ROOM 30 @ THE NICE ROOMS presents
The Champions by Jaz Wiseman
Date of Article: 14th December 2015 Published 26th February 2016
Jaz Wiseman is a writer, DVD producer and graphic designer who has worked for Sony, Marvel, Columbia Pictures, DC Comics, Canal Plus, MGM, BBC, Channel 4 and numerous others. In 1991, he launched The Morning After, a magazine and appreciation society for The Persuaders! and other ITC classic series which was immediately given 'official' status by the ITC Entertainment Group.
From its humble beginning the magazine rapidly grew into one of the most credible sources of up-to-date news, exclusive interviews with the cast and crew and the place to see numerous previously unpublished images from the ITC vaults. Jaz was head hunted by Carlton Video/Visual into a specially created role as a DVD producer and oversaw the launch of leading flagship titles such as Thunderbirds, The Prisoner, Captain Scarlet, and classic Rank films including Brief Encounter, The African Queen, Genevieve, The Red Shoes and The 39 Steps. He has worked as a freelance DVD producer for companies in France, America, Germany and Australia. More recently he produced the classic '60s British TV series The Avengers for Optimum Releasing on DVD and was involved with the Blu-ray release of the series. Following on from his exclusive article about The Persuaders! for The Nice Rooms, Jaz Wiseman now turns his attention to ITC's 1968 cult TV series: The Champions.
"The Champions “Craig Stirling, Sharron Macready and Richard Barrett…
The Champions. Endowed with the qualities and skills, both physical and mental, to the peak of human performance.
Gifts given to them by an unknown race of people from a lost city in Tibet.
Gifts that are a secret to be closely guarded, a secret that enables them to use their powers to their best advantage, as The Champions of law, order and justice.
Operators of the international agency of Nemesis!”
The Champions: Opening Credits (Run Time: 52 secs)
The theme music to the series was written by Tony Hatch, with Albert Elms and Edwin Astley supplying additional incidental music.
The Champions remains one of ITC’s most fondly remembered TV series of the 1960s and since its debut it has been broadcast all over the globe in line with Lew Grade’s vision that ITC would ‘entertain the world’.
Michael Richardson's comprehensive article (2005) about the series for the sadly missed Action TV magazine covered a lot of the background about the production and episodes and was later reused by Network in the accompanying booklet for the special edition DVD release of The Champions.
In the ten years since Michael’s article some new information has come to light, perhaps the most important being that in a number of early scripts a 30-second introductory sequence was written introducing the three Champions, first as a group and then individually, in front of the Nemesis HQ in Geneva (actually on Whetstone High Road in Greater London).
During the production of the episode Reply Box No. 666, Damon, Bastedo and Gaunt filmed group and individual promos for Channel 9 in Australia and generic versions using the wording ‘this station’
These promos were shot on Tremayne’s standing set with both Damon and Gaunt carrying scripts from the series, one of which was for an unmade episode titled Nightmare (although this can not be seen in the promo itself, stills from the session reveal the title).
Individual Promo: Stuart Damon
Individual Promo: William Gaunt
Individual Promo: Alexandra Bastedo
The Channel 9 versions are available on the Network DVD set and the generic versions were included on Carlton’s second DVD volume (featuring Reply Box No. 666, The Experiment, Happening and Operation Deep Freeze) released in 2001 and long-since deleted.
From The Official 1968 Press Release
They are super humans - but not superhumans. This sums up the three leading characters, played by Stuart Damon, Alexandra Bastedo and William Gaunt, in The Champions.
The three characters are Craig Stirling, played by Staurt Damon; Sharron Macready, played by Alexandra Bastedo; and Richard Barrett, played by William Gaunt.
The Champions are members of a small but powerful agency formed by the nations of the world to combat any situation that could result in international tension. It is a top secret department, based in Geneva, and is known to the few by the code name of "Nemesis". The agency is supported by all countries and answerable to none as it fights a relentless war in the pursuit of right, justice, reason and knowledge. It doesn't deal with trivial crime or insignifcant villains, but only with situations that can blossom into an international incident: crime, politics, civil war, assassination. The three agents whose stories are told in The Champions possess remarkable powers granted to them when, on one mission their plane crashes in Tibet.
Their rescuers not only mend their bodies, but heighten the efficiency of their bodies, minds and senses to a fantastic level.
They find that, in action, their memories, senses and physical powers rightly used, fuse to a computer efficiency. They have acute senses of sight, smell and hearing, with a highly developed extra-sensory perception, a grasp of mathematical formula and an insight of reasoning.
