(I make no secret of the fact that I am a fan of Sir Gerry Anderson’s work, both live-action shows like UFO and the Supermarionation programs like Thunderbirds. The following is a piece I wrote for Amazon reviewing one of his lesser-known productions)
We don’t go out to eat often but when we do there is always a lively discussion involving restaurants and menu selections. My Beautiful Saxon Princess is a gourmet, savors her meals and is quick to try new tastes. To me food is fuel and I’m not one to experiment –when I acquire a taste for something like a cheeseburger I’ll order it quite often and feel no need to change.
It’s a similar situation with The Protectors, a Gerry Anderson production that offered neither marionettes nor nubile young women wearing purple wigs and silver suits seemingly applied with spray paint – it’s definitely an acquired taste. Starring Robert Vaughn, Nyree Dawn Porter and Tony Anholt, The Protectors is one of that vanished breed of television programs that the British did so well: The half-hour action adventure series. It ran from 1971 to 1973 and chronicled the activities of a loose network of agents that travelled across Europe fighting crime, defeating terrorism and generally being twentieth century Lone Rangers.
With only 22 minutes to work with there wasn’t much time for character development, though we did know that Harry Rule (Robert Vaughn) still cared very much for his ex-wife, Nyree Dawn Porter’s Contessa enjoyed the privileged life of widowed nobility but also held a very subtle candle for Harry Rule, and Tony Anholt managed to show loyalty and likeability though the façade of Paul Bouchet’s Gallic pride. Despite their brevity the stories were engaging , with occasional innovations in plot and camera work that were pioneering for early Seventies. For example the pilot episode involved sky-diving but there were some interesting shots made via car mirrors that focused your attention in a very effective albeit low-tech manner.
If I had a complaint it would be budget. Sir Gerry wasn’t given much to work with and money was cut even further with the second series, causing the loss of the strength and wit of the Contessa’s chauffer Chino (played by Anderson regular Anthony Chinn). Directors were also careful with location shooting, limiting Continental segments to Copenhagen, Paris, Venice, Malta or coastal Spain. At each of these locations the crew would film exterior footage for several episodes then they would fly back to London for interior filming and editing. To the producers’ credit they spaced the shows out avoiding back-to-back adventures in the same city, but on a rainy day you can zip through your DVDs and piece together what was shot when. I particularly enjoyed the location shots as they let me see the real Europe rather than an idealized version as portrayed in shows like The Avengers that were tailored to appeal to what Americans thought the UK was like rather than how it really was.
So now we’re down to my regular closing question: Does The Protectors consist of the finest visual literature?
Is it fun?
That would be a resounding, echoing “YES” – but a qualified “yes”. The Protectors might not be everyone’s favorite, but if you have an appreciation for well-written short form video, a desire to see an honest glimpse of Europe forty years ago, or have a hankering to hear Robert Vaughn deliver dialog in the way only he could, then The Protectors is the cheeseburger for you.
(Episodes of The Protectors are available from Amazon in both DVD and streaming format. YouTube clips are pretty sparse but I managed to find one episode – not my particular favorite of the lot but enough to give you an idea of what the series is like.)
They’re the first thing you see on an episode of Fireball XL5
“OK Venus?” “OK Steve” “Right…let’s go!”
Some guys my age like to golf all the time. Other guys work in their gardens. Me – I like to re-design things just for the h*ll of it. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Fireball XL5, if nothing else but for the fact that it was my favorite show during 5th grade at Woodland Park Elementary in deepest, darkest Spenard…and it was time to give the jetbike a reworking….
With chronic pain issues, sleep does not come easy to me, so I find that most of my television viewing happens late at night. There’s been some debate on the practice with most researchers coming down on the side of “NO” but I find that spending some time with Mike, Emma, Harry and Steve helps me simultaneously unwind from the tensions of the day and focus my attention away from the endless discomfort.
Mike, Emma, Harry and Steve?
Try Mike Gambit, Emma Peel, Harry Rule and Steve Zodiac – all characters from classic British adventure programs like the Avengers, The Protectors, and the dozen or so programs like Fireball XL5 or Space 1999 produced by Gerry Anderson, also a product of the United Kingdom. While I thoroughly enjoy various domestic American classic television shows I find this particular group of British programs from the 1960’s and 1970’s to be (pardon the weak joke) just my cup of tea.
