Network on Air (studio)
750min approx (length)
02 July 2018 (released)
29 July 2018
In many respects this 3-Disc box set can be seen as a tribute if you will to the speculative genius that was the late Lord Grade - the seemingly all-powerful mogul who was the controlling power behind the ATV network. Lord Grade seldom backed a loser, as this never less than interesting set will testify.
The kind of TV shows that were shown by ATV were simply streets ahead of most of the other shows being seen at the time; for a start a great many of them were made on film (celluloid that is) and not crappy old video tape. Which explains why so much of this stuff still looks so good as opposed to a series like ADAM ADAMANT (a pity that wasn't an ATV production).
To begin then at the beginning... well, that is perhaps a little difficult as the shows/episodes presented here are out of sequence (not that that should spoil your enjoyment of the set). Sadly there is not enough space here to even give a brief synopsis of all 20 shows features but let’s try.
First up on Disc 1 is THE PERSUADERS! (1971), featuring a lush theme from composer John Barry. This was conceived as a feature for Tony Curtis (here playing Danny Wilde, a Wall Street stock market millionaire) and Sir Roger Moore (as the aristocratic Lord Brett Sinclair though it could just as easily have been Simon Templar) as a pair of adventure-loving playboys from totally different backgrounds. The series was costly, great fun but with not a great deal of depth - but hey, that wasn't the point. There were 24 episodes in all and it was very popular at time. The story was that despite the apparent on-screen chemistry the stars didn't hit it off as well as expected, having a different approach or something like that. And it didn't do well in the States - a pity that. RANDALL AND HOPKIRK (DECEASED) - who are a pair of Private investigators - was an interesting idea, the latter gets bumped off in the first episode and returns as a ghost but it is only his partner, Jeff Randall (played by Mike Pratt) who can see and hear him; this by default is a great help to them in their investigations. Kenneth Cope (as Marty Hopkirk) and Pratt make a good team. The plot, however, in this episode is simply absurd beyond belief. Jeff is being held captive and has been replaced by a man wearing a rubber mask (which is why he can't see or hear Marty). Amazing he's even got his accent down to a tee. DEPARTMENT S featured the irrepressible Peter Wyngarde as government investigator and novelist Jason King investigating seemingly impossible events and bizarre crime capers. No one could out-camp Peter, enough said! THE CHAMPIONS (1968/69) shows us again three governmental agents (Craig Stirling, Sharron Macready and Richard Barrett) played by Stuart Damon, Alexandra Bastedo and William Gaunt. In this case all three are survivors of a plane crash in the Himalayas. Fortunately it crashed in a place where a higher species existed (what? Abominable Snowmen?). Instead of dying they were miraculously cured and endowed with 'superpowers' which would make them a considerable asset to any government. A special bonus for the 'legion' of Wyngardites here as he is cast in this particular CHAMPIONS episode as a villain who has invented an ingenious device. STRANGE REPORT (1969) featured top stage actor/director Anthony Quayle as Adam Strange, another investigator - this one really didn't come off and looking at this episode it is pretty easy to see why. A rich girl is kidnapped and held to ransom. Somehow we all know from the off that it is a put up job and she is in cohorts with her boyfriend (Polo-necked Ian Ogilvy)… as if we cared. It is slickly done, nevertheless.
Disc 2 kicks off with THE SAINT (1962-69) based on Leslie Charteris' 40’s and 50’s bestsellers, this was a hugely popular series of its time - featuring Roger Moore as The Saint aka Simon Templar, the nonpareil of private investigators. This man can do it all and he's always one step ahead. Moore really was quite brilliant in this part. Templar is indeed an oxymoron; a philanthropic hedonist. And Moore makes the part very much his own and imbues it with a lovely sardonic humor. Here he has a good double act going with Dawn Addams when he is hired by her millionaire husband (George Pastell as an Arab millionaire) to safeguard a casket of priceless jewels.
