C.I.5 - The Professionals

Gordon Jackson as Major George Cowley
Martin Shaw as Raymond Doyle
Lewis Collins as William Andrew Philip Bodie

"Anarchy, acts of terror, crimes against the public. To combat it I've got special men experts from the army, the police, from every service - these are the professionals."

Throughout the whole realm of fictional programming, the genre of crime/action drama has proved one of the most popular with TV audiences. In the UK the last thirty years have seen a wealth of such programmes with the likes of Special Branch, The Sweeney, Target, Hazell, Strangers, Minder, Shoestring, Bergerac, Taggart, The Paradise Club and Spender. Those shows were often 'hard' and 'gritty' and police-orientated programmes such as Sweeney portrayed the lives of officers as often being very dangerous - far closer to the truth than the ever-so-cosy world of Dixon of Dock Green which was a good ten years past its sell-by date when it finished in 1976!

The problem with this ‘realism’ was that, as in real life, strong language and violence tended to play a large part ? and therefore kept the Mary Whitehouse crowd extremely busy! (Dear old Mary was the founder - and, I suspect, only member - of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, whose aim was to stamp out sex, violence, bad language and all the fun on British TV and radio.)
One programme that attracted more criticism (and not just from the NVLA) than most for its level of violence was The Professionals - yet many interpreted this as ‘action’ and ‘excitement’, and so the show became extremely popular with most of the viewing public. The aim of this article is threefold: to look in detail at this controversial, long-running show, assess its attributes (both good and bad) and to explore its influence or otherwise on the programmes that would succeed it.

The A-Squad....?
The Professionals was the creation of the small independent company Avengers Mark 1 Productions that (as ‘Avengers Film & TV Enterprises’) had brought us The New Avengers in 1976 and ‘77. This show had heavily relied on financial support from French television company IDTV (and some input from Canadian company Nielsen-Ferns). Sadly, as had befallen its sixties predecessor, the show’s style and content became subject to adverse interference from the overseas backers. The British team resisted defiantly but, as a consequence, found their supply of francs quickly drying up. Creator, co-producer and joint-head of Mark 1 Brian Clemens realised that a third series would be impossible.

In fact it seems that even before the second series went before the cameras, Brian was worried about its survival prospects. In February 1977 he and fellow executive producer Albert Fennell were approached by London Weekend Television head Brian Tesler, who happened to be looking for a rival to Thames Television’s highly successful police series The Sweeney. Recognising that, although all was not well on the New Avengers set, Fennell and Clemens had certainly demonstrated they knew how to handle an action-show format, Tesler asked Clemens submit ideas. After several days’ consideration, Clemens came up with two suggestions. The first concerned a pair of undercover cops but Tesler far preferred the second idea: an elite squad of crime-fighters formed to tackle the rising tide of professional criminal and terrorist groups that were starting to engulf Britain. Originally christened “The A-Squad”, few people except Clemens himself were keen on the title of the show and it was soon changed to the impressive-sounding The Professionals.

In those days, people like Tesler could make a solo decision on whether to “green light” a new show. There were no tiresome, overpaid approval committees to be consulted as there are today…
So from then on things moved very quickly with Fennell and Clemens establishing a new production company, Avengers Mark 1 Productions. Meanwhile Avengers Film & TV carried on with the final few episodes of The New Avengers in France and Canada.

Working feverishly on the concept throughout February, Brian Clemens carved out the following detailed treatment…

In November 1971 the British Home Secretary called a meeting of several law, military and intelligence chiefs to ask for suggestions on how to tackle the increasingly expert and well-armed criminal and terror groups that were starting to wreak havoc across the country. It was recognised that too often the agencies were hide-bound by “red tape”, inefficient bureacracy, poor co-ordination and inter-departmental rivalry - such elements often allowing villains to not only escape justice but commit their crimes in the first place…

Attending the meeting was MI5 head George Cowley and he already had a radical proposal: the creation of an “umbrella” organisation to amalgamate the military intelligence-gathering and combat techniques of the other agencies in an effort to efficiently handle such criminal activity before it endangered the public. But Cowley had recognised that such a team would need to work extremely quickly and that under certain circumstances this would mean using underhand methods to achieve their ends…
It came as little surprise to Cowley that some of his ideas were met with strong reservations but the Home Secretary welcomed the proposal, providing the team’s activities were kept secret. Within a very short space of time Cowley had left MI5 and was setting up Criminal Intelligence (’CI5’), hand-picking around forty men and women for his elite squad.

Bickering camaraderie
We pick up CI5’s story six years later. Cowley’s top two agents are the partnership of Ray Doyle and William Bodie. The three men would form the focus of the series. Doyle had been a detective constable, working in the East End and Docklands areas London - two of the city’s toughest beats. Bodie had had a varied past having deserted the Merchant Navy, joined a band of mercenaries in Africa, enrolled with the Paras and then the SAS, where his many talents had been spotted by Cowley, who promptly invited him to join CI5.

