Coppers & Spies Revisited
This entry concludes the re-written versions of the original Coppers and Spies blog posts published on the MovieMail site in 2014. Each part contains additional research material and information on the various crime and spy adventure series the original blog series covered, timed to celebrate Network's highly-anticipated release of The Professionals in high-definition last March.

I hope you enjoy this final post.

6: Beyond the police - From The Professionals to Life on Mars

Creator of The Professionals, writer-producer-director Brian Clemens, boasted a six-decade career making iconic crime and adventure drama. In the 1950s, as staff writer, he scripted many half-hour crime series for the Danzigers production company. He wrote the pilot episode for Danger Man in 1960 and a year later provided the same for The Avengers, the series with which he is forever associated.

While he and producer Albert Fennell oversaw ABC television’s international success with John Steed and Emma Peel in The Avengers, Clemens also contributed to ITC’s The Baron, The Champions and Man in a Suitcase. He created ATV’s anthology series Thriller and, with Fennell, revived The Avengers in 1976 as The New Avengers.

As the second series of The New Avengers completed filming in October 1977 it was clear to Clemens that his co-production company The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises Ltd, formed with Fennell and composer Laurie Johnson, was running into financial difficulties. After French finance failed to materialise, the final three episodes of the series were cancelled and the prospect of making a third series evaporated. Four episodes, then being completed in Canada, provided an underwhelming coda to a troubled production.

Recruiting The Professionals

During this unsettled period the managing director of London Weekend Television, Brian Tesler, approached Clemens and Fennell to pitch ideas for a rival drama to Thames Television's hugely successful The Sweeney, made by Euston Films. Clemens devised The A Squad about a fictional British law enforcement agency - CI5 - operating ‘beyond the police’ and ordered by the Home Secretary to combat specific crimes by any means necessary. An elite unit led by the uncompromising George Cowley, two of his top operatives were William Bodie, an ex-paratrooper, mercenary and SAS sergeant, and former detective constable Ray Doyle.

Clemens and Fennell created a subsidiary company, Avengers Mark 1 Productions, and hired director Sidney Hayers, often behind the camera on The Avengers, ITC's The Persuaders! and The New Avengers, to produce the first series of The Professionals. Echoing The Sweeney's use of a former school as an independent production base, Mark 1 established their operations at Harefield Grove, an estate just outside Pinewood Studios. Its grounds and buildings offered filming locations, offices and editing facilities and kept production costs manageable.

Original casting was not without its problems. Clive Revill was offered the role of Cowley but his unavailability eventually took Fennell to Gordon Jackson, an example of casting against type after his success as the buttoned up butler Hudson in Upstairs Downstairs.

A number of British actors were tested for Bodie and Doyle, including Oliver Tobias, Ken Hutchinson and Simon Oates. Jon Finch successfully tested for and accepted the role of Doyle but changed his mind about playing the character. Martin Shaw, best known to audiences for appearances in popular series such as Coronation Street, Doctor in the House, Helen: A Woman of Today, Z Cars, Villains and The Duchess of Duke Street, tested at the same time and was second choice.

Anthony Andrews was signed as Bodie, but as filming commenced it was evident his chemistry with Shaw failed to deliver the required relationship between Bodie and Doyle. Lewis Collins, contracted to play a minor role in the first episode, was then approached about replacing Andrews. Shaw and Collins were wary of each other after appearing together and not quite hitting it off in 'Obsession', an episode of The New Avengers, but the producers believed their off screen animosity had potential for the on screen partnership. The two actors developed their characters and, in the process, became good friends.

The emphasis in The Professionals was on action. Tesler admired how Euston had used hand held cameras, location filming and pacy editing to transform crime dramas such as Special Branch and The Sweeney. After completing the final series of The Sweeney in 1978, many members of Euston’s crew were hired by LWT for The Professionals’ second series, produced by Raymond Menmuir. Filming on 35mm switched to 16mm to allow for the use of lighter, more portable cameras on London locations and production moved to Lee International Studios.

Facing the critics

These changes brought a welcome sense of realism to a series that clocked up 57 episodes between 1977 and 1981. Hugely popular as it was, The Professionals was criticised as a brash, violent, reactionary hybrid of recent crime adventure and police dramas, one decorated with the conspicuous consumerism of the latest fashions and cars. An unsubtle extension of The Sweeney and its BBC clone Target, it eschewed the charm and sophistication of The Avengers and the secret agent travelogue tourism of the ITC days.

Mary Whitehouse vilified it as ‘violent, uncouth and unsavoury’ and LWT withdrew ‘Klansmen’, the last episode of the first series from British screens for not entirely clear reasons other than citing its discomfort about a story that, rather crudely, exposed Bodie’s racism. This signalled the series’ emergence during a period of social and political upheaval, its characters and format both reflecting and contradicting these changes.

