I was having a chat with our landlord Petunia this week. For those who don’t know, Petunia borrows his moniker from the theatrical nickname of 70s British showbusiness superstar, Peter Wyngarde AKA Jason King. I think I may have mentioned a show called Department S, and quick as a flash, or landlord, as ever displaying his uncanny and even rather unnerving knowledge of all matters of popular culture, shot back with the three letters “ITC”. A dim and distant light came on. If I could just remember…
I have the feeling sometimes that Raccoonistas are often of “a certain age”, certainly, usually a certain maturity, allowing for the odd certifiable nut job who puts in a brief appearance, but you get that on the interweb, albeit less often than you get on the Andrew Marr show. But leaving that on one side, for those who don’t remember Sundays used to be different. Back in the day, and I’m thinking 60’s and 70’s, no big shopping centres opened, there was no latte or frappuccino on tap, no Top Gear. There was probably no wine, unless it was Blue Nun. Everything except the corner shop was shut. What I remember is the rather grim ritual of having to get dressed up to go to church, and then standing/sitting kneeling a few pews behind a girl called “A”, on whom I had the most massive crush. Sunday afternoons were almost institutionalized boredom. I remember something called The Big Match. This was a distant ancestor of what we now call “football” and involved teams of patently overweight men with permed hair wearing very tight shorts kicking an orange ball around a mud bath (and kicking each other), for about 90 minutes, before consuming 8 pints and shagging a stripper in the communal baths afterwards. They didn’t show that bit on TV. If men smelt of anything they smelt of Brut. All food was fried, boiled or roasted.
But there was a ray of light because I also remember Sunday afternoon as being the home of the “adventure thriller”. This is where ITC or the Incorporated Television Company came in. It was the baby of Lew Grade, and produced some of my most cherished children’s television programmes, including the fabulous Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet (my particular favourite: SIG – “Spectrum Is Green”!). There is a potted history at Wikipedia here:
But ITC, with its distinctive 1960’s-idea-of-futuristic-but-actually-quite-naff-logo, produced a cadre of what are now commonly referred to a drama or comedy drama cult classics of the 1960’s and 1970s, such as The Saint, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Danger Man, The Baron, Gideon’s Way, The Champions, The Prisoner, Man in a Suitcase, Strange Report, Department S, The Persuaders!, Jason King, The Adventurer, The Protectors, and Return of the Saint.
Let’s focus on those. Some of them featured large on my Sunday afternoons. I remember The Saint, of course. That seemed to be a regular on a Sunday afternoon. As most will know the Saint was a rather good-looking man (Roger Moore) who had no discernible means of funding his “playboy” lifestyle. He had a cool car (a white Volvo P1800, I believe) and rescued damsels in distress. I have a vague recollection of the Baron, a rather good looking American man (Steve Forrest) who had no discernable means of paying for his antiques and playboy lifestyle. He had a cool car and …well there was a pattern there.
The ones which I most vividly remember on a Sunday afternoon were: Department S, which then morphed into the ultra cool, or ultra naff (depending on your point of view) Jason King, and The Champions. For some reason The Champions was my favourite, with a beginning where its three heroes (who had acquired sort of super powers in the aftermath of a plane crash in Tibet) stood in front a that big fountain in Geneva. You could argue that was because even at a young age I was nor immune to the charms of Alexandra Bastedo. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandra_Bastedo And indeed I was not, particularly given that she looked like a grown up version of “A”, for whom I pined so earnestly. But in fact, I seem to have had rather “catholic” (pardon the pun) tastes, because I have very clear and fond memories of two women who graced our often black and white screens. First the beautiful, tall brunette with the cut glass accent Sue Lloyd, who appeared in many of these shows as a regular guest star: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sue_Lloyd And of course the beautiful, not quite so tall Nyree Dawn Porter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nyree_Dawn_Porter She co-starred with the brilliant Robert Vaughan in “the Protectors”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protectors
The Protectors was a Gerry Anderson production, not ITC, but it gets an honourable mention because it fulfils many of the criteria including cravats, a simple plot with astonishingly “cool” people foiling bad guys, and a great theme song. I have more memories of some shows than others. I remember I loved The Strange Report. That seemed more intelligent and involve staying up. And of course it starred the class act that was Anthony Quayle – what a voice, and a real life SOE Operative in World War II to boot I believe. I don’t remember Dangerman, but the theme is very familiar. I remember the starting credits to Man in a Suitcase vividly. More late night stuff.
