The Professionals - Series 1 Review
"C.I.5 - Criminal Intelligence; The Action Squad; The Big A; The Squad" George Cowley, Episode One Series 1, The Professionals.
...and you know what, that was only the beginning! When that still-thrilling theme tune blasts out of your television speakers, complete with wakka-wakka guitars and low brass riffs over a title sequence that opens with a car crashing through a plate-glass window and ends with Bodie, Cowley and Doyle striding into the camera's point of view, it's impossible not to be instantly brought back to the late-1970's when the fictional Major George Cowley hatched a plan to combat increasing levels of crime with a crack agency, free from bureaucracy and red tape. Is it the greatest title sequence ever? Oh, yes it is and it works because it tells you all you need to know - three men operating within and without acceptable police procedures to fight homeland security. CI5? The Professionals to you and I...
Retrospectively looking at the show, the manner in which The Professionals dramatised the police is entirely alien to how they would be presented now and were this to be transmitted in 2003, it would land in the schedules with all the subtlety of a shotgun blast, being quite remarkable how violent it is. Indeed, it is only recently with a number of shows imported from the US, such as The Shield and Boomtown, that reckless cops are drifting back into fashion, making a pleasant change from the years of plodding dramas like The Bill or Mersey Beat. Like the return of an old friend who was a little unpredictable in his youth but has aged well and is now filled with tales of past escapades, it's impossible not to smile endearingly at The Professionals. When a criminal in Old Dog With New Tricks asks for a lawyer during an interrogation and Bodie and Doyle ask, "Why son, do you want to make a will?" whilst closing in on him in a threatening manner, one is both shocked and amused, firstly at the level of casual violence and subsequently at the humour in the remark.
Then again, this attitude ensured that The Professionals was never going to last too long, particularly with more cerebral detectives beginning to appear, threatening the brawn of The Professionals with brains. This group included Shoestring, The Chinese Detective and Bergerac, none of whom were famed for an intention to 'act first, think later' in the way that George Cowley drove his men at CI5 to get results. More will be said on this as we continue to review the release of further series now that all of them are available on DVD but, even here as the show delivers its calling card in a most forceful manner, there is always the suspicion that The Professionals was more likely to burn out than fade away.
Listed below are the all of the episodes contained in Series One with a brief explanation of each, including running times:
Old Dog With New Tricks (50m34s): Featuring the rather infamous scene of Bodie retrieving a primed hand grenade from inside Pamela Stephenson's blouse, this features an East End gangster with a plan to kidnap the Home Secretary to put pressure on the authorities to release his brother from prison. When CI5 intercept a man with a history of mental problems holding onto a pistol that was believed to have been stolen by the gangster, it's up to Bodie and Doyle to stop the kidnapping before anything is allowed to happen.
Long Shot (50m36s): When an anti-terrorism conference is to be held in London, CI5 fear that it will bring some of the world's most wanted men and women to the city. These fears would appear to be confirmed when Bodie and Doyle discover that Ramos, one of the world's most feared assassins, intends to kill one of the attendees, not knowing that Ramos' target is, in fact, George Cowley.
Where The Jungle Ends (50m37s): When a number of Bodie's old army associates form a group of mercenaries and commit a bank robbery in the UK, CI5 investigate but Cowley and Doyle become concerned that not only is Bodie too close to the suspects to be effective but that his presence might be the weak point the mercenaries need to strike back at CI5.
Killer With A Long Arm (50m26s): When a known assassin is thought to have posession of a custom-built rifle with a range of two miles, Bodie and Doyle are assigned to track down the rifle and its owner before he has the chance to kill a foreign dignitary at that years Wimbledon Tennis Championship.
Heroes (50m36s): After a newspaper prints the names of a number of witnesses to an assassination, Bodie and Doyle step in to protect them before the suspects are arrested and charged.
Private Madness, Public Danger (50m37s): Fearing that the government's continuing work on biological weapons will lead to a disaster, one man tries to force all research work to be abandoned by threatening to introduce a deadly poison into the national water supply.
The Female Factor (50m36s): A number of Russian agents are discovered to be using a prostitute to lure an influential government minister into a honey trap. Bodie and Doyle step in to resolve the situation before national and international security is jeopardised.
Everest Was Also Conquered (50m29s): When a high-ranking government official confesses with his dying breath to an involvement in a murder committed in 1952 - the year of the Queen's coronation - Cowley reopens the investigation despite being warned off such an action. Cowley dispatches Bodie and Doyle to find out exactly what happened twenty-five years previously and whether, as the confession implies, there really was a miscarriage of justice.