DANGER MAN started in the late 50's as SPECIAL AGENT and ran for seven years. Patrick McGoohan, always a vigorous actor complete with Staccato delivery, made the part of John Drake also much his own, just like Moore did with Templar. The pace is quite unrelenting and here we have Drake posing as a manservant a la Jeeves in Italy to get the business on shady Howard Marion-Crawford. From this we move onto 1967 and McGoohan's own baby - the epic, enigmatic and still topical THE PRISONER. Here our hero wakes up on what appears to be an idyllic and somewhat quaint looking island village (it was in fact Clough-Williams bizarre North Wales holiday coastal resort Portmeirion). During the opening credits we see McGoohan handing in his resignation by letter (clearly he is a Government agent), he is then followed home, gassed and abducted. The place where he finds himself is referred to as ‘the village’. He is informed that he is Number 6. Here everyone simply has a number. Over 17 episodes a number of various 2s (the head honcho in the village) attempt various methods in order to discover why Number 6 resigned. But this man is just a little bit beyond 'a tough nut to crack'. Hugely enjoyable for all age groups and still great to look at! GIDEON’S WAY (based on the novels by John Creasey) is pretty standard fare by comparison and was made a couple of years before, a vehicle for stalwart British actor John Gregson as the upstanding Commander George Gideon of Scotland Yard. In this episode we get good old Darren Nesbitt oozing menacing sleaze and his sidekick is a young John Hurt. They play a pair of escaped convicts holed up in a Wapping warehouse but of course nothing goes according to plan. MAN IN A SUITCASE (1967) had American actor Richard Bradford as P.I. MacGill. Bradford has considerable presence although you may think he likes the occasional tipple too much. This episode takes place in former East Germany and paints a fairly accurate portrait of the all-controlling former Eastern Bloc state. Jacqueline Pierce defects to East Germany, expressing her wish to work for the Communist regime… but what’s really behind it?
Disc 3 is perhaps the weakest of the pack. Kicking off with the children's TV-series from the late 50's, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD starred smooth matinee idol Richard Greene (who may have been more at home playing Richard Hannay) as the skilled archer fighting for justice and the very funny and rather hammy Alan Wheatley as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Unfortunately it did little to amuse. SHIRLEY’S WORLD was a 25 min per episode series from the early 70's and featured lovable American actress Shirley McLaine as a roving newspaper photographer Shirley Logan – fresh from the US to take up a new job at London mag ‘World Illustrated’. She is often accompanied by her boss John Gregson (again) – in this episode they embark on a cross-country automobile race. Nicely done but incredibly lightweight and really just for fans of La Shirley. THE INVISIBLE MAN, who of course we never see, was great fun made in the late 50's and based on H.G. Wells inspired novel. It features Tim Turner in the lead role (as scientist Peter Brady) who becomes invisible as a result of a lab accident (but it doesn't always look like the same actor under the bandages). Plenty of scope here! Yes he does have invisible clothes - god knows what he'd do if he lost them! THE BARON goes back to writer John Creasey again. Featuring yet another American in the shape of suave Steve Forrest who plays John Mannering – an antiques dealer and obviously undercover agent. During his adventures he is accompanied by his classy assistant Cordelia (Sue Lloyd). Well worth a look and with a memorable score again by Edwin Astley.
RETURN OF THE SAINT from the early 70's brought us the pretty smooth Ian Ogilvy playing Roger Moore's old part. With all due respect to the latter (who is a highly competent actor) we are made only too aware from this episode just how good Roger Moore really was. THE RETURN OF… has absolutely nothing of the pazazz or style of the original series. Quite frankly it is rather dull. THE ZOO GANG (based on a Paul Gallico novel) wasn't a bad idea but it really didn't come off. This series brought together the combined talents of four very well seasoned veteran actors: John Mills, Lili Palmer, Brian Keith and Barry Morse. All were resistance fighters during WW2. And here a little over a quarter of a century later they re-unite (each has a particular skill) to uncover some shady doings regarding the theft of a well-known work of art in Paris, but ultimately the motive is triggered by some horrible injustice harking back to wartime. Not exactly that deep but relatively amusing and, of course, very professionally handled! There's even a bonus included on Disc 3 - an early short DANGER MAN episode that featured Portmeirion (where McGoohan got the idea for the series).
RETRO-ACTION offers top directors, top actors, top writers and some absolutely brilliant scores. What more do you want?