|Genre||Children's television series|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||8|
|No. of episodes||104|
|Location(s)||Southern England, Spain, France, Sweden, Netherlands|
|Running time||24 mins|
|Production company(s)||Southern Television|
|Original release||4 April 1968– 5 May 1973|
Freewheelers is a British television series made by Southern Television between 1968 and 1973. It was the brainchild of television producer Chris McMaster, who was aware of the popularity of adult action series such as The Avengers and Department S amongst teenagers and saw the potential of a version aimed at a younger audience. Reruns of Freewheelers were shown on the British satellite television channel Film 24 in 2010, and in 2017 on Talking Pictures TV.
In the opening story, three young people become caught up in the plans of ex-Nazi officer Karl von Gelb to "reverse the verdict of the last war" and inflict revenge on his former enemies. Under the direction of Colonel Buchan of MI5, the trio thwart von Gelb's scheme to launch Polaris missiles on London from a captured nuclear submarine. This set the template for future stories, with the teenagers regularly preventing von Gelb from carrying out massive and ingenious threats to Britain's security.
Background and production
The format of fast-paced action and outdoor locations was enormously successful and the programme enjoyed a large home audience as well as gaining overseas sales. In colour from the fourth series, location filming moved out of the South of England with scenes shot in Spain and Majorca. Future locations would include Amsterdam, Sweden and the Ardèche.
High-tech gadgets were a regular component, often machines developed for peaceful purposes seized by the villain and turned to criminal use. Whole teams of scientists were also regularly kidnapped and induced into building similar gadgets: devices for changing the weather, controlling minds and melting metal at great distances all featured.
Strong incidental and closing music by Laurie Johnson and a memorable theme tune, the Carnaby Street Pop Orchestra's "Teenage Carnival" composed by Keith Mansfield, helped maintain the momentum, and Von Gelb's appearances were usually accompanied by stirring passages from Wagner's Ring Cycle.
Cast and characters
Ronald Leigh-Hunt, as the British secret service agent Colonel Buchan, was the most regular cast member, appearing in series 1-4 and series 6. In 1971, he had a major part in the feature film Le Mans and, when production of that overran by two months, he was unavailable for series 5; the absence of his character from the series was explained as him being on an overseas mission.
The teenagers, almost invariably referred to as "the kids", varied over the years. The original lineup consisted of Tom Owen, Mary Maude and Gregory Phillips. Chris Chittell featured in series 2 and 3, and Adrian Wright played Mike Hobbs in series 4-7. Former Doctor Who companion Wendy Padbury joined the cast in series 5 as art student Sue Craig. Her youthful looks enabled her to portray a character several years her junior, although by the final series, with the actress in her mid-twenties and at the time married to actor Melvyn Hayes, careful camera angles were required to conceal an advancing pregnancy. Padbury was the only regular actor to appear in the eighth series, which was a single 13-part serial. She was teamed with co-star Martin Neil, who played Sue's boyfriend Dave.
Initially, Geoffrey Toone played the resident villain Karl von Gelb, but, as a result of the sale of the programme to West Germany, references to the character's Nazi past were dropped in series 3. From series 4, the character was replaced by a succession of similarly crazed criminal masterminds, notably Jerome Willis as Professor Nero and Commander Caine played by Kevin Stoney. The criminals were aided by various henchmen, perhaps most memorably by Ryan (Richard Shaw) and the beret-wearing Burke (Michael Ripper) in series 5 and 6.
A total of 104 episodes over 8 series were made. The first five series were all wiped by Southern, but telerecordings of series 1 and a single episode from series 2 survive. The final three series (6-8) exist in various formats.
- Freewheelers Episode Guide series 1–3 compiled by Andrew Pixley and Mark Harris. Time Screen issue 15 (Spring 1990).
- Freewheelers: Calling White Knight by Mark Harris. Time Screen issue 15 (Spring 1990), p4-p8.
- Freewheelers: Doomsday! by Mark Harris. Time Screen issue 19 (Autumn 1992), p10-p14.
- TV Times – Independent Television Publications Limited.
- Elinor Groom (2014) The South, Southern and Southerner: Regional Identity and Locations in Southern Television’s Freewheelers, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 34:3, 434-451 doi:10.1080/01439685.2014.937186
- Freewheelers Episode Guide series 4–8 compiled by Andrew Pixley, David Auger and Mark Harris. Time Screen issue 19 (Autumn 1992).
- Time Screen, The Magazine of British Telefantasy – Publisher David Nightingale.
- Renown Pictures Ltd Archived 14 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
- Simply Home Entertainment