"C.I.5 - Criminal Intelligence; The Action Squad; The Big A; The Squad" George Cowley, Episode One Series 1, The Professionals.
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. Indeed, it is only recently that reckless cops are drifting back into fashion, making a pleasant change from the years of plodding dramas like The Bill. 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.
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, indeed, anyone. 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. 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.
Listed below are the all of the episodes contained in Season 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 possession 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.
The main selling point of this DVD will be the remastered picture, thereby suggesting that this release is an improvement on those that came out in 2002. At first glance, there is, sadly, nothing much to report as it simply doesn't look as though anything has been done to the picture. With a side-by-side comparison, though, small changes can be seen, such as the colours being slightly toned down, the picture is a little bit sharper and blacks are more pronounced. The original 2002 release also had a strange colour balance - red and green were more prominent than blue but this changed from episode to episode - and this release has corrected that. Please see the screen shots below for a better comparison:
This Remastered Release
This Remastered Release
This Remastered Release
This Remastered Release
It is a little better but not so much as to be obvious without a comparison such as this. There is, however, still some wear and tear on the prints but less than there was.
In terms of the audio track, it's still in mono, presented across two channels, but it is a little better with noticeably less background noise. Whereas, however, the 2002 releases sounded only a little better than VHS, this remastered release is a clear improvement with the theme tune sounding better than ever.
Unfortunately, it doesn't appear as though any extras have made it over from the 2002 releases to this, nor have any new extras been produced. With Brian Clemens and Lewis Collins being enthusiastic interviewees on The Professionals, it's a shame that two releases on DVD have now passed with little involvement from one and nothing from the other.
It's still a great show and remains much underrated but is there enough to warrant a re-release and, for the consumer. is there enough to buy it a second time around? I would have to say no and that unless the original sets have been deleted, there's not that much of an improvement in the picture quality to warrant buying the four seasons all over again. That said, it does, after a short glance at a number of online retailers, appear as though Contender are deleting the original sets, which may leave this and the forthcoming sets for Seasons 2-4 as more of a correction than a cynical attempt to exploit the fans of the show.
As such, those who own the original sets ought to pass whilst those who don't shouldn't be afraid of picking up a set or two of The Professionals. I doubt we'll see it's like again and, for that, it comes with something of a recommendation.