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The leather boys
A not so fond memory and region 2 DVD of series 4 of THE PROFESSIONALS by Slarek and Camus
 

Nostalgia 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.

It's 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.

In 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.

Camus, you're up...

Camus

In 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.

"It's not a cop show…"

The audience started to fidget. It is a cop show he's talking about, isn't it?

"It's a show about two guys who love each other who happen to be cops…"

Manna 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…" Perfect.

This 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.

Except that they weren't really.

Led 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.

Slarek

And I didn't even like Starsky and Hutch...

The 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!"

In 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!

There 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 Bullshitters. Now 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 could anyway.

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.

By 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.

But 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.

This 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 of 50,000."

From 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 questions:

    1. Do 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?
    2. Have you ever said "I'm not racist, but..."?
    3. Do you believe this whole male/female equality thing has gone too far and that men should behave like MEN?
    4. Do you refer to women as "birds"?
    5. Do 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.

sound and vision

According 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.

The Dolby 2.0 mono track shows its age in terms of its dynamic range, but is otherwise fine, with no nasty pops or distortion.

extra features

Nothing 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.

summary

We 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, Let's GO!

The Professionals – Series 4

UK 1979
starring
Martin Shaw
Lewis Collins
Gordon Jackson

DVD details
region 2
video
4:3
sound
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
none
distributor
Contender
release date
Out now
review posted
21 February 2006

See all of Camus's reviews
See all of Slarek's reviews