They are super humans, but they are not immortal. They can be killed. They make mistakes. They can fail to achieve. Although aware that they have abilities granted to few, they can learn only by experience the extent of their abilities, and the greater the risks they take, the greater the danger to themselves. Their uncanny powers are a bond and a secret between them - a secret to be kept if only as a protection to the unknown people who helped them..
When you are doing 26 or 30 episodes, they can’t all be good, one or two might be outstanding. It was almost like a factory, films going in one end and coming out complete the other end. You haven’t got time for anything ‘artistic’, for want of a better word. You’re in there to make your film, deliver it and keep your crew working.
I was very fortunate that I was associated with Dennis Spooner who was a marvellous script writer and he really knew all the angles on making films for television. He was a story editor and he got the right writers. One of the things I did with Dennis was I never interfered with him. I’d say ‘Dennis, we need a film to fit in here, an episode to fit in there’ and he was just marvellous and would work it out. We had no problems at all with the scripts. It was a marvellous break working with Dennis.
The Champions was a ‘first’ and a chance to do something completely new. At the time, The Champions was criticised as being too far-fetched, but subsequently with series like The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman it was shown that I was ahead of my time.
William Gaunt, Stuart Damon, Alexandra Bastedo and Dennis Spooner (Courtesy: Jaz Wiseman)
More From The 1968 Official Press Release
..Monty Berman and Dennis Spooner explain -
"Our aim is to make incredibility credible. It is a natural development of television adventure. Action dramas have the impossible in their exploits, fights, cunning and unbelievable physical stamina. They go beyond the realms of probability. One man can defeat a dozen several times in the course of a single story. No-one can believe that any mortal could achieve what the present-day heroes manage to do and survive. But The Champions makes it all logical because the three characters have these out-of-the-ordinary powers. Everything they do is within the bounds of possibility. They can't perform miracles because they are not superhumans; but they can do anything within the limits of human capabilities. Someone on earth possesses each quality that has been granted to them. Each field of endeavour has one champion - one man or woman who is better than anyone else in the world in his or her particular sphere. One person holds the record - for high-jumping, running, swimming, boxing, wrestling, racing, diving, and physical endurance of every kind, even flagpole-sitting. And there is one man who is better than any others in every other physical and mental sphere.
The three characters in The Champions possess all these superlative qualities, but they can't do anything that some other human being hasn't achieved, somewhere, sometime. But mankind doesn't know the limits of human endeavour. New records are always being achieved. Every year, someone creates a new record, running the mile in less time than anyone else has ever done, jumping higher, swimming faster. And The Champions are vulnerable because they can never know just how far they can go without exceeding the limits of human ability. The important thing to remember is that, whatever they do in the stories, someone in the world is capable of doing the same. They simple have all these abilties rolled into one."
The Champions is, in fact, the merging of two ideas. Monty Berman had an idea for a series in which two children would be lost in Tibet and return to the outer world some twenty years later. Dennis Spooner had the idea of creating a hero who really could do all the things that screen heroes achieve wihtout any logical explanation for their super capabilties. The two ideas blended, and The Champions was the outcome. The three characters are Craig Stirling, played by Staurt Damon; Sharron Macready, played by Alexandra Bastedo; and Richard Barrett, played by William Gaunt.
The three agents are great friends. They become closer because of the experience they go through, and the bond endures through any situation or action of any single one of them. Their nerves outweigh any situation or stress. They have extra-sensory perception and powers of telepathic communication, which enables them to hear one another's softest whisper over considerable distances.
Viewers will be aware of their remarkable powers, but the people around them, friends and enemies alike, have no idea of their super capabilities. Many may well be baffled at their astonishing successes, but they give no answers.
"Luck" or "a hunch" is always an acceptable explanation..."
With the series given the green light by ITC supremo Lew Grade, Berman and Spooner set about finding their three leads. Monty Berman had spotted Stuart Damon on stage as the lead in the musical Man of Magic, based on the life of Harry Houdini.
Cyril Frankel cast Alexandra Bastedo in the female lead describing her as “a beauty” saying that she reminded him of Grace Kelly and at that time that was exactly what he was looking for.
The narration in the opening sequences was provided by an uncredited David Bauer.
Nicolls wore a false beard and hairpiece for the part and this required him to be in make-up at least an hour before shooting started at 8.30am.
There weren't that many special effects to speak of. Most of the special powers on show required just sound effects put to good use. For example, who could forget that wonderful eerie echoing sound for the telepathy sequences?
