Saturday, 19 April 2014

Pr1.6

TEN THINGS I NOTICED ABOUT...


SYNOPSIS:
An embittered chemist threatens to poison London's water supply unless 
the government destroy all their biological weapons. 

001: 'Private Madness, Public Danger' was actually the first ever episode of 'The Professionals' to be broadcast, on 30th December 1977. Perverse as ever, I'm sticking to production order, mainly because this whole damn thing was prompted by the DVD release of the first series, and that's how they are presented there. This particular episode seems an odd one to open with, though - it is more or less entirely self-contained, and has none of the scene setting of 'Old Dog, New Tricks' - although it does have Cowley's explanatory monologue over the opening credits. It's also rather slow and, if I'm being perfectly honest, a bit of a drag. But nine and a half million people watched it on transmission, so what do I know?   


002: Keith Barron. Keith's long career has always slightly baffled me. I have nothing against the fellow but, essentially, he just wanders around being dour with a face like a Cornish pasty - and has done for almost fifty years. He's so non-committal that he can suck the energy out of a drama quicker than Bodie can pull a Nurse - sometimes the other actors in a scene seem unsure if he will even answer them so carry on as if he isn't there. When he does shake off his torpor to become even slightly animated his voice becomes wheedling and whiny and really annoying. As I say, I have nothing against him. 




Here, he plays a psycho chemist, a 'nutty activist' who will happily kill and freak out thousands to make his point. There are two indicators for just how bonkers he is: the first is that he is often lost in thought (hardly anyone in this programme ever STOPS to think) and, secondly, the camera keeps zooming in on his blank, dead eyes. That said, he had the same blank, dead eyes in 'Duty Free' and that was supposed to be a comedy.



Barron's character has a contact who is helping him in return for Heroin, by the way, and the pre-credits sequence features her tying off with a belt while Barron sterilises her needle over a lighter flame. It all looks slightly staged now, but the message is clear: this is adult stuff, an adult world - and things are going to get ridiculous, sorry, nasty. 


003: Pipette. Pipette is one of the loveliest words in the English language, up there with 'plinth' and 'gossamer' and 'felicitous'. And pipettes are are marvellous looking, too, so simple yet so tactile, a design classic. Beautiful things all 'round pipettes, even when they are filled with drugs and used to contaminate a coffee machine with bad dreams and death.  





004: Barron is going to contaminate a reservoir with a drug called 'ADX' which makes people who take it hallucinate, so the fish eye lens comes out and casting calls on a number of big nosed actors to take part in the trippy, convex fun. 


This gentleman has had a coffee (black, no sugar) and is now absolutely ripped to the tits. Typically, he decides that 'the sky is very big' and cheerfully jumps out of a window to his death. Taking drugs and flying is like thinking you're a tangerine and peeling all your skin off, or trying to dry a wet kitten in the microwave. Drugs clichés: don't do 'em, kids.



Actually, there's a massive narcotics thing going on throughout this episode. Aside from Heroin and ADX, Barron also appears to be bonging it at one point. Bodie? He's just high on life - and testosterone. 




005: Here's Bodie and Doyle trying to assess the quality of some 'H'. I don't know why both of them needed to try it, by the way, 'procedure' maybe? Doyle confidently pronounces that the sample is 'uncut'; Bodie is going to need some orange squash to take the taste away.


006: Before CI5 identify him, Barron sends a letter to the Prime Minister with a strong ultimatum and a clear threat. Bodie rather desperately asks 'was it signed?', to which Cowley angrily responds 'NOT signed'. Then they both look really disappointed. 


007: This man is a drug dealer who knows where Barron is and what he is planning to do. He tells CI5 that they will get nothing out of him because he has already been worked over 'by the best', I.E. other criminals, whipping off his ginger toupee to show Cowley where he was 'scalped'. It's clearly male pattern baldness, however, so Cowley says 'get me a needle and some Heroin' before elaborating on his plans:

"I'm going to hoist you with your own petard, Mr Sutton. 
I'm going to turn you into an addict. A crash-course in addiction, because we have access to the purest stuff. A craving, crawling, do-anything-for-money junkie."

