Occult detective fiction
|Created by||Dennis Spooner|
|Theme music composer||Tony Hatch|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||30 (list of episodes)|
|Production company||ITC Entertainment|
|Distributor||ITV Studios Global Entertainment/Granada International Media Ltd|
|Picture format||35 mm film 4:3 Colour|
|Original release||25 September 1968 –|
30 April 1969
The Champions is a British espionage thriller/science fiction/occult detective fiction adventure television series. It was produced by Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment production company, and consists of 30 episodes broadcast on the UK network ITV during 1968–1969. The series was broadcast in the US on NBC, starting in summer 1968.
Agents Craig Stirling, Sharron Macready and Richard Barrett work for a United Nations law enforcement organization called 'Nemesis', based in Geneva. Barrett is a codebreaker, Stirling a pilot, and Macready a recently widowed scientist and doctor.
During their first mission as a team, their plane crashes in the Himalayas. They are rescued by an advanced civilization living secretly in the mountains of Tibet, who save their lives, granting them enhanced abilities, including extrasensory powers to communicate with one another over distances (telepathy) and to foresee events (precognition), enhanced versions of the ordinary five senses, and intellectual and physical abilities reaching the fullest extent of human capabilities.
Many stories feature unusual villains, such as fascist regimes from unspecified South American countries, Nazis (a common theme of ITC 1960s and 1970s TV, in part owing to both the writers and the domestic audience having been of the war generation) or the Chinese. The villains' schemes often threaten world peace; Nemesis' brief is international, so the agents deal with threats transcending national interests. The main characters have to learn the use of their new powers as they go along, keeping what they discover secret from friend and foe alike. Each episode begins with a close-up shot of a map, showing the region in which the story is to take place, followed by a teaser sometimes prefaced by stock footage; this is followed by the title sequence. Immediately following that is a post-title vignette, in which one or more of the Champions demonstrates exceptional mental or physical abilities, often astonishing or humiliating others. In one example Stirling participates in a sharpshooting contest. In another, Macready's car is blocked in, two laughing passing drunks try to lift it out but she goes round to the other side and pulls it out of the parking space one-handed. Paradoxically, the narration during these often-public demonstrations usually mentions the need to keep the powers a secret.
The only other series regular is the Champions' boss, Tremayne. He does not know that his agents have special abilities, although he does ask innocent questions about just how on their missions they managed to carry out certain tasks about which their reports were vague.
- Stuart Damon as Craig Stirling
- Alexandra Bastedo as Sharron Macready
- William Gaunt as Richard Barrett
- Anthony Nicholls as W.L. Tremayne
- George Murcell as El Gaudillo
- Eric Pohlmann as Barka
- Joseph Furst as Chislenkan
- David Lodge as Filmer
- Ric Young as Burmese Police Captain
- Michael Mellinger as Embassy Official
The Champions was created by Dennis Spooner and its episodes were written by veterans of popular British spy series, including The Avengers and Danger Man. An unfilmed script originally intended for Danger Man was used for one episode.
The series was produced by Monty Berman, who had co-produced The Saint, Gideon's Way and numerous B movies of the 1950s. Berman used many of the same writers, directors and crew on other ITC series, including Department S, Jason King, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and The Adventurer.
Owing to budget constraints, many sets were reused: three episodes were set on a submarine and three in the Arctic. Stock footage was often used. As with other ITC productions, much of the exterior action took place in and around the studio lot – in the case of The Champions, around Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, England. For at least one episode, "Desert Journey", foreign filming did take place, but with a second unit, and extras standing in for the main cast.
