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The OTHER Unseen Beginning
The CHAMPIONS Visual Guide
A TeleVision series that chronicles the adventures of three super-powered human beings.
The appeal of such a production would lie, you might think, in marvelling at the para-normal feats of “derring-do” of its protagonists…
Not for me.
The three “secret agents” at the heart of The Champions—Craig Stirling, Sharron Macready, and Richard Barrett—may be able to run faster, jump higher, hold their breath underwater longer and dispense violence with greater consequence than any normal man or woman—but this isn’t what makes the series special to me.
Nor is it their phenomenal power to access and retain data, their enhanced deductive prowess, or the fact that they can process complex mathematical calculations with an alacrity that would shame the most sophisticated of computers.
What makes this series important to me is the humanity which lies at the heart of the characters and stories.
I am aware that this will strike many of those familiar with the series as absurd—including, I am sure, some members of the show’s regular cast…
In The Champions?!?
Most emphatically: Yes!
In the past, the series has regularly been dismissed by those who argue that the psychological delineation of its three protagonists is non-existent.
I disagree.
As The Champions’ thirty episodes unfold, the personalities of Craig, Sharron and Richard emerge as distinct and textured—and are critical to the path many of the stories take.
Furthermore, although the Nemesis trio’s valiant opposition to the self-interested malevolence of others may arguably be stereotypical, underlying it is a depiction of compassion, morality, loyalty, conscience and humour that is very much a part of the real world.
I am not claiming that this is something akin to Balzac, or Chekhov, or Shakespeare—or Stanley R. Greenberg’s Man in a Suitcase—but all fiction reflects the attitudes of its writer, and at the heart of The Champions is something remarkable, and valuable—at least to me.
It must be said, however, that I didn’t always feel this way…
Although I saw The Champions when it first aired, in 1968, I actively disliked it. I was ten years old at the time and, more than anything else, found the series unsettling. The characters felt very “cold” and remote, and the graphic violence disturbed me.
A few years later, however—in the early 1970s—I encountered the series again. I saw “The Beginning” for the first time (my original introduction to the series had been “To Trap a Rat”), and I have memories of watching “The Interrogation”, “The Experiment”, “The Silent Enemy”, “Reply Box No. 666”, “The Survivors”, “Happening” and “Autokill”.
This time around, some three or four years older, I found myself engaging with The Champions on a level I had rarely experienced with a TeleVision series.
What I was responded to (in addition to some of the exotic, larger-than-life plotting) were the personalities of the characters: the way they interacted with one another; the telepathic bond they shared—and the intensity of the jeopardies they faced.
Even so, over the next few years I saw only a handful of episodes before, after a late-evening airing of “Full Circle” in the mid-1970s, the series vanished from the schedules.
It would be ten years before I saw it again.
Sometime in the mid-1980s, it reappeared on Sunday afternoons in my family’s ITV region, Granada.
I was living elsewhere at the time, and arranged for my sister to recorded the episodes for me on VHS. When she had filled a single E180 tape, she would send it to me. As a consequence of this, I saw the series in batches of three segments at a time.
So it was that, late one Friday evening, with great anticipation, I settled down to watch The Beginning.
Initially, I was disappointed. There was none of the charm I remembered. Over the week-end, however, I watched the remaining episodes and then magically—at some point during the third tale—everything came into focus and it became the series I remembered with such affection.
At first, I was puzzled by this.
Why had it taken so long for me to “connect” with the series?
The answer, I realised, was that The Champions is essentially plot-driven. Characterisation is present, but it is limited to a line or a scene here and there, scattered throughout the episodes. Individually, these moments tell us very little, but when the series is viewed in its entirety, and the isolated fragments are overlaid and coalesce, they form a complete picture of each character and their interrelationships.
When that happens, we find ourselves presented with a consistent vision of three human beings who share a common bond—an extraordinary experience—and who attempt to use the unique abilities they possess to positive effect in the world. More importantly, however, we see how each of them responds to that challenge in very different ways—in ways determined by the uniqueness of their personalities and history.
Recognising this led me to watch the series more closely and—together with the acquisition of the script for The Gun-Runners—led me to appreciate that Dennis Spooner was far from being the “hack” many—including himself—claimed him to be. He cared about what he wrote, and it shows in his work.
The Champions may have been born in the river of “super-spies” flowing from Ian Fleming’s “James Bond”, but it stands apart from the tide with the sincerity of its execution, and the compassion at its heart.
Despite the romance of its fantastic premise, The Champions doesn’t treat violence as something to be joked about. It is presented as brutal and ugly. Shocking, at times. And therefore repugnant. As real violence is.
And the compassion?
At its most conspicuous level, it is there in the format of the series: in the concept of three human beings who can feel one another’s pain—even though they may be half-a-world away.
In its subtlest form, it is expressed in the nature of Craig Stirling—the American component of the trio. We see it in the disbelief—and even disquiet—he expresses in the changes in him—as in Reply Box No. 666, when he awakens on the shores of an island after having been shot and thrown from a ’plane, and he exhales breathlessly that, “Boy, oh, boy. The miracles. They never stop.” We see it in the affection he displays towards those he meets in the course of his adventures: in the gratitude he expresses to Clive, the Jamaican who finds and tends to him in Reply Box No. 666, or in his sympathy for Anna Eisen—the bereaved daughter of a murdered pilot in The Final Countdown.
Above all, perhaps, we see it in the loyalty Craig displays towards his fellow Champions, Sharron and Richard, and his willingness to sacrifice his life to save theirs—most conspicuously in Brian Clemens’ superlative script for Happening, where the Nemesis agent risks being gunned down by Australian security personnel in an attempt to prevent Richard’s death in a bomb test.
It’s there, too, in the quality which distinguishes all Dennis Spooner’s work: the warmth and humour that all three characters share…
Does all this sound unlikely?
Far removed from the series you know?
Elsewhere in this site, I hope to argue my case further—in reviews of the episodes and in examinations of the series’ characters—and if, after that, I fail to win you over, well…
If you’re here, the chances are you are a fan of the series, as I am. I therefore hope, at least, that you will enjoy looking at the items from my collection.
That is, after all, one of the main reasons the site is here.
Mark Rogers
May 12, 2001
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