I think the über cult that was The Prisoner was a bit weird for me. That bubble thing…It was all a bit existential. Randal and Hopkirk (Deceased) was mainstream family watching of an evening, sort of comedy – adventure. I am thinking Saturday or Sunday night but I could be wrong. Annette Andre was in that, as Mrs. Deceased. Fit as a butcher’s dog, as I now recall. I can say that, because this is a “PC” free post. It has to be because never mind the walking talking Lothario moustache and sideburns (yes really!) that was Jason King as played by Peter Wyngarde, last but not least was there was the inestimably brilliant, totally un “PC” gaudy fashion disaster that brought together Tony Curtis and Roger Moore in The Persuaders. It was a maelstrom of Ferraris, Aston Martins, champagne, bikinis, cravats, flares and unashamed sexism. I have that down as four o’clock on a Sunday, but it’s a long time ago now.
These were escapist fantasy shows, simple little morality tales, according to the mores of the time. No kitchen sink drama here, this was a Ken Loach-free zone, and that alone commends their memory to me. Soon they would be superseded by much darker, more intense and genuinely brilliant dramas like the original Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or Edge of Darkness. They were sort of innocent. They were just of their time, and if it was a duller time maybe it was a more innocent and simpler, happier time. But all these shows had one thing in common. Great, classic, iconic theme tunes and opening credits. In fact, you could probably do away with the shows and just play the opening credits on a loop. Here is a blast or two from the past:
The Saint – the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DC9m0h4ZujY And the Orbital version (that’s how cool it is) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2EaEsZntcU The Baron https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eP_l6dnoYlM The Champions – Da da! Da dadada da da! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vERE274OdFc Department S https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1w0yiZFo4s
Jason King https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hPj4jthKxQ Randall and Hopkirk Deceased https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wo3lTbYFK6A Danger Man https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLgNPYw9QMw The Prisoner https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zE-EMinj69o Man in a Suitcase – (Richard Bradford was cool) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk3WHOXzZE4
The brilliant The Persuaders opening, featuring the music of John Barry, those cars, and those shirts and some innate, throw away sexism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t99QQIXez4M And last but not least The Protectors. Opening credits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXseqmFmFOc And full song: Avenues and Alleyways, by the brilliant Tony Christie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj4UFqKG5YI
Which is my favourite? That’s difficult. Possibly the best technically is The Persuaders. It’s a very, very clever opening, and the music of John Barry is superb. The Department S theme still brings back goose bumps. Jason King was never my thing. Which was the best theme? Over to you. And what have I forgotten of 70’s Sunday afternoons?
Just for one particular reader. Old Cat was silent for a long, long time when he first arrived. I don’t know how long it was before a first, rather stammering gurgle emerged from rather hesitatingly from his throat. He had never learned to purr, it seemed to me. He has rejected various specially designed cat beds and tepees, but I have persuaded him to sleep in a large cardboard box lined with paper and straw in the porch behind the kitchen. He has a wall heater and a special heated disk. He has access to the car flap.
I got up last night about 1 am, in search of a cup of cocoa or a large malt or both. I peered into the porch to make sure he was OK, and he was all curled up asleep, apparently I opened the porch door and squatted down next to him and gently petted him for ten minutes or so as he slept. He purred gently and happily without moving, although whether he woke or had been asleep I don’t know. Then I went back to sleep. He was all snug when I got up at 6, and I made him breakfast. This included a raw egg.
Gildas The Monk