A TeleVision series that chronicles the adventures of three super-powered human beings.
The appeal of such a production would lie, you might think, in marvelling at the para-normal feats of derring-do of its protagonists
Not for me.
The three secret agents at the heart of The ChampionsCraig Stirling, Sharron Macready, and Richard Barrettmay be able to run faster, jump higher, hold their breath underwater longer and dispense violence with greater consequence than any normal man or womanbut this isnt what makes the series special to me.
Nor is it their phenomenal power to access and retain data, their enhanced deductive prowess, or the fact that they can process complex mathematical calculations with an alacrity that would shame the most sophisticated of computers.
What makes this series important to me is the humanity which lies at the heart of the characters and stories.
I am aware that this will strike many of those familiar with the series as absurdincluding, I am sure, some members of the shows regular cast
In The Champions?!?
Most emphatically: Yes!
In the past, the series has regularly been dismissed by those who argue that the psychological delineation of its three protagonists is non-existent.
As The Champions thirty episodes unfold, the personalities of Craig, Sharron and Richard emerge as distinct and texturedand are critical to the path many of the stories take.
Furthermore, although the Nemesis trios valiant opposition to the self-interested malevolence of others may arguably be stereotypical, underlying it is a depiction of compassion, morality, loyalty, conscience and humour that is very much a part of the real world.
I am not claiming that this is something akin to Balzac, or Chekhov, or Shakespeareor Stanley R. Greenbergs Man in a Suitcasebut all fiction reflects the attitudes of its writer, and at the heart of The Champions is something remarkable, and valuableat least to me.
It must be said, however, that I didnt always feel this way
Although I saw The Champions when it first aired, in 1968, I actively disliked it. I was ten years old at the time and, more than anything else, found the series unsettling. The characters felt very cold and remote, and the graphic violence disturbed me.
A few years later, howeverin the early 1970sI encountered the series again. I saw The Beginning for the first time (my original introduction to the series had been To Trap a Rat), and I have memories of watching The Interrogation, The Experiment, The Silent Enemy, Reply Box No. 666, The Survivors, Happening and Autokill.
This time around, some three or four years older, I found myself engaging with The Champions on a level I had rarely experienced with a TeleVision series.
What I was responded to (in addition to some of the exotic, larger-than-life plotting) were the personalities of the characters: the way they interacted with one another; the telepathic bond they sharedand the intensity of the jeopardies they faced.
Even so, over the next few years I saw only a handful of episodes before, after a late-evening airing of Full Circle in the mid-1970s, the series vanished from the schedules.
It would be ten years before I saw it again.
Sometime in the mid-1980s, it reappeared on Sunday afternoons in my familys ITV region, Granada.
I was living elsewhere at the time, and arranged for my sister to recorded the episodes for me on VHS. When she had filled a single E180 tape, she would send it to me. As a consequence of this, I saw the series in batches of three segments at a time.
So it was that, late one Friday evening, with great anticipation, I settled down to watch The Beginning.
Initially, I was disappointed. There was none of the charm I remembered. Over the week-end, however, I watched the remaining episodes and then magicallyat some point during the third taleeverything came into focus and it became the series I remembered with such affection.
At first, I was puzzled by this.
Why had it taken so long for me to connect with the series?
The answer, I realised, was that The Champions is essentially plot-driven. Characterisation is present, but it is limited to a line or a scene here and there, scattered throughout the episodes. Individually, these moments tell us very little, but when the series is viewed in its entirety, and the isolated fragments are overlaid and coalesce, they form a complete picture of each character and their interrelationships.
When that happens, we find ourselves presented with a consistent vision of three human beings who share a common bondan extraordinary experienceand who attempt to use the unique abilities they possess to positive effect in the world. More importantly, however, we see how each of them responds to that challenge in very different waysin ways determined by the uniqueness of their personalities and history.
Recognising this led me to watch the series more closely andtogether with the acquisition of the script for The Gun-Runnersled me to appreciate that Dennis Spooner was far from being the hack manyincluding himselfclaimed him to be. He cared about what he wrote, and it shows in his work.
The Champions may have been born in the river of super-spies flowing from Ian Flemings James Bond, but it stands apart from the tide with the sincerity of its execution, and the compassion at its heart.
Despite the romance of its fantastic premise, The Champions doesnt treat violence as something to be joked about. It is presented as brutal and ugly. Shocking, at times. And therefore repugnant. As real violence is.
And the compassion?
At its most conspicuous level, it is there in the format of the series: in the concept of three human beings who can feel one anothers paineven though they may be half-a-world away.
In its subtlest form, it is expressed in the nature of Craig Stirlingthe American component of the trio. We see it in the disbeliefand even disquiethe expresses in the changes in himas in Reply Box No. 666, when he awakens on the shores of an island after having been shot and thrown from a plane, and he exhales breathlessly that, Boy, oh, boy. The miracles. They never stop. We see it in the affection he displays towards those he meets in the course of his adventures: in the gratitude he expresses to Clive, the Jamaican who finds and tends to him in Reply Box No. 666, or in his sympathy for Anna Eisenthe bereaved daughter of a murdered pilot in The Final Countdown.
Above all, perhaps, we see it in the loyalty Craig displays towards his fellow Champions, Sharron and Richard, and his willingness to sacrifice his life to save theirsmost conspicuously in Brian Clemens superlative script for Happening, where the Nemesis agent risks being gunned down by Australian security personnel in an attempt to prevent Richards death in a bomb test.
Its there, too, in the quality which distinguishes all Dennis Spooners work: the warmth and humour that all three characters share
Does all this sound unlikely?
Far removed from the series you know?
Elsewhere in this site, I hope to argue my case furtherin reviews of the episodes and in examinations of the series charactersand if, after that, I fail to win you over, well
If youre here, the chances are you are a fan of the series, as I am. I therefore hope, at least, that you will enjoy looking at the items from my collection.
That is, after all, one of the main reasons the site is here.
May 12, 2001