Permissive, misogynistic and pathologically insolent, Bodie and Doyle maintained a macho fantasy just as ‘traditional’ masculinity itself was undergoing a major reconfiguration via feminist and queer critiques. Indeed the ‘rough’ and ‘sensitive’ of the Bodie and Doyle pairing played into a homoerotic re-coding of the relationship, something not lost on both the Comic Strip’s own satire of the series in 1984, The Bullshitters, and female writers who erotically reinterpreted this bond in stories produced for fan communities in the 1980s.

Perhaps responding to Martin Shaw's own disenchantment with the role, Clemens and his writing team attempted to deflect the pervasive hypermasculinity of the series with the more sensitive characterisation of Doyle. Gradually, and particularly when Raymond Menmuir took over as producer, there was an effort to inject more characterisation into the three leads and develop a sense of realism to some of the storylines.

It was not entirely successful and The Professionals always seemed to sit uneasily between the glamorous and stereotypical machismo of Starsky and Hutch and the grittier world of its predecessor The Sweeney or spy thrillers such as Callan. Menmuir took a less fascistic tone with the series' depiction of the extreme methods employed by CI5 to deal with terrorist plots, assassinations, police corruption, miscarriages of justice, inner city racism and drug smuggling. 

If The Sweeney exposed the tensions between ‘old’ and ‘new’ policing during the 1970s, with Inspector Jack Regan symbolising these painful changes, The Professionals offered tough remedies for a dysfunctional Britain perceived as ‘the sick man of Europe’. Occasionally this 'fight fire with fire' attitude was leavened with stories that attempted to question or expose CI5’s morality as it defended the British way of life and Cowley himself often spoke up for civil rights.

The Professionals was a power fantasy mirroring the harder law and order agenda of a newly elected centre right Conservative government under Thatcher. Britain experienced IRA bombings, the Iranian Embassy siege, the Falklands and the Operation Countryman investigation into police corruption while The Professionals was on air. To emphasise this connection TV Times promoted The Professionals with a sobering article about its inspiration, the real trouble-shooters of the SAS and the Metropolitan Police Special Patrol Group whose single aim was ‘to crush terrorism’.

However, the BBC eventually challenged Bodie and Doyle’s violent escapism with Shoestring, a drama about a sensitive private investigator recovering from a nervous breakdown. Layers of characterisation replaced kicking down doors and impressive ratings saw off ITV’s competitive scheduling of The Professionals fourth season. The ITV strike of 1979, which caused financial problems for LWT, also disrupted the transmission and production of the series.

Life after The Professionals

The SAS affected Collins’ subsequent career after the series finished in 1981. While Shaw successfully returned to the stage in Alan Bleasdale’s acclaimed ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ in the mid-1980s and has since enjoyed a stable television career, Collins enlisted with the Territorials, gained the coveted Red Beret and joined the Parachute Regiment.

He applied to the SAS, passed the initial selection stages but was rejected because senior officers believed his public profile made him a security risk. Ironically, he then played SAS Captain Peter Skellen in the film Who Dares Wins. Made by former Professionals alumni Ian Sharp and Raymond Menmuir, and inspired by the SAS assault of the Iranian Embassy in 1980, it emulated the hawkishness of the series. Collins was briefly considered as a possible James Bond in 1982 but producer Albert Broccoli thought him ‘too aggressive’.

After The Professionals the crime adventure format endured with Dempsey and Makepeace and C.A.T.S Eyes but police procedurals and private investigators dominated television during the 1980s and 1990s.

It was a sign fictional representations of crime and security were reflecting the shift in crime control attitudes and equal opportunities within the occupational culture of policing. Prime Suspect and Between the Lines became the template for realistic explorations of operational issues, police corruption and institutional sexism and racism.

The 1990s saw a revival, by dint of baby boomer nostalgia, of the crime adventure genre. The Saint and The Avengers underwent dubious, uninspiring Hollywood film adaptations and the BBC produced a short-lived return of the quirky detective series, Randall and Hopkirk. After satellite channel Granada Plus achieved high ratings with their re-screening of The Professionals and the series was fondly referenced in an ad for the Nissan Almera in 1997, David Wickes, who directed episodes of the series, and creator Brian Clemens felt it was ripe for a return.

However, they struggled to sell the independently financed series to terrestrial broadcasters. Despite expanding the format of the series to encompass global terrorism and international crime, audiences did not embrace CI5 - The Professionals and UK investor and broadcaster Sky One heavily cut episodes for violent content. A mooted second series was cancelled.

In 2002 Spooks, a BBC drama firmly set in the post-9/11 global terrorism age and branded ‘MI5 not 9 – 5’, debuted. A fast paced thriller intertwining the personal lives of agents with the unrelenting ‘war on terror’ it echoed Wickes’ and Clemens’ attempts to globalise and update their franchise. Unlike The Professionals and the glossy ITC spy series of the 1960s, Spooks determined to depict male heroes making difficult choices between domestic responsibilities and maintaining the secret state. As an index of their millennial masculine insecurities, male characters sacrificed their personal lives for the public good.