Close Quarters (50m36s): Despite planning a weekend in the country with his girlfriend, Bodie finds that three German terrorists are staying in an old mansion nearby and gets involved. Before he can tell the rest of CI5 his location, Bodie is both injured and then captured by the terrorists. Despite being held along with his girlfriend and a number of other hostages, will Bodie be able to disarm the terrorists before the rest of CI5 track them down?
Look After Annie (50m17s): When George Cowley assigns Bodie and Doyle to look after an evangelist who is receiving threats to her life, little do they know that Cowley has a personal interest - Annie has had a past relationship with Cowley.
When The Heat Cools Off (50m33s): Years before Doyle joined CI5, his old partner in the Drugs Squad was murdered by a man subsequently convicted of the crime. When his daughter asks for Doyle's help in proving that her father was innocent,
Stakeout (50m00s): During a stakeout at a bowling alley to investigate the murder of a CI5 agent working undercover, Bodie and Doyle uncover a plot to explode a nuclear weapon in London.
Klansmen (50m39s): After a number of attacks on prominent members of a black inner-city community, including a barrister, Bodie and Doyle get involved in the investigation. When it appears as though the attacks were carried out by the Ku Klux Klan, complete with the burning of crosses, Bodie and Doyle find that they must first examine their own attitudes towards racism before being able to solve the crimes. Unfortunately, one of them is found wanting. Long banned by LWT, Klansmen is quite a notorious piece of work. Whilst its intentions are honourable, its execution is not and when Bodie, who spends a little of the episode in a hospital bed racially abusing a black nurse, shows up arm-in-arm with her at the end leaving for a date, you're jaw will have trouble remaining off the floor.
Rogue (50m30s): When a witness being kept hidden as part of a protection program is turned over to the criminals he was to identify, Bodie and Doyle investigate the possibility that an old friend of Cowley no longer acting in the interests of the state.
Despite often being dismissed as a pair of knuckleheads in fast cars - most notably in The Comic Strip Presents...The Bullshitters with Keith Allen and Peter Richardson as Bonehead and Foyle - The Professionals can be a tense and exciting drama but the quality can drift over this one series. For example, Close Quarters is a superb episode, with Bodie and his girlfriend (Gabrielle Drake) holed up in a country mansion holding one terrorist with him as two others try and get in. The outcome is never in doubt - Clemens would not have killed Bodie off so early - but with an injury, morale amongst the hostages flagging and the terrorists taking a psychological advantage, the episode twists and turns to a successful conclusion with a daring shot from Bodie bringing it to an end. Aside from Close Quarters, Killer With A Long Arm, Everest Was Also Conquered and Heroes are personal favourites, mixing the punching weight of Bodie and Doyle with the slightly more subtle approach of Cowley to good effect.
To be fair to critics of the series, The Professionals has its problems. Credibility is often stretched somewhat throughout the series, most notably in Old Dog With New Tricks with the gang of kidnappers planning on snatching the Home Secretary being unsure of his actual appearance, sufficiently fooled by Cowley appearing in a suit, a three-quarter length coat and a bowler hat to believe he is their intended hostage. Stakeout is one of the worst episodes ever filmed as part of The Professionals, set largely in the bowling alley in Harlow and drifts unsatisfactorily to some kind of conclusion. Most annoyingly, there are other problems that are quite persistent in their recurrence throughout the earlier episodes but which are largely absent as this set progresses such as the unnecessary reinforcement of the point that CI5 do not work by traditional means and are outside of the normal association by rank that affects the rest of the police service.
Regarding the cast, there were many criticisms of Gordon Jackson taking on the role of George Cowley given his history in more serious drama such as Upstairs, Downstairs. It's possible that his decision was based on little more than attempting to set himself up with a nice pension. Unfortunately, Jackson gives the impression that he didn't really take to Cowley until quite late in the series and he fairly chews up the scenery as the gruff major in charge of CI5 with little time for fools...or, in fact, anyone really, including Bodie and Doyle. The strangest aspect of Cowley is that the producers put a bullet in his leg and gave him a limp, no doubt for characterisation and to imply that he was not always based in an office but as the series went on, it was obviously too much to try and leverage it into every episode and eventually, Cowley's limp appeared to cure itself.
As for Bodie and Doyle, Clemens noted that there was a tension between them that dated back to their appearance together in an episode of The New Avengers (they play Kilner and Doomer in Obsession for those interested). Clemens thought that an abrasive relationship between his two leading men would make for a more interesting show and Anthony Andrews, cast as the original Bodie, only made it to the third day of shooting before Clemens realised it wasn't working. Instead, he turned to Lewis Collins, previously the bassist in a number of bands including The Georgians and The Eyes before going to RADA. Much has been made of Collins' acting style with the majority of comments being quite unfavourable but he's not at all bad. Bodie's profiles states that he is an ex-SAS commando and Collins' clipped dialogue feels authentic. On the other hand, Martin Shaw, good as he is here, has been deluding himself for many years that he is an actor of some distinction and looks as though he wanted out even during this first series. If Martin Shaw's later work had been anywhere near as good as The Professionals, he might have found a sympathetic audience but do not forget this is the man who starred in the abysmal Judge John Deed, a role that was little more than some distant relation of Doyle in being a judge unafraid to bend the rules.
