Introducing three super humans. They are the stars of THE CHAMPIONS. Each has all the capabilities equal to the skill of champions in every field of endeavour, both physically and mentally.
The players taking these challenging roles are Stuart Damon, Alexandra Bastedo and William Gaunt.
Stuart Damon has at various times in his stage and television career, played Prince Charming, Sir Lancelot and Houdini, and the qualities required for these characters are there, with several plus factors, in his part of Craig Stirling in The Champions.
All three parts, in fact, might well have been in preparation for the portrayal of the super-being he plays in this new ITC series. Its a role calling for gallantry, heroism and superlative athletic prowess.
Stuart is 6 2 in height, black-haired, brown-eyed, and was born in New York on 5th. February, 1937. But his lean, dark, high-cheekboned good looks betray his Russian ancestry. He is, in fact, a first-generation American of Russian-Roumanian parentage (Russian father; Russian-Roumanian mother), with Greek blood somewhere back on his fathers side.
He inherits his fathers shrewdnessa shrewdness which took the near-penniless immigrant to the top of the business treea man who arrived in the United States with 15 dollars in his pocket, shoes which literally had holes in them, and unable to speak a word of English; and who, starting humbly as a shipping clerk, built up a huge knitwear empire of babys clothes and womens sweaters.
The family name was Zonis, and Stuart Michael Zonis changed his name to Damon when he became an actor.
By the time Stuart was born, his father was doing well. He was brought up in well-to-do surroundings and received a good education. But he inherited his fathers spirit of independence and ambition, and when he left school he was determined to stand on his own feet without parental help (Except, he admits, for occasional loans which my father never expected to be repaid!).
The first indication that he might become an actor was when he made his first-ever stage appearance at the age of eleven at a childrens summer camp. For someone who was to develop as a television super-hero it was, perhaps, far from a future indicative role. He played the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz!
And played it with a bit of a lisp at that! he exclaims, with a sense of humour that delights in recalling the embarrassing rather than successful things have happened to him.
He went to the New York Grammar School and then High School before studying at Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass. He had no particular career in mind except for vague thoughts of becoming a lawyer. He was also interested in psychology and chose this as a subject in which to major when taking his Bachelor of Arts degree. At the same time, he became more and more interested in amateur dramatics and during his third year at University auditioned for summer stock at Lambertville, New Jerseyone of the fifteen companies he tried for. The other fourteen rejected him!
He appeared in Plain and Fancy, singing in the chorus and playing a small part as a State Trooper.
His intention was to return to University after the summer vacation, but before the new term started Stuart had decided to make the stage his career and wanted to make a start right away, without continuing his studies. Which recalls another of his less successful, and embarrassing, efforts:
Chorus singers were being auditioned for The New York City Centre, and Stuart went along to face an experience that still makes him wonder how he survived it to become an actor. I was the greatest greenhorn ever to go to an audition! He exclaims.
He was one of 300, but was lucky enough to be among the first to be given a test. His name was called. He had to get down from the back of the hall past two tiers of chairs, but succeeded in falling over both rows and landing on his face.
He had taken his own accompanist, which was something no-one ever did. He was also quite unaware that one sang only the last eight bars of a song at an audition of this kind, and he went through the whole number. Then, with a bow towards the adjudicators, he walked away from the piano and fell headfirst off the stage.
Three hundred pairs of eyes watched him as he walked the gauntlet towards the selection panel, and was told Thank you. Blissfully ignorant that this was a polite rejection, he said Youre welcome, and continued to stand there. This time, the Thank you was even colder, and the significance eventually dawned on him. He asked, Does this mean that you dont want me? and was told, If we do, well call you.
They never did call him!
This was why he went back to University, after all, and gained further experience in summer stock before taking up the theatre professionally with a leading role in The Boy Friend, though he was completely untrained as a singer and dancer. This was at the Cape Playhouse, Dennis, Mass.
I was convinced, he says, that I was now a starand finished the show to face five months without another stage role!
He spent those five months doing a variety of other jobs. Like his father before him, he worked as a shipping clerk. He also washed dishes and toured with a car-selling industrial show. Then came an audition for the Broadway production of First Impressions (a musical based on Pride and Prejudice) and was engaged as a chorus boy and also as an understudy to the two male leads, one of whom was Farley Granger. He still doesnt know what would have happened if the two leads had been taken ill simultaneously: they had a lot of scenes together. As it happened, they remained sturdily healthy and Stuart Damon was never asked to go on for them.