Roy Ward Baker and Sam Wannamaker
Location filming was kept to a minimum, much to the annoyance of the three leads who complain of the studio bound nature of the series in the DVD audio commentaries for both The Beginning and Autokill. However, these memories are voiced over 35 years later and it appears that they have forgotten location heavy episodes such as To Trap A Rat, The Invisible Man, The Experiment, The Fanatics, The Gilded Cage, Full Circle and Nutcracker. One particular gripe they had was that they were never taken to Geneva to visit the fountain that is prominent in the opening titles. The titles themselves were filmed against a blue screen with Monty Berman handling the directing and camera filming duties.
The series was filmed at ABPC Elstree Studios where many other ITC series had been filmed and where Berman, together with his former partner Bob Baker, had made the black and white episodes of The Saint, police drama Gideon’s Way and ITC’s first full colour action series, The Baron.
Elstree Studios: Late 1960s
Image courtesy of: http://www.tvstudiohistory.co.uk/independent%20studios.htm#elstree
Berman would go on to make all his future ITC series at the studios but Roy Ward Baker remembers the studio didn’t have the best of reputations:
The staff and management relationships weren’t good there and they were always in a state of semi-rebellion. Eventually everyone got used to each other and when we were making those shows on a continuous basis the staff basically trained themselves and they slaved and worked very hard.
Tremayne’s office was a standing set that included a large revolving map and two large hanging backdrop paintings, one for day and one for night, the latter also used small sewn-in lights to add to the city-at-night effect. Another regular sight in many an episode was Elstree’s backlot town, originally built in 1961 for the Cliff Richard film The Young Ones and was redressed to be streets in London, Paris, Rome, Geneva and small Caribbean and Welsh villages.
The Champions aka..
Brazil: Os Campeões
Spain: Los Invencibles del Némesis
France: Les Champions
Italy: Tris d'assi
Mexico: Los Campeones
Soviet Union: Чемпионы
Venezuela: Los Campeones
The three leads enjoyed a friendly working relationship during the filming as Associate Producer Johnny Goodman remembers:
They were all nice people and none of them were what I call ‘luvvies’. It’s easier dealing with three people like that than it would be dealing with Elizabeth Taylor or Bruce Willis or someone like that.
The genuine affection between the three leads can also be seen on the Network DVD documentary We Were The Champions when they were reunited in Los Angeles in 2006. (A clip from this can be seen below.)
The Champions' Reunion: Stuart Damon, Alexandra Bastedo and William Gaunt in 2006
(Run Time: 6 mins 32 secs)
Filming of The Champions finished in the spring of 1968 and NBC began showing the series on June 10th of the same year, although the American network only purchased 10 episodes and declined to buy any more after transmitting them rather erratically. British viewers were not treated to a network screening with various ITV regions beginning transmissions on September 25th 1968 but Thames waited until November 1969 when the series could be seen in colour.
Ep 1: THE BEGINNING first aired 25 Sep 1968
Sharron MacReady, Craig Stirling and Richard Barrett work as agents for international law enforcement bureau Nemesis, based in Geneva, Whilst returning from a mission in China with bacteriological material stolen from the Chinese, their plane is shot down over the Himalayas. They survive and are nurtured by a Tibetan tribe, presided over by an elderly Lama, who give them super-human strength, telepathic powers and augmented hearing. This allows them to best their pursuers and return to Geneva, though they keep their promise to the old lama not to divulge to their boss
Ep 2: THE INVISIBLE MAN 2nd Oct 1968
Surgeon John Hallam has perfected an 'invisible man', a device which is transplanted into the ear and 'tells' people to obey instructions. He uses it on banker Sir Frederick Howard, telling him to melt down thirty million dollars' worth of gold from the City of London.
Ep 3: REPLY BOX NO. 666 9th Oct 1968
A young explosives expert called Semenkin is found murdered in his Jamaican hotel room whilst posing as a French businessman. In his pocket is a newspaper advertisement reading Wanted: A Parrot that Speaks Greek. Reply Box 666 though the sixes have been altered to eights. Realizing it is a secret code, Tremayne sends Craig to the Caribbean to assume the dead man's identity.
Ep 4: THE EXPERIMENT 16th Oct 1968
Sharron is met at an airport whilst on holiday by Major Cranmore who invites her to a large house apparently to pit her super-human skills against a like-minded - literally - group of people in a series of tests. Craig and Richard trace her to the house following the death of an intruder in the Nemesis headquarters.
