ITC A brief and personal view 1960-1978 from a fan.
ITC (ITC Entertainment in the USA) stood for Incorporated Television Company, and was formed by Lew Grade in 1954 to make television shows for the new commercial ITV (Independent TeleVision) television station, a competitor for the BBC. They specialised in filmed series, unusual for ITV in its early days, normally historical swashbucklers such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-1959), and also aggressively targeted the US TV market, in which they were successful, thus enabling them to spend money on making expensive shows.
In 1959 that all changed. This is a brief overview of their action adventure series of the next two decades.
(The originals: Patrick McGoohan as Danger Man, and Roger Moore as Simon Templar, The Saint)
In 1959 Lew hired writer Ralph Smart to create a new series, which would be contemporary and would be the first TV espionage series. After many twists and turns, this eventually became made as Danger Man (39 X 25mins 1960). They hired Patrick McGoohan to play the lead, John Drake. Meanwhile film producers Monty Berman & Robert S Baker finally persuaded an initially sceptical author Leslie Charteris to assign them the TV rights to The Saint (1962-65). This would be the next step forward for ITC, as it would now be 50 mins long. They hired Roger Moore to appear in all 71 B&W 50 min episodes.
Both series were successful both at home and in the US market (initially, The Saint in syndication only, but it was quickly picked up by network NBC). The success of the shows was due to a number of factors. They were 'glossy' fast-paced action series, well written & directed, shot in two of Britain's best film studios with wonderful B&W cinematography, often using noirish lighting and shadows, with a stellar supporting cast of Britain's best film & TV actors and actresses.
Their lead actors were also fundamentally important, not only giving superb performances in each and every episode, they stamped their own personalities on the shows to such an extent no other actors are imaginable. McGoohan presented a strong moral force and a contained sense of violence, and on set presented a strong work ethic and professionalism that spread out throughout the production, whilst Moore presented a lightly comic and romantic touch, whilst on set his sense of humour and practical jokes made the long haul of the show (eighteen months at a time) a joy for cast and crew. If you swapped their roles, this just would not work.
Lew Grade attempted to emulate these successes by importing American actor Craig Stevens, famous for playing P.I. Peter Gunn, to make Man of the World (1962), which created a spin-off series The Sentimental Agent (1963). Both leads were older and not British, and neither series was a success.
So McGoohan was persuaded to return to Danger Man for 47 hour long episodes (the last two in colour) from 1963-1966, a series I love, while Moore and Baker formed Bamore to make 47 colour episodes of The Saint from 1966-69. Both series were again noted for their superb production values, including great incidental music and theme tunes written by Edwin Astley, played by full orchestras, and credit sequences. They added glamour to a sometimes dour and drab British TV schedule, their only competition being ABC's The Avengers.
(Cool Americans: Steve Forrest as The Baron, Richard Bradford as McGill, the Man in a Suitcase)
With the American networks moving to colour transmission, ITC commissioned two colour series starring American leads. Having already filmed the John Creasey character Commander Gideon of Scotland Yard for police series Gideon's Way, they now turned to antiques dealer John Mannering for The Baron (30 X 50mins Colour 1966), starring Steve Forrest (brother of Dana Andrews), and then hired Richard Bradford to play disgraced ex-CIA agent for hire McGill in Man in a Suitcase (30 X 50mins Colour 1967).
Both series were shot on 35mm film stock which helped US network sales (both series were shown). I like both these shows, they have cracking opening credits and theme tunes, though in the former the lead is overshadowed by the gorgeous Sue Lloyd as Cordelia Chase. The antiques/art treasure angle makes it different from the other shows. The latter has better scripts (see "Brainwash") and Bradford is more engaged (and engaging) than Forrest. It also marked a new level of on-screen violence (McGill was often wounded or shot). Neither series were renewed.
Meanwhile, McGoohan left Danger Man in 1966 to make The Prisoner (17 X 50mins 1966-68). There's too much that can be said about this landmark TV series for such a brief essay, so I'll be devoting a whole post to it. Suffice to say, it's the best series ITC ever made, and though pre-financed by CBS, who showed it in the summer of 1968, at the time it was misunderstood and undervalued and not deemed a commercial success.
(Patrick McGoohan is Number Six, The Prisoner)
ITC's 60s filmed series were often accused of being formulaic, sometimes unjustly so in my opinion as this was a critical judgement too often condescending and literary biased by middle-class (and middle-brow) critics, who preferred Britain's single TV play and adaptations of the classics to action adventure series.