…but something else hit me last night as I turned off my little bedside DVD player. I had been watching one of the last episodes of The New Avengers and for some reason the thought occurred to me “No one intends to make only thirteen episodes of a TV series”. Everyone hopes that their show will be the next M*A*S*H or The Big Bang Theory with at least a decade-long run. Nobody plans to fail – but it happens.
For example – take The New Avengers in 1976-77.
I won’t say the show failed, but it wasn’t a smashing success either. It did gain enough of a cult following to generate brisk DVD sales when A&E released sets of both seasons in 2004. It was put together by Albert Fennel and Brian Clemens, the producers of the original mid-60s series but New Avengers got much the same reaction as the younger sister of the hottest cheerleader in school – it was judged by an impossible standard. The show was always struggling for money and because of that it had to move production twice, first to France and then to Canada – which confused viewers even more so the show never made it beyond two seasons of 13 episodes apiece.
…but I like it, for the same reason I like my other “Brit” programs. The plots are interesting, the dialog witty and the “stronger” elements of the shows (sex and violence) stay within my comfort level. Bear in mind that genealogy on both sides of my family very quickly traces back to the British Isles so there is a family connection of sorts for me. It also gives me a chance to see a part of the world that I am intensely interested in but ever less likely to visit as time goes by.
However, it is the human element that interests me the most. In my creative career I have worked on several properties (belonging to both other parties and myself) that gave all the indications of being extremely successful…but weren’t. It’s hard to deal with; for example I spent most of 1996 devoting all my spare time to a proposal for a line of collectible figurines to be sold in gift and card shops. The idea involved ethnically diverse mermaids based on sea creatures from those pertinent ethnic areas and I shopped it around to a dozen companies which was no mean feat in pre-Internet days. The project was well-received and garnered many compliments for the concept and quality but it was ultimately turned down – -everyone wanted a pre-sold property with a book series, television show or toy line already in place. They all wanted to lead from the middle of the pack so that by appealing to the lowest common denominator they could avoid any risk.
It was hard to accept and I had to move on with my life – but as I was looking at The New Avengers DVD case the other night I had an insight. I had just watched one of the last episodes in which the character Mike Gambit is trailing a suspect. Even though at the time Gareth Hunt knew the show wasn’t going to continue, he turned in a solid professional performance – and I really had to respect that. I also felt a bit of kinship as well: While shows like The New Avengers, The Protectors and UFO have their own set of fans, they are quirky and definitely do not appeal to the lowest common denominator…but their creators still gave their best. .
I understand that better than I did when I was young – and while most of those creators have passed on, I still feel like they deserve some recognition for their creativity.
Thank you Mike, Emma, Harry and Steve…or should I say Gareth Hunt, Diana Rigg, Robert Vaughn and Paul Maxwell – and the series’ creative teams – for giving your best shot despite the outcome.
. After getting tooth shrapnel removed from my jaw one shard at a time I avoid driving as much as possible, using sharp implements or buying anything with a price tag over $20. I’m not the kind of person to just idle way the extra time freed up during recovery so I look for meaningful activities to keep me busy.
….like casting a live-action Fireball XL5 motion picture.
Hey – it could work. It would be great simply because that terrible reboot of Thunderbirds we had to endure a dozen years ago set the bar fairly low, but to be honest I doubt the following people would work for just scale.
William H. Macy / Steve Zodiac
Pamela Anderson / Venus
John Lithgow / Matthew Matic
Kurtwood Smith / Commander Zero
Rob Schnieder / Lieutenant Ninety
What does this all mean? It means I’ve had too much spare time on my hands – but it is still a fun idea. Who would you cast – and what about the other roles like Zoony, Robert the Robot, Mrs. Ninety, Jock the mechanic and the Chief Subterrain from Planet 46.
When it comes to gaming legend Steve Jackson there are as many opinions as there are gaming professionals , but I will tell you this:
- He knows the business
- He knows his market
I’ve not always felt that way and didn’t shy away from saying so. We spent two weeks arguing via long-distance phone calls over the best weapons mix for an armed ground-effect vehicle: To my line of thinking a combat capable GEV wouldn’t look much like the ones we see now and would depend on weapons mounted on remote-control turrets or in vertical launch system boxes. Steve disagreed, maintaining that gamers would be more likely to buy a product with recognizable vehicles and hand-held swivel weapons like those used by the B-17 waist-gunners we saw on Twelve O’clock High .
