The Professionals

1977 - United Kingdom

Originally commissioned as London Weekend Television's answer to the massively popular The SweeneyThe Professionals was the expertly produced, gritty and hard-hitting creation of Brian Clemens, one of the key creative core responsible for the phenomenal success of The Avengers.

In February 1977, Clemens and fellow New Avengers executive producer, Albert Fennell, approached London Weekend Television head Brian Tesler with an idea for a new, more realistic crime show format. LWT requested Clemens submit two possible series ideas. The first concerned two undercover police officers, but ultimately Tesler opted for Clemens' second proposal which concerned an elite squad of special agents, whose mandate was to tackle the rising tide of professional crime and the growing number of terrorist groups that were threatening to engulf Britain. Originally entitled The A-Squad, the fledgling series was quickly rechristened The Professionals.

The Professionals

Immediately, Fennell and Clemens established a new production company to produce the series under the banner of 'Avengers Mark1 Productions.' Contracts were signed with Martin Shaw to play Doyle, an ex-East End cop, and Lewis Collins as Bodie, a former SAS officer, both of whom are recruited to CI5 (Criminal Intelligence 5), by tough, no-nonsense commander, George Cowley (The experienced and much admired Gordon Jackson, last seen as butler to the Bellamy household in Upstairs, Downstairs.) In May 1977 both Collins and Shaw had coincidentally played opposite each other in the second season New Avengers episode 'Obsession', in which Collins' Kilner character prophetically remarks to Shaw's Larry Doomer "Maybe we should work together again sometime - a good team!".

An immediate success with the viewing audience, the series, whilst devoid of the hallmark quirkiness of The Avengers, consistently delivered a steady stream of fast paced actioneers, with much tyre screeching and bullet flying. It was not without controversy either. There were numerous complaints about its level of violence which forced a 'toning down', and in one extreme case the dropping of a completed episode The Klansman. But perhaps the most damning indictment came from Martin Shaw, who dismissed his character as a 'violent puppet' and refused consent for repeats until as late as 1992. By today's standards, the violence would pale in comparison to what you see in EastEnders!

The Professionals

In 1983, after five seasons, the show finally came to an end when LWT made the decision that due to rising production costs, it was no longer financially viable to sanction further episodes. The format was revived in 1999 though, with Edward Woodward taking over as CI5's controller, and a new team of 'professionals' ready to defend the nation. However, the major terrestrial channels turned it down, forcing The Professionals to find a minimal audience on the cable and satellite channel Sky 1 which did not at that time have the large audience it has today.

Watching the original series, it now offers a delightful trip down memory lane. These were simpler times when waterskiing epitomized glamour, and threats to national security involved armed robbers and lone fanatics. It may feel dated, but its impact endures. It’s a slice of TV history that combines action, nostalgia, and memorable characters.

Published on April 4th, 2024. Written by Robin Humar for Television Heaven.

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