The Professionals – season one

cast: Martin Shaw, Lewis Collins, Gordon Jackson, Bridget Brice, and Pamela Stephenson

creator: Brian Clemens

650 minutes (15) 1977-8
Network blu-ray region B

RATING: 6/10
review by Christopher Geary

The Professionals main title
The Professionals – season one

Criminal Intelligence 5, a British government security department of dirty tricks and paramilitary brutality, is led by an M.I.5 agent, scowly George ‘the Cow’ Cowley (Gordon Jackson), whose champions are the chalk ‘n’ cheese duo of former SAS soldier Bodie (Lewis Collins), and ex-cop Doyle (Martin Shaw), as the elite unit’s premier agents. Bodie, and Ray Doyle, became iconic as the best-of-British TV action heroes of their decade.

Jackson throws off his staid butler Mr Hudson role from Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-5), but here maintains that character’s stern demeanour. Collins is almost perpetually in training for his finest hour in the great SAS action movie, Who Dares Wins (1982). Shaw later became a bit of a thespian snob, and dismissed his breakthrough role in this show as childish rubbish.

Although the purpose of C.I.5. was to combat international terrorism, their authority had wider concerns, and Cowley’s hardy boys also tackled mercenaries, hit-men, KGB spies, neo-Nazis, WMDs, cold cases, hot scandals, and several crazy-eyed villains that wouldn’t have looked out of place in episodes of The New Avengers (1976-7) scripted by Clemens, who wrote most of The Professionals.

The Professionals has the sexist attitudes (complete with such innuendo as “I want a double entry on my signal”), and macho stunts of its politically-incorrect predecessor, The Sweeney (1975-8), but its crime show formula is bolstered by frequent explosions and gunfights, and car chases. The cars used in the show include a Rolls Royce (in the first season’s title sequence), a Triumph TR7 and, The Professionals’ signature motor, a Ford Capri.

Guest stars are, of course, an irregular bonus: Ed Bishop does his best yankee politico schtick, Geoffrey Palmer plays a wealthy crook, Diane Keen appears in a story about a Greek assassin, Keith Barron essays a bio-war poisoner, Gabrielle Drake plays Bodie’s girlfriend in a notable siege episode, Edward Judd plays a sleazy white supremacist in the notorious Klansmen episode (originally ‘banned’ from British TV), and Lalla Ward plays a convict’s daughter involved in a criminal conspiracy.

While a social rehab of The Professionals to the same exalted or cult status as beloved 1960s TV series The Avengers might be premature, it’s worth noting how much of the criticism of this, sometimes mildly controversial, series centres upon the unpalatable fascism and the portrayals of seemingly offensive thugs as the heroes. What too many critics neglected to admit was that The Professionals is a well produced, competently directed, and very memorable crime thriller series, often filmed on locations – not just overly familiar London landmarks – that grant highly dramatic scenes a certain gritty feel that is sadly lacking in many of today’s imported actioners.

The main appeal of re-watching this British TV action series again, over three decades later, is that it has been digitally re-mastered in hi-def, and this welcome collection on shiny blu-ray gives it a freshly minted look and a new lease of life for all retro TV fans. We might despise this programme’s typically contrived story arcs – with thoughtlessly aggro solutions to all sociopolitical problems or intractable multicultural issues – but how is the characterisation of 21st-century television’s favourite crypto-fascist, über-patriot Jack Bauer (in 24) any different, really?

Yes, the story-telling model and tech stylings of 24 are rather more sophisticated, but its basic philosophy remains almost identical. The Professionals is enjoyable as a retro TV entertainment because – apart from its fashions and tech – Bodie and Doyle seem no more laughably dated and a lot more credible for their era, than Roger Moore’s kitschy and corny James Bond of the 1970s looks today.