|01||"The Beginning"||Dennis Spooner||Cyril Frankel||25 September 1968|
|The three Nemesis agents recover from a plane crash in the Tibetan mountains to find their injuries healed. In the course of the episode, they learn they have had new abilities bestowed on them by their rescuers, people from an ancient civilisation, and have to evade capture from the Chinese military.|
With Felix Aylmer, Burt Kwouk, Joseph Furst
|02||"The Invisible Man"||Donald James||Cyril Frankel||2 October 1968|
|The agents investigate a plot to steal the gold reserves of a bank in the City of London.|
With Peter Wyngarde, Aubrey Morris, Basil Dignam, James Culliford, Steve Plytas, David Prowse
|03||"Reply Box No. 666"||Philip Broadley||Cyril Frankel||9 October 1968|
|The agents are sent to the Caribbean to investigate a newspaper advert asking for "a parrot that speaks Greek", which Tremayne has worked out is a signal for participants in an undercover operation.|
With Anton Rodgers, George Murcell, George Roubicek, Imogen Hassall, Nike Arrighi
|04||"The Experiment"||Philip Broadley||Cyril Frankel||16 October 1968|
|Sharron is sent undercover to a training establishment in which a scientist is using new techniques to produce agents who have the same level of abilities as the Champions. Nemesis is interested in the organisation because one of its graduates has tried to break into a military establishment and steal secrets.|
With David Bauer, Nicholas Courtney, Philip Bond, Russell Waters, Madalena Nicol, Allan Cuthbertson.
|05||"Happening"||Brian Clemens||Cyril Frankel||23 October 1968|
|Sharron, Craig and Tremayne are in Australia observing a nuclear test. Meanwhile, Richard is trapped at ground zero with amnesia, trying to stop the men who are attempting to sabotage the test.|
With Jack MacGowran, Michael Gough, Grant Taylor, Bill Cummings
|06||"Operation Deep Freeze"||Gerald Kelsey||Paul Dickson||30 October 1968|
|Craig and Richard are sent to Antarctica to investigate an unexplained nuclear explosion, and discover that an unnamed South American country is using the territory to develop its own nuclear weapon.|
With Patrick Wymark, Robert Urquhart, Peter Arne, Walter Gotell, George Pastell, Martin Boddey, Alan White, Derek Sydney, Dallas Cavell, Michael Godfrey
|07||"The Survivors"||Donald James||Cyril Frankel||6 November 1968|
|The trio are sent to investigate the possibility that caches of guns have been left in Austria by the SS, and end up discovering a secret Nazi hideout in the local iron mines, complete with surviving Nazis who think the Second World War is still going on.|
With Clifford Evans, Donald Houston, Bernard Kay, Stephen Yardley, John Tate, Frederick Schiller
|08||"To Trap a Rat"||Ralph Smart||Sam Wanamaker||13 November 1968|
|Using Sharron as a decoy, the agents investigate a drug-running racket in London.|
With Kate O'Mara, Guy Rolfe, Edina Ronay, Michael Standing, John Lee, Michael Guest
|09||"The Iron Man"||Philip Broadley||John Moxey||20 November 1968|
|This was one of the more comedic episodes. The trio are detailed to guard the former dictator of a small South American country, La Revada, who is living in exile in the South of France. This is because some of his political opponents are planning to assassinate him, which would destabilise the political situation in the region. El Caudillo (as the former dictator insists on being called) turns out to be a vainglorious, not-very-intelligent womaniser who likes to prove that he is superior to everyone around him.|
With George Murcell, Patrick Magee, Steven Berkoff
|10||"The Ghost Plane"||Donald James||John Gilling||27 November 1968|
|The Champions investigate a mysterious 'ghost plane' which is both faster than anything else in the air and of unknown origin.|
With Andrew Keir, Dennis Chinnery, Tony Steedman, John Bryans, Hilary Tindall, Derek Murcott, Paul Grist
|11||"The Dark Island"||Tony Williamson||Cyril Frankel||4 December 1968|
|The Champions are sent to investigate a tropical island where visitors have a history of disappearing. Coming on shore in two parties, they discover and thwart an international conspiracy to threaten world peace.|
With Vladek Sheybal, Alan Gifford, Ben Carruthers, Andy Ho
|12||"The Fanatics"||Terry Nation||John Gilling||11 December 1968|
|An unknown organisation is assassinating international leaders. Richard, posing as a convicted traitor, is sent to infiltrate the organisation and try and bring it down from within.|
With Donald Pickering, Julian Glover, Gerald Harper, Barry Stanton
|13||"Twelve Hours"||Donald James||Paul Dickson||18 December 1968|
