Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Professionals - Old Dog with New Tricks s1e3

Old Dog with New Tricks is a useful episode in terms of the back story to CI5, but the plot itself is tissue thin. An incarcerated gangster who can't do the bird is to be sprung by his brother using a hostage exchange. The gang decides the best way of getting hold of guns and ammo is to rip off the IRA and murder the would-be terrorists. It's a bold, if life-shortening, move.

One of the gang, ne'er-do-well Billy, decides he wants to finish what he started two years ago and kill his psychiatrist. In a convoluted fashion, he holds hostage a nurse with a gun to her head and a grenade town her top (I think a psychiatrist could say a lot about this) in order to get Dr Brook to turn up. Why doesn't Billy just wait for him to turn up at work? Or go round to his house? This was the 70s, everyone was in the phone book. Also, Billy doesn't appear to have had any kind of sanction for attempted murder.

No sexual connotation here, move along
Cowley gets the call, Bodie & Doyle get the order and there is a fine one-used wah-wah guitar and vibraphone interlude as they race to the scene. Quick note on vehicles here; the first two episodes had Doyle in a blue TR7 with tartan interior (what else?) and Doyle in the Triumph Dolomite Sprint, one of the hot saloons of that era. Today however, they're in a brown-on-brown-on-brown Rover 2000, a car more befitting of Cowley than them. They make up for it by squealing tyres and kicking up loads of dust to make it clear it's not their dad driving.

After Bodie makes a poetic reference to Samuel Beckett, then a 'convincing' impersonation (see below, though the GIF did actually fool my girlfriend briefly) of Dr Brook, the boys save the nurse's life and sweat Billy in the interrogation room;

Can you tell the difference?

"I want a lawyer"
"Why son? Do you want to make a will?"

and the truth is out the the Turkel brothers are up to something. Cowley fits the jigsaw together and realises that the Home Secretary is to be kidnapped. Following in Bodie's footsteps, Cowley pretends to be the Minister and it all ends with Doyle threatening to blow incarcerated Turkel's head off with a shotgun, Cowley showing his hand that he isn't the Home Sec and the whole hostage taking was a waste of time. Let's gloss over the innocent staff in the police station who might also end up dead but it's a pretty gutsy call on Cowley's part.

Which takes us to the CI5 back story. Doyle tries to engage with Bodie about his time in Belfast, but Bodie, like many who served in Northern Ireland, doesn't want to discuss it at all. Probably a wise choice for the script-writers to not explore that too deeply. And we have a rare insight into a CI5 classroom with Cowley teaching the new recruits.

The Action Squad and The Big A never mentioned again
"Preventive detection, preventive action. To detect, determine, prevent and/or take suitable action and/or actions against those transgressors against the law outside the norm of criminal activity. To contain and render ineffective such by whatever means necessary."

Cowley expands on 'whatever means necessary' and makes it clear that he doesn't mind CI5 getting it wrong and turning 'law-abiding citizens into authority-hating anarchists' once in a while. It's a price worth paying as long as the real bad guys don't succeed. The Cow's argument is a little thin, as CI5's remit appears to target all manner of criminality, but his example is all about innocents 'bleeding all over the High Street'.

It's a very different landscape to the one that society now inhabits, due in part to exactly the attitudes that Cowley displays. The miscarriages of justice that came to light from the 70s and 80s changed the way in which investigations were carried out enormously and made those public servants much more accountable to the people they serve. But not here, not in The Professionals.

The most chilling, throwaway line of the show is from the usually liberal Doyle; as he leads brother Turkel off with a shotgun under his chin to his potential doom, he says to the uniformed police inspector, "Your lads do know all about the Official Secrets Act I hope." A smile and grudging admiration in reply.

If it all goes horribly wrong and a massacre results, don't worry, the government will cover it all up. Then again, recent events around Stockwell, Plebgate and the like haven't exactly reassured us that anything has changed significantly. In this episode, it's not really the Turkels who lose, but all of us.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Professionals - The Female Factor s1e2

Does anyone remember that whole Cold War thing? Russians as the bad guys (well, some things don't change), the Berlin Wall, NATO vs The Warsaw Pact, spheres of influence, Moscow rules...

Spies. Lots of them. In the UK, subverting, snooping, the Red menace. CI5 move seamlessly from terrorism to counter-espionage to investigate the murder of a prostitute, linked to a Soviet plot to blackmail a senior politician. Who has great hair.

