Anarchy, violence, acts of terror.
In 1977, a special taskforce hit our television screens, dedicated to stamping out villainy in its many forms and not worrying too much about the rules they might break along the way. These men were the toughest, the fittest, the best. They were CI5 - The Professionals.
The Professionals was made by LWT1 between 1977 and 1982. For fifty-seven hour-long episodes (including one never shown on terrestrial TV2), bubble-permed ex-copper Ray Doyle and ex-Marine William Bodie screeched round London in Ford Capris3 and Escorts, taking orders from Major George Cowley, former head of MI5. The show was often criticised for its violence, as was its contemporary, The Sweeney, but looking at it from a modern viewpoint, it's no more extreme than many current programmes. The show is fondly remembered for the rapport between the leads, the high-octane, high-thrills action and Laurie Johnson's barnstorming theme tune with its fantastic wah-wah guitar and blaring brass section4.
George Cowley was given a free hand when setting up CI5 (Criminal Intelligence 5). He chose the very best men from the police and armed forces, forming a formidable team. Cowley was a Scot, and walked with a limp caused by a bullet wound from the Spanish Civil War (though the limp disappeared in later seasons as the production team gave Cowley a bigger role in the field).
Cowley was played by the great Gordon Jackson, a talented and much-missed actor who had previously starred in ITV's successful period drama Upstairs Downstairs and the films The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Great Escape, The Ipcress File and Hell Drivers.
Raymond Doyle was the thoughtful one of the lead pairing. Before joining CI5, he'd been a detective constable in the drug squad. Off duty, he painted, mended motorbikes and romanced a succession of lovely young ladies. On duty, he drove a white Escort RS2000 and wore some shocking plaid jackets.Actor Martin Shaw grew to dislike the violent series that made him famous - he'd accepted the role of Doyle (after it was turned down by Jon Finch) only because there was nothing else going at the time. Indeed, he'd expected the show to run for just one series. Ironically, his acting helped to make the show a runaway success, and he found he was contractually bound to it for another four years. After filming finally finished, he ditched the bubble perm, eschewed TV stardom, and became a classical theatre actor. He reappeared on British TV screens in the 1990s as Dr Robert Kingsford in ITV's A and E, and as the eponymous Judge John Deed on BBC1.
William Andrew Philip Bodie, always known as Bodie, was the muscle. Once described as 'not too bright', he was an excellent marksman and, as a former mercenary, no stranger to violence. He, too, was an accomplished ladykiller, despite some sartorially-challenged moments 5.
Lewis Collins, who played the suave Bodie, came to the series via an ITV sitcom, The Cuckoo Waltz, which ran from 1975-77. Fans of Lewis Collins' portrayal should check out the film Who Dares Wins in which he plays a member of the SAS. Since The Professionals ended, he's not been on our screens with any great regularity - aside from a guest appearance in Robin of Sherwood - and now lives in the USA with his wife and children.
Entirely coincidentally, Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins had appeared together in very Professionals-type roles in 'Obsession', an episode of The New Avengers that had been broadcast in the UK just two months prior to The Professionals' first episode.
And the Rest...
In later series, Bodie and Doyle were joined by fellow CI5 operative Murphy, played by the late Steve Alder.
This being the 1970s, women in the show were, well, not to put too fine a point on it, dolly birds (Cowley's secretary Betty was described as having 'awfully nice legs' by a visiting government minister). And, oh, the fashions... Eye-wateringly tight jeans, huge collars, Bodie saving the day in a brown cardigan. Not for those of a delicate disposition.
Why Did It Vanish From The Airwaves?
Despite the massive popularity of The Professionals, the programme has not been re-screened on terrestrial TV in the UK since 1987. This is because LWT only held the rights to repeat the show for five years after the last series finished, in 1983 (it was was repeated in 1984 and 1987). After that point, LWT had to re-negotiate repeat fees with the cast, and Martin Shaw vetoed any further screenings. It was rumoured that this was because Martin disliked the show and didn't want to be associated with it - but he has always insisted the dispute was purely financial6. This seems to be borne out by the fact that he has since allowed the series to be repeated on satellite TV (it has been shown a lot on the Granada Plus channel) and released on video.
Style icons for their era, Bodie and Doyle were affectionately pastiched in 1984 in a one-off comedy from the people behind Channel 4's The Comic Strip Presents... series: 'The Bullshitters' starred Keith Allen and Peter Richardson as 'Bonehead' and 'Foyle'7. Meanwhile, the stalemate over repeating the series helped to seal its cult status - fans of the programme, denied the opportunity to see it again, clamoured all the more for repeats. The lack of re-screenings also helped to keep the show frozen in time - it's forever associated with the quintessential late 1970s/early 1980s experience. Countless comedians have tapped into the vein of nostalgia invoked just by mentioning The Professionals, the theme music and the car chases - and nostalgia is big business these days. One can buy the theme tune on retro-compilation CDs, and models of a certain Ford Capri 'S' in toy shops. In the late 1990s, the Nissan Motor Company launched one of its new models with a series of adverts based around classic cop shows - naturally The Professionals was one of them. Finally, and more mysteriously, the 1980s Central TV children's series Tales from Fat Tulip's Garden featured an heroic tortoise called Lewis Collins.
The New Professionals
An attempt to revive the series for a nineties audience was made in 1997 with CI5 - The New Professionals, starring Edward Woodward as Harry Malone, Kal Weber as Chris Keel, Colin Wells as Sam Curtis and Lexa Doig as Tina Backus. It wasn't a great success, and the series has only screened on satellite channels in the UK.
Want to Know More?
Every episodes of the original series (including the 'banned' episode 'Klansman') is currently available in the UK on both VHS and DVD. Recommended episodes include 'Private Madness, Public Danger' (a fanatic threatens to poison a reservoir if his demands are not met), 'Stopover' (a Russian assassin is on the trail of Cowley's former colleague who has information of a double agent) and 'Hunter/Hunted' (Ray Doyle loses a new hi-tech rifle and finds someone is trying to test it on him). Dave Matthews's fantastic site The Authorised Guide To The Professionals is a good place to start if you want to know more about the show.