Ray Menmuir and LWT's Director of Programmes Michael Grade grave concerns. Both men considered sacking the star but ultimately decided that recasting or replacing him would be too great a risk - and financial cost - for the show's popularity.
With demands to restart production in early June, such short notice put Mark 1 under tremendous pressure once again to get scripts commissioned and written (let alone all the other logistical problems of recalling the production crew and location scouting). Indeed the first episode before the cameras, 'The Gun', doesn't appear to be a Professionals story at all(!), while the following two, 'Wild Justice' and 'Blackout', were adaptations of previous works by the writers. It took about eight episodes before the the new season's scripts consistently returned the show to its normal high standard of story-telling and action.
This time around there was rather more variety in the plots but the sparkle was beginning to fade. The lack of comedic banter between the two lads was one reason for this. This was partly due to the writers supplying scripts involving them working separately, sometimes with other CI5 agents, played by guest stars. In fairness this may have been an attempt to give the impression CI5 didn't merely comprise of the three leads. Indeed a new semi-regular support character was introduced for eight episodes: agent Murphy, played by the late Steve Alder. There was also a subtle but definite shift in the characterisations of Bodie and Doyle: they now seemed grimmer and more hardened. Perhaps, though, this reflected Shaw and Collins' own feelings towards the programme. Both complained that their characters seemed to have stopped developing, their own ideas were no longer welcome and that the series was moving from an artistic endeavour to little more than a "production machine" with episodes being churned out to meet LWT's deadlines. The latter is almost certainly true given the broadcaster's last-minute decision to continue the series, yet demanding it be ready for transmission by the autumn. Lewis now seemed as keen as Martin to leave.
Nevertheless some of the storylines were intriguing. In Ranald Graham's 'Wild Justice', Bodie started to undergo a mental breakdown, making him irrational, aggressive and impulsive. The ITV transmission strikes of the previous year meant that LWT had several leftover episodes and some of these lifted the fourth season. Brian Clemens had returned to writing duties and contributed 'Need to Know', a complex episode that saw Cowley being suspected of being a double agent. 'Involvement' was an emotionally-charged story as Doyle discovers his girlfriend is under suspicion of drugs-smuggling and being investigated by Bodie. A routine investigation became a study of how CI5's methods could have a damaging effect not only upon innocent people but its own members. Although CI5 having to protect a visiting foreign official was a familiar plotline, Brian's 'Mixed Doubles' story had an interesting twist: while Bodie and Doyle underwent arduous training to defend the man, two assassins were receiving similar instruction on how to eliminate him! The episode aimed to demonstrate that, despite being on opposite sides of the law, the two double-acts were remarkably alike! Arguably these episodes made up some of the best fourth season stories and showed that, ultimately, the series NEEDED Clemens.
Unfortunately the pressure put upon the production resulted in some under-developed scripts such as usually-reliable Chris Wicking's 'The Gun', wherein a youngster is chased by a murderous drug-dealer and the law. 'Blood Sports' saw the son of a South American president assassinated - almost no story at all, really!
The pressure to get episodes "in the can" became unmanageable, exacerbated to some degree by the unco-operative behaviour of Shaw and Collins. In previous seasons a "Second Unit" small production team had often been dispatched to help out when filming was behind schedule, to re-shoot scenes whose original camerawork had turned out to be unusable or simply to shoot "car run-by" scenes where the actors could be "doubled". This time, however, the 2nd Unit was accorded equal status and employed constantly as it became the norm for two or more episodes to be worked on every day. This benefited those crews, however, as it gave them more valuable experience in directing and camerawork.
Of course the fourth season as televised in the UK comprised the eight episodes that had originally been destined for the previous run plus those shot in 1980. But LWT intermingled the episodes during transmission so that in one Doyle would be driving the Escort RS2000, in the next a 1980 Capri, then back to the Escort again! As ever, LWT's scheduling left a lot to be desired... and worse was to come!...