The bald, bullshitting bastard tells them everything before Cowley even squirts a bit out of the end of the needle as a tester (Why do people do that, anyway? Isn't that shit expensive?)

008: Bodie and Doyle get to drive a nice dark blue TR7 in this episode. Cowley, however, is reduced to getting from A to B in a red Austin Princess, a car with a body shape which makes it resembles a large slice of mobile cheese. There's a great but daft scene in which both cars roar up to Barron's hide out, spraying gravel and dust everywhere. The cars screech to a halt, and Bodie, Doyle and Cowley jump out, guns at the ready, and run up to the door. Then Cowley rings the bell.



009: I love Bodie and his many faces. I could watch them all day. Which is sort of what I am doing. RIP, Lewis, have a rest now, mate.




010: The ending is a bit hurried, mainly because we've been watching Barron mooch about looking miserable for the last forty five minutes. A young DCI Burnside turns up as a CI5 agent who is on guard at a reservoir - you can tell he's on an important mission because he's slowly getting pissed. Anyway, Barron gets shot; Bodie and Doyle get wet and cold; London gets saved - but only because Bodie and Doyle ignore Cowley's express orders - twice. At the end, he hands them a hip flask full of scotch and tells them to warm up a bit. As they cheerfully pass it around he goes all steely and Scottish and tells them he's prepared to overlook their disobedience - this time. Pretty good of him considering that, if they had listened to him, thousands of Londoners would be dead. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Pr1.5

TEN THINGS I NOTICED ABOUT...


SYNOPSIS:
An American senator is assassinated in front of a large number of people, 
so his killers try to take out the witnesses one by one.

001 For a man in charge of a secret government enforcement agency with a licence to kill, George Cowley can be surprisingly liberal. There’s that bad leg that he got in the Spanish Civil War, for instance, and, in this episode, he also gives a right wing American Senator called John Jerry Patterson a right verbal duffing up: “ You’re a bigot”, he says, “loud mouthed, rich, stupid.  A clown”. He tries to rationalise his outburst by saying that it is merely a case of practicality (there's a hit out against Patterson, and Cowley doesn’t want him ‘bleeding on my doorstep’), but it goes deeper than that. This guy is a real fascist, and Cowley hates his guts for it.


Patterson is played by Bruce Boa, a Canadian actor who specialised in crass, obnoxious Yanks dripping with contempt for little Britain, perhaps most notably in the ‘Fawlty Towers’ episode ‘Waldorf Salad’. I usually feel like punching him in the face when I see him, and have broken several televisions as a result. Happily, he gets blown away very early on in the proceedings, thereby negating the need for yet another new telly.








002 The assassination of Patterson is a dramatic tour de force. It all takes place on the motorway, and the action unfolds slowly, introducing a number of characters who just happen to be in their cars on that stretch of road at that particular time but will play a pivotal part in proceedings.

The various members of the public don’t appreciate a man being murdered in public, so, without thinking, group together to ‘have a go’ at the perpetrators. This scenario rapidly gets out of control, with one vigilante lifting a Ford Anglia with a conveniently placed Digger and literally throwing it at the hit-men, who are, not surprisingly, now running for their lives. Not content with this grand gesture, the vigilante jumps out of the cab and starts throwing traffic cones and lights after them – it’s pretty ineffective, but it’s a hell of a gesture. It’s a great sequence, and you get to see down Luan Peters' top (in actual fact, she’s completely wasted here in a very minor role - she could have at least made a decent, feisty love interest).


Interestingly, the sequence also has two men who jump out of their cars with cameras and cine-cameras to record the incident on film, neatly predicting a world where people’s first reaction to anything out of the ordinary is to record it on their phone and stick it on YouTube.   



003 Interesting Bodie insight 1: Doyle: “Don’t you read the papers?”; Bodie: “Only my stars” 

Interesting Bodie insight 2: He has a vest on. Not a bullet proof vest, just a vest. 





