The Champions – Twelve Hours

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Oh dear, we’re back at the Holy Loch submarine base. Let’s take a deep breath and dive, dive, dive.

Sharron and Richard have been given the job of minding an Eastern European President called Drobnic (Henry Gilbert). Together with his wife (played by Viola Keats) they visit the submarine HMS Weatherby, but tragedy strikes when a bomb explodes which sends the sub to the bottom of the loch.

Whilst Sharron attends to the injured Drobnic, Richard – assuming command following the death of the captain – faces delicate decisions of life and death …

Anybody who’s read my Champions reviews to date will know that I’ve struggled with the series’ previous submarine episodes. But I’m fully prepared to approach this one with an open mind (although I have to confess that my heart sunk just a little when the Nemesis map zoomed in on Holy Loch).

We begin in day for night mode, with a group of shifty types doing shifty things. The pre-credits teaser is rather low on excitement, indeed it’s chiefly memorable for some rather obvious dubbing.

Craig takes this week’s superpowers demonstration. It proves that he can walk up thirty flights of stairs very quickly whilst also carrying a large collection of parcels for a pretty young lady. That’s handy.

Into the story proper, it’s not long before a sweet little model submarine finds itself on the bed of the loch. Whilst Richard and Sharron take stock, I find myself wondering exactly why Drobnic’s enemies decided to sabotage the submarine. Surely there must have been easier ways to kill him?

After all, you’d assume that security at Holy Loch would be pretty tight. But obviously not, since the baddies were able (although we’re not given specifics about exactly how they did it) to pop a bomb on the HMS Weatherby without anybody noticing.

Viola Keats goes into full overacting mode as a hysterical Mrs Drobnic confronts Sharron. Luckily Sharron is more than a match for her and sedates the woman before she gets too annoying. Meanwhile, Richard is clashing with a surly chief engineer called Raven (Mike Pratt). Pratt adds a touch of class to the story – it’s Raven’s conflict with Richard and Sharron that provides the episode with a dollop of drama.

Richard’s priority is to keep Drobnic alive. The way he persuades a reluctant Sharron to operate is noteworthy, as are his clashes with Raven and the rest of the crew. Until the operation is complete he won’t allow them to move the sub – naturally enough, the others aren’t too keen to potentially sacrifice their lives just so Drobnic can live.

That Drobnic is dismissively referred to as a “butcher” hints at a complexity the script doesn’t really possesses. The President is only given a handful of lines before the bomb goes off and none of them address his morality or character.

If Drobnic remains undeveloped, then the same goes for his opponents. More could have been done with both sides, but they’re clearly just story elements designed to create the crisis situation.

Twelve Hours lacks the same sort of slowly increasing claustrophobic terror as, say, the UFO episode Subsmash. Even when the air is getting pretty low, Richard and Sharron greet the news with equanimity. No doubt this is due to their superpowers (while the crew are staggering about, barely able to breathe, our heroes hardly break into a sweat) but it does sap the episode of tension.

This also goes for the way that Sharron needs very little persuading before popping on a set of scrubs and going into major surgery mode on Drobnic. Especially since surgery isn’t really a skill of hers.

The best submarine episode of the series so far (admittedly that’s only a low bar to jump over) this one rates a decent score of three out of five.

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The Champions – The Night People

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Strange things be happening down in Cornwall, the most notable being a poacher frightened to death by a mysterious white robed figure. Sharron, arriving in the area on holiday, discovers some further odd occurrences. At the Manor House, both Douglas Trennick and his wife (Terence Alexander and Adrienne Cori) seem to know more than they’re letting on.

Mrs Trennick, owner of the local witchcraft museum, later tells Craig that supernatural forces are at work. Is that so? Maybe there’s a more rational explanation ….

The Night People offers a nice change of pace for the series, opening with a series of cliché spooky shots (a deserted graveyard at twilight, ominously rustling trees, etc).  Poor old Michael Bilton, as Dan Dan the poacher man, is marked out as someone who won’t make it past the pre-credits sequence.

