Monday, 29 December 2014

The Champions (ITC 1968-1969)

One thing that 60s TV shows did fairly well was produce a number of series that centerd around Spies, Detectives and people with special powers, sometimes combining the three with varying degrees of success.
With the 60s being the height of the cold war and people wondering on an almost daily basis if they were going to finally hear those air raid sirens before having to scramble into bomb shelters when the DIRTY COMMUNISTS!1!1!1!! decided to start some aggro, it was understandable that the most popular programs would centre on people actively trying to prevent armageddon in some fashion.

"The Champions" is a sci-fi/spy/detective/action/mystery tv series consisting of a single series of 30 episodes.
Similar in format to the much more successful "Mission: Impossible" and to some extent "The Avengers", the series concentrates on the adventures of a team of three special agents, who work for the (fictional) U.N backed intelligence/police agency code named NEMESIS (it is never explained whether the name is a name or an acronym for something, probably chosen just cos it sounds cool)

Unlike other secret agents, "The Champions" (this title is never given to them officially, and is only spoken by the series narrator when referring to them) are not your run of the mill types, as in the very first episode of the series it is explained that while the team were on a mission to steal samples of an experimental biological weapon from the Red Chinese, their plane crashed in the Himalayas, where they were rescued and operated on by a group of reclusive, but advanced people who lived in the mountains of Tibet. This operation, as well as saving their lives, gave the three secret agents superhuman powers, including enhanced strength and stamina, perfect memory recall, enhanced cognitive abilities and enhanced senses, as well as the ability to perform a limited form of telepathy to communicate with each other over distance.
The three members of the team are:-

Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) - British code breaking and electronics expert.
Craig Stirling (Stuart Damon) - American pilot and all round action man.
Sharron MacReady (Alexandra Bastedo) - British Doctor and research scientist.

The three, who were based at the NEMESIS headquarters in Geneva, would receive their orders from "Tremayne" (the only other character to appear in every episode in some fashion), who was not aware of their super powers, but who would occasionally ask them to explain how they managed to escape from seemingly certain death type situations unharmed (sometimes it appeared that Tremayne was a bit thick not being able to figure out what was going on, although this added to the suspension of disbelief required to watch this type of show).
Each episode would typically begin with a short featurette with one of the team using (or abusing) their powers to somehow outsmart someone else, for example in one episode, Craig is shown watching a weightlifter showing off his strength by lifting a series of heavy barbells, before Craig then walks up and effortlessly picks up the same weights and throws them around like they weighed nothing at all.

Most of the stories from the series revolved around the team fighting communist plots, South American dictatorships, neo nazis, drug dealers and criminal gangs, but on the odd occasion an episode would throw in some deliberately comedic touches, although not to the level of "eccentricity" reached in "The Avengers".

The main characters were quite well rounded out and believable, given the subject matter, although the secondary characters (ie, the bad guys) tended to be over the top comic book villains, most of whom had dodgy east european or faux-latino accents, although to its credit, the series did actually use chinese actors for chinese parts (mainly in the form of Burt Kwouk  ) and didnt resort to having white actors don dodgy looking eye make up and start mispronouncing their Ls and Rs.

All in all though "The Champions" is one of those oft forgotten gems from 1960s British TV which could make for a fairly entertaining remake/reboot now.

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