Agents Craig Stirling, Richard Barrett and Sharron Macready
suffer a near fatal plane crash whilst on a secret mission.
Rescued by an enigmatic Tibetan monk our heroes are transformed
into beings with special gifts such as strength, telepathy
and E.S.P. These attributes are kept a secret which allows
them to use their powers for the common good in their work
for the international spy agency Nemesis...
Champions is perhaps one of the more neglected and overlooked
shows to have emerged from the legendary ITC stable. An unusual
hybrid of espionage thriller and supernatural chiller, a total
of 30 episodes were transmitted in 1968/9, every one of which
is presented here in a bumper 9-disc boxed set from Network
that is positively overflowing with special features.
up by the dynamic partnership of writer Dennis Spooner (Randall
and Hopkirk (Deceased), Man In A Suitcase, Department S)
and producer Monty Berman (The Saint, The Baron), the
series chronicles the exploits of three agents - Craig Stirling,
Sharron MacReady and Richard Barrett - working for Nemesis,
a top-secret law enforcement organisation based in Geneva.
In the pilot episode (imaginatively titled The Beginning,
just in case you were starting to get confused already), the
three agents miraculously survive a plane crash in Tibet and
are mysteriously bestowed strange powers from an enigmatic
Monk with a nice beard. These new super powers tend to come
in dead handy for the following twenty-nine adventures, as
our heroes develop telepathic skills, E.S.P, unimaginable
super strength and, my own personal favourite, the ability
to jump really, really high.
billing is given to Stuart Damon as Craig Stirling, the typically
heroic and good-looking American agent, apparently insisted
upon by the mighty Lew Grade in order to gain financial interest
from the States. The glamour is provided by Alexandra Bastedo
as British agent Sharron MacReady, who as well as carrying
the burden of being 'the pretty female one' also proves to
be refreshingly capable and resourceful in her own right.
The real undisputed star of the show though (despite being
billed last) is the brilliant William Gaunt as Richard Barrett,
the British Gentleman agent, who manages to be charming, sly,
intelligent, funny, heroic and devious all at the same time.
It's Gaunt's heroically likeable performance that really makes
the show, as he consistently overshadows the supposed leading
It's genuinely surprising just how many of these episodes
have stood the test of time - yes, there are a couple of damp
squibs lurking in the collection but the majority of these
stories are fast-paced, sharply written action adventures
with a wry sense of humour oozing deliciously all the way
through them. The production standards initially seem surprisingly
high for such a low-budget show, as our globe-trotting heroes
save the world against a backdrop of diverse internationally-flavoured
locations - although after ploughing through a number of episodes,
you do eventually begin to see a fair bit of recycling from
the budget-conscious production team. There are no less than
three episodes set in the Arctic and a further three set in
very similar looking submarines, whilst the use of old stock
footage is sometimes just a little too inconspicuous and distracting.
Nevertheless, for a show rapidly approaching it's 40th birthday,
it still looks pretty damn fine to me.
Spooner and Monty Berman were often struggling to drag the
series in opposite directions. Spooner was keen on developing
the supernatural side of the show and exploring the effects
of the special powers bestowed upon the agents, whilst Berman
favoured the straightforward spy thriller grounded in reality.
It would seem that Berman won the battle. As the series progresses,
the focus deepens on tense espionage drama, with the telefantasy
side increasingly relegated to a couple of scenes an episode.
Looking back, that's a bit of a shame - it seems odd to devise
such a bold and fascinating concept, and then go on to back-peddle
the entire premise of the show.
there is still plenty to savour in this vast collection of
entertaining episodes. Several familiar faces from the world
of telefantasy make welcome appearances (the likes of Peter
Wyngarde, Roger Delgado, Nicholas Courtney, Philip Madoc)
as well as some rather more jaw-dropping appearances from
Julian Glover, Stephen Berkoff and Donald Sutherland.
final episode, Autokill, is without a shadow of a doubt,
the finest of the entire run. Just as the show begins to look
a little like it's running out of puff, the golden touch of
Brian Clemens completely revitalises the format, as he turns
the show upside down and turns the agents against each other.
It's a wonderful piece of writing that ends the show on a
high, but left this reviewer wanting to see further episodes
of this rich quality.
dire TV scheduling didn't give The Champions much of
a chance - the episodes were held back until well over a year
after they were produced, and they were finally transmitted
regionally throughout the UK in varying time slots, denying
the show any national impact.
In 1983, ITC culled together a feature film Legend Of The
Champions for the overseas market, which was basically
a slightly reworked compilation of two of the episodes, The
Beginning and The Interrogation. The choice of
episodes couldn't have been more absurd, as The Interrogation,
whilst a perfectly pleasant episode in the right context,
was virtually a 'clips show' from previous episodes and was
entirely inappropriate for what was supposed to be a coherent
feature film. Still, for the completists, I'm pleased to say
that Legend Of The Champions is presented here in all
In fact, the amount of special features that Network have
crammed onto these nine discs is breathtaking, and it's probably
worth considering buying the set even if you already own all
major interest to Champions fans will be a very special
extended edit of the first episode, bookended with two interesting
sequences in the Nemesis Headquarters which were cut before
transmission, and are presented here for the very first time.
are also treated to a brand new documentary We Were The
Champions which reunites all three leading stars for the
first time in over thirty years, to reminisce with great fondness
their time working for Nemesis. Stuart Damon in particular
is a revelation - after watching him play the cool, arrogant
American hero throughout the series, it's a delight to see
the actor himself is such a jolly and bouncy character, as
he exchanges warm anecdotes and memories with the rather more
restrained Gaunt and Bastedo. This happy reunion is interspersed
with contributions from the likes of Brian Clemens, director
Cyril Frankel and many others, all of whom shed new light
on some of the hilarious tight-fisted budget-saving tactics
of producer Monty Berman.
three Nemesis agents are reunited again to record brand new
commentaries for the first and final episodes, gently poking
fun at some of the more dated material while clearly enjoying
each other's company as they view their finest hour together.
Additional extras include original artistes test footage,
image and music galleries that have clearly been prepared
with great care and affection, a feast of trailers, reconstructed
ad-caps, an extensive merchandise gallery and much, much more.
One of my favourites though is the chance to view the extremely
rare Champions comic strips from the short-lived Joe
90 - Top Secret comic, presented here as PDF files.
really have pulled out all the stops on this to present the
definitive Champions package, it's hard to think of
anything more they could have possibly included. The series
itself may not have been the very best of 1960's television
(or even the very best of ITC's output) but the episodes remain
an enjoyable slice of slightly off-the-wall telefantasy.
you're a fan, then The Complete Series Special Edition
is nothing short of essential.