Monday, 26 May 2014



A campaign of racist violence brings out the worst in Bodie - 
and the best in Doyle.

001 ‘Klansmen’ is a controversial episode, so controversial that it was pulled from broadcast and has never been shown on UK terrestrial TV. I don’t intend to get into whether I think it is inflammatory or not, but I will say this: if you want to watch a television show about the hugely complex and emotive subject of racial prejudice, then I wouldn’t suggest an episode of ‘The Professionals’, that’s not what it’s for. As it is, we’re left with an often cack handed mish mash of cliché, genuine offence, condescending liberalism and a twist ending that is simultaneously a cop out, a two fingered salute and the most ironic the programme ever gets. It's also very violent and fast moving: too raw to be entertaining, perhaps, but very engaging.

002 As you might expect from such a hand grenade of a subject, there are any number of contrasting attitudes on display here. Within thirty seconds, the loathsome Tony Booth (one of my least favourite actors of all time, EVER) has dropped the ‘n’ word, kicking off a prevailing mood of violent hatred. The ‘surprisingly liberal for a blunt instrument of the government’ Mr George Cowley, however, makes it very clear that he HATES prejudice and Doyle, of course, will go on to read The Guardian, so is already pre-disposed to agree with his Boss on this particular hot potato. Despite it never having surfaced before (even when talking about his time as a mercenary in Africa), for the sake of this episode, it transpires that Bodie is a racist.

There’s a scene where Bodie and Doyle are interviewing a black lawyer at his nice home in the suburbs. Bodie doesn’t like the lawyer’s self-assurance, his smooth manner, his intelligence, his smart suit, the Merc on the drive. When Bodie is introduced to the lawyer’s white wife, he is sulkily unimpressed, a reaction that does not go unnoticed.

003 Have you ever heard the expression ‘Black Town’? No, neither have I, but Bodie and Doyle go there to conduct an investigation, i.e. wander around aimlessly looking for trouble. Eventually, Bodie happens across some black men playing craps in a disused building and decides it’s a good time to start playing the colonial overlord. Within seconds, he has been stabbed twice. It’s a shocking and unexpected moment but, guess what, he sort of asked for it.

As he is wheeled into the hospital, close to death, he grabs Doyle’s sleeve and says ‘tell Cowley a  couple of spades did this. A couple of big black spades!’ which, even if you assume that there were less black people in the country in 1977, is not a lot of help.  Excruciatingly, the Doctor and Nurse looking after him are black. To their credit, they don’t put a pillow over his face as soon as Doyle leaves, even though Bodie periodically drifts back into consciousness to give a brief racist rant.

It’s worth mentioning that Doyle cries at the hospital. He actually CRIES. He loves that big, bone-headed black hating bastard, he really does.

004 Cowley says “I’m Cowley the cow. A cow gives milk”. Even in context, it doesn’t make much sense, but I believe he is suggesting that he will offer succour to Bodie in his hour of need. It’s poorly phrased, and creates an unpleasant image that you have to shut your eyes and wish away.

Incidentally, when you get the chance, have a look around Cowley's office. There are some strange things in there, not least a framed picture of Europe with everything north of Edinburgh cut off.  

005 The Ku Klux Klan is a loathsome organisation but, it has to be said, their methods are horribly effective. The silhouette of the Klansman, with the outlandish hood and robes is terrifying, and it is used to chilling effect here. Their initial attack on the black lawyer takes the form of a burning cross planted in his front garden, which is bad enough, but their second attack, in which the Klan decide to ‘scare the arse off that flash n***** lawyer’ by flinging white paint over the lawyer and brown paint over his wife has even more impact: it’s shockingly violent, without actually causing any physical harm. It’s a disgusting act, designed to degrade and demoralise. Pointy headed bastards.

006 Edward ‘think once, think twice, think bike!’ Judd plays Hulton, head of ‘The Empire Society’, the organisation ostensibly behind the attacks. Judd was a star in the early sixties, but he was an egomaniac who liked a tipple and ended up derailing his own gravy train. Here, he seems to have left his toupee, and the ability to act, in the whisky bottle he crawled out of. 

Judd’s character would be a great role for a more committed thespian: he’s a politician first, a nationalist second, a violent racist third: one of those insidious ‘I’m saying what you’re thinking’, ‘preserve our traditions of fairness by treating other people unfairly’ ‘I’m not a Nazi, I’m a patriot’ bastards that try and get some small amount of mainstream power every now and again. To our national credit, we always see them off in the end, though, don’t we? Sort of. We'll see.

As it turns out, this particular Nazi arsehole is the tip of a very nasty iceberg, but not, perhaps, in the way that you might first think.

007 With Bodie in hospital, only now and again emerging from a fever to be really nasty to his black nurse, Doyle takes centre stage. He poses as a fascist bullyboy and infiltrates the Klan, finds out who is behind it all, gets the shit kicked out of him for his trouble, and ends up passed out in the same disused building where Bodie was knifed. There’s a moment when he agonisingly pulls himself into an upright position and then literally whinnies with pain. Don’t worry, he gets his revenge. He can pretty tough when he wants, even if he does have stupid hair.

008 There’s a brief appearance by Willie Payne, who made an indelible impression on me as one of the incarnations of Satan in ‘The Devil Rides Out’. He was the one with the hypnotic eyes, remember? He gets shot to fuck within a few seconds.  

009 The ending, in which (SPOILER!) it is revealed that, gasp, a black man is behind the racial intimidation, is insulting at first, a farcical volte face which seems like a cheap shot, white wish fulfilment. It reminds me a bit of when I told my (lovely) Mum that the word ‘coloured’ could be offensive to black people, “Well” she said “they call us honkies…” No, Mum, they don’t, and that’s NOT the point.

On reflection, however, ‘The Professionals’ never tries to present us with a black and white world, but a grey one: a place where ideologies are bought and sold, where greed outweighs feeling, a ruthless, immoral place where loyalties are flexible and colour is largely irrelevant in comparison to the size of your gun or the weight of your wallet. In that context, the ending is par for the course, although the involuntary groan I emitted when watching was perfectly justifiable.  

010 As a postscript, a remarkably healthy looking Bodie strolls out of hospital hand in hand with the black nurse he previously found disgustingly inferior. His brief stay in intensive care seems to have cured him of prejudice as well as his stab wounds. God bless the National Health!

1 comment:

  1. This is the most consistently laugh-out-loud funny review/blog I have ever read. Bodie being unreflectingly racist makes a wee bit of sense for his character - but the lengths they took it to sound absolutely comical. As for Cowley the Cow... what were they thinking?!