LWT had commissioned the usual tally of thirteen episodes to be filmed during 1980. UK transmission commenced in September of that year and was due to complete in February 1981. This would accommodate all the new stories and those left over from 1979. However screening was curtailed in the final week of December '80, leaving six episodes outstanding - which were replaced by repeats from previous seasons, re-screened during January and February '81. The reason for this was due to a combination of problems. Like most organisations, each department within LWT was given an annual budget and the drama section, for whom The Professionals was produced, ran into difficulties with its funding. To compound matters a peculiarity of LWT's financial accounting system was that - "on paper" at least - a programme would not be paid for until it was actually transmitted across the ITV network. Having to make some fast decisions over savings, the department decided to suspend screening of - and therefore payment for - the remaining episodes. (Those which comprised the repeats in early '81 had, of course, already been paid for when they had been transmitted originally). In the event the unseen stories were withheld from UK fans until November of 1982(!) as a number of other similarly-affected productions were deemed to be a "higher priority" than The Professionals.
Because the accounting system only affected transmission in the UK, LWT was free to sell these episodes overseas. Thus countries such as New Zealand screened them in 1981, well ahead of Britain. (Thanks to Jon Preddle for NZ info). Ironically perhaps, the series of episode novelisations from Kenneth Bulmer (aka Ken Blake) that had first appeared in 1978 continued, so UK fans could at least read some episodes long before they appeared on their TV screens!
Financial problems aside, LWT was keen to create new programmes to signal the arrival of the new decade and, with rising production costs on The Professionals, looked again at whether it should continue. Ultimately it decided to commission just five new episodes in 1981, which would be screened along with the outstanding ones from the previous year to make up a fifth season. Actually it's reasonable to suppose that had the six leftover 1980 episodes been screened in January and February 1981 as originally intended, LWT would probably never have commissioned those produced later that year. Indeed it's interesting to note that a lot of the long-established production crew for those latter episodes were replaced: many of the "old-timers" had assumed that the series would indeed terminate production in 1980 and, being freelancers with no long-term contracts, moved on to find work elsewhere.
Transmission-wise in Britain the final season debuted in November 1982 with Brian Clemens' superb 'Foxhole on the Roof' (originally written in mid-1979!) which saw a recently-released convict deciding to make a fortune by holding a hospital's post-operative ward to ransom. Karl Howman put in a comical performance as the ex-con's accomplice pretending to be a female hostage.
Then along came the most startling episode in the show's history. Chris Wicking's 'Discovered in a Graveyard' sees Doyle gunned down early in the story. As Cowley and Bodie track the attacker, Doyle's recovery from coma is hampered by finding himself in a surreal, nightmare netherworld arguing with his colleagues whether he wants to survive or not. Such a theme was an intriguing break from the series' usual explosive action.
'Spy Probe', the final episode to be filmed (in May 1981), seemed to be a last-ditch return to The Avengers with its ripe Russian accents, eccentric villains and humour. The plot concerned KGB agents assassinating ex-Secret Service personnel in order to protect the identity of a double-agent. It was all completely bonkers and - violence content apart - would have nicely suited the earlier Clemens/Fennell series.
In fact events behind the cameras during production of this episode were just as crazy. Martin and Lewis' continued assertions that they wanted to leave the series drove the final decision to terminate it permanently. Indeed London Weekend originally decided to use 'Spy Probe' to kill off Bodie and Doyle. Publicity material at the time suggested that the final scenes of an exciting battle in the London Docklands might culminate in our heroes meeting a watery grave. However Brian Clemens put up a strenuous argument against the idea, pointing out that the series might be revived in the future (perhaps as an entirely independent Mark 1 production, like his New Avengers) and that fans always hated watching such stories anyway. LWT relented but ironically Lewis Collins did almost drown when a speedboat chase went awry!
In the event 'Spy Probe' was actually screened mid-season anyway - which totally defeated the object of LWT's "teaser". Whether this was a response to panicked fans or, more likely, the usual incompetent scheduling is open to debate!
The final story to be screened was 'No Stone' in which a woman turns terrorist against her wealthy background and the British justice system, which she sees as corrupt. Assisted by a sympathetic lawyer, her group starts a bombing campaign targetting key legal establishments in London. Suitably for a final episode - and as a reminder that the show would frequently tried to reflect real-world problems - the story ended on a tragic note.