A pretty young girl named Sara, is lured into a cocaine addiction by general all-round nasty piece of work Simon Culver (played by the brilliantly-named Barry Justice). The Russians must give the drug extra menace by pronouncing it Ko-Ka-Een while Sara irritatingly refers to it as 'stuff' the entire way through the episode.

Spot on
Simon's mistake is letting one of his other prostitutes see a photograph of Sara. For her own reasons, she decides enough is enough and desperately tries to tell Doyle what is going on, but ends up drowned in the shadow of Hammersmith Bridge.

Bodie and Doyle, entertaining some lady friends after a black-tie do, are rudely interrupted by a call which rapidly turns into a personal vendetta for Doyle. No-one murders one of his ex-contacts and gets away with it! After riding roughshod over the local plod, Cowley gets involved and a lovely plot device of a number doodled on a pad means it's now a CI5 investigation. A bit of lip from the boys and Cowley reminds them who's boss.

Spot the alpha male
What does Doyle think he's wearing? Bri-nylon translucent long-point shirt, grey belted trousers with a black jacket as evening-wear? He may not say much, but at least Bodie looks the part.

Back at the ranch, Bodie's attitude to prostitutes is pretty Stone Age (not the last time he exhibits some surprisingly old-fashioned views ***EUPHEMISM ALERT***) and Doyle's tension and disgust is well-played, especially when Bodie makes a pretty offensive joke. Bodie and, to a lesser extent, Cowley, seem genuinely surprised that Doyle cares about a 'hooker' and you can imagine Doyle's viewpoint being very much in the minority.

Back to the baddies. It's a veritable James Bond I-Spy with Walter Gotell (better known as General Gogol), Stefan Kalipha (light aircraft pilot who murders the Havelocks in For Your Eyes Only) and Patrick Durkin playing the fixer, the pimp and the KGB agent respectively.

Spot the Bond villain
Actually, Durkin doesn't appear in any Bond film, but the guy who is dubbing the Russian accent does. For Your Eyes Only again, only this time the voice of wheelchair-bound Blofeld remote-flying Bond's helicopter*. I like to think that this Blofeld meets his end falling down the chimney of what is now Ikea Croydon.

Bodie and Doyle eventually track down the villains via a vice bar, where Bodie holds his pint effortlessly while fighting the bouncer one-handed, which is notable as it's pretty much the only thing he has done in the first two episodes.

Then a prostitute's flat (where Doyle engages in some terrible drunk-acting) leading them to a denouement around the Albert Hall, with Sara, still in search of some 'stuff', being pursued by the Russians, in turn pursued by Bodie, Doyle and Cowley. Only after they're shot at does Cowley think it worth mentioning that Durkin's character, Terkoff, is a KGB agent and a 'pro'.

Russians get shot (both get very into their unique getting-shot acting), Doyle gets shot, the girl is traumatised and the politician retires from public life due to ill health. Cowley's delivery of the pre-written and pre-endorsed resignation letter is a beautiful fait accompli. Second episode, and we're seeing that nobody ever wins.

Except Patrick Durkin. He comes back from the dead to appear in a later episode.

*Sir Robert Rietty was the voice I have confirmed through some judicious searching.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Professionals - Private Madness Public Danger s1e1

Lone wolf terrorism always makes for good drama, both in fiction and real life. When terror is carried out by an organisation there is a sense that resources can be invested by the 'authorities' to counter it; infiltrate the group, spy on it, prosecute it, cut off its funding. The 70s was awash with groups like this, both large and small.

The lone wolf however, is much more difficult to counter. Cranks, zealots, obsessives, all derogatory terms for the terrorist that generates a particular type of fear because there is little that can be done to prevent them, short of mass-spying on the population. And that could never happen. Oh, wait...


So, to the episode! A lone wolf, Nesbitt (played with steely determination by Keith Barron), fired from his job at a chemical factory, exacts his revenge by poisoning a coffee machine with a hallucinogenic drug, ADX, leading to the death of one employee, following some drug-induced fish-eye close-ups... and an "I-can-fly" moment.

As if hallucogens weren't horrible enough, added close-up
The ransom is delivered to 10 Downing Street, demanding that the UK stops developing chemicals for use in biological weapons. Seems fairly reasonable by today's standards, but then again the populace of the time thought nothing of wearing 100% polyester. Cowley refers to him as a "nutty idealist" and quite rightly assesses that Nesbitt will continue to make his point unless caught.