These developments in crime adventure and police dramas connect with issues raised by Arthur Ellis’s 1988 play The Black And Blue Lamp. It wittily unpacked the changing television depictions of community policing and modern crime control and examined the darker side of public perceptions of crime professionals. Ellis’s deconstruction of the nostalgic but illusory yearning for a more direct way of tackling crime would be influential on Life on Mars, a series conceived in 1998 but not produced and broadcast until 2006.

Life on Mars, and its sequel Ashes to Ashes, interrogated the questionable, fictionalised views of crime and police via its unreconstructed central male character Gene Hunt. Television depictions of the police were, it suggested, nostalgic, memorialised constructions belonging to a television afterlife.

Hunt symbolised our desire to constantly resurrect and reinstate the ideal crime fighter on television, where such figures help us reconceptualise the past and render order in a chaotic modern world. A post-credits shot of George Dixon in the final episode of Ashes to Ashes, a policeman shot dead in The Blue Lamp but revived for the eponymous television series, visually acknowledged Ellis’s theme and Gene Hunt’s origins.


  • Alvarado, Manuel, and Stewart, John, Made For Television: Euston Films Limited (BFI Publishing / Thames Television, 1985).
  • Brunsdon, Charlotte, ‘Structure of anxiety: recent British television crime fiction,’ in Screen (Volume 39, Issue 3, Oxford Journals, Autumn 1998).
  • Chapman, James, Saints & Avengers: British Adventure Series of the 1960s (I.B.Tauris, 2002).
  • Cornell, Paul, Day, Martin and Topping, Keith, The Guinness Book of Classic British TV (2nd Edition, Guinness Publishing, 1996).
  • Feasey, Rebecca, Masculinity And Popular Television (Edinburgh University Press, 2013).
  • Hunt, Leon, ‘“Drop everything… including your pants!”: The Professionals and ‘hard’ action TV,’ in Osgerby, Bill and Gough-Yates, Anna (eds), Action TV: Tough Guys, Smooth Operators and Foxy Chicks, (Routledge, 2001).
  • Leishmann, Frank, ‘From Dock Green to Life on Mars: Continuity and Change in TV Copland,’ inaugural lecture at University of Gloucestershire on 7 May 2008 (The Cyder Press, 2008). 
  • Mason, Bernard, ‘The quiet killers who wage war on terror,’ in TV Times, (IPC, 28 January 1978).
  • Matthews, Dave, ‘Modus Operandi’, ‘Headquarters’, ‘Episode Guide’, ‘Lewis Collins’, The Authorised Guide to The Professionals (1996), available at, accessed between February and June 2014.
  • Robert Reiner, ‘The Dialectics of Dixon: The Changing Image of the TV Cop’, in Mike Stephens and Saul Becker (eds), Police Force, Police Service (MacMillan, 1994)
  • Rogers, Dave, The Ultimate Avengers (Boxtree/Channel 4, 1995). 
  • Rolinson, David, ‘The Blue Lamp to The Black and Blue Lamp: The police in TV Drama’, 24 April 2011, British Television Drama (2009), available at, accessed 3 March 2014.  
Penultimately: The Sweeney
Earlier: Callan and Public Eye
Last time: ITC and The Prisoner
Previously: The Avengers and Z Cars
Originally: Fabian of the Yard and Dixon of Dock Green

Coppers & Spies Revisited
Continuing with the re-written versions of the original Coppers and Spies blog posts published on the MovieMail site in 2014. Each part contains additional research material and information on the various crime and spy adventure series the original blog series covered, timed to celebrate Network's highly-anticipated release of The Professionals in high-definition last March.

5: Jack or Knave - From Special Branch to The Sweeney

Euston Films, the subsidiary of Thames Television founded in 1971 by executives Lloyd Shirley (Controller of Drama), George Taylor (Head of Film Facilities) and Brian Tesler (Director of Programmes), set out to make television faster and cheaper. It swapped studio taping for lighter film cameras, ten-day turnarounds with minimal rehearsal, non-union crews, and all-location filming. Affectionately described by the crew of The Sweeney as the ‘kick, bollock and scramble’ approach, Euston’s operation transformed television drama in the 1970s.

Prior to Euston’s formation, directors Jim Goddard and Terry Green and writer Trevor Preston had already proposed to ABC the creation of a small group to produce work on 16mm film, a gauge normally used to film inserts on location for video taped drama but not considered as a format for an entire drama's production.

Over at Thames Television George Taylor also believed there was potential to make drama on film rather than tape. The first production to test the water was director Mike Hodges’ all-16mm shoot on Preston’s 1968 children’s drama The Tyrant King. Hodges had worked with Preston, Goddard and Green on ABC’s arts documentary series Tempo and their influence on Euston’s drama output would be significant.

