Monday November 28, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts
The recent passing of Robert Vaughan on November 11th was my cue to re-watch a British television series that the actor did not much care for.
The show's formula was 'There is a small group of private detectives who are able to work more efficiently because they are operating outside the law' – the reality was shaky back projection, disastrous fashion sense, alarming sideburns and Fiat 850 Coupes sacrificed in the name of drama.
It was, of course, The Protectors, the ITC epic show concerning Harry Rules, a London-based American who favoured Paisley dressing gowns and looking bored in his reaction shots.
Assisting him in his battle against international fiends was the British aristocrat the Contessa Caroline di Contini (Nyree Dawn Porter) and Tony Anholt's French investigator Paul Buchet.
ITC’s publicity material promised that 'Money is no object. The Protectors are expensive to hire and are called upon not only by private individuals but also by powerful groups. Those bodies employing them know they are hiring not only individual and collective skills, but also the latest scientific devices'.
In actual fact, nearly every episode was dominated by a leading man who bore the expression of an actor who has only just realised that he is locked into a two-year contract and an air of wonderful cheapness. Continuity could be non-existent; a Mercedes-Benz might gain and lose an extra set of doors in mid-chase and the opening credits featured shots of the 1961 Chevrolet C-30 Apache of From Russia With Love.
However, unlike ITC shows of the 1960s such as The Baron, The Protectors did boast a certain amount of overseas shooting. The use of 16mm stock may have given the show a faintly dowdy appearance but this mattered less to viewers than the chance to appreciate Maserati Mistrals, SEAT 1500 taxis or Maltese Police Ford Consul Mk.IIs.
Some 52 adventures were made, each with a running time of 25 minutes, and as the show's formula often realised on Buchet being kidnapped by this week's heavies (i.e. British thespians using all purpose “foreign villain” accents and a Series One XJ6) it was usually best for the viewer to concentrate on the cars.
Harry Rule favoured a Jensen Interceptor Mk. II while the Contessa drove a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow (one that was borrowed from Gerry Anderson) or a Citroen SM finished in ‘Bleu Platine’. The latter proved too difficult for the actress to pilot and was replaced by an NSU Ro80.
As for Paul, he once used a Citroen Dyane, which might explain his grumpy expression, and any edition of the programme might feature a 'Jaune Primevère' GS Club, or a Toyota Crown Estate.
Meanwhile, guest appearances from a Capri 3000 GXL Mk. 1 and a very early Granada were further proof of how Dagenham were masters of product placement.
My favourite Protectors' moment is The Disappearing Trick, largely because it features the SM and also because the guest star is Derren Nesbitt, playing a homicidal and paranoid son of a millionaire who, in one never to be forgotten moment, appears in drag.
As for the show's leading man, he subsequently noted that he took the part of Harry because it provided him with the opportunity to travel and moaned of the scripts that: 'I couldn’t understand them when I read them. I couldn’t understand them when I did them. I never understood them when I saw them on air'.
There also remains the fact that the episode called ‘It Could Be Practically Anywhere on the Island’ was accurately described by Lew Grade as the worst episode he had ever seen of anything but The Protectors still remains utterly groovy TV.
Take it away Tony Christie:
In the avenues and alley ways,
Where the soul of man is easy to buy,
Everybody's wheelin', everybody's dealin'
All the lower living are high.
Every city's got 'em,
Can we ever stop 'em?
Some of us are gonna try…'