Classic TV Review: The Professionals

It was sad to read that Lewis Collins had died a few days ago (Nov 27) aged 67 following a five year battle with cancer. He was an underrated actor whose career was blighted by his being typecast as the tough guy, the character type that, ironically, made him a household name in the late ’70s. I’m talking, of course, about Bodie of CI5.

I wasn’t yet a teenager when The Professionals and its high octane opening titles exploded onto our TV screens late in 1977 and quickly became must-see action drama. I forget the time it aired – probably 8pm – but it was a show my parents allowed me to watch (bed straight after) and I just lapped up the fast-paced cocktail of car chases, gun fights and punch-ups. Of the three main characters, Bodie was my favourite – hard as nails and yet suave and well-dressed. I remember one Christmas getting an annual as well as a Corgi model of Bodie’s silver Ford Capri 3.0S complete with three tiny figures posing dramatically inside the box.

For those in the dark about the show, CI5 is a fictional law enforcement agency tasked with stopping all kinds of terrorism and threats to the UK. It is made up of highly capable individuals – the elite of the elite, if you will – and the man in charge is Cowley (Gordon Jackson). His two best men are Doyle (Martin Shaw) and Bodie (Lewis Collins). They are obedient to their superior but aren’t afraid of breaking the rules (as well as the law) if it brings results. Their partnership and friendship is symbiotic and with Cowley giving the orders, they are a great team. To complement the show’s action there are humorous moments between the leads and there is also detail in the police procedures although not as much as in many of today’s crime shows.

The show was created by Brian Clemens who was in part responsible for numerous classic TV shows of the ’60 and ’70s including The Avengers, The Persuaders!, The Protectors and The New Avengers. A total of 57 episodes over five seasons of The Professionals were aired between ’77 and ’83 however, the final episode of season one – Klansmen – was never transmitted on terrestrial TV in the UK because of its racial content.

I’ve caught an episode or two of the show over the years and yes, it filled me with a warm nostalgia but this morning, I happened upon an episode on ITV4 being shown as a tribute to Lewis Collins. This time, poignancy made me pay an even greater level of attention to the screen than normal. The episode was the fourth of season one – Killer with a Long Arm. It is about a Greek sniper who travels over from the continent with a mission to assassinate a Greek Royal at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in order to make a political statement. The pacing of the story is excellent and the tension builds nicely all the way to the rooftop climax. The plot is believable (with the possible exception of the zoom on the sniper rifle scope) and the writing intelligent. There is mention of forensics and the overall, the action is minimal. I seem to remember some episodes being a lot more gung-ho but maybe these came later when the writers may have struggled for ideas. There are some humorous moments too between Bodie and Doyle and so to put it in a nutshell, it is a terrific episode of an exciting show.

Lewis Collins still commands my attention when he’s on screen. He has great presence and his natural manner, which can change from charming and friendly to threatening and brutal in a second, is totally captivating. His onscreen chemistry with Martin Shaw is great too, which probably helped make the show the success it was and one would assume they had an absolute blast while filming. The two actors had previously shared the screen playing villains in a 1977 episode of The New Avengers and creator Brian Clemens, who had already got Martin Shaw on board as Doyle, brought in Lewis Collins on the strength of this previous pairing. I haven’t watched it but apparently Collins’ character in that New Avengers episode (Obsession) signs off with the comment to Shaw’s character, “Maybe we should work together again. We’re a good team.”

Indeed they were. Lewis Collins may have passed away and I’m sure our hearts go out to the loved ones that survive him but the character for which we all recognise and love him, will live on for as long as humans watch TV.