But there may be some justification in the fact that their next three series followed an identical pattern, a trio comprising one American actor, one British actor, and one female. However, behind the superficial similarity there are key differences.
(Trios: William Gaunt, Alexandra Bastedo, and Stuart Damon are The Champions; Joel Fabiani, Rosemary Nicols, and Peter Wyngarde work for Department 'S', Kaz Garas, Anneke Wills, and Anthony Quayle file a Strange Report)
The Champions (30 X 50mins 1967) had a superb theme song, unusually by Tony Hatch, and the trio were agents for NEMESIS, an independent agency, who were endowed with supranatural abilities (each episode opened with an example of their 'powers') and so had a strong fantasy/Sci-Fi element. It was noted for the beauty of actress Alexandra Bastedo, then only 21. I loved it when I first saw it aged nine, and love it still.
Department 'S' (28 X 50mins 1968-69). Here, the trio worked for Interpol and investigated 'baffling' cases that had stumped the regular police agencies, and worked on the allure of detective drama's chinese puzzle box plots and conundrums. It was noted for the unusual practice of having the episode title and writer credit before the opening credit sequence, and for Peter Wyngarde's superbly inspired creation of author Jason King, dandy in dress and style, oozing sex appeal, and effortlessly cool. Poor old Rosemary Nicols didn't stand a chance, though she has her moments. Not repeated since I saw it on Anglia TV in the early 70s, I was glad when it was released on DVD. It was like watching it for the first time, and even if the plots don't always stand close scrutiny, it's a great series.
Strange Report (16 X 50mins 1969) follows retired Home Office criminologist Adam Strange, his American pupil, and 60s it girl Anneke Wills as his neighbour. The most 'realistic' of the three. With a variety of cases, following criminal psychology and forensic investigations, it's the weakest of the three, probably due to the eclectic nature of the plots, and being a co-production with Man From UNCLE producer Norman Felton.
(A very British ghost detective drama: l-r Mike Pratt and Kenneth Cope as Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), in the middle is Hopkirk's widow Annette Andre, as a trio of a different kind)
I think the main reason for the use of a trio was primarily economic and pragmatic. You could shoot some episodes simultaneously by clever use of your three leads (all thirty episodes of The Champions bear a 1967 copyright date), and any problems with a particular actor (like 'ego' problems) as ITC had had with Bradford on Man in a Suitcase or McGoohan in The Prisoner, would have less of an impact on the smooth production of the series (The Prisoner, for example, consistently failed to meet its UK air dates).
One further example, one could say, of the trio template was the superb Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) (26 X 50mins 1968-69), though this was an entirely English affair. Mike Pratt played private eye Randall whose partner Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope) was murdered in episode one, and continued to haunt his ex-partner throughout the series. His real partner Jeannie however couldn't see him. Played by perennial ITC bride-to-be Annette Andre, who finally got the series lead Lew promised her (she was originally slated for The Champions). A light-hearted private detective drama enlivened by its ghostly humour, it's actually quite unlike anything made by any British production company.
(Curtis and Moore ARE The Persuaders)
In the early 70s ITC produced its most expensive show, when it teamed Roger Moore with Tony Curtis as The Persuaders! (24 X 50mins 1971). This was the last great action adventure series made by them. It concentrated on the cultural and social differences of an English aristocrat playboy, and a Bronx kid who hit it big as an oil tycoon, cleverly and succinctly portrayed in the opening credits, accompanied by a thumping John Barry theme tune. Proof that the opening credit sequence is a lost art of TV production.
It's a great show, and has remained one of my favourites. Although commercially successful worldwide, it failed opposite Mission: Impossible in the US and as it cost an unprecedented £150,000 an episode it was not renewed. The simultaneous spin-off series of Jason King (26 X 50mins 1971), with Peter Wyngarde reprising his role, was shot on 16mm film rather than 35mm to save money, which prevented a sale to the US. Ditto for The Adventurer (26 X 25 mins 1972), which even at half the length was twice as boring, and was a nadir for the company, having almost no redeeming features (well, maybe one, Ingrid Pitt as a guest star).
(Private crimefighter teams: Tony Anholt, Robert Vaughan, and Nyree Dawn Porter are The Protectors, while John Mills, Brian Keith, Lilli Palmer, and Barry Morse form The Zoo Gang)
ITC finished the 70s with two private crimefighting teams, the corporate The Protectors (52 X 25 mins 1972-74), made by Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds fame. ITC had in fact financed and distributed all of his 60s shows, more proof of the company's originality and contribution to British culture, which I'll examine in another post. It's polished and professional, if a bit lifeless, not helped by the short running time.
