The Champions – A Case of Lemmings

Three Interpol agents commit suicide in Paris. A strange coincidence or was there outside interference? No surprises that it’s the latter and soon the Champions are heading out to Rome in order to confront Mafia kingpin Del Marco (Edward Brayshaw) …

I do appreciate the spot of local colour we see during the second of the three deaths. This unfortunate Interpol chap is suddenly struck with an uncontrollable urge to jump from a fast-moving train – which he does whilst a baguette-chomping young lady looks on in horror. Nothing says France like a nice baguette.

Once again, The Champions comes up trumps with its guest stars. Edward Brayshaw may forever be associated with Rentaghost but there were plenty of other strings to his bow. For example, I’ve always loved his loopy turn in Moonbase 3, a series which I enjoy with a slightly unhealthy passion.

Brayshaw oozes oily villainy, easily suggesting that underneath Del Marco’s suave exterior something rather nasty lurks. And after spending the last few episodes doing very little, it’s nice to see Sharron back in the thick of the action. After receving a new hairdo she’s sent to seduce Del Marco (this does rather reinforce the notion that Sharron’s prime function is decorative though).

But at least it means that all three regulars are given an equal share of the action. Sharron vamping it up in the casino (where she meets Del Marco) is the highlight for me, although Craig’s entertaining overacting (for a few minutes he’s the dead spit of Jimmy Cagney) is also a wonder to behold.

Del Marco invites Sharron back to his apartment for a spot of champagne and …. well you know.  But their canoodling is interrupted by Craig lurking outside (this is all part of their masterplan). Our heroes reason that if one of them can upset Del Marco, he’ll unleash his suicide trick on them.

I can see one or two flaws here. What happens if Del Marco decides that a bullet would be quicker? You also have to question the wisdom of Del Marco using his suicide drug on so many people ….

Richard doesn’t get much of a comedy turn this time round, but he does get to indulge in a spot of investigative questioning. Indeed all three do this early in the episode, which gives the impression that the episode could have slotted quite easily into a number of other ITC series. 

John Bailey, as Umberto, adds a little touch of class even if his Italian accent (like Brayshaw’s) isn’t the most convincing you’ll ever hear.

Del Marco is an unforgiving boss. After Craig fails to succumb to the suicide drug, the Don has no compunction in killing Umberto (its creator). That seems a tad harsh given all the good work Umberto had done for him. Still, it means that Umberto’s dying act proves to Del Marco in a rather permanent way that the drugs still work. I love a bit of poetic justice.

Is it just me, or does the backlot used for Paris look very much like the Rome one? I know they were the same, but surely a spot of redressing could have made this less obvious.

A Case of Lemmings isn’t the most complex of episodes, but it slips by quite agreeably and is worth a score of three out of five.

The Three Musketeers. Part One – Enemies

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The Three Musketeers was a ten part serial, broadcast on BBC1 between November 1966 and January 1967. It was adapted by Anthony Steven, directed by Peter Hammond and starred Jeremy Brett (D’Artagnan), Brian Blessed (Porthos), Jeremy Young (Athos) and Gary Watson (Aramis).

With the sequel serial, The Further Adventures of the Musketeers, due to be released on DVD next month, it seems the ideal time to dig out The Three Musketeers for a rewatch. Although it’s never had an official UK release, the Koch DVD from 2006 seems to play perfectly well on R2 machines, even though the packaging states that it’s R1.   Whilst it looks like an unrestored telerecording, the picture quality is actually pretty decent (I’ve certainly sat through far worse).

As you’d expect from a BBC production of this era, the studio scenes were taped pretty much sequentially with any outdoor sequences pre-recorded on film and played into the studio via telecine. The “as live” nature of this type of recording meant that it was rare to stop recording for minor technical issues, so there will always be some wonky camera movements and line fluffs.

Some of the shots, right from the start, are slightly odd though – which makes me wonder whether they were actually chosen by Peter Hammond.  A good case in point is the opening scene, where D’Artagnan’s father hands him a sword, tells him he’s now a man and urges him to make his way in the world. The opening dialogue comes from D’Artagnan’s father, but the camera is positioned behind him, so we can’t see his face. The camera then closes in for an extreme close up of the sword’s hilt as D’Artagnan wields it for the first time – but why don’t we see Brett’s face? It’s slightly odd.

As is Brett’s performance. Later to become something of a national treasure for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, he’s a little hammy to begin with – although once he falls in with the Musketeers he does improve somewhat. Having been told by his father that a gentleman never refuses a fight, D’Artagnan, when arriving at a tavern, doesn’t back away from a tussle with Rochefort (Edward Brayshaw) who is amused by D’Artagnan’s mode of transport (a rather weedy looking pony). Brayshaw, even with his stick on beard, is wonderful in his opening scene – mocking and controlled, contrasting very well with Brett’s hysteria. Since D’Artagnan is supposed to be something of a callow youth it’s understandable that he’s easily riled, although this makes the casting of the thirty-three year old Brett a slightly strange decision.

Rochefort declines his offer of a fight, but D’Artagnan still doesn’t shy away from single-handidly taking on three others. As this was shot on film, the fight is nicely cut together and it’s something of a treat – complete with over-dramatic music. Once D’Artagnan has been dealt with, Rochefort keeps his rendezvous with the alluring Milady de Winter (Mary Peach).

After his diversion with Rochefort, D’Artagnan has a meeting with de Treville (Martin Miller), the leader of the Musketeers. Although Rochefort steals the letter of introduction provided by D’Artagnan’s father, he’s still readily accepted – which makes Rochefort’s actions seem a little pointless. We then meet the three Muskeeters. Brian Blessed is excellent throughout the serial, an ideal Porthos, Watson gives Aramis a cultured, amused air whilst we don’t really get to grips with Jeremy Young’s Athos until later on.

Although the humour isn’t overt, it’s still there (especially if you regard Brett’s overplaying as ironic) and this is clearly demonstrated at the episode’s close as D’Artagnan manages to upset Athos, Porthos and Aramis independently within the space of a few minutes. This means they all challenge him to a duel, so it appears he’s going to be killed three times over!

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