|The Champions are assigned to escort an Eastern European head of state, Drobnic, on his visit to Britain. During a dive in a Scottish loch, their submarine is sabotaged and Drobnic is injured. Richard and Sharron are forced to face down a mutiny within the crew, who want to surface and save their lives; the submarine cannot be allowed to surface if Drobnic is to survive the surgery, which Sharron has performed.|
With Mike Pratt, Peter Howell, Henry Gilbert, Rio Fanning
|14||"The Search"||Dennis Spooner||Leslie Norman||1 January 1969|
|After a nuclear submarine is stolen by ex-Nazis who are determined to use it to continue the war, the Champions are tasked with hunting it down.|
With Joseph Furst, John Woodvine, Reginald Marsh, Gábor Baraker
|15||"The Gilded Cage"||Philip Broadley||Cyril Frankel||8 January 1969|
|After burglars break into Nemesis headquarters to access information on Richard, Craig is assigned to monitor him. Richard, however, allows himself to be abducted, leaving a message for his colleague. He finds himself imprisoned in a luxurious room (the "gilded cage" of the title), where his captor (John Carson) threatens him that, unless Richard can decipher a code, a young woman, Samantha (Jennie Linden), will be killed.|
With John Carson, Jennie Linden, Tony Caunter, Clinton Greyn, Vernon Dobtcheff
|16||"Shadow of the Panther"||Tony Williamson||Freddie Francis||15 January 1969|
|Whilst on holiday in Haiti, Sharron investigates a plot to brainwash important figures in the worlds of politics, science and business, apparently orchestrated by a local sorcerer, Damballa. Richard and Craig become involved later, only to discover that Sharron has apparently been discovered by the plotters and brainwashed herself.|
With Zia Mohyeddin, Donald Sutherland, Tony Wall
|17||"A Case of Lemmings"||Philip Broadley||Paul Dickson||22 January 1969|
|The trio are sent to investigate when several Interpol agents commit motiveless suicide. They discover that an Italian-American gangster forms the only connection between the agents, and set up a sting in which Craig threatens him, so as to discover his methodology.|
With Edward Brayshaw, John Bailey
|18||"The Interrogation"||Dennis Spooner||Cyril Frankel||29 January 1969|
|Craig is captured after a mission in Hong Kong and held in a cell where he is subject to interrogation by various cruel means. The unnamed interrogator (Colin Blakely) wants information about Craig's last mission. Despite nearing breaking point, Craig escapes the room, only to find he is at Nemesis headquarters; the interrogator is a member of Nemesis internal security, charged with finding out how Craig completed his last mission (his report had been less than clear at certain points, which were where his powers had come into play). Tremayne halts the investigation over the interrogator's protests, but the episode ends with Craig expressing bitterness towards his colleagues for their failure to intervene. All of the three are unhappy with Tremayne as well, owing to his part in the interrogation.|
With Colin Blakely
This episode was unusual for featuring only one extra set (though it included flashbacks to earlier episodes) and for focusing mostly on one character. The last episode in the syndication package, it was intended to be the season finale; the characters are left with little if any mutual trust, which is not reflected in any other episodes.
|19||"The Mission"||Donald James||Robert Asher||5 February 1969|
|The trio investigate an operation run by an ex-Nazi doctor who is providing plastic surgery, and hence future anonymity, for international criminals. Craig and Sharron go undercover as an Italian gangster and his moll; however, Richard is forced to move in and masquerade as a vagrant, in order to provide a matching blood group for them (because vagrants provide the raw biological material for the operation).|
With Dermot Kelly, Anthony Bate, Patricia Haines, Paul Hansard, Robert Russell, Harry Towb
|20||"The Silent Enemy"||Donald James||Robert Asher||12 February 1969|
|The Champions are sent on a mission to recreate the journey of a submarine, which came into port with all of its crew dead from unknown causes.|
With Paul Maxwell, Marne Maitland, Esmond Knight, James Maxwell, David Blake Kelly, Rio Fanning
|21||"The Body Snatchers"||Terry Nation||Paul Dickson||19 February 1969|
|Barrett, tipped off by a journalist contact, investigates a project in the Welsh countryside that is experimenting with freezing people at the point of death so that they can be revived once medical technology is advanced enough to help them.|
