The Professionals first hit the screens in 1978. The complete second series, which has been remastered to look and sound better than ever before, is to be released on Blu-ray on 29th September, following the previous release of the first season. The series concerned the adventures of Bodie and Doyle, two agents of the fictitious government body CI5, which brought in professionals from all walks of life to protect the UK from acts of terrorism and other major crimes. The show made a star of Martin Shaw.
Although created by Brian Clemens, who was also the brains behind The Avengers, The Professionals has far more in common with modernising cop show The Sweeney, in that it’s action-packed and aspires to gritty realism crime drama rather than the camp surrealism that became the hallmark of Clemens’ earlier series. Appropriately, it was shot on 16mm film, which gives it a slightly grainy sheen. It looks good in high-definition (and commendably the transfer is from the original film prints, not copies). Whilst the sharpness will never match more expensive film stocks, the colours look great.
The Professionals is best-remembered for the camaraderie between Bodie (Lewis Collins, who sadly died last year) and Doyle (Martin Shaw). The show is a prototype ‘bromance’ since the relentless banter, wise-cracking and leg-pulling between Bodie and Doyle was well ahead of its time. Undeniably, Collins and Shaw have great screen chemistry (regardless of whether or not the friendship carried over off-screen), but for us, it’s Liverpool-born Collins who emerges as the most charismatic. Shaw, with his broken teeth, Midlands’s accent and reconstructed cheekbone, is a great leading man for the 70s: unusually handsome, and a bit rough around the edges. With not a plum Home Counties accent in sight, the other regular cast member is Scotsman and elder statesman of the group, Gordon Jackson. Although he occasionally misreads the meaning of his lines and puts emphases in all the wrong places, Jackson brings suitable gravitas to the role of George Cowley, head of CI5.
The Professionals is a very testosterone-driven show. It has three trigger-happy manly leads who drive fast cars and don’t talk about their feelings. One way in which the show has dated is that room for a female voice would certainly now be made, and desired.
The series opens with Rogue, and sees character actor Robert Gillespie stepping off a train looking distinctly shifty, only to be shot by Glyn Owen. Something’s afoot, because Glyn Owen is playing Bodie and Doyle’s old mentor. Surely a founding member of CI5 is above suspicion?
An episode that shows how ahead of its time the series was is In the Public Interest, which features hangdog-faced Stephen Rea (Citizen X) in an early role as a gay rights activist (though apparently not gay himself, but baby steps) whose group is attacked by a police force led by fascistic Constable Green (Paul Hardwick). The episode tackles the issue of widespread corruption and homophobia within the police force in a very positive way. Tom Georgeson (who would go on to play Dixie in Bleasdale’s The Boys From the Blackstuff) appears as a bent copper.
A very familiar name in the director’s seat will be Martin Campbell, who went on to make Edge of Darkness a few years later for the BBC, and who more recently directed the hit James Bond movie Casino Royale. He directs two of the second season’s episodes, A Stirring of Dust and Man Without A Past. In the latter, the consistent threat of terrorist bombing is tackled, when Bodie’s romantic dinner for two ends in carnage. Bodie takes on a revenge mission to find the perpetrators, and when the FBI stick their ore in, he realises there’s more to the case than an attempt on his life.
Another episode that used cutting-edge storylines is First Night, in which an Israeli minister (played by Arnold Diamond) is taken hostage. Over the course of the whole season, some episodes stand up better than others (Hunter/Hunted is a light runaround concerning a laser gun and a femme fatale), but The Professionals is unremitting fun, even in the weaker stories. That may sound frivolous for a show that was criticised for its strong depictions of violence at the time; but we’re used to a lot worse now; but the tone of the series is set by Laurie Johnson’s superb and catchy theme tune (very similar to his The New Avengers music), and from the buddy banter between Bodie and Doyle. Almost four decades on, their adventures remain thrilling, and now come packaged in high-definition for a full-on nostalgia treat. At its best, The Professionals is perfect television.
The Professionals Mk II will also be available on DVD from next year.