The opening episode of a new television drama in September 1960 featured Patrick McGoohan driving an Aston Martin DB2/4 through an “Italy” that was very obviously North Wales. Danger Man, for that was its title, was the programme that established the tropes of the Incorporated Television Company’s “International Man of Mystery” genre; a square-jawed hero, a theme tune of distinction and, of course, splendid cars.
The directors also made valiant attempts to disguise that fact that the “exotic locations” were often Elstree Studios. However, “Rome” could easily be replicated by a prop Fiat 600 Multipla taxi and some totally undetectable back-projection, exemplified by this gem from The Saint. It was also possible to evoke “Spain” via driving a Vauxhall Ventora on the wrong side of the road near Branksome Beach in Poole.
Over the next 18 years, ITC devotees learned to treasure such trademarks of its output. There was a pool of actors specialising in villains – Burt Kwouk, George Pastell, Paul Stassino and a young Peter Bowles – along with a cavalier approach to continuity.
The exterior of a car rarely matched its interior, and an Aston Martin DB4 Series 5 Vantage might feature the cabin of a Rover 3-Litre Coupé. Vehicles would also change model in mid-pursuit, and a post-explosion Moskvitch 407 could transform into a Ford Prefect.
In short, it was a magical world in which KGB agents in “Moscow” rode in a right-hand-drive Ford Zodiac MkIV and undercranking the camera meant that a Humber Super Snipe could travel at the speed of sound. Meanwhile, “border crossings” were apparently made from cardboard, located in Black Park adjacent to Pinewood Studios and staffed by extras all waving plastic rifles and shouting “Stopski!”
But in the words of ITC’s maestro Lew Grade: “All of my programmes are great. Some of them are bad – but they’re all great!”
Here are 10 of his finest works:
10. Danger Man (1964-66)
The original Danger Man series ran until 1961, but three years later ITC revved the adventures of agent ‘John Drake’ with a 50-minute format and a Taurus-tuned Austin Mini Cooper 1071S belonging to the BMC press office.
9. The Protectors (1972-74)
Starring a Citroen SM (courtesy of the factory at Slough), an NSU Ro80, a Jensen Interceptor MkII and a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, plus Robert Vaughan acting as though he would like to throttle his agent. The Citroen is now believed to live in the former Yugoslavia.
8. The Baron (1965-66)
The leading man Steve Forrest looked lost in almost every scene, but at least he drove an Oyster Grey Jensen CV8. The factory-provided car with the number plate BAR 1 (actual registration CEA 580C) is still in existence while the episode Something for a Rainy Day introduced the famous ‘white ITC Jaguar 2.4 MkI of Doom’. Over the next few years, various producers made good use of this elaborate stunt in which the unfortunate Jaguar flew over the side of a quarry, sometimes augmented by another sequence of involving a red Renault Dauphine. A director might occasionally combine footage of the two doomed cars, with highly entertaining results.
7. The Persuaders! (1971-72)
Who could resist the glamour of Tony Curtis in a Ferrari Dino 246GT and Roger Moore in a six-cylinder Aston Martin DBS disguised as a V8 version - not to mention and a John Barry theme tune? The Dino now lives in Italy while the Bahama Yellow Aston Martin resides somewhere in England.
6. Department S (1969-70)
Whenever a case proved too baffling – or too groovy – for Scotland Yard, they sent for Department S. This was the ITC epic that introduced the world to Peter Wyngarde’s character Jason King; dandy, bon viveur and driver of a 1959 Bentley S2 Continental Sports Saloon with James Young coachwork. As for the most entertaining story, it has to be Who Plays the Dummy?, featuring a very young Michael Elphick and a Jaguar MkII remotely controlled by an international fiend. And, yes, that is Anthony Hopkins appearing in A Small War of Nerves.
5. The Saint (1962-69)
The producers intended to use a Jaguar MkX (not the E-Type of popular mythology) but the factory at Browns Lane would not even sell one to Roger Moore, let alone issue one of its press cars. The solution was a Volvo P1800, seen here out-running a gang of heavies in their (admittedly not very rapid) Ford Zephyr 4 MkIII. The Saint was to employ several Volvos; the Swedish company now owns car number five, while Kevin Price has painstakingly restored the first ‘ST1’.
4. Return of the Saint (1978-79)
The revived adventures of Simon Templar featured an Old English White Jaguar XJ-S, one of just 385 examples fitted with manual transmission. The Jaguar, chassis number 2W1138, left the production line on 22nd August 1975 and served as a test car before its television career as ‘ST1’. The production also employed two factory-sourced support cars which are immediately recognisable via their automatic gear selectors and lack of a sliding roof.
3. Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969-70)
What is there not to like in a programme featuring the delightful Mike Pratt/Kenneth Cope double act, Annette Andre, music from Edwin Astley and a Vauxhall PR department Victor 2000 FD? The Vauxhall also had a cameo role in Department S, as the two programmes were made back-to-back.
2. Man in a Suitcase (1967-68)
A downbeat series famed for its Ron Grainer theme tune and the intense performance of the US method actor Richard Bradford. The almost permanently bad-tempered hero chain-smoked his way through 30 adventures, often piloting a Rootes Group-provided Hillman Imp, Singer Chamois or even the twin-carburettor Rallye Imp. The series contains possibly the most ‘1967’ car chase in television history.
1. The Prisoner (1967-68)
McGoohan visited Portmeirion for that first episode of Danger Man, and on the 29th September 1967 ITV viewers were introduced to it again as ‘The Village’. Three Lotus Sevens portrayed McGoohan’s runaround, registered KAR 120C, while ‘Number 2’ favoured a quartet of Wood & Pickett-converted Mini Mokes; two of the latter survive.
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