He was right.
I adapted that JLC (just looks cool) concept for my creative tool box. Sometimes when I design I strive to be as real-world as possible but sometimes I just try to make things that appeal to my inner fifth-grader. Such is the case with my reworked XL5. As I wrote in an earlier post: “ None of that victim crap with Steve Zodiac…Fireball XL5 (the ship itself) looked, flew, and fought like a freaking F104 Starfighter jet rather than wallowing around helplessly like most other cinematic spacecraft at the time” – which is why I came up with the wing-mounted weapons and a manned turret covering the aft quarter , both of which continue the JLC line of thinking. In the original series the ship’s main weapons were missiles oddly dubbed “interceptors” but I have tweaked that idea changing the interceptors into recon probes with folding wings that can be sent out to the edge of sensor range to increase the area of observation.
…and the transparent globe-y thing in back? Graham Bleathman’s marvelous cross-section drawing of Fireball XL5 includes a “Velot Space-fold hyperdrive generator” which is a transparent globe-y thing just under the trailing edge of the main fuselage vertical fin. It was such an interesting image that it seemed a shame to hide it so I gave it an exterior mounting , the technical aspects of which will no doubt be explained to me by countless numbers of convention attendees after trapping me in front of my panels in the art show.
My inner fifth-grader just thinks it looks cool.
Basically a rework/extension of a sketchbook drawing from 2013, this drawing depicts an updated version of “our beautiful doctor of space medicine” as COL Zodiac described Venus in Planet 46, the first episode/pilot of Fireball XL5. I wanted to carry that blonde bombshell esthetic forward but at the same time I like the idea that she might have a couple of aces up her telekinetic sleeve, something akin to Susan Storm Richards, who has turned out to be possibly the most powerful member of the Fantastic Four.
Sylvia Anderson gave Venus a French accent when she did the voice-over work but in the Files Magazine Spotlight on The Fireball XL5 Files our good doctor is described as having been “…born in what used to be call Russia, before the World Confederation was formed. ” The Files book also lists her as being a xenobiologist as well as a doctor.
What can I say?
“Diana Rigg” is what I can say!
I was thirteen years old and just becoming aware of my Anglo-Saxon heritage when series 4 of ‘The Avengers” hit the airwaves, which for those of use in Alaska meant two weeks after the rest of the country. We’d received very little in the way of advance promotions ; with the recent premiere of “Batman” I was cringing inwardly as I anticipated this new British show to be a camp rendition of Marvel’s super-team.
…but from the first few minutes watching Steed and Emma stride across the giant checkerboard I knew this show was going to be good, especially the “talented amateur” Emma Peel.
The drawing came about as a part of a 22-page self-promotional comic I did a couple of years back but it turned out much too nicely to stay buried in a binder on my shelf.
The first major heartbreak of my life? May of 1968 when I found out that Diana Rigg was being replaced on The Avengers. I cycled between anger and angst every five minutes until a squirrel ran by the window and my attention was distracted enough to get on with life.
Dame Diana was never completely off my radar though and I have followed her career as I have followed the continuing adventures of her alter-ego through paper-back books and graphic novels. ( We will not be discussing the travesty that tried to pass itself off as an Peel/Steed Avengers movie in 1998). The DVD’s released at about the same time were the main reason I finally broke down and bought a player….but through it all I have wished that there somehow was an episode from the fourth season/series that was never aired – and was discovered and about to be aired for the first time.
“Flashback” came out of that wish. In the same way that I ran home after The Longest Day and spent the afternoon jumping out of a packing crate that stood in for Omaha beach, this work is meant to jump-start viewer imagination and interaction. As you look at the elements and the text I am hoping you’ll mentally write their own episode, something involving Steed’s war-time service with Emma’s derring-do.
This work took a LOT longer than planned – but then I wanted to get it just right and I didn’t have a deadline or an art director goading me along. The photography is not the best but I think it will do until I get a pro in there to do the sculpt some justice.