004 We now get to the best part of the episode, Tommy McKay. Normally, the CI5 operatives who aren’t Bodie and Doyle get fairly short shrift, tending to be bulky, unattractive, red faced  middle aged men who look like they’ve recently been demobbed. Most of their job seems to entail watching stuff, rolling up after the event or, as above, unsubtly stalking suburban streets while armed to the teeth. Tommy McKay is different, though. Tommy is a real character, the proverbial loose cannon, a psychotic blend of Robin Askwith and Charles Bronson. His ‘whole family were wiped out by terrorists’ and it sent him, perhaps understandably, a bit loopy.



I don’t know what dark places he goes to at night, but McKay (played by the usually brooding John Castle) seemingly enjoys every moment of his day, especially the killing. Towards the end of this episode he thwarts an attack on a witness by using a grenade launcher to blow up a boat and take out two men. Afterwards, he raises his arms in triumph, and chortles at his own lethal efficiency.


Sadly, he doesn’t last out the episode but, briefly, he provides a tantalising glimpse of a parallel universe where the Bodie and Doyle bromance becomes a threesome. He should have had a show of his own. ‘The Unprofessionals’,  perhaps.




005 A note about locations. This first series picked up some criticism for mainly being filmed around a fairly small area of Berkshire but, every now and again, they go somewhere gritty and urban and it really gives the production a jolt. An old brewery is used to great effect here, providing a grim, run down backdrop to a gun fight. There’s something enormously photogenic about an abandoned factory or derelict warehouse, those great signifiers of decay and decline. Luckily, this is Britain, so there are plenty about.

Later on, the killers hole up in a deserted mansion house, a formerly grand place that now has mould creeping across the expensive wallpaper: it looks great, like a damp cave filled with antiques.



006 Cowley has a lot on his plate all the time but, in this episode, where members of the public are being gunned down in transport café car parks or while on their honeymoon, the weight of responsibility becomes almost unbearable. Luckily, Bodie is on hand to offer him a ‘single malt scotch’ and a succinct but sincere pep talk. Cowley spends most of his time stomping around and shouting but, at heart, he’s really rather sensitive.    


007 There's a scene where Doyle is after information about a Heroin user called Tin Can so he crashes an Afro-Caribbean club filled with, gulp, black men. The men are all playing snooker, during the day, a sure sign not of sport, leisure or even unemployment, but criminality: these men are loitering between jobs, and not the sort that run from 9 to 5. After some eyeball tennis reminiscent of a spaghetti western (some of it almost certainly prompted by Doyle's perm), Doyle pushes the Boss against a wall and it all kicks off. Luckily for Doyle the black men rather cheaply give up their overwhelming advantage by only attacking him one at a time. Doyle has just smashed a snooker cue across one of the men's backs when the Boss shouts "Cool it! He's a friend!". Yeah, right.

We'll come back to Race in later episodes. What's interesting, I suppose, is that these are the first black faces we've seen so far. They're all criminals - probably - so Doyle has no qualms about beating them up over a matter that is more or less completely unrelated to them.  

Incidentally, for those of you who may remember later episodes where Martin Shaw reinvents Doyle as an apple eating Guardian reader, it's worth pointing out that this Doyle is far more aggressive than Bodie, much less concerned with human rights and really, really, really angry almost all of the time.



008 In a seemingly throwaway fashion, this episode highlights what, today, would be seen as a major issue for CI5: the dependence on alcohol that many of its operatives seem to have. God knows what Bodie has seen and done in his past but, when he demands beer just before a job and jokingly says  ‘I’m a finely tuned machine, I need lubrication’, it hints at a world of pain; especially when Doyle pointedly says that he didn’t forget the beer, he remembered not to bring any.   

009 Pathetically puerile Cowley quote of the day:

“I’ve got men on you for your protection; 
I’d like to pull them off”.



010 This episode ends with one hell of a shoot up and the tragic, crazy, blaze of glory death of Tommy McKay. My abiding memory of the climax, however, is this sit on mower. It’s a far better model than the one Johnny Shannon trundled around on in ‘Old Dogs With New Tricks’, but there’s still something completely ridiculous about seeing a grown man riding around on one. Bodie fucking hates it.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Pr1.4

TEN THINGS I NOTICED ABOUT...



SYNOPSIS:
A hit-man with a special gun comes to the UK
 to assassinate Greek royalty as they attend Wimbledon. 






