The Protectors: Series 1 Vol 1 Review

The Protectors is a relic of the Seventies and it hasn't aged well. It was Gerry Anderson's second foray into live action television, after the popular U.F.O., and it's savaging by critics at the time has proved to be well deserved. It's not so much that it's bad - tedious and often banal maybe, but not bad - as that it's totally forgettable. Five minutes after watching an episode, it's hard to remember quite what happened or what was different from the episode you watched earlier. However, it would be unfair to dismiss the series completely. Not only did it give regular work to Robert Vaughan, one of the most entertaining actors to ever deign to headling episodic TV, but it had the best theme song in the history of theme songs.

The concept of the series is interestingly elitist. The Protectors are a team of mercenaries who can be hired out by anyone with a grievance to address - provided the individual, state or whoever has enough cash to retain their services. Not especially troubled by social injustice, they seem to have a vested interest in preserving the status quo wherever possible. The series concerns three of these private investigators; Harry Rule (Vaughan), who sleeps with his dog, cooks gourmet meals and sports a hideous Paisley dressing gown that even Jason King wouldn't have been seen dead in; the Contessa Di Contini (Porter), sophisticated lady of leisure, talented mimic and general all-round top bit of skirt; and Paul Buchet (Anholt), an allegedly French playboy who has a fine Sports Casual wardrobe and turns up occasionally to be captured by the bad guys, miss the point or just make Harry look good. There are apparently lots of other Protectors scattered throughout the world but we don't meet any of the others. Just think, you could be living next door to one of them... you might even be married to a Protector. I'd check your partner's life insurance policy now if I were you. They seem willing to take on any job as long as it involves a trip to the continent and an encounter with a vaguely recognisable but atrociously hammy British character actor. The sky is the limit for a Protector who wishes to travel, so long as it's accessible within a two hour plane journey. Spain, France, the Med, Italy - a Protector can travel to his heart's content within the EEC.

This first volume - from a series of six which Carlton have threatened - contains eight episodes of the first series, originally broadcast in 1972.

1. 2000 Ft To Die

A vaguely exciting story about a series of murders involving four out of five of the researchers on a synthetic gold project. The remaining scientist fears for his safety and hires the Protectors to discover who is trying to kill him. This is a pretty good episode to start the series as it contains some good skydiving scenes and is entertaining without being too heavily plotted. Robert Vaughan is good value and the location shooting in exotic Buckinghmashire is nice enough.

2. Brother Hood

The best episode on the first disc, largely due to the enthusiastic overplaying of the great Patrick Troughton and a gleefully silly plot which involves an unlikely jail break and one of the Contessa's least convincing impersonations. Troughton plays an Industrial Magnate of no fixed accent who wants his brother taken out of prison for dubious motives. You may also spot Robert Brown, a onetime 'M' in the James Bond movies, as the prison warden. This time, our heroes get to leave boring old Blighty and traipse around the Mediterranean.

3. Disappearing Act

Beginning with a Thunderball homage, this one deals with a homicidal manic depressive psychotic - unsurprisingly played by Derren Nesbitt who cornered the market in dangerous nutters during this era - who persuades the Contessa to disguise him as a woman so he can 'disappear. Even with the make-up he looks about as feminine as John Prescott, but it doesn't matter because his real motives turn out to mean grave danger for the Contessa. Nesbitt is meant to be American in this one but you wouldn't know it from his accent which remains stubbornly locked within twenty miles of London. The plot falls apart after the first ten minutes but it doesn't really matter since you'll have lost interest by then.

4. Your Witness

The delightfully diverting Stephanie Beacham enlivens a standard witness intimidation plotline in which she has witnessed a murder at her guardian's club. Her guardian is a slimy piece of work played by the reliable George Baker. For the duration of the trial she is to be hidden at Paul Buchet's flat, which at least gives Tony Anholt something to do, even if it's not something very interesting. Once she disappears, the plot gets more convoluted but if you haven't guessed the identity of the mystery bad guy within ten seconds then you deserve to have your Honorary Protector's Membership taken away from you. This one is set in France which must have made a nice week away for the production team even though they spent most of their time shooting interesting angles of the Eiffel Tower.

5. The Quick Brown Fox

An alternative title for this might be "Why you shouldn't deal with serious subjects like Nazi war crimes in a light-hearted action show", but that wouldn't have fit in the space alloted to the programme by the TV Times. A pension fund is being operated for Nazi war criminals, but who could be behind it ? Could it be the guest star ? What is the significance of an intercepted letter with the wrong date and a single typewritten line reading "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" ? Did the crew have a nice time living it up in Barcelona ? And will Tony Anholt get anything decent to do this time ? All these questions are answered with tedious gradualness in one of the silliest TV shows I have ever seen - and I've seen every episode of "Diagnosis:Murder".