We’re firmly in Avengers territory here – a seemingly idyllic country village which nevertheless holds a dark secret (and one which most of the villagers seem to be in on). This is made clear by the quick glance the apparently affable publican Porth (David Lodge) gives to one of his customers after Dan leaves on his poaching business.

The usual format is shaken up a little as we don’t have the regular Geneva briefing scene with Tremayne. This helps to keep the audience on their toes – Sharron arrives to a shifty welcome from Porth and the others, but to begin with we don’t know why she’s there. Surely the death of a humble poacher wouldn’t have got Nemesis’ alarm bells ringing?

That seems to be so (it’s just a remarkable coincidence she’s turned up at a place where the oddest things are happening).  As the story wears on it’s noticeable that although Dan’s death was a good early hook for the audience, it’s a part of the plot which our heroes only briefly interact with.

We’re then treated to a spot of carnival footage. At first I wondered if the ITC telecine operator had selected the wrong reel, but no, this is by way of illustrating that Richard and Craig are currently abroad on an unspecified mission. I love the banter between them – Richard’s expenses claim is remarkably modest whilst Craig’s is a little staggering (including a new suit). Tremayne won’t like that.

Sharon meets the affable Trennick. Easy to spot that he’s a wrong-un though as everyone else in the house, such as his wife and his devoted butler Hoad (Jerold Wells), exchange ominous looks. There’s an awful lot of ominous looks exchanged in this episode.

It’s nice to see Sharron initiating events rather than trailing several paces behind the boys (although it’s obvious that they’ll arrive eventually to take care of the stong arm stuff). Still, I’ll give top marks out for the fact that Sharron doesn’t scream when surrounded by the white robed figures.

When Richard and Craig arrive, they don’t find Sharron – in fact it seems like she was never there at all. The boys set off to investigate, Craig running into a clerk played by Frank Thornton (a nice little cameo) whilst Richard tangles with Trennick.

Craig then visits the local witchcraft museum and interviews Mrs Trennick. As an obvious sceptic, he finds it hard to keep a straight face (which contrasts well with her lightly simmering hysteria). It’s left to the viewer to decide whether Mrs Trennick actually has supernatural powers – she certainly believes so ….

Given how Avengers-lite this episode feels, it’s surprising that Donald James only wrote one episode for that series (Have Guns, Will Haggle). The Night People drips with a hammy atmosphere, but the longer the mystery is spun out the more you sense that the resolution will turn out to be slightly disappointing.

The guest performances are strong, with even some of the uncredited turns (such as Josephine Tewson’s shifty switchboard operator) catching the eye. It’s always fun to see Craig and Richard teamed up, especially since by this point in the series the pair are in full quipping mode. Sharron’s separate plotline is quite strong, although it’s a pity that for plot reasons she has to disappear during the middle of the episode.

It’s not flawless, but I’ll still rate it a solid four out of five.

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Peter Wyngarde biography due February 2020

A biography of the legendary cult actor Peter Wyngarde is due to be published on the 28th of February 2020 by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd 

Written by his long-term partner and soulmate Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins, the press release states that the book will reveal the real man behind the colourful public image whilst not shying away from the controversy that surrounded his personal life. 

Most people who worked with Wyngarde seem to have formed strong opinions about him – either pro or negative – so I look forward to this book with great interest.

The Champions – The Ghost Plane

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An American aircraft is destroyed by a new weapon, nicknamed ‘the Ghost Plane’. The Champions follow a winding trail that eventually leads them to a Cambridge scientist called Dr John Newman (Andrew Keir). After the British declined to fund his high speed plane he sold it to the highest bidders – the Chinese.

Paul Grist, who would play an American several times during his career (he’d later pop up as the super cool secret agent Bill Filer in the Doctor Who story The Claws of Axos) appears in the pre-credits sequence as the pilot downed by the Ghost Plane.

Hardened Doctor Who watchers will also instantly recognise John Brandon (who was the Sergeant in The Tenth Planet). Brandon was actually an American, although whenever you see an American character on British television during the sixties or seventies you do tend to believe that it must be a British actor putting on a voice ….