Although not one of the better stories (and, in fact, the denouement is a quite illogical plot-device), 'No Stone' did at least have a prominent female lead - a young Sarah Neville played the group's leader, similar to Madlena Nedeva in the first season episode 'Close Quarters'. However another criticism levelled at the show was its lack of a real female 'balance'. Is this true? There are many episodes that had strong female parts: witness 'When the Heat Cools Off', 'Look After Annie', 'Hunter Hunted', 'The Rack' (particularly this episode with Lisa Harrow's venomous yet controlled performance!), 'Involvement' and 'Operation Susie'. But these were just single episodes - there was no constant female presence in the show. Although Bridget Brice was seen throughout half of first season stories as Cowley's secretary Betty, her most demanding tasks were to make the tea and fetch the files! Later seasons employed women playing more active roles within the CI5 unit, but they generally didn't last more than one episode such as Sally Harrison in 'The Purging of CI5' and Helen McBride in 'You'll be Alright'. Diana Weston appeared as agent Ruth Pettifer in three episodes of the second season, though in two of these merely as Cowley's driver and credited as simply 'CI5 Girl'. As the producers obviously felt it necessary to add a further character to the show in 1980 (in the shape of Murphy), surely this should have been the time to introduce a regular, substantial female role?
The actors' contracts expired in May 1981, ironically just a month after The Professionals had been voted ITV's Programme of the Year by viewers. But Martin and Lewis had made it clear long before this that they had no intention of renewing. Gordon was apparently willing to stay on and Brian Clemens proposed to continue with two new leads. But LWT disagreed. And to be honest Martin and Lewis had become so popular in the show, it would probably have been very difficult to try and relaunch it afresh. On top of this LWT once again felt that the show was becoming too expensive to produce and that with competition from other programmes, it was time to move on and try something else. Ironically in 1983 they turned to a format that was remarkably similar to The Professionals...
Bonehead and Foyle?!
And so the series ended. Or did it? In 1984 British comedy writers Peter Richardson and Keith Allen produced The Bullshitters starring Robbie Coltrane as 'Commander Jackson' and Richardson and Allen as 'Foyle' and 'Bonehead' respectively. When the commander's daughter is kidnapped, he recalls the recently-sacked subordinates for one last case. Foyle had set up a repertory company (seemingly a swipe at Shaw's burgeoning theatrical career and claims to being a 'serious' actor) and Bonehead was running a 'TV tough-guy' school called 'Knobs'! Both were very reluctant to return to 'DI5' - especially when they heard they wouldn't be given fast cars and walkie-talkies: instead they were issued bus passes and money to use a phonebox! Richardson and Allen mimicked Doyle and Bodie's physical appearances and characteristics wonderfully. Martin Shaw said in a TV interview that he had had enjoyed it! A sequel in 1993, called 'Detectives on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdon', also involved the eponymous heroes of Spender, Jason King and Jim Broadbent's wonderful, if not entirely accurate, interpretation of John Thaw's Regan from The Sweeney ("SHUT IT!!!").
In 1984 diminuitive comedy performer Ronnie Corbett took on the role of Doyle (!!!) and found himself teamed up with Ronnie Barker's version of George Smiley in a sketch for their legendary comedy show The Two Ronnies.
During the summer of 1996 Nissan Cars ran a hilarious TV advert in the UK which saw a strangely familiar-looking trio testing out the new, sporty Almera GTi model. Using three lookalike actors poking fun at the dress-style, dialogue and gun-toting, wheelspinning, fast-moving action of the original show (and using one of Laurie Johnson's versions of the theme music), the 60-second ad showed the lads being ordered to track down the car. "This car's well-sprung" / "Yeah - just like your perm!". "Go faster!" / "I'm doing nearly thirty!" / "Naughty boy!". Wonderful!
After The Professionals...
In January 1982, about six months after completion of final season post-production, Mark 1 was voluntarily wound down by Clemens, Fennell and Johnson. The trio were never to work together again. Sadly Albert Fennell passed away in 1988. Brian Clemens continues his prolific career including American productions such as Perry Mason. In 1995 he created and wrote stories for the BBC's successful technocrime series BUGS.
Martin Shaw went on to receive acclaim for various theatre roles (particularly his incredible performance as Elvis Presley in Are You Lonesome Tonight - a play recalling the King's final 24 hours). Although he presented several television shows during the 1980's to supplement his income, he deliberately chose to wait many years before returning to act on the small screen. In 1990 he took part in a drama-documentary about the alleged IRA bombing of Birmingham and then went on to play the lead in Anglia TV's reasonably successful police series The Chief in 1993. In 1996 he played the title role in the BBC production Rhodes (telling the life-story of Cecil Rhodes, the Cape Colony diamond prospector and politician). Although, as expected, he played the role superbly, the series as a whole proved an embarrasing flop. He then went on to the Beeb's interpretation of The Scarlet Pimpernel and played the eponymous role in Judge John Deed.