With Bernard Lee, Philip Locke, Ann Lynn, J. G. Devlin
|22||"Get Me Out of Here!"||Ralph Smart||Cyril Frankel||26 February 1969|
|The agents rescue an eminent female scientist who has returned to her home country and been detained against her will by the dictatorship that runs it. This government wants her to do her work there, in order to gain reflected prestige from her medical discoveries.|
With Frances Cuka, Philip Madoc, Eric Pohlmann, Anthony Newlands, Godfrey Quigley, Ronald Radd
|23||"The Night People"||Donald James||Robert Asher||5 March 1969|
|Richard and Craig investigate Sharron's disappearance while on holiday in Cornwall and come across rumours of witchcraft. This turns out to be a cover for an entirely different undertaking.|
With Terence Alexander, Adrienne Corri, Walter Sparrow, Michael Bilton, Jerold Wells, David Lodge, Frank Thornton
|24||"Project Zero"||Tony Williamson||Don Sharp||12 March 1969|
|The agents are sent to investigate the disappearance of several eminent scientists—the only link is that all of them have theoretically been seconded to a non-existent "Project Zero". Richard goes undercover as an electronics expert and makes it to the underground base but is discovered and has to pose as a journalist looking for a story. Craig and Sharron are forced to follow him in.|
With Rupert Davies, Peter Copley, Maurice Browning, Geoffrey Chater, Jill Curzon, Nicholas Smith, Reginald Jessup, Donald Morley
|25||"Desert Journey"||Ian Stuart Black||Paul Dickson||19 March 1969|
|In order to restore stability to a small Middle Eastern principality, the agents kidnap the son of the former Bey (played by Jeremy Brett), who is leading a dissolute life as an exile in Rome. Craig and Sharron fly him into the area but are forced to land due to a sand storm and have to cross the desert (the "journey" of the title) to get him to his destination.|
With Jeremy Brett, Roger Delgado, Reg Lye, Henry Lincoln, Nik Zaran
|26||"Full Circle"||Donald James||John Gilling||26 March 1969|
|A spy is captured at a foreign embassy but manages to dispose of the film, hiding what he was doing there. Craig is placed undercover as his cellmate so that he can arrange an escape, take the man with him, and find out who is employing him.|
With Patrick Allen, Jack Gwillim, Martin Benson, Gabrielle Drake, John Nettleton
|27||"Nutcracker"||Philip Broadley||Roy Ward Baker||2 April 1969|
|After a senior figure in British Intelligence is brainwashed into breaking into his own secure vault (located underneath a tailor's shop) the Champions are sent to test its security and find out what happened.|
With Michael Barrington, John Franklyn-Robbins, William Squire, David Langton
|28||"The Final Countdown"||Gerald Kelsey||John Gilling||16 April 1969|
|Tracking an unrepentant Nazi who has been released after years in prison in East Germany, the Champions become involved in an attempt to stop him from obtaining an ex-Nazi atom bomb.|
With Hannah Gordon, Norman Jones, Morris Perry, Derek Newark, Alan MacNaughtan, Basil Henson
|29||"The Gun Runners"||Gerald Kelsey||John Gilling||23 April 1969|
|This was one of the few episodes that did not feature two stories running side by side. The three agents work on bringing a gunrunner to justice and recovering a consignment of Japanese rifles from the Second World War.|
With William Franklyn, Wolfe Morris, Nicolas Chagrin, Paul Stassino
|30||"Autokill"||Brian Clemens||Roy Ward Baker||30 April 1969|
|Barka (Eric Pohlmann) is using a lethal hallucinogenic drug to brainwash Nemesis agents and use them as assassins. Tremayne is his latest target, leading Craig, Richard and Sharron to work against time to find an antidote. During their investigations, Richard is captured by Barka and subjected to the same treatment; the target he is given to eliminate is Craig.|
With Paul Eddington, Eric Pohlmann, Harold Innocent, Bruce Boa, Conrad Monk
Although short-lived, the series had three repeat runs in the UK across the ITV regions up to 1976, with additional repeats in September–October 1984 and May–August 1985. It was also regularly repeated on ITV's digital channel ITV4 until January 2011 (making The Saint the remaining ITC property to premiere on ITV4). The Champions was broadcast on BBC2 in 1995, at about the time when Gaunt was appearing in the sitcom Next of Kin, and it had at least three further repeat runs after that.
From 4 May 2021 the series is being repeated on ITV4. It ended on 15th June, with only 27 of the 30 episodes shown (leaving out ‘Desert Journey’, ‘The Gun Runners’ and ‘Autokill’).