Next came a tour of Lil Abner, playing the title role, which was a major step forward in his career, only to be followed by a five-and-a-half months of unemployment, which lasted from August 1959 until February 1960. As he had had 24½ weeks of continuous employment, he was entitled to unemployment pay, so he was able to spend his time looking for other parts.
He describes this as his peanut butter period, when peanut butter was his staple diet.
It was a period when he began to wonder, as weeks and months went by, whether he had done the right thing to become an actorAnd if my father was right when he warned me that I was a nut-case to try it! he adds. He admits that he could probably have got chorus jobs, but his policy has always been, and still is, that one should always progress.
Luck changed at last when he got into the Broadway production of From A to Z, with Hermione Gingold. The show folded after seventeen performances! But it was not long before he found further work, this time in repertory at Rhode Island where, he says, he gained his most valuable experience as an actor, playing every type of role from a 19-year-old juvenile to a 90 year-old man. One of his first parts was as a 60-year-old drunken French gardener involving 90 minutes of make-up for only a few minutes on the stage! The many plays in which he appeared during this spell included Twentieth Century, Monique, Venus Observed, June and the Paycock and Man and Superman.
Anxious to get back to Broadway, he auditioned for Irma la Douce and was engaged to play a variety of small roles. On the first day of rehearsal, the choreographer called: Will the six male dancers come out. Stuart continued to sit where he was, and then heard her say: You, too, Stuart.
But Im not a dancer, he complained.
You are now, she told himand he was! He still maintains that being taught to pirouette by his fellow dancers was more exhausting than all the physically-demanding feats endured in such shows as Houdini and The Championsespecially as he was held by the hair as he whirled around.
Irma la Douce was a turning point in his private life as well as an important one in his career.
When I was on tour in Lil Abner, he says, the choreographer, an Australian girl named Dellas Rennie, was always asking me to meet her room-mate, but I always ducked out. Then, two-and-a-half years later, I saw a girl walking down the street. She was but wonderful. Id never seen a girl with such a figure, and I told the fellow I was with, Shes a knock-out. He didnt know who she was, but as she was making her way towards the stage entrance of another theatre, I followed herand discovered that she was Dellas Rennies room-mate!
The girl was British actress Deidre Ottawill.
Meanwhile, Stuarts part in Irma la Douce progressed. He understudied Keith Michell and was promoted to the role of Franzipane. Then, when the play went to Las Vegas, he took over the lead opposite Juliet Prowse, and Deidre Ottawill was also in the show. It wasnt long before they were married.
They took an appartment in New Yorkand faced a tough time for four months. Further stage roles eluded Stuart, and his only earnings came from a handful of television parts which included Naked City (as a Naval Intelligence Lieutenant), Look Up and Live and one or two plays. And Deidre, by this time, was expecting a baby (the baby, Jennifer Bridget, was born in May, 1962).
But we didnt starve, Stuart admits. My parents sent me twenty enormous Porterhouse steaks, each one large enough for four people, and Deirdres parents sent us a crate of Cordon Bleu vintage champagne. So, for quite a long time, our diet consisted entirely of steak and champagne, and we could just about scrape up enough money for a few vegetables!
Next came a dual role in Cool Offas a slothful husband and also as the Devilwhich opened in Philadelphia and lasted for four days after such critical notices as, A major theatrical disaster and If the theatrical season has been slow to date, then Cool Off has brought it to a frozen halt.
It was on this note that he took time out to visit England with his wife so that they could display the baby to her relatives there. He intended to stay three weeks, but remained for three months because a friend told him that a TV producer was looking for a Twenty-seven year-old, arrogant, conceited, but nice-looking kind of American. Youd be just right!
When he returned to America, he appeared in Can Can, No Strings, Most Happy Fella, a couple of off-Broadway plays; won the Theatre World award for his performance in Boys from Syracuse; played Prince Charming in the TV spectacular Cinderella; Sir Lancelot in Camelot at the Papermill Playhouse (just outside New York) and Do I Hear A Waltz?, then received an offer to go to London again to appear in Charley Girl.