Shirley, impressed by Hodges’ work, commissioned him to direct two filmed television plays, ‘Suspect’ and ‘Rumour’, for the ITV Playhouse strand in late 1969. Their success convinced Shirley, Taylor and Tesler that moving to film not only made economic sense but also shifted drama towards greater realism and authenticity. The challenge for Euston was to make a complete series on film using freelance crew and equipment. 

Retooling Special Branch

To put this into practice Thames’ crime drama Special Branch underwent an overhaul. Edited by former journalist, script editor of Danger Man and The Prisoner George Markstein, it featured a British police unit, affiliated to the Metropolitan London Police and responsible for national security. Markstein ruled out consultation with the real Special Branch due to the secret nature of its work and asked his writers to use their common sense and available research.

He observed, “I regard fussy authenticity as questionable… I am against expert advisers. They tend to concentrate on small, unimportant details so that their ex-colleagues in the police won’t criticise them.” Writers such as Preston, Roger Marshall and Peter Hill, a former detective in Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, brought their considerable knowledge and experience to the series.

The series, first made in 1969 and 1970 with the standard mix of tape and film inserts, focused on cat and mouse Cold War espionage, featuring various threats to international security from terrorists, dissident students, assassins and Russian diplomats. Markstein was concerned with Special Branch’s efforts to “prevent the erosion of freedom” and felt the series was a reflection of current news headlines. Lead actor Derren Nesbitt made such an impact as DI Jordan he was guest of honour at a Special Branch dinner. Dubbed the ‘copper with a kipper tie’ by TV Times, he was the dandyish foil to co-star Wensley Pithey’s supremely grouchy DS Eden.

In 1973 Special Branch’s third series switched to shooting on 16mm film and utilised direct sound recording. Actors George Sewell and Patrick Mower, playing the harder, cynical duo of DIs Craven and Haggerty, replaced the original leads. The stories gained a grittier, realistic patina, more socio-political insights and showcased the ambiguous relationship between police and villains.

Producer Ted Childs recalled the changes to the series, “… Although I felt that Special Branch as a television film format left something to be desired, I learnt a great deal. I brought in directors I’d worked with, some with a documentary background, and really what we tried to do was incorporate the ‘wobbly-scope’ techniques of 16mm documentary film-making into a drama situation.”

The move onto film did not go smoothly. Opposed to Euston operating as a freelance film unit, the Film Production Branch of technicians’ union the ACTT disrupted filming of Special Branch, concerned that television’s move into film production would exacerbate the collapse of the UK’s old film studio system. This dispute was a catalyst to policy reform but union issues about television film production affected Van der Valk in 1976 when it graduated from taped studio production at Thames to an all-film series made by Euston.

Simultaneously writer Ian Kennedy-Martin, who had written for The Troubleshooters, Hadleigh, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, The Onedin Line, story edited Redcap and created Parkin's Patch, was discussing a new police drama with Thames. Parkin's Patch was ostensibly a variation of the Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars community policing theme. This early Yorkshire Television drama transmitted in 1969, was, no surprises given the theme, the brainchild of Elwyn Jones (see the Coppers and Spies entry on Z Cars).

Again, the series recruited an 'expert' on the unit beat policing of the time in the form of Yorkshire copper Detective Chief Superintendent Arnold Robinson. This policing, which had influenced the development of Z Cars and Softly, Softly Task Force, was distinguished by the introduction of technological changes such as patrol cars, two way radios and the introduction of intelligence-led policing where constables were briefed about crime trends and wanted suspects.

Jones recruited a number of writers from his previous police dramas, including Robert Barr, Allan Prior and Ian Kennedy-Martin. Ian also persuaded his brother Troy to contribute to the series. To describe it today as the precursor to Heartbeat is to do it some disservice and, while it didn't quite qualify as some halfway house between Softly Softly, Special Branch and The Sweeney, there were some fine episodes directed by the likes of Michael Apted and Stephen Frears and the contributions from Ian and Troy Kennedy Martin were particularly noteworthy.

Euston was open about being not particularly fond of Special Branch, despite its popularity, and Ian Kennedy-Martin, who thought it was unrepresentative of crime and policing in 1970s London, was asked to devise its replacement. He was inspired by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Robert Mark's attempts to clean up a seriously corrupted Scotland Yard with his new department A10. The Flying Squad had cultivated unsavoury connections with criminals and Mark wanted to oust corrupt officers and ensure working with informants was legitimate. Several scandals about bribery, evidence planting and corruption broke before 1978’s internal investigation, Operation Countryman.

After police officer Dave Wilson introduced him to the internecine worlds of Flying Squad coppers and East End villains, Kennedy-Martin developed a script titled McLean. Featuring a tough, alcoholic police officer drowning in bureaucracy, criminals and informants, he retitled it Regan and wanted actor John Thaw, a good friend since working together on Redcap, for the lead.

