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Champions, The (1969)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Champions, The (1969)
ITC for ITV, tx. 25/9/1968-30/4/1969
30 x 49 minute episodes, colour
Producer Monty Berman
Directors includeCyril Frankel
 John Gilling
 Freddie Francis
CreatorsMonty Berman
 Dennis Spooner

Cast: Stuart Damon (Craig Sterling); William Gaunt (Richard Barrett); Alexandra Bastedo (Sharron Macready); Anthony Nicholls (Tremayne)

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Three Nemesis agents, after crash landing in Tibet, are endowed with superhuman powers and resolve to use them secretly in their dangerous international missions

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The superhero series The Champions significantly changed the formula of ITC dramas, not just by introducing a fantasy element but also by having three main protagonists instead of one, and making one of them a woman.

Although Sharron is sometimes told by her partners Richard and Craig to stay behind, she frequently proves that she has the same special powers as they do (augmented strength and senses as well as empathic and telepathic abilities), featuring prominently in such episodes as 'Shadow of the Panther' (tx. 15/1/1969), a black magic story co-starring Donald Sutherland, and 'Twelve Hours' (tx. 18/12/1968), in which her medical skills prove crucial.

To offset the fantastical nature of the series' premise - the powers are clearly magical, not scientific in origin, unlike ITC's earlier The Invisible Man (1959-60) - the relationship between the three heroes is marked by much humorous banter, while the plots are straightforward, comprising either cold war espionage scenarios or more mundane villainy, like the neo-Nazis rings featured in 'The Survivors' (tx. 6/11/1968) and 'The Search' (tx. 1/1/1969).

Probably the best episode is 'The Interrogation' (tx. 5/2/1969), not because it is the most characteristic but because it is the most distinctive. Creator Dennis Spooner, forced by budget overruns to make a flashback story which recycled footage from previous episodes, took inspiration from 'Brainwash' (tx. 29/9/1967), an episode of his series Man in a Suitcase (ITV, 1967-68). Turning adversity into triumph, Spooner crafted a powerful two-hander between the usually wise-cracking Sterling, now drugged, imprisoned and disorientated, and a mysterious interrogator played by Colin Blakeley, who fulfilled the same role in 'Brainwash'. Conversely, 'The Gilded Cage' (tx. 8/1/1969) is mostly played for laughs, with Barrett allowing himself to be kidnapped and spending practically the whole episode in bed in his pyjamas.

Spooner's previous excursions into television fantasy were children's shows like Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89; 2005- ) and Thunderbirds (ITV, 1965-66), which may account for the occasionally adolescent quality of the heroes' characterisations, especially in scenes when they telepathically feel each other's pain. However, the series can be interpreted as an allegory of the growth process, its three youthful heroes, guided by their paternal superior Tremayne, making the transition from innocent agents simply following orders to more mature and complex operatives taking the burden and responsibility for their actions, a precursor to the otherwise inferior children's series The Tomorrow People (ITV 1973-79; 1992-95).

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Where is Craig? (2:13)
2. The interrogator (4:27)
3. Hong Kong (4:48)
Complete episode: 'The Interrogation' (48:36)
Strange Report (1968-69)
Thunderbirds (1965-66)
Tomorrow People, The (1973-79, 92-95)
Astley, Edwin (1922-1998)
Frankel, Cyril (1921-)
Norman, Leslie (1911-1993)
Spooner, Dennis (1932-1986)