Much better was The Zoo Gang (6 X 50mins 1974), which followed a group of ex-Resistance fighters from WWII reunited in Southern France to fight what they saw as injustice. The location, and the movie star cast, was a major factor in the show's success (helped by a Paul McCartney theme tune). Sadly, the near impossibility of all four being available at the same time prevented any further episodes. ITC's last attempt at the genre was to try to rekindle an old favourite with Return of the Saint (24 X 50mins 1977-78), a co-production with Italian state TV RAI. Like all backward steps, it was a misfire that only went to show the strengths of the original.
All the above series are available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and I have them all. I love the whole genre, though as the above shows I have favourites (Danger Man, The Prisoner, The Champions, Department 'S', and The Persuaders) and least-liked. But why do I love the shows so much? Credit to where credit is due.
- Superb script-work by the cream of British TV screenwriters, including Roger Marshall, Brian Clemens, Philip Broadley, Harry W Junkin, Terence Feeley, Dennis Spooner, Tony Williamson, Terry Nation and many more. Yes, some scripts were recycled, but you don't normally notice, particularly on the flagship shows.
- Great opening credit sequences (see bottom of post), often designed by Chambers + Partners, a company of which I cannot find any information on the internet. Any information gratefully accepted (and duly credited). Accompanied by some great theme tunes, mostly by Edwin Astley.
- Superb incidental music, atmospheric and noticeable, again mostly by Edwin Astley. Listen to the great dramatic jazzy score and distinctive use of harpsichord on Danger Man, or this atmospheric spooky opening to The Saint episode "The House on Dragon's Rock". It's no surprise to find they're available on CDs, and I have most of them.
- Superb set designs, production design, and set dressing. See picture of the ruined Scottish castle in The Saint episode "The Convenient Monster", better than the real thing as it stimulates the imagination in a way real locations don't. Also see the impressive drawing rooms and libraries of the countless country estates portrayed in the shows. And all done on a fortnightly basis. When they do go on location, you get to see some of the best of rural Hertfordshire, Bucks, and North West Wales. If you want to track a location, try this excellent website: ITC Locations.
- Great fast-paced direction (special shout out to John Kruse), and in the B&W series some beautiful and subtle cinematography, though the colour series tend to be overlit, to compensate for the crude TV sets of the time. Some great action and fight sequences (spot the stand-in!), and it's always fun to spot the obligatory white or red cars going over the cliff, originally shot for The Baron but used ever since.
- No season arcs (The Prisoner excepted) or relationship backstories, so you can watch any episode in any order, you can miss episodes you dislike, knowing you're not going to miss anything. And no padding in stories to continue the season arc, a bane of modern television.
- A repertoire of great guest stars, the cream of British film and TV, including Peter Wyngarde, Wolfe Morris, Aubrey Morris, Marne Maitland, Derek Newark, Julian Glover, Earl Cameron, Clifford Evans, George Murcell, Basil Dignam, etc. It's also fun spotting an early appearance by a future star, like Anthony Hopkins in Department 'S'.
- Some of the most beautiful, sophisticated, and sexy actresses as guest stars. Too many to mention, but especial praise to Ingrid Pitt, Alexandra Bastedo, Justine Lord, Hilarys Dwyer Pritchard & Tindall, Jane Merrow, Wanda Ventham, Shirley Eaton, Veronica Carlson, Stephanie Beacham, Geraldine Moffat, Margaret Nolan, Sue & Suzanne Lloyd, and many many more.
Hope you enjoyed this post. Comments and feedback gratefully received. If you want to hear some knowledgeable fans talking about the individual shows, check this podcast ITC.
Opening credit sequences and theme tunes
Be Seeing You!
Great article, Britmovie forum brought me here. Remember as youngster my dad getting a colour television when I was about seven or eight. First programme watched was an episode of Jason King. I am sure it was repeated in the mid nineties on either Bravo or Granada Plus. Be seeing you.ReplyDelete
You're welcome. I watched "Jason King" when it was first shown on Anglia TV 1971-72. Though not networked, the show's success was enormous, and Peter Wyngarde was The Man of the Year 1972. Keep an eye out, as I'll be going through these series in more details (I have them all on DVD, essential purchases). These shows brightened up the TV schedules of the 60s & 70s.Delete
Me again. Just a bit of trivia. The first video I bought was around 1982. Logans Run with the gorgeous Jenny, Michael York and Peter Ustinov. It cost me £32.50, there was no "sell through" market then. This was close to a weeks wages for me, then.Delete
harry2 on Britmovie.