Although never to be offered another leading role, Gordon Jackson's career carried on full-flow with many appearances both in film and television, including the award-winning 1981 Australian mini-series A Town Like Alice and the 1984 film The Shooting Party. But tragically he found himself fighting cancer and passed away in 1990 at the age of 66.
With a succession of "hard man" roles in films such as Who Dares Wins and Codename: Wildgeese Lewis Collins became rather typecast, though turned up in a story from the third (1986) season of the popular Robin of Sherwood. (And Martin Shaw cameod in the following story as "A Professional Beggar"! This little joke seems to have been cooked up by casting director Esta Charkham and director Dennis Abey, both of whom had worked on The Professionals.) But major acting opportunities seem to have almost dried up for Lewis nowadays - with perhaps his best role coming in 1988 in the excellent mini-series Jack the Ripper. He now lives in Los Angeles and is a qualified film director - a talent to which he has yet to put into practice. Both he and Martin agree that despite the fame and wealth The Professionals brought them, it also closed a lot of doors (if only temporarily in Martin's case). Indeed on auditioning for a part in The Bill police TV series in the 1990s, one of the show's producers claimed it would have been no good using him - "everyone would still remember him as Bodie". Sure, but that doesn't stop other actors winning parts, does it? Patrick Macnee will forever be remembered as The Avengers' John Steed, yet he has never been out of work since. (In fact Lewis guested in a single episode in 2002.) In 1981 and 1986 Lewis was considered for James Bond and, indeed, most of the tabloid press were convinced he would win the role but the part remained with Roger Moore and then went to Timothy Dalton instead. (Thanks to James Harris for info). Lewis passed away in November 2013, another cancer victim.
Series producer Ray Menmuir returned to his native Australia and created Special Squad in 1984, taking with him script editor Gerry O'Hara and writer Ranald Graham. Starring Alan Cassell as the boss, Anderson, with his top two agents Davis and Smith (John Diedrich and Anthony Hawkins respectively), it bore some striking similarities to The Professionals (not least the presence of the Oz version of the Ford Granada!), but failed to spark (When shown in the UK, it was given a post-midnight "filler" slot.) In Australia transmission was cancelled part-way through the second season - the outstanding stories not being screened until 1992. Menmuir would come back to England for one last shot, as we shall see.
Subsequent British shows such as Dempsey and Makepeace (1984 - 1986) and CATS Eyes (1985-1987) also attempted to recreate the fast-paced, hard-hitting action of The Professionals, while including female leads.
The former actually started out as as an idea for a murder mystery series, teaming up a successful American businessman with an English aristroctratic female, perhaps somewhat similar to ITC's early 1970s series The Persaders!. However London Weekend Television appeared to think that they had made a mistake in cancelling the adventures of CI5 when they reformatted the new programme as something surprisingly similar to The Professionals. Now the premise was that of an American cop on secondment to a specialist, London-based armed police department (named SI10, though the acronym was never explained) partnered with an aristocratic female officer. Their boss (played by the late Ray Smith) was Spikings - a bad-tempered (and over-the-top, really) version of Cowley. Though popular in its day, the series was often puerile and unimaginative, the plots usually being wafer-thin. Michael Brandon's Dempsey had a deliberately-boorish streak which was, in my opinion, a misguided attempt at humour, while Glynis Barber's shallow, at times bimbo-like, character never seemed to develop much. With little Professionals-style humour, an utter lack of Avengers panache and none of The Sweeney's gritty realism, the show failed on just about every count. Reruns in the UK in 1989 yielded little interest and many of the ITV network's regional companies culled them after a handful of episodes.
