Thursday October 27, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts
Many readers who grew up during the 1980s will recall how late on autumn nights ITV would screen re-runs of a spy programme concerning a prematurely grey-haired America private eye who drove a succession of Hillman Imps.
Man in a Suitcase partially came about when Patrick McGoohan left Danger Man for The Prisoner, thereby leaving a gap in the schedules for a secret agent series. The ingenious solution of the production company ITC was to import Bradford, a Method Actor then best known for playing a heavy in the Marlon Brando film The Chase, to play an embittered ex-CIA agent. Add a Ron Grainer theme tune that was so groovy that TFI Friday was to borrow it, and viewers were presented with an ambitious attempt at a British 'Marlowe' set in a London of HA-Series Vauxhall Vivas and Wimpy Bars.
Most weeks McGill (he was far too cool to admit to having a first name) would battle a gang of black-suited scowling villains in Jaguar Mk. Xs and manage to retain his Piccadilly Filter De Luxe (4/7d for twenty) even as the KGB/Mafia/London underworld beat him up. By the standards of 1967 British television, Man in a Suitcase was downbeat and, on occasions, quite violent and to match the dour mood, Bradford was regularly seen behind the wheel of an array of mundane family cars such as a Ford Zephyr 6 Mk. III or a Triumph Herald 1200 Estate. Once he drove a Moskvitch 407 for the obligatory “ITC driving through a ‘border crossing’ located in the middle of the Home Counties” scene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oizgrv-HTMQ but the show is most famously associated with the Hillman Imp.
Several examples of the Imp were used over the course of 30 episodes but McGill’s principal transport was a green 1965 Super Imp Rallye courtesy of the Rootes’ Group Press Fleet; a potential Mini Cooper rival that was only available to special order and was powered by a 998cc engine
A discreet badge and extra bonnet louvres were its chief forms of identification and inside there was an elaborate new instrument panel while the engine boasted twin Stromberg carburettors and a special exhaust manifold. In 1968, after spending nearly a year at Pinewood Studios the Imp was acquired by Neil Harrison of Autocar magazine and he found it to be ‘a truly useful little car -any day of the week.’
The Imp may not have been glamorous compared with Simon Templar’s Volvo P1800 but it was ideal for McGill's transport. After the debacles concerning problems with overheating and the often malfunctioning pneumatic clutch the small Hillman was in some need of positive image by the late 1960s and Man in a Suitcase showed that it was ideal for zooming through the capital where danger lurked in deserted football stadia and behind every coffee stall. Whenever the pork-pied hatted heavies’ car would appear in the rear view mirror, McGill would merely narrow his eyes and press the accelerator for the hoods to vanish into the back projection.
After filming completed Bradford returned to the USA where he became a character actor of distinction, appearing in The Untouchables and The Crossing Guard. But to countless Britons he will be forever remembered as the only man who could lend a touch of authentic film noir to the Hillman Imp.