The post credits superpower demonstration sees Craig running at top speed to stop a runaway van careering into a group of children. Watching this, it’s easy to understand why Dennis Spooner believed that The Six Million Dollar Man had ripped off his format.

The story then moves to the Alps, where Richard and Sharron are happily waiting to follow a link in the trail. There are several very unconvincing back projection shots which do their best to convince us that our two heroes are actually on location and not stuck in the studio.

Lurking about the Alps and elsewhere is Hilary Tindall (as Vanessa). Tindall’s an actress who’s always worth watching – if you haven’t got it, then my tip for the day is The Brothers boxset. She’s wonderful as the man-eating Ann Hammond.

Meanwhile Craig is back at base, searching for clues. Hmm, the first newspaper he stumbles across has a banner headline about Dr Newman’s abandoned plane design. I get the feeling that today’s episode isn’t going to be the tightest plotted one we’ve ever seen.

We later learn that Vanessa is Dr Newman’s girlfriend. Both seen shocked to learn that the plane is now being produced by an unfriendly power, but we already know that Vanessa is a wrong ‘un (and it’s not long before Newman also shows his true colours).

Andrew Keir does his best, but Newman is a very lightly sketched character. He’s a familiar enough type (a disgruntled genius selling his invention to the highest bidders) but we never really learn why or see any hesitation from him concerning the possible consequences of his actions.

If I’ve sometimes raised an eyebrow about the way that Sharron tends to get sidelined when it comes to the rough stuff, then it’s nice to see her tailing Vanessa solo. Although this is slightly tempered by the way Newman captures her with ridiculous ease. Possibly she needs to go back to secret agent school.

She’s now in a tight spot – locked in a freezer with only a limited time left. Luckily she has a link with Richard who has a link with Craig. But since Craig was nearest, why didn’t she contact him directly?

I love the moment when Sharron (after being rescued by Craig) gives Richard a big hug when he arrives. She tells him this is purely her way of trying to get warm again, as Craig only gave her his coat! I find it difficult to believe that Craig wouldn’t have given her a hug if she’d asked him nicely.

It’s interesting the way that The Champions always favoured the Chinese over the Russians as top bogeymen. Possibly there was something of a détente in the late sixties or maybe the series was just attempting to future proof by selecting a different adversary.

The Ghost Plane is assembled with the usual efficiency, but the story doesn’t have a great deal of depth. It feels rather Bondian in places (the scenes set in the Alps look nice, even though they could have easily taken place in London). It’s a disappointment that Andrew Keir was somewhat wasted, so I’ll give this one a score of three and a half out of five.

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The Champions – Get Me Out Of Here!

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Professor Anna Maria Martes (Frances Cuka), on a visit back to her homeland (the tiny island of San Dios), is placed under house arrest by the corrupt ruling junta. They want to take the credit for her discoveries and intend to keep her a prisoner on the island. The Champions have other ideas though …

We’re back on a train for the post credits superpower demonstration (clearly this one was recorded at the same time as Richard’s rather rude crossword completing). Today it’s Sharron who gets a chance to shine – foiling a respectable looking sneak thief by using her powers to see in the dark. Oh, and she looks gorgeous in this scene.

There’s something a little off-putting about the way that our three heroes refer to Tremayne by his surname. Why don’t they call him sir?

This episode has the sort of cast list which gets my pulse racing (Philip Madoc, Ronald Radd, Eric Pohlmann). My joy at seeing Madoc was slightly tempered by his silly wig and moustache but the fact he’s been dubbed is a much more serious problem. In many ways his voice was his fortune – robbed of that, he’s incredibly diminished. Madoc plays Angel Martes, the former husband of Anna Maria. It’s a decent comic role which is totally destroyed by the dubbing.

Luckily Radd was permitted to keep his own voice and so oozes silky villainy as the Commandante. A wonderful actor who died far too young (amazingly he was only in his late thirties when this episode was filmed) I could watch him do his thing all day.

Pohlmann was another one of those incredibly dependable actors. He’s the very model of solid respectability as the Minister – a man with a thin veneer of affability masking something very nasty indeed. The Minister’s meeting with Anna Maria is short, but not at all sweet.

