ain't what it used to be. The 1970s have taken on a particularly
rosy glow in recent years, as a string of ghastly boy bands
have provoked a yearning for the raw aggression of punk rock,
and the banality of so much of mainstream American cinema has reminded
us how good director-led US movies were before opening weekend wonders by Lucas and
Spielberg helped to fuck it all up. But increasingly that nostalgic
reverence has extended to TV, and British TV in particular.
This is especially true of the post-yuppie generation and their televisual representatives,
failed celebrities whose only real job is to appear on shows
counting down The Fifty Greatest Something-or-Others, spouting
smart-arse comments in a hopeless attempt to re-invent themselves
as cynically hip.
not the general policy of this site to go sniping. There
are enough people out there doing that anyway and we'd
rather put our efforts into highlighting films we want people
to go out and see. But every now and again you just can't
let something lie, and the recent deification in some quarters
of the 1970s TV series The Professionals,
coinciding with the release of the 'remastered' DVDs, was
just too much. Something had to be said. Camus and I don't
agree wholeheartedly on a lot of things, film and TV wise
– our viewing habits are different and our filmic interests
likewise – but this is one we have always found ourselves
in unison on. For us, The Professionals is, and always was, complete and utter bollocks.
a two-pronged assault, we take a look at just why it got
so far up our noses, and at the remastered DVD fourth series,
which found the programme on its last legs and completely
out of touch with the changing times. If you're a fan of
the series and you just want to know whether the DVDs are
any good, then save yourself some grief and hop on to the
technical specs. But if you're up for
some spleen venting, then read on.
1977, David Soul was in the UK (long before he became an
Anglophile) receiving a BAFTA award for the fondly remembered
– but not by all of us on this site – Starsky and
Hutch TV series. Despite having no VHS recorder
in those days, I remember what he said with crystal clarity.
not a cop show…"
audience started to fidget. It is a cop show he's talking
about, isn't it?
a show about two guys who love each other who happen to
from heaven and as mannas maketh man (or in this case homosexual
man), the tabloids had several field days painting Soul
and Paul Michael-Glaser as two gay icons (would an iCon
these days be Steve Jobs incarcerated?) I was appalled,
almost as much as you were at that atrocious pun. The box
sets of all three seasons of the TV series came out last
year and this year. You know what's extraordinary? David
Soul got it right. Unlike iconic series found elsewhere,
there were never any 'great' standout Starsky and
Hutch episodes. No one can remember any 'case'
they solved. All you can recall is the effortless chemistry
of the two leads, the entertainment mined from seeing two
actors riff off each other as if they really did love each
other. The series was commissioned in the mid seventies
by a man who simply pronounced (after viewing the pilot)
"I want to spend more time with those guys…"
was male bonding sans anal penetration and I championed
it as a teen. This show made me feel a little better about
being male – and I had (and still have) the cardigan. So,
while the US export culturally invades, the UK market has
to bite back. It wasn't so much of a bite than a big suck.
If I recall correctly, the SAS were the brave darlings of
the media at the time and so were born Bonehead and Foyle.
Sorry. I did adore the Comic Strip's The Bullshitters
but Slarek has beaten me to that. So in short, Bodie and
Doyle were the UK's response to male bonding, all female
bedding, action, and strutting hard guys.
that they weren't really.
by a man now firmly located downstairs rather than upstairs,
in turn more famous for saying "Thank you!" at
the wrong time during The Great Escape,
these two tough guys had the charisma and magnetism of cheese.
I couldn't get past Bodie's mouth. It seemed as if Lewis
Collins' maw went to a separate acting school than the rest
of him. I mean, I could get past it if pushed but then I
needed that push. Sure, I watched a few episodes but that
theme tune. Take machismo and blow it out of a horn and
you have "Du nu du… wakichicka wakichika…
Du nu du nu, du-nu-nu-nu-nu-nah, Du nu nu duh…etc."
It was so, so 'this is what you want to see in your tough
guys' that made me turn over, turn off and turn grey. The
two men had the subtle character shading of a Beretta and
the same colour scheme. Gun metal. Click click. Just kiss
each other, for Christ's sake… Over to you, Slarek.
I didn't even like Starsky and Hutch...
comparisons are all too valid, though, with the terrible
two from The Professionals driving fast
around town, bursting through doorways and waving their,
erm, guns about – hey, to make sure viewers make the connection
to its American forebear, let's give one of the English guys a fetching perm! Stir in a dose of
The Sweeny's shouty brutishness, a dab
of The New Avengers' team structure (the
younger two kick arse while the older guy runs the show) and
we're ready to "Go! Go! Go!"
many respects it was the final shout of the crime dramas
from a period when the cops behaved more like criminals,
but we were expected to root for them anyway because the
bad guys were EVIL RUTHLESS BASTARDS. It's a formula that's
depressingly back in vogue in the post 9/11 West with the
rise in popularity of the comic book hero and the 'counter-terrorist
operative', a sophisticated-sounding, PR company-devised
name for a new breed of family-loving, social concerned and government licensed thug. Like Bodie and Doyle, they only know one way to really
settle an argument – ruthless violence. But at least they
love their kids, right?
None of that family man nonsense here – The Professionals
were blokes though and through and women were just background
detail, objects to assist, amuse, sleep with or hinder the
two leads. The reckoning was, of course, that misogynistic
attitudes would not prevent women watching the show. On
the contrary, the casting of Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins
was primarily influenced by their shagability status, and shaping the two into Hard Man and Captain Sensitive
doubled the show's potential demographic. The male audience
was targeted with equal sophistication, especially by having
the pair tear around town in a Ford Capri, the ultimate
big car/small dick status symbol of the late 1970s Boy Racers.