A not so Flying start

However, during Regan’s production Kennedy-Martin had a major disagreement with Childs and its original director, Douglas Camfield, over their changes to his script. He was also unhappy about Euston’s management of writers and how his honest depiction of the Flying Squad was being diluted in the name of entertainment. He soon left the production after negotiating a severance deal.

Director Tom Clegg replaced Camfield and cast the key characters. Clegg originally preferred Stanley Baker for DI Jack Regan but changed his mind when Kennedy-Martin arranged for him to meet John Thaw. Having worked with him on Special Branch, Clegg cast Dennis Waterman as DS George Carter. Respected character actor Garfield Morgan was signed as Regan’s bureaucratic boss DCI Frank Haskins, originally named Thomas Laker in Ted Childs’ writers’ brief.

Euston, confident about Regan’s success, started production on The Sweeney under the working title of The Outcasts before the play’s June 1974 Armchair Cinema transmission. Like Special Branch, it was filmed at Colet Court’s old Hammersmith school buildings (where Montgomery planned the D-Day landings) and used local London locations. Made by a committed cast and crew on tight budgets and deadlines, The Sweeney, with its iconic titles developed by director Terry Green and pounding Harry South theme, debuted January 1975.

Troy Kennedy Martin, co-creator of Z Cars, joined core writers Trevor Preston, Ranald Graham and Roger Marshall to develop his brother Ian’s format for The Sweeney. The series was a study of cynical police officers, a witty, acerbic view of their criminal nemeses and an unflattering exposé of modern policing. Its tough world and ambiguous characters were a far cry from Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars.

Although, like The Professionals, it has been somewhat eclipsed by the Comic Strip’s metafictional parodies, nostalgic references in a Nissan Almera ad and ironic reconstruction in BBC series Life On Mars, The Sweeney’s original appeal lay in the realistic relationships between the criminals and the Regan-Carter-Haskins trio and the keenly felt deleterious effects of the job on their life-work balance. The post-modern accrual of unreconstructed masculinity, the reshaping of its music, fashion sense and production modes does not diminish The Sweeney's core appeal - characters.

Regan, smoking and drinking himself to death, separated from his wife and child. Eventually, Carter’s wife Alison was murdered and Doreen Haskins suffered a breakdown. Women were victims in this violent, corrupted male dominated world and female officers were conspicuous by their absence. Equally, stories did not ignore the traumatised relatives and innocent victims of the criminal classes.

The hierarchies between villains, henchmen, informants and sympathetic police officers provided structure. Villains evading capture, failed operations and lapses of judgement were a backdrop to Regan’s clashes with Haskins and A10 over their demands for his accountability and fierce criticism of his old school policing methods.

Before the third series went into production Euston made a spin-off cinema film in partnership with EMI. David Wicks, who directed Sweeney! in the spring of 1976, compared the film to William Friedkin’s gritty 1971 police thriller The French Connection, which had partly inspired Childs, Lloyd and Shirley to set up The Sweeney in 1973. Writer Ranald Graham had the daunting prospect of transferring the series to the big screen and his script referenced 1973’s oil crisis and featured corrupt deals between UK government officials and multinational oil cartel OPEC.

The film was such a success EMI bankrolled a sequel, Sweeney 2, made in 1977 prior to filming on the final Thames series. Troy Kennedy Martin provided a script that, in spirit, was much closer to its television inspiration. The plot focused on armed robbers abandoning a seedy, economically depressed Britain for the sunny bolthole of Malta, reflecting Troy's cult caper film The Italian Job (1969) and anticipating films such as The Long Good Friday (1980) and Sexy Beast (2000).

More humour, best defined by the Morecambe and Wise escapades in the episode ‘Hearts and Minds’, was incorporated into the last series of The Sweeney but there was a very tangible sense Regan’s fall from grace was imminent and Carter had become as disenchanted as his ‘guv’. In the final episode ‘Jack or Knave’ a weary Regan, cleared of bribery charges but bitterly disillusioned with his job, climbed into a taxi and disappeared into the traffic, his resignation an acknowledgement perhaps of the public perception of the police’s tarnished reputation in 1978.

From Regan to Morse

The Sweeney influenced The Professionals and the less successful Target, one of the BBC’s first attempts at all-film crime drama series. Starring Patrick Mower, it endured a difficult production journey, hastily reformatted from a gentler, character-based drama, created by Roger Marshall and intended for actor Colin Blakely, into a hardnosed, humourless, violent series. 

Many of The Sweeney’s writers and crew worked on Target, including director David Wickes who helped its BBC film unit overcome some familiar union restrictive practices. Despite toning down violence for the second series, Target’s unsympathetic characters misfired with viewers. Writer Robert Banks Stewart’s redevelopment of Target’s third series was dropped in favour of his pitch for Shoestring.

