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'60s Spies and Private Eyes

The height of 60s style

Main image of '60s Spies and Private Eyes

The 1960s witnessed a number of events that helped change the face of the industrialised world. These included deepening East/West tensions, an explosion in international travel, the growth of military technology and the establishment of a global communications network. Combined, these helped create the conditions for a worldwide spy craze.

The modern popularity of the secret agent began with the first James Bond film, Dr No (1962), but growing Cold War tensions and the accompanying shadowy propaganda further fuelled the public's appetite for espionage. TV was quickly teeming with globe-trotting government spies and hard-bitten private eyes. The US contribution tended to focus on the former - The Man from UNCLE, I Spy and the humourous Get Smart - while the UK concentrated on the latter category.

Most of the UK's undercover operatives were created by ITC, Lew Grade's independent production company. These included a disgraced CIA agent - Man in a Suitcase (ITV, 1967-68) - a private investigator and his ghostly partner - Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (ITV, 1969-70) - a crime writer who helped out Interpol - Department S (ITV, 1969-70) - and NATO agent John Drake - Danger Man (ITV, 1961-67).

The decade's top rank of British detective talent was represented by two series, The Avengers (ITV, 1960-69) and The Saint (ITV, 1962-69). The debonair John Steed and his fighting female sidekicks, and international playboy Simon Templar came to epitomise a peculiarly 1960s' vision of Britishness. But not every '60s British private eye enjoyed the high life.

The brutal government agent Callan (ITV, 1967-72) and the down-at-heel private detective Frank Marker in Public Eye (ITV, 1965-75) lived a more grubby existence at the fringes of society, where morality is flexible and right and wrong are commodities. Interestingly, both these shows survived into the 1970s, a decade that was anything but swinging.

Anthony Clark

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Thumbnail image of Adam Adamant Lives! (1966-67)

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Thumbnail image of Avengers, The (1961-69)

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Ultra-stylish '60s spy drama that all but invented cult TV

Thumbnail image of Callan (1967-72)

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Tough spy drama which made a star of Edward Woodward

Thumbnail image of Danger Man (1960-67)

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TV spy thriller series with Patrick McGoohan as agent John Drake

Thumbnail image of Department S (1969-70)

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Drama series about a trio of spies, one being crime writer Jason King

Thumbnail image of Prisoner, The (1967-68)

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Surreal kitsch meets psychedelia in the definitive cult TV classic

Thumbnail image of Public Eye (1965-75)

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Thumbnail image of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969-70)

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Thumbnail image of Saint, The (1962-69)

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Roger Moore stars as the latter-day Robin Hood, Simon Templar

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