Much has been said about the picture quality on this release and no one place is better to read about the transfer onto DVD then Dave Matthews' incredibly comprehensive website devoted to The Professionals and one of two websites Matthews runs with the other being a superb site on Clemens' The Avengers/The New Avengers. What Dave Matthews mentions on his site is that Series One of The Professionals was filmed on 35mm, switching to 16mm thereafter, but as the years passed and the shows were repeated on LWT and other ITV regions as well as on Granada Plus, not to mention also being used for the VHS issues, the condition of the film prints are no longer of a particularly high quality.
Personally, I don't have a problem with the picture quality available here. There is little doubt that Contender have tried to do the best with what is available given the commercial challenge in bringing The Professionals out on DVD in what is sure to be a limited market. As a valid reference, these DVD's contain versions of the show that are identical to those being broadcast until recently on Granada Plus, complete with grain, scratching and colours that are slightly faded. This is, however, likely to be as good as it will get but, as ever, look at the screenshots, which are indicative of the picture quality included here and if you don't have a problem with them, then the DVDs should not cause a problem either.
Thankfully, the entire series has been transferred with the original mono soundtrack intact and it sounds perfectly acceptable but by no means outstanding. Unfortunately, it does not appear as though the soundtrack to The Professionals has been digitally remastered so the background noise and hiss that was present during the original broadcasts is still in place, which has no doubt increased as the years have passed. Then again, the soundtrack does sound slightly better than it has done when broadcast on Granada Plus in recent years, or when the series was issued on VHS in the early 90's, with a greater dynamic range and lower frequencies that have been improved upon quite significantly. In particular, the theme tune alone sounds wonderful and better than it has elsewhere, including retro-TV Themes albums, which always appeared to use a version ever so slightly different from that used on the show.
Whilst interviews with Brian Clemens and Lewis Collins would have been good (Martin Shaw is a rather reluctant interviewee where The Professionals is concerned), there is a fair, if largely uninteresting, selection of extras included here:
US Trailer (5m54s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Mono): This is a trailer advertising the series in the US with highlights from a large number of episodes from the fourth series playing up the action and the humour.
Followers Of Fashion (7x Stills plus Intro, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic): As Starsky and Hutch is remembered for Paul Michael Glaser's white cardigan, the fashions worn in The Professionals also linger long in the mind and this extra highlights the matching track suits, the cardigans, the tight brown leather jackets and the polyester suits as worn by Bodie and Doyle, highlighted in seven episodes from this series.
Go! Go! Go! - The Cars Of The Professionals (5x Stills, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic): Aaah, the Ford Capri - it really was the car that every man promised himself and it was inextricably linked to The Professionals but actually, they didn't appear until late in series one. Until that time, a number of other vehicles were used and this extra looks at all the cars used in Series One of The Professionals including a Triumph Dolemite, a Rover 3500, a Triumph TR7 and two Mk 2 Ford Capri's, one Bodie's and one Doyle's. Each screen lists the type of car, registration plate, who drove it and in which episodes it appears.
Don't I Know You From Somewhere (7x Stills plus Intro, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic): Given the number of guest stars in The Professionals who would go on to appear in other series, it is only fair that an extra on the DVD list these actors per episode, including Pamela Stephenson, David Suchet, Keith Barron and Diane Keen.
There is also an eight-page booklet on the background and the featured cast of the series as well as a car-sticker for the rear window of your Ford Capri should you find yourself lucky enough to own one.
You may be uninterested but when I was about 12, a friend and I pretended to be Bodie and Doyle by driving around in circles in my family's back lawn in an old Morris Marina, one driving and one as the passenger, with the latter firing an air rifle as we drove past a homemade target of a man drawn on a white sheet of wood. Like I said, you may not be interested but I really loved this show, then and now.
I am, however, prepared to admit that it really isn't going to appeal to everyone, particularly as it so often fails to break out of being no more than a genre piece bonded so surely to the period in which it was made that it will appeal to few who were not fans in those long-forgotten days of the late-70's and early-80's. For those of us who can remember Bodie, Doyle and Cowley ripping through London playing fast and loose with criminals, ladies and the law and who can recall a time when an orange Morris Marina could be, in one's imagination, a silver Ford Capri, these are nothing less than essential.