This led to further television appearances in England including The Bed-Sit Girl, the David Frost programme, Man in a Suitcase (with a friend from his early days, Richard Bradford), and to the starring role of escapologist Houdini in Man of Magic on the West End stage, then to The Champions.
Shes a super girl!
And the word super describes not only the character Alexandra Bastedo plays in The Champions as Sharron Macready, but the strikingly beautiful young blonde herself.
Stardom has come to her at the age of twenty-one (she was born on 9th. March, 1946), but she brings a wealth of acting experience to this out-of-the-ordinary role.
Alex Bastedo is an out-of-the-ordinary girl herself, She was born in England, but she is very much of an international cocktail. Her birth-place was Hove, Sussex, but she possesses a Canadian passport. Her father is Canadian, of Spanish-Dutch extraction. Her mother is Italian but partly French, partly German and brought up in Czechoslovakia. Her parents met when her father was serving in England with the Canadian Forces and her mother was a Royal Air Force meteorological officer.
The family moved back to Canada soon after Alex was born, and she spent most of her first three years at Prince Albert, Toronto. But England had gained a firm hold on her parents affections, and they returned, taking a house at Worthing not far from where Alex had been born, while her father set up as an importer at Croydon.
Alex went to dancing lessons when she was five, and showed so much promise right from the start that it looked as though she would certainly take up a dancing career. Her ambitions, in fact, remained in the world of ballet until she reached the height of 55½ and was told that she had really grown too tall.
Her first experience of drama was when she was nine and was sent to the Worthing School of Drama. This, she explains was simply because Id got a funny sort of accenta sort of Cockney Canadian!
She did equally well at drama and dancing, winning several cups at local festivals.
The family moved to Brighton, and Alex (brainy as well as beautiful, gaining her 11-plus levels at the age of nine) won a scholarship to the Brighton and Hove High School. On her way to school each day she had to pass the Brighton School of Drama, and after a time she became a pupil there to study drama and dancing for half-an-hour each day after her ordinary schooling.
She did well academically, and got nine O and three A levels. She also did well at drama. One part she played was the lead in Helen of Troy. A doctor friend of the family saw the play at the same time as he spotted an announcement in a London evening newspaper that a search was being made for a girl to represent Great Britain in a Hollywood movie contest. It was a nation-wide contest to find a Teen-Age Diplomat, the winner to go to Hollywood to appear in The Candy Web (retitled 13 Frightened Girls in England).
The friend suggested that Alex should enter the contest. She didone of 4,000 girls to do so. And she won.
So, at the age of 16, she went to Hollywood, to make her screen debut, and she could have remained there. Several film and TV offers came her way. But there were too many problems. Her mother was with her, and would have been faced with the alternative of leaving her alone there or leaving husband and her two other children (a boy and a girl) alone at home. There was also Alexandras education to be considered, with examinations still to be passed and plans for her to go on to University.
They returned to England, and Alex went back to school. She took her advanced level examinations in Latin, French and English, passing them all and with distinctions in the last two.
She was now all set for a university career; but, because of her trip to Hollywood, she had found herself with a theatrical agent, and on the day she was due to go to university she was offered an exciting role in a TV serial of The Count of Monte Cristo.
Alex couldnt reisist the temptation. Against parental wishes, she accepted the television offer, and her schooling came to an end. She admits now that, for a time, she wondered if she had taken the right step. After the serial, there was a dismal lack of further offers, and she turned to modelling for TV commercials. Then small parts came her way.
She appeared as a French girl in two episodes of Compact, and then portrayed a studio make-up girl with the task of making Roger Moore look like an American gangster (and much older than his age) in one of The Saint episodes.
Then, back again to a French role in The Flying Swan, playing her biggest-to-date TV role as a girl in love with a crooked racing driver. She then returned to Compact for eight weeks in a new and running role as Lindy Carroll, a starlet. It was her first appearance in England as an English girl.
Next, she had the lead in a R.3. episode, appeared in the feature film Doctor in Clover as one of the nurses, and became one of the innumerable girls to be signed for the James Bond picture, Casino Royale, originally as a sophisticated blonde at the casino. Months later, it was realised that practically nothing would be seen of her in this sequence, so she was given another part in the same production, this time with a red wig as Deborah Kerrs daughter in the David Niven sequence. All in all, she was on contract for five months.