We’re back in one of those fictitious South American counties so beloved of ITC film series. For the location work this means that a few exotic plants have been dotted outside various London buildings. It’s as convincing as ever (i.e. not very).

Craig meets with Anna Maria in her apartment. He’s clever enough to realise that the room is bugged, but doesn’t stop to consider that there may be a hidden camera as well. Tsk! That’s a little careless.

This moment serves not only to diminish Craig’s aura as a top agent but it’s also a slightly clumsy way of placing Anna Maria under heavy guard which makes it much harder for the Champions to spring her. She’s now in a building known locally as “the butcher’s shop”. This conjures up many disturbing images although you won’t be surprised to learn that anything nasty happens firmly off-screen.

It may be irksome when one of the regulars takes a week off, but it’s quite understandable as finding interesting things for three people to do can be problematic. And so it proves here – they all get a decent share of the action, but none of them do anything that really stands out.

There are a few plot dead-ends as well. Sharron phones Angel Martes and it seems that their interaction will be key, but nothing really comes of this.

Get Me Out Of Here! is watchable but not top drawer. The guest roles aren’t too substantial, although Ronald Radd gets the most to do (Philip Madoc’s dubbing is a major minus point though). Frances Cuka feels a little colourless as Anna Maria, but this may just be the way her role was underwritten. The final shoot out looks very unconvincing – The Champions was never a gritty sort of ITC series, but the direction here is especially off-kilter.

Three out of five is a generous score for a somewhat flawed episode.

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The Champions – The Gilded Cage

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Richard is abducted, spirited over to London and awakes to find himself in a beautiful flat, albeit one with bars on the windows. He’s been given a lovely companion – Samantha (Jennie Linden) – but soon discovers there’s a deadly twist.

Unless he can crack a complex code in twelve hours, Samantha will die ….

The pre credits sequence reveals that Tremayne sleeps at Nemesis HQ (I guess it fits his workaholic profile). The poor chap gets a bash on the bonce for his trouble after disturbing midnight prowlers (who include a young-ish Tony Caunter).

The post credits superpower demonstration scene sees Richard completing an old chap’s crossword puzzle in double quick time. Is it just me or does this seem remarkably rude?

Not only do we get to see Treymayne relaxing at home (sort of) we also later observe Richard at his pad. I like his stereogram, not to mention his comfy cardy. But alas he’s not given a great deal of time to spin his classical records (something which marks him out as a man of culture) as he’s soon smuggled away from Geneva in a carpet.

It’s funny how the Champions’ superpowers come and go. Richard is very easily knocked out with a single blow – I’d have expected a little more fight from him. Also, since Tremayne knew that Richard was in danger (his file was the one pinched from Nemesis HQ) it seems a little remiss that Craig only ambled over the following morning to keep an eye on him. As by then he was already on his way to London.

Sharron – relaxing in a bikini on what appears to be a freezing cold London day (Alexandra Bastedo was a trooper) – takes the news of Richard’s disappearance rather calmly. Make the most of her in this scene as that’s her lot today (Craig’s the one who sets off in hot pursuit of his chum).

As soon as Richard wakes up, he begins to flirt outrageously with Samantha. But there’s the sense that he’s well aware of the game being played out (does he really form a bond with the girl or is he just manipulating her?). Gaunt and Linden interact with each other very nicely, although I can’t help wondering who undressed Richard and popped him into those crisp new pyjamas.

Tremayne and Craig scratching their heads in Geneva, doggedly attempting to track Richard down, isn’t the most exciting part of the episode. Neither is the McGuffin (the code that needs to be cracked).  Richard ‘s luxurious imprisonment is nicely handled though – there are definite Prisoner vibes at work here (the flat doesn’t duplicate his apartment, but does include copies of some of his possessions, such as his favourite records).

It’s a while before we meet Symons (John Carson), the man responsible for the kidnap. But when he does eventually appear the episode clicks into another gear.

Carson was one of those actors who never disappointed. He was rarely a lead performer, but his playing was always perfectly pitched (no matter how good or bad the script was). The combative relationship between Symons and Richard is instantly established with Gaunt and Carson both seeming to relish the character confict they’ve been gifted.