In a scene cut from the current broadcast version, Nesbitt then heads to the pub to inject some ADX into the draught bitter and give the lunchtime drinkers a little extra in their Tavern VIP or pint of Harp. A Watney's Party Eighth, perhaps? I presume the scene has been removed because of the very blasé attitude to drinking and driving, or perhaps the grim interior of pubs and the limited choice (beef OR cheese sandwich) are best wiped from the collective consciousness. A series of ADX-induced car crashes ensues and a harassed Cowley arrives on scene (he's got his tie loosened round his neck, dammit!) and delivers a pithy one-liner.

Jump cut from mass casualty attack to... Birds! In sequinned underwear trotting through frame as Doyle and his undercover colleague wait to nail the drug-pusher, Sutton after a revue show. Unlike drug-pushers of today, they were much smarter 35 years ago. Sutton wears a three-piece suit, a syrup and is dealing by way of heroin-in-a-bunch-of-flowers. Sutton is connected with Nesbitt and so gets brought in by Doyle to be interrogated at CI5 HQ.

Bodie, by the way, spends most of the episode at a hospital bedside looking pretty miserable. As would I in that wide-lapelled houndstooth blazer.
Not a handbrake turn in sight
Back at the ranch, Cowley indicates just how far CI5 is willing to go to catch this terrorist. In later episodes there are numerous references to special dispensation and how CI5 'trumps' all other law enforcement. Sutton gloats that he survived torture during the war and they'll never get him to talk. Fine, Cowley will inject him with heroin and turn him into a junkie. Makes the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad look like bureaucratic pen-pushers by comparison (their preferred interview technique was suffocating the interviewee with a plastic bag over the head).

Race to the finish, cars, shootout, bomb disarmament and Cowley telling the boys off for ignoring orders. A wee dram of scotch and for once, the only losers are the bad guys.

As a first episode, it does a reasonable job of setting up the relationships between the central characters but it is a little too black and white. It does score well on the newly-created Nobody Ever Wins unrealistic-portrayal-of-a-drug-addict scale for Susan Fenton, a middle-class skag addict with lovely home furnishings.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Professionals - the beginning

I'll get to the first episode in a bit.  The series was created by Brian Clemens (writing about Brian Clemens would be an entire blog in itself, but I will be covering - I hope - a fair bit of his work on this blog - have a look at his Wikipedia entry to gauge just how influential he was on this genre) and was produced by Mark 1, the company also responsible for The New Avengers. I use the word 'responsible' as the jury is still out as far as I'm concerned. Then again, I think The Avengers went downhill when Patrick Macnee took over designing his wardrobe from Pierre Cardin.

"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."

This is the introduction Cowley (Gordon Jackson), the head of CI5 give to the show over the opening titles.  William Bodie - ex-army (Lewis Collins) and Ray Doyle - ex-police (Martin Shaw). The voiceover gets dropped pretty quickly in the titles and the reference to "every service" may have been an early concept of where the show might have gone, bringing in new ex-service characters as needed.  Luckily for us, that never happened and we get Bodie & Doyle to ourselves for five seasons.

Against a backdrop of strikes, far-right protests and counter-protests, IRA bombings and kidnappings and a police force struggling in the face of corruption scandals, The Professionals, like many other shows of the 70s, portrays a lawlessness both on the streets and in the approach of the law enforcers. This has always existed in police procedurals, from Sherlock Holmes through to Philip Marlowe and Frank Bullitt. Although the 60s did throw up some 'honest cops' like Dixon, Columbo and those in Z-Cars, as the 70s ground on and the economic boom subsided, these squeaky-clean characters were replaced by the cynical Jack Regan and the down-trodden Harry Callaghan. Maybe it was the clothes.

Though considerably more tongue-in-cheek, the light-hearted banter between Bodie and Doyle often comes across as dark and in poor taste (for a modern, more politically correct audience perhaps) when contrasted with the themes of anarchy and terror. For a truly excellent send-up (if one was needed), The Bullshitters featuring DI5 boss Jackson (Robbie Coltrane), Bonehead (Keith Allen) and Foyle (Peter Richardson) is highly recommended.

The theme and most of the incidental music was composed by Laurie Johnson, the genius behind themes such as The Avengers and Animal Magic. Similar to Clemens, a look at his Wikipedia page gives ample material for yet another project.

In summary, the show is a must-see for the combination of Clemens' writing and production, Johnson's music, and plots consisting of good, if flawed, people doing bad things to worse people.

Welcome to Nobody Ever Wins

A project I've had in the back of my mind for (I am now told) over a year and following a provocative posting of the cover of The Professionals by Unmann Wittering, I am now kick-started into writing about one of my favourite series of the 1970s and 80s.

If this goes... alright... I'll continue on into other shows such as Special Branch, The Sweeney and whatever other suggestions or ideas come my way.