6. The Numbers Game

One of the better episodes on the disc, this is a pacy and enjoyable 24 minute romp involving a runaway daughter, heroin smuggling and the legendary Henry McGee playing a computer expert. You know he's a computer expert because he wears glasses and occasionally flicks switches on a computer which is approximately the size of Bournemouth. The locations are slightly less exciting here - the A1 at Borehamwood, South Kensington and Elstree - although it winds up with the obligatory tourist trip to the continent where Harry confronts the dreaded head of "the organisation", Mario Giocovetti. Their confrontation is enlivened no end by the revelation that Harry doesn't know the rules of snooker and by Peter Arne's fascinating failure to incarnate an even halfway convincing mobster. The Contessa sports a different hat, Paul drifts through looking confused and we get to meet Harry's Chinese au-pair Suki - whose baffled stare at Harry's appalling dialogue reflects my own bafflement at why this show was ever allowed to get to 52 episodes.

7. Triple Cross

Demonstrating a touching lack of any self-defensive talents whatsoever, Harry is kidnapped by Charlie, a jewel thief played by "respected Shakespearean actor" John Neville. Charlie seems to have come from the Antipodes judging by the accent Neville comes out with, but he later reverts to a sort of skewed cockney drawl. Paul, amazingly given something useful to do, is also kidnapped and held in front of a time bomb which will explode if Harry and the Contessa don't assist in a daring theft. Tony Anholt gives his all here, admittedly not very much but you have to respect him for his efforts, and produces myriad variations on a pained struggle with his bonds. You will also notice Peter Bowles, complete with moustache but sadly minus those daringly slanted pockets that he wore with such panache in "To The Manor Born". Bowles is playing a Greek magnate named Kofax but, as ever, you wouldn't be able to guess if you weren't following the plot. This all takes place in Britain, allowing our heroes to traverse the mean streets of the Home Counties.

8. A Kind Of Wild Justice

Someone wants to kill Harry ! Who could it be ? Well, there's not much of a mystery as we soon find out that it's Kate Lindeman, daughter of a racketeer whom Harry put away in between bouts of inventing gourmet cuisine. But is there a double cross going ? Are Harry and the Contessa ever going to stop giving each other lingering looks of forbidden lust ? Will Paul be allowed to acknowledge his irrelevance and make a futile gesture of wild abandon ? What are Harry and Suki getting up to in his luxury playboy pad ? These questions may well be answered by the time I've watched another eight episodes but at present they are but idle musings. Anna Palk appears as Kate and very easy on the eye she is too. No foreign trip on this one either, which leads me to suspect that the budget might have been blown on the Barcelona vacation for previous stories.

By most standards, this is weak stuff, full of half-remembered plotlines from older, better series and featuring characters who don't even manage to be two dimensional. Whatever interest that is mustered tends to be due to the professionalism of Robert Vaughan and Nyree Dawn Porter, both of whom rise above the material with some class and style. Vaughan apparently hated the series, especially when he discovered that his contract had locked him into doing it for two years. But he's consistently one of the two best things in it. The other good thing is Tony Christie's title song "Avenues and Alleyways", a belting number which features on the end credits. Telling us of a world which far outstrips the one featured in the programmes for sheer danger and excitement. Christie has a fine time with the camp lyrics, telling us of the Avenues and Alleyways "where the soul of a man is easy to BUY !" and summoning up enough energy to make watching another episode reasonably painless. It's also true that time has given The Protectors a nostalgic quaintness which is rather attractive with some views of a London which somehow doesn't look the same anymore. There's the requisite early-70s jazzy editing and awful music (courtesy of John Cameron), both of which are as amusing as you'd expect. But all in all, it's hard to be too generous about a programme which is so uninspired. Gerry Anderson's talents were better employed on his puppet series, where the dull characterisation at least had some kind of excuse.

The Disc

Carlton have carved themselves a niche with old TV programmes on DVD and their first helping of The Protectors is a reasonably good disc. Geared to fans more than the casual viewer and light on extras, it does at least present the programme as well as can be expected.

The picture quality is surprisingly good. Presented in the correct 4:3 ratio, the image is crisp, clean and generally very watchable. Some grain is present, unsurprisingly given the source, and there are artifacting problems which are most severe in the night time exteriors. However, there has obviously been some restoration done on the episodes and it has paid off very nicely.

The sound is the original mono soundtrack. This is a little distorted in places - the opening credit title music is variable in quality over the episodes - and the dialogue is occasionally muffled. But this is generally very acceptable.

There are two extras, neither of them very exciting. We get the original concept document, which is how the series got commissioned. It's interesting to note that Robert Vaughan wasn't the first choice to play the main character - we could have ended up with Chuck Connors, which doesn't bear thinking about. There is also a stills gallery which is perfunctory. The menu is backed by the opening title music.

Each episode has 4 chapter stops and, annoyingly, clicking on the episode title on the main menu takes you straight to scene selection. This means spoilers so just click on the title again if you want to watch the whole episode.

This is a fairly pleasing DVD release of a series which has its fans but which hasn't dated well. If you like the programme then this is a good way to have a lasting record if it. Otherwise, approach with some care unless you're a nostalgia addict or a Gerry Anderson completist.

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