CATS Eyes concerned a team of three ladies (played by Jill Gascoine, Rosalyn Landor and Lesley Ash) deciding to set up a private detective agency. In fact Gascoine was actually continuing her character Maggie Forbes from the popular police series The Gentle Touch - CATS Eyes was to be a much different affair! The trio are approached by government agent Nigel Beaumont (a surly, dry performance by Rising Damp star Don Warrington) and 'encouraged' to go undercover for government agency Covert Activities Thames Section. Although the series started well enough, Landor wisely left after the first season (to be replaced by Tracy-Louise Ward) as the shallow plotlines of the second and third seasons (which were under a different production team, I believe) made it seem more like Charlie's Angels! Interestingly, however, the series' producer and occasional director was one Ray Menmuir, though he retired from the entertainment industry shortly afterwards. (Thanks to Werner Schmitz)
Neither programme consistently attracted (nor, indeed, deserved!) the level of audience that The Professionals had won. Northern England's regional ITV company Granada came up with the hugely underrated Strangers (1978-1982). This starred Don Henderson and a pre-Taggart Mark McManus (tragically both actors have sinced passed away), balancing action, characterisation, light humour and surreality resulting in a superior mix than The Professionals (and even, perhaps, The Sweeney, which it was more closely modelled on) but never achieving the acclaim nor ratings it surely deserved. Another worthy candidate for video release but mysterious politics at Granada have kept it locked in the vaults all these years. Until his dying day Don Henderson constantly urged the TV company to rerun the series.
So what was the BBC doing to counter The Professionals success? Well in fact they were aiming more at Sweeney territory when 1977 saw the appearance of Target. This starred heart-throb actor Patrick Mower (previously seen in Special Branch, Callan and, in fact, two highly amusing episodes of Sweeney) as Detective Superintendent Steve Hackett (sounds much more glamorous than Sweeney's Jack Regan and George Carter, doesn't he?!) along with Philip Madoc as his boss Chief Superintendant Tate. Although the level of perceived violence was high (one episode featured a man dousing his unfaithful wife with a pan of boiling water, though this happened off-camera) the actual content was actually quite mild compared to The Sweeney. Nevertheless many of the writers were unhappy with the series and demanded their names be removed from the credits. Production was also hampered by a restrictive practices imposed by unions. The show was eventually pulled after seventeen episodes and has never been repeated on terrestrial stations in the UK. Later BBC shows such as Shoestring and Bergerac (discussed earlier) replaced much of the bash-and-smash with mature plotting and characterisation. (Thanks to Andrew Sumner for the information on Target)
Also noteworthy (and because it's another favourite of mine!) is the American production The Equalizer (1985-1989) which starred British actor Edward Woodward. The show's concept of an ex-CIA agent turned public vigilante and the sheer variety of plotlines combined with Woodward's quietly menacing character made it highly watchable and it became a huge, almost instant hit in the States. Although most of the plots tended to be rather straightforward, with few twists and turns - American TV companies in the 1980s seemed to think their audiences couldn't cope with complex storylines - the show was often at its best when used as a character study of Woodward's Robert McCall and his edgy relationship with his former employer 'Control' (the late Robert Lansing) and other contacts within 'The Company'. As with The Professionals, though, the level of violence was of some concern - this certainly troubled Woodward (he was appalled when parents would tell him "my kids love your show!") - and there were two or three episodes that I recall being surprisingly brutal. Later seasons dealt most effectively with social issues - a young child suffering AIDS being threatened by ignorant neighbours, homelessness, the effects of illegal drugs, etc.
But the show was constantly beset by problems - initially apathetic scheduling in the US. In 1987 Woodward suffered two heart attacks - undoubtably brought on by a hectic filming schedule combined with his 80-a-day cigarette habit. This led to the casting of the late Richard Jordan to do much of McCall's 'leg-work' - a move that proved deeply unpopular with American viewers who felt that Jordan was trying to take over the show.
Finally, personnel changes at CBS and all-round cost increases led to embittered in-house politicking, resulting in the show being, in effect, sacrificed. Despite a huge campaign in the US and other countries to get the show reinstated, CBS remain unrepentant, though one gets the feeling they rather shot themselves in the foot.
Perhaps inevitably the bubble had to burst and audiences became tired of these crash-bang-wallop shows. Action and violence were replaced by clever and complex plotting and sub-plotting - take the hugely successful Between the Lines, for example.
Nowadays it is doubtful whether a show like The Professionals would work - its mixture of violence, 'enthusiastic' driving skills, generally weak female parts and single-strand plotlines is simply not in keeping with the times. Plus the fact that it is now more difficult to stage outdoor action scenes such as car chases - with today's busy roads in Britain, the police are unwilling to allow a TV crew to commandeer a whole stretch of road for a few hours filming!
UK Repeats... NOT!