After this came another television role in The Man Who Never Was, playing the part of a German girl and with locations filmed in Berlin and Viennaand playing her first-ever death scene when she had to be shot.
And this proved to be the somewhat devious trail to her winning the feminine lead in The Champions.
While in Vienna, she did some modelling for petrol advertisements, with the condition that they should be shown only on the Continent. So her face appeared on enormous hoardings all over Europe.
An Austrian producer saw one of these posters and set out to find her. When he eventually succeeded in tracking her down, he asked her to make a test for him for a film he was to make. She got the part but had to relinquish it because the shooting dates clashed with a film engagement she already had lined up for herself in England. She had been signed for a picture titled The Haunted Man.
The Austrain producer was so enthusiastic about the test she had made that he suggested that, when she returned to England, she should get in touch with a friend of his, director Cyril Frankel, who had been looking for a girl of her description for a picture.
Alex duly contacted Cyril Frankel, but the shooting dates for his film also clashed with The Haunted man. It was he, however, who suggested her for The Champions, and she was one of the many girls to be tested for the role of Sharron.
She won the part and, as it happened, it was Cyril Frankel who directed her in the first episode to be filmed.
In the meantime, Alex gained stage experience in a comedy role in Clutterbuck with the Derby Repertory Company, and also played opposite Roger Moore in another of The Saint episodes, this time as leading lady and in a very much more important part than she had taken when she appeared with him right at the start of her career.
She is a girl who loves travelling, and her many visits to the Continent have provided her with a fluent knowledge of French and Italian.
The Emperor of China is a Chinese!
This was the momentous sentence uttered by William Charles Anthony Gaunt when he made his first-ever stage appearance with an amateur drama group at the age of fourteen, playing the part of the Emperor of China complete with a magnificently long black moustache.
It was his only line of dialogue in the play, and he concentrated so hard on mastering it that he is never likely to forget it.
Now The Champions provides William Gaunt with the opportunity to gain international fame, in the role of Richard Barrett, after establishing himself as a heart-throb with British viewers as the handsome turn-of-the-century policeman Bob Marriott in the Sergeant Cork series.
The Victoria-era sidewhiskers and Guardec moutache have gone to present him very much as a modernand superhero.
Hes a good-looking 61, has brown hair and light blue eyes. His friends call him Bill.
He was born at Pudsey, Yorkshire, on 3rd April, 1937, the son of a lawyer, grandson of a former bank manager: Very much of a white-collar professional family! he exclaims. Im the first to break away into anything as insecure as acting.
He went to the Moravian School (a school founded by Moravians) - the same school at which Diana Rigg was a student, though he hadnt realised this until he appeared in a TV play with her just before she hit fame in The Avengers.
Then, when he was 13, Bill went to the Giggleswick School in the Pennines where he remained until he was 16. It was during these years that he began his drama training in vacation time with the Otley Little Theatre group and made his debut as the Emperor of China.
One play presented by the group was Wuthering Heights, which won an award at a Bronte Festival at which actress Esme Church was an adjudicator. Bill played Heathcliffe. At that time, his hair was much lighter so he had to darken it with boot polish, much to the infuriation of the girl playing opposite him who complained bitterly that the polish ruined her party dress!
Esme Church was running the Princess Theatre in Bradford. She was also interested in youth clubs. Impressed by Bill Gaunts performance, she spoke to him after the show and offered him tuition free of charge. He accepted the offer and went along to her twice a week to receive the lessons which paved the way towards him becoming the actor he is today.
By the time he left school, he was playing juvenile leads with the senior group at Otley, but at the time he had not made up his mind to become a professional actor and went to work, at the age of 16½, as an office boy with a local estate agent.
The job lasted eight months before he could stand it no longer. Throughout those eight months, he spent most of his spare time hanging around the Harry Hansons repertory company, watching the players at work from the wings and absorbing the heady atmosphere of the professional theatre until, at last, he was offered a job as an assistant stage manager.
He remained with Harry Hanson for eighteen months of twice-nightly weekly repertory. Six months later he went on the stage for the first time as a waiter, then in scores of other rolesgenerally as doddering old men, mostly butlers, with false crepe hair and lines on his face. Later, he reached juvenile leads status and by then it was time for his National Service.