G.F. Newman’s controversial Law & Order plays, transmitted in April 1978, went where The Sweeney feared to tread. They were an excoriating view of the judicial system from the viewpoints of the police, the criminal, the barrister and the prisoner. Their bleak, low-key, documentary realism, based on stories told to Newman by detectives, criminals and lawyers, generated a debate about the format of drama, whether such realism blurred the line between fiction and fact, and how this reflected the BBC's public service remit.

According to Newman, at a time when Thatcher was championing a new law and order agenda, uncomfortable questions about the terrible state of the criminal justice system were asked in the House of Commons and pressure applied to the BBC not to repeat or sell the series again (BBC Four did eventually repeat it and it was released on DVD in 2008).

In order to distance the plays from The Sweeney and The Professionals, producer Tony Garnett emphasised "we knew we didn't want to do a squealing tyres show" and Law and Order eschewed, as Charlotte Brunsdon notes, the social aspect of previous police dramas and preferred to unpack, with forensic detail, the operations of the police and the criminal justice system in relation to one criminal's life and his involvement in a crime. The central character of Detective Inspector Fred Pyall (a remarkable performance from Derek Martin) was seen as simply one amongst many individuals who brutally twisted the system in their favour.

However Regan’s bitterness, the conservatism of The Professionals and the corruption of Newman’s DI Pyall were juxtaposed with the BBC’s likeable Eddie Shoestring, Jim Bergerac and Euston’s own replacement Minder, Leon Griffiths’ light-hearted crime drama starring Dennis Waterman and George Cole. Ian Kennedy-Martin developed the genre further with The Chinese Detective, dealing with institutional racism, and Juliet Bravo, a revival of the community policing of Z Cars.

Like The Gentle Touch, the latter’s strong, sympathetic female police officer was placed at the centre of a male dominated profession. Indeed Stephanie Turner, who played Inspector Jean Darblay in the first three series of Juliet Bravo, indicated she had auditioned for the lead in The Gentle Touch. She saw Jean as "a career policewoman - fair, honest and with good humour. It was unusual to have this woman in authority, because previous TV police dramas were male dominated."

Both Juliet Bravo and The Gentle Touch attempted to overturn gender stereotypes and reflect the popularity of American series such as Cagney and Lacey. Juliet Bravo was also seen by the BBC as an antidote to the excessive violence of previous police dramas. These were dramas of social and cultural transition and yet were instrumental in pioneering the depiction of female police officers that would eventually lead to the critically acclaimed Prime Suspect.

Colliding together the worlds of Dixon of Dock Green and The Sweeney, Arthur Ellis also explored the changes in policing and on screen dramatisations since the 1950s in his 1988 Screenplay ‘The Black and Blue Lamp’. Ellis’s observations paralleled John Thaw’s transformation from Regan into Morse in 1987. Inspector Morse’s contemporary ‘heritage’ setting of Oxford was in vast contrast to The Sweeney’s gritty London. Yet, Morse and Regan were not dissimilar in melancholic temperament and no-nonsense attitude and, as Charlotte Brunsdon observed, ‘the two series share the invocation of what is presented as an old-fashioned integrity.’


  • Alvarado, Manuel, and Stewart, John, Made For Television: Euston Films Limited (BFI Publishing / Thames Television, 1985).
  • Brunsdon, Charlotte, ‘Structure of anxiety: recent British television crime fiction,’ in Screen (Volume 39, Issue 3, Oxford Journals, Autumn 1998).
  • Brunsdon, Charlotte, Law and Order, BFI TV Classics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)
  • Cornell, Paul, Day, Martin and Topping, Keith, The Guinness Book of Classic British TV (2nd Edition, Guinness Publishing, 1996).
  • Fairclough, Robert and Kenwood, Mike, Sweeney! The Official Companion (Reynolds & Hearn, 2002).
  • Feasey, Rebecca, Masculinity And Popular Television (Edinburgh University Press, 2013).
  • Gilbert, Pat, Shut It! The Inside Story of The Sweeney (Aurum Press, 2010).
  • Hill, Peter, ‘Murder was my business,’ in TV Times, (IPC, 17 October 1970).
  • Leishmann, Frank, ‘From Dock Green to Life on Mars: Continuity and Change in TV Copland,’ inaugural lecture at University of Gloucestershire on 7 May 2008 (The Cyder Press, 2008). 
  • Padman, Tony, 'Whatever Happened to Juliet Bravo's Stephanie Turner?' interview in Daily Express (16 March 2013)
  • Potter, John Deane, ‘Why they invented the copper with a kipper tie,’ in TV Times, (IPC, 8 August 1970).
  • Robert Reiner, ‘The Dialectics of Dixon: The Changing Image of the TV Cop’, in Mike Stephens and Saul Becker (eds), Police Force, Police Service (MacMillan, 1994)
  • Rolinson, David, ‘The ‘Appening: Parkin’s Patch (1969-70)’ 31 December 2012, British Television Drama (2009), available at
  • Rolinson, David, ‘The Blue Lamp to The Black and Blue Lamp: The police in TV Drama’, 24 April 2011, British Television Drama (2009), available at, accessed 3 March 2014.