Martin Shaw soon "disowned" the programme and ultimately effected a veto on repeat runs on the ITV network - the last screenings being selected episodes from the fourth and fifth seasons during 1987/1988. This situation arose because contractual stipulations obliged LWT to renegotiate repeat fees with the actors five years after original transmission. Martin refused to sign, decrying what he felt was a derisory offer - though one that was apparently acceptable to Lewis and Gordon. LWT and Martin fought the issue in the law courts, the judge finding in the latter's favour. Apparently an improved offer was put to him in 1991 but repeats still failed to materialise. In 1996 he was still claiming that "negotiations as to reimbursement have never been satisfactorily completed". These problems, however, are limited to screenings on the ITV network. As such UK satellite screenings commenced in 1997 (though the broadcaster, Granada Sky, defiantly refused to screen complete episodes and imposed bizarre censorship rules.)
In April 1996 Channel 4 Television aired a documentary on the series which included interviews with Shaw, Collins and Brian Clemens. There were a few positive comments from Brian and Martin Campbell (who had directed five Professionals episodes and the James Bond film GoldenEye), while Lewis brought a lot of humour to the programme but, sadly, the thirty-minutes essentially concentrated on the problems associated with the series. Shaw described it as "continual, constant frustration". Later, however, he stated that he would like to see a terrestrial repeat run if fees could be agreed. The programme can be viewed on YouTube.
The Professionals is still fondly remembered by many who nowadays yearn for a show with a bit of 'raw energy'. One of best 'compromises' we have seen of late is superb Spender, which, like Strangers years before, mixed strong characters, wit and none-too-heavy action to great effect. With Ford Cosworth-driving Freddie Spender and dubious sidekick "Stick" as an unlikely crime-busting double-act helped and hindered by a regular crew of coppers and villains, this BBC series was, in some ways, their own version of The Professionals - and possibly matched it in the ratings! What it lacked in out-and-out violence it more than made up for in strong character and relationship development - each with their own hang-ups, fears, family problems, etc. Perhaps the series' only flaw was that some of the crimes were a little routine. Hopefully we will see both this and Strangers appear on video one day.
In the early 1990's ITV aired Thief-Takers and Rules of Engagement as trial pilots. The press claimed that what we were seeing were welcome revivals of a Sweeney-type format. That's certainly true of the former. However Rules' concept of the newly-created Anti-Crime Task Force recruiting former members of the police, army and intelligence and answerable only to the Home Secretary seems more akin to CI5 than the Flying Squad! A Professionals revival under a different name? Sadly its creator, Geoff "The Bill" McQueen, died shortly before it was transmitted and a full-blown series never materialised (which is a shame as I considered it to be by far the better of the two). However Thief-Takers took off and promptly had the critics complaining because of its out-of-date format!! How hypocritical can you get? Admittedly, I thought The Sweeney was much better! Thief-Takers had some fairly interesting, though rather linear, plots but would have benefited from an injection of humour. There were also a lot of regular characters to get to grips with and I felt Reece Dinsdale was miscast as the section leader. A second and third series were made but changed very little though, ironically, lost its strongest character in Lynda Steadman. A fourth season was mooted and some insist filming took place but has never appeared.
One very promising series from 1996 was Bodyguards which starred Sean Pertwee and Louise Lombard. It was certainly high in the action stakes (with some tremendous car stunts), yet also took in reasonable character development and involving plotlines. Sadly and inexplicably the series was cancelled after just one season, despite building up decent ratings.
Whatever the pros and cons of these more recent programmes, they certainly seem to have reawakened interest in producing fast-moving, action-orientated shows: so much so that in February 1997 news began to circulate that a brand new series of The Professionals was being discussed by Brian Clemens and ex-Professionals director David Wickes. Filming for CI5 - The New Professionals took place between October 1997 and June 1998 with the team now headed up by Edward Woodward along with three relative newcomers - one of which is a female role. Initially it was hoped Lewis Collins would return as Bodie, now promoted to the old Cowley role but negotiations with the producers fell through after several months - no official explanation was ever forthcoming. Unfortunately this completely independent production struggled to attract terrestrial sales. Although the thirteen new episodes sold to almost fifty European, Asian and Australasian satellite/cable channels, it wasn't until 1999 that the UK saw the series on Sky satellite. The United States, however, was the show's most financially crucial territory but a deal there has never been reached. Feedback from those fans who have seen the series was very mixed and, overall, it was not seen as a wholly successful update of the original. A second season was promised which would bring about improvements but it never materialised. You can read more about the show here.