These guys got to shoot the villains, shag the girls and
drive really fucking fast around the streets of London.
What, you don't want that? Shut it, you slag!
is no doubting the one-time popularity of
The Professionals, but curiously I've never met anyone who admits they actually liked
it. I mention the title and I get either groans, guffaws
or piss-take impersonations. Hardly surprising – many of
the character traits of the two leads had passed into cliché
even before the show began, and by season 4 were the stock-in-trade
of every cop piss-take you'd care to mention.
But it was
The Comic Strip who most effectively spoke for a generation
of weary viewers when, in 1984, they unleashed The
unless you're on the same wavelength as us (and of similar
vintage), you'll have no idea just what a glorious thing
The Bullshitters was when it first appeared.
A direct response to the hilarious macho crap on display
here, it starred Keith Allen and Peter Richardson as Bonehead
and Foyle and Robbie Coltraine as Commander Jackson (an
obvious name gag, but still appreciated at the time), a
dab hand at giving lessons on how tough TV cops should get
into cars. Emasculated from their guns, fast cars and even
trousers, the pair ran about London dressed in leather jockstraps and armed only with bus passes, lampooning the show's phallic
symbolism and openly celebrating its underlying homo-eroticism
in a way that made it impossible to take a single episode
of the original seriously ever again. Not that many of us
The Professionals lasted five seasons and by the fourth it was in complete
nose dive. Doyle was increasing played as a closet sophisticate
to Bodie's overly blokey geezer and the cracks in the acting
team were really starting to show (something also
nicely sent up in The Bullshitters). This
was effectively illustrated by the two lead performers' post-Professionals
work – as Martin Shaw moved on to Dennis Potter
and a solid role as Robert Falcon Scott in the criminally
unseen The Last Place on Earth, Lewis Collins
tried to milk the hard bastard persona as S.A.S. Capt. Peter
Skellen in the execrable 1982 Who Dares Wins,
which also prompted a TV comedy response.
series 4 the writers were running out of things to do with
Bodie's largely one-dimensional character and had turned
him into almost a virtual parody of himself. After the terrible two have
killed yet another suspect, team leader Cowley barks "I
wanted him alive! I told you!" only to have Bodie yell
back "Yeah, well that's about all you did tell us!"
It goes on in the same vein. "The last thing I wanted
was any shooting," says Cowley, which prompts Bodie
to explode with "Oh yeah? Well why didn't you tell
him that?!" Oh lordy.
most of all The Professionals was finding
itself increasingly out of touch with changing social attitudes
to issues of gender and race, the last gasp of bloke-ism
in a world where a sizeable portion of society was becoming
rightly intolerant of the sort of outmoded attitudes being espoused
by the show. Thus when Bodie receives
a reprimanding look from Cowley for saying "I met the
spade," and corrects himself wearily with "the black
gentleman," there the sense not that he is in the
wrong, but that he is winking at a portion of the audience
that still to this day believes that anti-racist attitudes
are the result of enforced political correctness.
reached its nadir in the notorious episode Takeaway,
in which the show's clumsy attempts to recognise changing
times blew up in its face. Acknowledging the multi-racial
face of modern Britain, Doyle's girlfriend-of-the-week here
was Hong Kong detective Esther, on loan to CI5 to work on
a heroin trafficking case. She supplies the team with suggestions
for strategy, and in perhaps the show's most blatant moment
of stupidity, tells them "There are 50,000 Chinese
in London. That's 50,000 potential couriers." Yes,
you heard that right. According to the makers of The
Professionals, every Chinese person living in London
is a potential drug courier. In the week following the
episode's airing there were some very negative press stories
and considerable anger in parts of the Chinese community,
one of whom staged a protest outside of the London Weekend
TV studio, armed with a placard identifying himself as "One
that point on the show was effectively doomed, disconnected
from a viewing public that was finding it's attitudes and
characters archaic and even a little camp. And yet here
it is, on DVD, and it's selling. Though likely riding on the current wave
of 1970s nostalgia, it may also be finding favour with the
members of what has become known as Lad Culture, a grim
celebration of the sort of attitudes you'd hope had been
left behind in the 80s but depressingly seem to be back
in some sort of wanker vogue. So even if you've never heard
of the programme there's actually a possibility you'll rather
like it. You can start yourself off with these five little
you drive, or aspire to drive, a sporty-looking
BMW and accelerate really fast when you turn out
of a side road and then slam on your brakes when
you reach the slower-moving car in front?
you ever said "I'm not racist, but..."?
you believe this whole male/female equality thing
has gone too far and that men should behave like
you refer to women as "birds"?
you think Jeremy Clarkson is an enigmatic TV personality
who talks a lot of sense?
If you answered 'yes' to all five, then The Professionals may be right up your alley.
to the IMDB The Professionals was shot
on 35mm, which actually surprised me considering how grubby
it sometimes looked on TV in the past. Contender's remastered
DVD set of series 4 shows a marked improvement in picture
quality, with a very good level of detail, generally solid
black levels (though sometimes at the expense of shadow
detail) and decent colour, although some episodes fare better
than others on all of these points. The prints are also,
with the exception of a few dust spots here and there, remarkably
clean. Grain is evident, but rarely intrusive. On the whole
a decent job.
Dolby 2.0 mono track shows its age in terms of its dynamic
range, but is otherwise fine, with no nasty pops or distortion.
here. If you're buying this it's for the show only. I'm
sure fans would have loved some retrospective interviews
with the leads.
see no reason to blather on further. If you like the show
then you'll like the disks, if you didn't then this is the
series that will really piss you off, and if you haven't
seen it, well, you're on your own. For us it remains part
of a past we happily left back in the 1970s. Now come on,