Earlier: Callan and Public Eye
Last time: ITC and The Prisoner
Previously: The Avengers and Z Cars
Originally: Fabian of the Yard and Dixon of Dock Green

COPPERS & SPIES REVISITED - A Man Alone: Callan and Public Eye

Coppers & Spies Revisited
Continuing with the re-written versions of the original Coppers and Spies blog posts published on the MovieMail site in 2014. Each part contains additional research material and information on the various crime and spy adventure series the original blog series covered, timed to celebrate Network's highly-anticipated release of The Professionals in high-definition last March.

4: A Man Alone - Callan and Public Eye

In February 1967 ABC transmitted an Armchair Theatre play entitled ‘A Magnum For Schneider’ and introduced viewers to writer James Mitchell’s volatile, ill-natured and cynical spy David Callan. Disgraced from the Section, an anonymous branch of the British security services run by a boss code-named Hunter, he was recruited again to eliminate Schneider, a gunrunner posing as a German businessman.

Mitchell embarked late on a successful career as a novelist in 1957. Previously a teacher, actor, civil servant, shipyard worker, barman, officer cadet and travel courier, he claimed, “Even the idea of writing fiction didn’t occur to me till I was over 30.” In 1960 Sydney Newman, Head of Drama at ABC, asked him to adapt his novel A Way Back, about a former Communist blackmailed to steal the blueprints of a new bomb, into a play ‘A Flight From Treason’ for Armchair Mystery Theatre.

Birth of an existential hero

Mitchell, a full-time writer in 1965, sold the script for Callan’s debut, ‘A Magnum For Schneider’, to BBC’s Detective but it languished unproduced. He bought the play back and offered it to Armchair Theatre story editor Terence Feely. Feely saw its potential and, with producer Leonard White and casting director Dodo Watts, considered actors for the key roles of reluctant spy Callan, his antagonistic boss Hunter and the informant with the personal hygiene problem, Lonely.

White’s casting suggestion for Callan was Edward Woodward. Woodward was impressed with the script, personally delivered to him by Watts, and cancelled his family holiday to play the role. He drove his wife and children to Devon but then immediately returned to London by train to attend his first rehearsal in the part.

Watts also admired actor, former shipyard worker and stand up comedian Russell Hunter for his Shakespearian talents and recommended him for Lonely. Played by a series of actors, like the ever-changing Number 2 in The Prisoner, the character of Hunter was first realised by White’s choice Ronald Radd and joining him in the play was Peter Bowles as his bright but sadistic young acolyte Toby Meres.

Sensing ABC was looking for a replacement for Redcap, the series about military police starring John Thaw, Feely worked with Mitchell and paid him £150 to develop a series pitch for Brian Tesler, Director of Programmes, and Lloyd Shirley, Controller of Drama, at ABC. In December 1966, on the strength of ‘Schneider’ and the pitch, they commissioned six episodes of what would become Callan before the play’s transmission.

In Callan’s world, the pitch offered, ‘the reality doesn’t come from atomic fountain pens or poisoned wall-paper: it comes from people. And some of them are very ordinary people, caught up in extraordinary situations.’ This was the antithesis of the onscreen escapades of James Bond and John Steed. Callan was a killer vulnerable to mixing the personal with the professional in a series that embraced the gritty, unglamorous twilight world of Len Deighton and John le Carre’s spy fiction.

Speaking to the TV Times in 1972, Mitchell indicated Callan possibly originated in a Spaniard, Paco, he encountered while teaching English in Spain during the 1950s: "He spied, I learned later, against the regime in Spain. There was no doubt in his mind that the revolution would come, and when it did, everyone had to be ready, with weapons, training, information. And information meant spies like Paco. He had contacts everywhere, even in the police."

DRAMA AND DELIGHT: The Life of Verity Lambert / Book Review

If you're expecting some huge revelations about Verity Lambert's tenure as producer of Doctor Who in Richard Marson's new book Drama and Delight - The Life and Times of Verity Lambert then you'll probably be disappointed.

As the author emphatically declares, Verity Lambert was so much more than the first producer of the legendary science fiction series, a fitting accolade in and of itself. Marson therefore traces her early upbringing, schooling and employment as a secretary at ITV before her move to the BBC and her continuing success as a producer and executive with London Weekend and Thames Television, Euston Films, Thorn-EMI and finally her own production company Cinema Verity.