Different backgrounds meant contrasting personalities and the partners were often at odds with each other over the approach to the job in hand - Bodie would think nothing of damaging a suspect to ‘encourage’ them to talk, whereas Doyle tended to ask questions first. These opposing attitudes led the partners to enjoy a spirited relationship while developing an awareness and respect for each other’s abilities.

Finch, Andrews and Revill
Although most readers will remember the show’s characters being played by Gordon Jackson, Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins, it’s interesting to note that they were not Brian Clemens’ original choices. Jon Finch had appeared in the New Avengers segment ‘Medium Rare’ and was originally offered the part of Doyle. Initially he accepted but almost immediately changed his mind, mysteriously exclaiming he “could never play a policeman”. Clemens remembered a young actor named Martin Shaw who had also appeared in a New Avengers story called ‘Obsession’. Shaw accepted the offer of the new role, albeit reluctantly after reading some of the scripts, because, in his own words, “there was nothing else on offer at the time”.

Finding an actor to play Bodie wasn’t straightforward, either. Gareth Hunt (the New Avengers ‘Gambit’ character, of course) recently stated that in the early stages he was being considered. However pressure from LWT meant production on The Professionals had to start while The New Avengers was still filming (in France and Canada), so this wasn’t feasible. (Though Gareth briefly dropped in on filming sometime during 1980, as evidenced by a photograph in one of the Professionals annuals.) The original casting of the second principal fell to Anthony Andrews. However he and Shaw had been friends for a long time and couldn’t quite work up the ‘abrasiveness’ that Clemens was looking for ("They would sit in the car and just giggle” he explained). On viewing rushes of some scenes after three days’ worth of shooting, Brian realised that, although both fine actors, the partnership wasn’t working in the way he needed and promptly dropped Andrews - considering that of the two, Shaw had greater “screen presence”.

Wth filming now well behind schedule a replacement had to be found very quickly. Brian and Albert Fennell discussed possibilities and remembered when Shaw had played in the ‘Obsession’ episode, he had not got on very well with his co-star… a certain Lewis Collins. Maybe the animosity between the actors could provide the ‘explosive’ partnership required for the new show?
Towards the end of ‘Obsession’ Lewis’ Kilner character says to Shaw’s Larry Doomer “Maybe we should work together again sometime - a good team!”. In fact this was sheer co-incidence (as stated previously other actors were being considered for The Professionals at this point), though certainly influenced Clemens’ casting decisions.

Unsurprisingly Shaw was horrified at the prospect of having to work again with Collins and also doubted the newcomer’s acting abilities. However as filming progressed, his view changed and he came to respect Lewis - the two becoming friends. By this time, however, they had settled very well into their roles and were able to keep up the on-screen abrasiveness.

Lewis remembers things slightly differently. According to recent interviews, he had actually been contracted to play the minor role of a police sergeant in the pilot episode ‘Old Dog with New Tricks’ (probably the role that was eventually taken by John Judd) . However when the producers realised things weren’t working with the existing leads, they turned their attention to him.
Actor Clive Revill had played a gripping part in the excellent New Avengers episode ‘Dead Men are Dangerous’ and Clemens wanted him to play Cowley. Apparently Revill was interested but had just been offered a lucrative deal in the US. Hoping to acquire fame and fortune in Hollywood (he never did), he was therefore unavailable. Albert Fennell had worked with Gordon Jackson several times in the past (including the ‘Castle De’Ath’ episode of The Avengers from 1965) and recommended him. Gordon was anxious to get away from his stuffy butler image from Upstairs Downstairs and accepted the new role immediately. In fact it appears he wasn’t even required to perform a screen-test. At the time (late May 1977) he was tied up on another production (possibly the film ‘Golden Rendezvous’), thus compounding shooting delays.

Shooting commenced on June 20th 1977 (though was suspended very briefly when the part of Bodie was recast) with the small studios at Harefield Grove near Rickmansworth providing the production team with administrative offices and a number of sets for CI5 headquarters.
Of the three leads, Doyle was perhaps the most interesting and ‘three-dimensional’ character. Although obviously a very tough man, later episodes would often reveal quite a compassionate nature. He was portrayed as tending to stick to health foods (a constant source of derision for Bodie!) and in one episode he talks about his time as an art student. He would often question CI5’s methods. Doyle’s physical appearance also indicated his more placid nature - he favoured casual clothes and, of course, that infamous ‘bubble-perm’ hairstyle (which, amazingly, was Shaw’s idea!). Yet there were occasions when he would ‘snap’ or become quite brusque.