As noted before, both William Gaunt and Stuart Damon clearly loved a bit of comedy business. Today it’s Damon who gets the chance to indulge himself when Craig poses as a central heating salesman paying a visit on Samantha. Maybe the scene was played as scripted, but I get the sense that there might just have been a little bit of ad-libbing.

The Gilded Cage clicks whenever Linden and Carson are on screen, either separately or together. Just what is the relationship between Symons and Samantha? Is she an innocent dupe, an active collaborator or something else? Is his threat to kill her serious?

Their interactions and typically good turns from Gaunt and Damon means that this episode rates a score of four out of five.

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The Champions – To Trap A Rat

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London is gripped by a wave of drug deaths, which leads Sharron to pose as a junkie desperately in search of her next fix. Some dogged detective work then leads the Champions to the zoo and a peanut seller (the drugs are hidden inside the peanuts). But the danger has only just begun ….

This is apparently a recycled script for the never made fourth series of Danger Man (Ralph Smart’s name on the script is a bit of a giveaway). If so, it would explain why the episode feels a little out of place.

We’re deep in the heart of swinging London, although for some – like Jane Purcell (Kate O’Mara) – it’s nothing but a nightmare. Whilst the rest of the Beautiful People (and there’s some real types here) are swaying along to an anonymous library track in a hip and happening nightclub, she’s staggering about the place in a daze, desperately in search of a fix.

This pre-credits sequence serves its purpose though – it allows Smart to quickly inform the audience that whilst Jane was lucky (an ambulance gets to her in time) thousands of others may not be so fortunate if the source of these dodgy drugs aren’t discovered.

O’Mara gives her all as the frantic Jane (it’s quite a small role though). It’s interesting that the Champions are happy to treat her as a disposable pawn – they hope she’ll take them to the pusher, but don’t seem too bothered about the possibility that one more fix might lead to her death.

Why was it decided that Sharron would make the best addict? The inference seems to be that this drug only appeals to attractive young women. Which is odd.

Sharron transforms herself into an addict with the help of a pair of dark glasses and a spot of overacting. The pusher, Frank Edwards (Michael Standing), is suitably menacing although Sharron is still easily able to tag him with a tracking device. It’s quite a hefty object (haven’t Nemesis ever heard of miniaturisation?)

The trip to the zoo is as unsettling as Jane’s bad nightclub trip, since all the animals seems particularly noisy and threatening today. The sight of a jolly peanut seller (played by Toke Townley) immediately gets the Champions’ alarm bells ringing. But surely there must be an easier way of distributing the drugs than through peanuts? And what happens if the seller gives an unsuspecting punter a bag of peanuty drugs?

I love the way that after Sharron has done all the hard work, the boys tell her to stay in the car as they’re clearly the ones who need to tail the pusher! At least all three are involved in the end of episode punch up, so that’s some recompense.

Richard’s confrontation with Frank is good fun. Not only does he indulge in a spot of fisticuffs, he also gets to fix him with his powerful stare. William Gaunt’s piercing eyes are put to good use here

Craig and Richard, as we’ve seen before, are alpha males. So when they stumble across an attractive female suspect, Sandra (Edina Ronay), there’s a certain amount of squabbling about who’ll get first crack at her (as it were).

Craig is the lucky one, rushing to Sandra’s defence after naughty Richard steals her bag. Stuart Damon’s acting in this scene is quite the thing. Clearly that day he decided that he wouldn’t go for the subtle approach.

A late appearance by Guy Rolfe as the uppercut drugs kingpin adds a touch a class to the story. Plus, whenever you see Alan ‘Chuntzy’ Chuntz lurking about you just know that a spot of havoc isn’t far away. 

It’s a real sign of the times that Richard and Sharron were able to track down the baddy by working out when and where the coalman makes his deliveries. A different time ….

To Trap A Rat isn’t perfect, but the shots of late sixties London are very entertaining (plus at least this story wasn’t set on a submarine). I’ll give it an indulgent four out of five.

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