Just as the book essays her professional triumphs and disasters in the entertainment industry, producing a wonderful boardroom drama about the comings and goings of working at the BBC or ITV with plenty of anecdotes from friends and colleagues, so it also charts the choppy waters of her personal life and both the delight and disappointment she found in her friendships and relationships. You certainly get the sense that Verity enjoyed a challenge, dealing with rival producers or difficult writers or juggling a career with marriage, Great Danes and volatile friendships.

As the television industry changed, from the technical and production developments at BBC and ITV to the launch of Channel Four and to the impact of John Birt's much criticised 'producer choice' at the BBC that ushered in the rise of the independent sector, Marson shows Verity taking on these upheavals with determination. The climate for making good drama radically alters between the 1960s and the 1990s but this woman always seemed to be in the thick of it, maintaining the quality of her productions until her demise.

Coppers & Spies Revisited
Continuing with the re-written versions of the original Coppers and Spies blog posts published on the MovieMail site in 2014. Each part contains additional research material and information on the various crime and spy adventure series the original blog series covered, timed to celebrate Network's highly-anticipated release of The Professionals in high-definition last March.

3: We Want Information - ITC and The Prisoner

Mention the acronym ITC to a certain generation and it conjures up memorable images: Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds machines, Roger Moore and his saintly halo, Number Six being menaced by a huge white balloon and Jason King’s outré wardrobe. Formed in 1954 by Charleston champion and talent agent Lew Grade, Incorporated Television Company was a subsidiary of ITV franchise ATV and first made an impact in the 1950s with filmed period adventure series featuring Robin Hood, William Tell and Sir Lancelot.

Grade was ‘a shrewd judge of public taste’ and financed dramas and light entertainment series with an emphasis on mass popular appeal. 1955’s The Adventures of Robin Hood demonstrated his prowess for securing co-production deals and ensuring sales of British made television to the major US networks. It paved the way for the international success of Gerry Anderson’s puppet and live action series and ITC’s cult spy and crime adventure dramas of the 1960s.

ITC’s major advantage was to shoot on film rather than record on tape, the industry standard adopted at the time by the BBC and other ITV commercial franchises. High quality, export-ready filmed productions shot on location and in technically sophisticated British film studios were more appealing to the lucrative US television market. ITC eventually generated $100 million for the UK economy and received a Queen’s Award for Export.

The company became synonymous with its crime adventure series, beginning in the 1960s with Danger Man, The Saint, The Baron, Man In A Suitcase, The Prisoner, The Champions, Department S, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and ending in the 1970s with The Persuaders! and Jason King.

All predominantly featured male secret agents, freelance troubleshooters, private investigators and amateur sleuths and embellished this male dominance with an emphasis on style, production values and Britishness. Each series also had an iconic title sequence, often designed by Chambers and Partners, and memorable theme music composed by the likes of Edwin Astley, Tony Hatch, Ron Grainer or John Barry.

Beneath the surface of what could now be viewed as conservative, misogynist and sexist male stereotypes lay Grade’s willingness to support the ‘questioning of taken-for-granted assumptions.’ This is perhaps best showcased by The Prisoner’s unique perspective on the genre, as a disquieting alter ego to the equally playful The Avengers, and the fantasy elements that delineated the formats of The Champions and Randall and Hopkirk. Jason King was itself, perhaps unintentionally, a satirical view of the format and one constructed entirely from the clichés of the ITC back catalogue.

These programmes consolidated ITC’s export drive in the 1960s and on the back of this it promoted a wide range of male heroic types. Although they offered various performances of masculinity, which expressed certain changes in attitudes and values during the explosion of British popular culture in that decade, these series globalised the crime and action genre and created heroes with transnational appeal.

SHERLOCK HOLMES - The Classic 1965 BBC TV Series / BFI DVD Review

In the pantheon of celebrated Sherlock Holmes adaptations there is one BBC television series that tends to get overlooked. In 1965 the BBC produced a series of faithful adaptations of 13 Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories starring Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock. The series is perhaps unfairly eclipsed by the colour series made by the BBC two years later starring Peter Cushing, fewer episodes of which survive, and the Granada series that consumed much of the 1980s and 1990s and the energies of actor Jeremy Brett.

However, you can judge Wilmer's and Stock's celebrated interpretations for yourselves when the BFI release the remaining episodes of Sherlock Holmes on a 4-DVD set this month. Previously available as a Region 1 set, this new release features commentaries, interviews and using the remaining archive footage, the reconstruction of two episodes.

Before and since Holmes has been reinterpreted many times on radio, film and television with the latest incarnations being the Guy Ritchie action films, the contemporary restaging of the characters and stories in Steven Moffat's hugely successful Sherlock and the CBS police procedural Elementary featuring Jonny Lee Miller. Holmes and Watson are a very prolific presence among the roll call of iconic British literary myths - including King Arthur, Robin Hood, Dracula - that have continued into the 21st Century, joining modern legends such as James Bond, Harry Potter and the Doctor.

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