Seemingly at the request of the production team, Lewis Collins played his character with fewer facets - on the surface Bodie was little more than a ruthless thug who seemed to lap up ‘villain-bashing’. Yet he possessed ample wit and charm to attract the ladies and his loyalty to CI5 was beyond question. His appearance was usually of tailored smartness (in the first season, at least) and close-cropped hair - both completely opposite to Doyle. His full name was revealed as William Andrew Philip Bodie ("All the princes - I was such as regal-looking baby!") in one episode, though preferred to be addressed solely by his surname.

Gordon Jackson brought a good compromise to the part of Cowley. Like Bodie his decisions could often be quite merciless. In one episode he threatens to force-feed an uncooperative drug dealer with dope to turn him into an addict. Unlike Bodie, however, and with occasional prompting from Doyle, such actions did trouble Cowley’s conscience. With years of playing espionage games in MI5, Cowley had become a master tactician and constantly amazed his juniors with his ability to turn around seemingly hopeless situations into ones which CI5 could win - even if his methods were occasionally morally qustionable! An old bullet wound had left him with a limp and frequent twinges of pain that seemed to aggravate his rather gruff attitude. A man of little humour, he would rarely appreciate Bodie and Doyle’s jocularity.

During filming breaks Shaw and Collins were put through rigorous physical training courses to get them fit and were taught advanced driving skills - they were going to need them!
Despite the scripts containing much humorous banter, the quirkiness of The Avengers almost completely disappeared as The Professionals’ style of rough, tough cops against the violent, criminal world quickly established itself.

Clemens may have been frustrated at not getting the actors he wanted, but at least he was able to assemble his choice of writers and directors. Veterans such as Anthony Read, Dennis Spooner, Gerry O’Hara, Don Houghton and Roger Marshall formed a crack team of writers and would each contribute many storylines during the series’ lifetime - though in the early years Clemens himself was the most active scriptwriter. Also drafted in were well-proven directors such as Douglas Camfield, William Brayne and Charles Crichton. Producer for the first season was the highly-respected Sid Hayers, although Ray Menmuir took over from the second season when Hayers went to America in 1978 to pursue a successful career in Hollywood (he directed episodes of Magnum and Knight Rider among other things). Many of these people had started out in the 1950’s and earned their colours during the following decade on Lew Grade’s ITC series (The Saint, The Prisoner, Randall & Hopkirk, etc) and, of course, The Avengers and New Avengers.

Rolls-Royces, Assault Courses and Stunts
Renowned screen musician Laurie Johnson was a co-director of Mark 1 and on hand to provide the music (in fact he still had a few New Avengers episodes to score as The Professionals started production) and his powerful, unforgettable title theme certainly grabbed the attention of the viewer (in a 1999 newspaper poll, it was selected as the second favourite TV theme ever, just pipped by that of Hawaii Five-O). Laurie also composed the incidental themes.

The original opening titles looked like this: a Rolls-Royce hurtles down a narrow road, rounds a corner and slews to a halt in the grounds of the CI5 training building. Bodie, Doyle and two other agents leap out while Cowley emerges from the driver’s seat and activates a stopwatch. The partners charge into the building where they are presented with an army assault course. We see them tackle a rope-net which they quickly negotiate before bursting into a narrow corridor to engage in hand-to-hand combat with several dummy ‘baddies’ (one of which wears a target motif which struck me as being a nod towards the show’s Avengers roots) and the other two ops. The seconds tick by. Next the lads descend a death-slide and crash through a line of doors. Cut back to the stopwatch again. They emerge from the building to find Cowley beckoning excitedly, jump back into the Rolls and shoot off back round the corner! The viewer was probably out of breath, never mind the lads! Originally this was accompanied by a voice-over by Jackson/Cowley - the quotation that starts this article, though this appars to have been dropped after just two episodes when a slightly revised version of the theme was substituted (which, sadly, softened the great opening “chime”, toned down the bass and brought up the treble, while adding other small effects). The end titles were of a landscape shot of London, gradually panning further and further back, though, again, it is uncertain how many episodes originally contained these.

One similarity with The New Avengers was that the two younger stars insisted on performing their own stunts - but whereas Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt had done much of their own stuntwork, Shaw and Collins handled almost all of theirs. Cuts, bruises, concussion and stitches were occasional problems over the following four years!

Although undeniably a fine scriptwriter, Brian Clemens’ original plan was to simply pen a couple of “establishing” episodes to act as templates for the other writers. Having worked non-stop on The New Avengers for eighteen months, he understandably felt the need for a long rest and set off on holiday, handing over to script edtor Kenneth Ware. Things didn’t work out the way Brian had hoped - within days he was urgently recalled to London to be told by Kenneth that the series was in trouble. It would appear the other writers were struggling and Brian was needed to invigorate their scripts. Brian agreed, citing the main problem as being the stories were not moving quickly enough. It was also felt some scripts were completely unsuitable and were abandoned. In the end Brian wrote (or re-wrote) a further seven stories. Given the ever-mounting demands from LWT, “It really was a crisis situation!” as Brian said.