Episodes of this classic '60s British cult sci-fi thriller series were released on DVD in North America by A&E Home Entertainment (under licence from Granada International Media Limited), and in the UK, where the full series has been released twice, with the most recent edition seeing Damon, Bastedo and Gaunt reunite to provide a commentary for several episodes (Damon's continuing role on US series General Hospital meant that Bastedo and Gaunt had to be flown to America for this to occur).
The series was shown in Italy in the early 1980s in syndication under the title Tris d'Assi (in English, "Three Aces") and more recently in the 1990s on Canal Jimmy (Sky), but an Italian DVD collection has never been released because in that country The Champions is an almost completely forgotten show, remembered only by few loyal fans.
In 2010, Network DVD re-released The Champions: The Complete Series as a complete DVD Region 2 box set of all episodes on nine discs (including the rare 'bookends' version of the first episode). (Additionally, it released the music from the series on three CDs.) 
Legend of the Champions
In 1983, ITC edited the episodes "The Beginning" and "The Interrogation" into Legend of the Champions, a feature-length film intended for overseas markets.
Unusually for such features, the two episodes were not simply joined together, but substantially re-cut and edited, with "The Interrogation" being the framing episode, and the flashback sequences originally used in that episode (principally from "The Beginning") expanded. Additionally, new credits were filmed, not using any of the original actors but photographs taken at the time.
A notable plot change was the renaming of a character from the original version of "The Beginning" to accommodate a plot device in "The Interrogation". In "The Interrogation", Craig Stirling is ostensibly being quizzed on the activities of one Julius Retford, who remains unseen. For the film, the opening credits explicitly identify Retford as the character named Ho Ling (played by Ric Young) in "The Beginning". This allows the germ warfare theme of "The Beginning" to interlink with the sequences in "The Interrogation". Confusingly, in the end credits Young is credited as playing 'Ho Ling', a name never used in the film version.
This release credited Stuart Damon as the star, with Alexandra Bastedo and William Gaunt receiving co-star credits. This was partly because Damon was a well-established star in the U.S. by this time, and partly because "The Interrogation" is essentially a two-hander between Damon and Colin Blakely, with the rest of the regular cast appearing only briefly.
Legend of the Champions was released on DVD as part of the Network box-set.
Note: 'Bookend' sequences were shot for the first episode "The Beginning" showing Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) recording the story on to a tape recorder in Tremayne's office; this was done so that the episode could be shown out of order on repeat runs without causing any continuity problems. Both sequences were included as extras on the Network DVD box set.
In November 2007, it was reported that Guillermo del Toro would produce and write a film adaptation of The Champions for United Artists. In 2008, Christopher McQuarrie was signed to co-write and co-produce the film. Since then there have been no further developments about it.
Paperbacks based on the TV series include:
- The Sixth Sense is Death. By John Garforth. London: Hodder Paperbacks, 1969 (a novelisation of the episodes "The Beginning" and "The Experiment")
- Lavage de Cerveau. By Pierre Salva. Paris: Presses de la Cité, 1977
- "ITC". screenonline. British Film Institute. Retrieved 10 November 2007.
The cast had taken their screen tests in December 1966 and filming had begun in February 1967 in colour three years before that became the standard in the U.K.
- Rovin, Jeff (1985). The Encyclopedia of Superheroes. Facts On File. p. 351. ISBN 978-0-8160-1679-2.
- "Nemesis" (Press release). 1968. Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2018.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
- "The final airing of The Champions on ITV4". 29 January 2011.
- "The Champions: Set One". Retrieved 9 November 2007.
- Willmetts, Geoff (14 August 2006). "The Champions: The Complete Series". Science Fiction Crowsnest. Retrieved 9 November 2007.
- "ITC's super heroes Sterling, Macready and Barrett have never looked better on DVD". Reviews. Cult TV. Retrieved 10 November 2007.
- "The Champions: The Complete Series" (Region 2). Network DVD. 2010. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
- Siegel, Tatiana (7 November 2007). "United Artists revives Champions". Variety. Retrieved 8 November 2007.
- Siegel, Tatiana (16 November 2008). "McQuarrie to write, produce UA duo". Variety. Archived from the original on 13 November 2012. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
- "The Champions: The Sixth Sense is Death". The UK Sci-Fi Book Guide. Kieran Seymour. Retrieved 10 November 2007.
- "Les Champions: Lavage de Cerveau". The UK Sci-Fi Book Guide. Kieran Seymour. Retrieved 10 November 2007.