001 This is perhaps the weakest episode so far. It's still pretty good, but it is holed below the waterline almost immediately simply because the premise makes no sense whatsoever: a hugely expensive assassin (thirty grand - in 1977!) is hired to kill a member of Greek royalty using a rifle that has a range of two miles. The fundamental issue is 'WHY?' Why not just get a hitman for five grand that will kill him from five hundred yards away? Or pay fifteen and he can do it from a mile. And why, if you do have a gun with a two mile range, would you then choose a place to fire it from that has a family in it that you have to hold hostage for days on end? Is there not an empty flat somewhere that will do just as well? 


002 The hired killer is called Georgi. He's working for terrorists, but his loyalty is to his bank account, not to a cause. He's played by Michael Latimer, one time star of 'Moon'/'Man Of Violence'. Latimer does his best (he has a wonky accent and a moustache) but the character is hugely clichéd, constantly banging on about his code and 'amateurs' and, like some swarthy Samurai, refusing to have sex until after the job is done. 


It might illustrate just how daft this is by revealing that the lady he rebuffs is Diane Keen. Yes, the beautiful, sexy Diane Keen. The boy's a fool. As a general rule, if CI5 are after you, you're pretty much dead anyway, so my advice is have a drink, have a fag, have a fry up and, if Diane's keen, have her as well - it's later than you think.


003 The terrorist cell is worth a roll call: one angry, bald bloke with a shotgun, one young lad who, until recently, lived with his Mum and, when he gets caught, spills his guts immediately, and beautiful, sexy Diane Keen, who isn't Greek but 'believes in the cause', and dresses like a fortune teller when she goes out to establish her solidarity with all things Hellenic. I'm not really sure what they're for or against, but they have a poster of Acropolis on one wall and a picture of Che Guevara on the other so it's either about Greece or Cuba. Diane's character (Hilda) is clearly only in it to meet dangerous men, which she gives away by sensuously stroking the long barrel of Georgi's gun and purring 'beautiful, powerful'. Viva la revolution, or whatever that is in Greek. Or Cuban.    


004 "What do you know about Greeks?" Doyle asks Bodie; "The men all dance together and the cops all shave their heads", he replies. Doyle later interrogates a Greek restaurant owner by smashing all his plates.



005 Georgi is a ruthless bastard, testing his special gun on a scarecrow and then a golfer. Neither had done anything to deserve being shot. Well, the scarecrow hadn't. That's the trouble with these murderers, their answer to everything is to kill somebody.


006 Bodie and Doyle call Cowley 'The Cow' when they think he can't hear them. He probably can, though.  

007 With regard to the long distance assassination atempt: if you genuinely can shoot somebody famous at Wimbledon from two miles away, how the fuck did Cliff Richard ever get to do a second song?

008 I'm  a bit pathetic, so I couldn't help but snigger like a schoolboy when Cowley says:

"I want a double entry on my signal!"

Especially as he looks very serious about it, like he really, really wants it. 


On a similarly trivial note, Doyle wears an incredible outfit that uses three separate shades of green: an emerald shirt, a pistachio jacket, and a pair of flares resembling some mould I once saw on some out of date corned beef.   


009 Suzanne 'The Body' Danielle makes a couple of brief appearances. Frantic life or death mission of international importance notwithstanding, Bodie makes a date with her the first time they meet; second time around, he brusquely commandeers her flat and then uses it as a base for his final assault on Georgi. The moment he jumps out of her window to try and kill a bloke, she's his. I used much the same method to woo my wife. Fifteen years on, she couldn't be less impressed with that sort of macho bullshit.  



The climax also reveals that Georgi has appalling taste in footwear - and that he is actually quite little. That could come in handy for a hit man, but Georgi probably didn't see it that way. 



010 Finally, there's an interesting scene where Bodie derides the Greek community as 'living in a ghetto'. Doyle says "Don't knock it - ghetto means being able to depend on your own kind". "Ooh" says Bodie, "so you and me are a mobile ghetto, eh?". And that's Bodie and Doyle in a nutshell, really - a mobile ghetto - in a white Triumph Dolomite.