He went into the Army as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery, was promoted to Bombardier and served in Malta and Cyprus, where he succeeded in expanding his acting experience by appearing in Army shows and, with Donald Douglas (who later became a pro actor), formed a group which travelled around to various Army camps.
Posted back to England to await release, he decided to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and, while waiting for admittance, worked in repertory for a spell at Morecambe. He then studied for two years at RADA where, in his fifth term (although he should have waited for his final term), he was auditioned for the Garfield Weston Fellowship training course at Waco University, Dallas.
The late Charles Laughton was one of the judges, and he later went out of his way to visit Dallas to see how Bill was getting along when he had been accepted as a post-graduate student.
During his eight months in Dallas, Bill played in Hamlet, The Importance of Being Earnest and other classics, and was seen by Warner Brothers executives who took him to Hollywood. But nothing much happened in Hollywood. But nothing much happened in Hollywood. He played a boy from Boston (Very English! he exclaims) in a Wagon Train segment, and did a pilot for a series that failed to materialise.
Disillusioned after two months of hanging around and doing practically nothing, he turned down the offer of a seven-year contract and returned to England via New York, where he spent all his savings except for his boat fare, and arrived back in London in 1959 with scarcely a penny left.
I was lucky, he admits. Id never worked in London, but I got a job within a couple of days through agent Vincent Shaw, who sent me down to Worthing. Then I did a summer season at the Theatre Royal, Bath.
He remained at Bath for three months as leading man, playing in Tea and Sympathy and other plays. TV casting director Monty Lyon saw him there, which led to his TV debut later on in Probabtion Officer.
Not that many people would have noticed me! he exclaims. The part looked good. I was a police officer, with three pages of script including a lot to say in the witness box. But, of course, I didnt know anything about TV technique, and what I didnt realise was that Id be seen entering the witness box and that the camera would then cut to various other characters, returning to me only at the end!
While in London, he appeared in St. Joan at the Richmond Theatre, and then went into rep at Salisbury to appear in such plays as Death of a Salesman, Henry IV, and Arsenic and Old Lace.
He returned to London in the Autumn of 1960 and did a spate of television workparts in Deadline Midnight, Harpers West One, Afternoon of a Nymph and other plays and was appearing as Dennis Prices A.D.C. in the Colonel Trumpers Private War series when the Equity dispute broke out and jobs were at a premium.
During this spell of television, he was put up for the part of Bob Marriott in Sergeant Cork, but the strike held up these plans. He was also offered a running role in Z Cars, but turned it down (I could have kicked myself afterwards, he admits, though I did later play in one of the episodes).
He went back again to repertory at Cheltenham (Cheltenham, he says, is my recharging place. Ive been back there time and time again.) Where he played such roles as the King in Man for all Seasons and Juilius Caesar in Anthony and Cleopatra, and had his first experience of directing a play with Present Laughter.
For a year, he alternated between TV roles in London and work in Cheltenham, where he starred in Billy Liar, Ross and The Caretaker during one spell of six weeks. He went to Coventry to direct The Amorous Prawn and then the Sergeant Cork project came up againand for three years he lived in the past as a Victorian policeman.
But there were, of course, breaks between the Sergeant Cork series, and from time to time he went back to Cheltenham where he played the King in Beckett and directed Pygmalion and The Importance of Being Earnest.
During other breaks between Sergeant Cork episodes, he played in two Edgar Wallace films, one as a policeman and the other as the villain; appeared with Honor Blackman in The Avengers; with Diana Rigg (as his wife) in Women, Beware Women, and other TV shows. Then, in the Spring of 1966 when Sergeant Cork came to an end, he returned to Cheltenham for Luther and The Poker Session before deciding that it was time to have his first vacation since leaving school.
He went to Italy for three months, just relaxing and seeing the sights, and then returned to England to tour for seven weeks in Doctor in Love and to appear in an episode of The Saint series.
He had just completed the tour when he was asked to test for The Champions, and while waiting for the series to go into production appeared as a crook in Softly, Softly and rejoined his old Sergeant Cork boss John Barrie in the oddly-titled In a Punt Under a Haystack on the River Mersey. Then The Champions went on the floor.