The ITC stable turned its hand to international espionage with a subtly super-powered slant with Monty Berman and Dennis Spooner's action-adventure series The Champions.
The series simple yet effective premise involves secret agents Craig Stirling, Richard Barrett, and Sharron Macready, who suffer a near-fatal plane crash in the Himalayas whilst returning from a mission. Rescued by a mysterious Tibetan monk and endowed with special powers, the trio are then returned home where they put these abilities to work for their Geneva based organisation, Nemesis. These powers include super strength, telepathy, ESP and a heightening of their natural senses. Their boss at Nemesis, Tremayne, is unaware of their new powers as he assigns them to a host of impossible missions. In spite of their new powers, the agents -the 'Champions of Law, Order and Justice'- are by no means invincible, needing to work very much as a team.
Often tense, intelligently written scripts were complimented by warmly engaging performances from the central trio of actors. While imaginative direction (often from such luminaries as Sam Wanamaker, Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker), often succeeded in convincingly depicting the use of heightened abilities without the need for the lavish special effects budgets available to similar US shows.
The Champions wasn't as big a hit in the UK as it deserved to be mainly due to the fact that it wasn't shown all over the country at the same time. It debuted in September 1968 but Thames Television, in London, held it back until November 1969 when it could be shown in colour...viewers elsewhere had to be content with black and white transmissions. Even so, the series seemed to be more popular in the regions than it was in the capital. Around the world it fared much better and with broadcasts in over 60 countries it soon became one of ITC's biggest hits...just about everywhere...except America.
Without the support of an American network any thoughts of a second series were cast aside, which is a great shame because The Champions remains as another excellent example of British Television's long line of enjoyable and well crafted 1960s adventure series.
Published on December 3rd, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.