Ep 5: HAPPENING 23rd Oct 1968
The Champions are Down Under and Richard has infiltrated a terrorist group who have planted a radioactive device in the Simpson Desert. He attempts to arrest them whilst in a helicopter but falls out and when he comes to he has lost his memory.
Ep 6: OPERATION DEEP_FREEZE 30th Oct 1968
A party of scientists from the Scott Base in Antarctica, sent to investigate an explosion, goes missing, as do two subsequent search groups and Richard and Craig are sent to investigate. They find the body of one of men from the search parties shot dead in the snow and send a telepathic message back to the main base.
Ep 7: THE SURVIVORS 6th Nov 1968
The murder of three students in their tent by a lake in Austria is the latest unsolved case of homicide in the last fifteen years in that area and The Champions investigate. The popular view is that treasure stolen by the Nazis is hidden in the lake but local official Franz Reitz dismisses this.
Ep 8: TO TRAP A RAT 13th Nov 1968
Junkie Jane Purcell crashes her car and dies after getting a fix, making her the twelfth drug addict in London to shuffle off their mortal coil in the wake of being fed a lethal new drug. Sharron poses as an addict and locates the main dealer, shadowing him to the zoo, where he meets up with a peanut seller.
Ep 9: THE IRON MAN 20th Nov 1968
The Champions are required to prevent an assassination attempt on the life of the vain, womanizing El Caudillo, who is known as the Iron Man, former ruler of South American pocket state La Revada, now in exile in the south of France.
Ep 10: THE GHOST PLANE 27th Nov 1968
Several American military aircraft have been attacked in the East by 'The Ghost Plane', believed to belong to the Chinese and which flies at an almost impossible speed.
Ep 11: THE DARK ISLAND 4th Dec 1968
An American submarine crew find a rocket launcher on a small Pacific island and are attacked by Oriental soldiers.
Ep: 12: THE FANATICS 11th Dec 1968
The assassination of a Middle Eastern dignitary in London is the latest in a series of attacks on high-profile figures conducted by a group known as the Fanatics. Richard infiltrates the group by posing as a known killer called Burke but when Burke escapes from prison the other two Champions race to join Richard at the group's headquarters and aid him in the confrontation.
Ep 13: TWELVE HOURS 18th Dec 1968
Sharron and Richard are acting as bodyguards to visiting Eastern European president Drobnic and his wife and travel to Holy Loch in Scotland to inspect the submarine HMS 'Weatherby'. A gang of saboteurs have planted a bomb on board
Ep 14: THE SEARCH 1st Jan 1969
At Holy Loch in Scotland a team of Nazi frogmen infiltrate a nuclear submarine, overpowering its crew. The demand is simple; unless five million pounds is paid as a ransom nuclear devices pointed at London will go off, destroying the city.
Ep 15: THE GILDED CAGE 8th Jan 1969
After his file is stolen from the Nemesis headquarters Richard is abducted from his flat in Geneva, rolled up in a carpet and bundled into a van, though fortunately Craig turns up at the flat and notes the registration number of the van.
Ep 16: SHADOW OF THE PANTHER 15th Jan 1969
Having contacted Tremayne from Haiti to report disturbing behaviour scientist Ralph Charters dies, apparently of fright, with his hair turned white.
Ep 17: A CASE OF LEMMINGS 22nd Jan 1969
n Paris three Interpol agents each separately and inexplicably commit suicide in public by different means and Nemesis is brought in to investigate.
Ep 18: THE INTERROGATION 29th Jan 1969
On return from a mission to Hong Kong Craig is captured and subjected to a brutal cross-examination from a pitiless interrogator who keeps asking him about the 'Renton Case'. I think that this was written originally with it being the last episode in mind.
Ep 19: THE MISSION 5th Feb 1969
On the face of it Winthrop House Mission in rural Surrey is a home for down-and-outs, run by Dr. Pederson, but it is in fact a cover. Pederson helps criminals escape by performing plastic surgery to give them new faces.
Ep 20: THE SILENT ENEMY 12th Feb 1969
The entire crew of the submarine 'Keppel' are found dead at their posts. All have died of cardiac arrest. The Champions join a fresh crew to re-trace the voyage but in the Atlantic they lose radio control.
Ep 21: THE BODY SNATCHERS 19th Feb 1969
Two journalists find the body of missing military expert General Patterson frozen in suspended animation in a Welsh research establishment.
Ep 22: GET ME OUT OF HERE! 22nd Feb 1969
Whilst on a philanthropic visit to her home island of San Dios medical researcher Professor Anna Maria Martes is placed under house arrest as the corrupt government want her to continue her work on the island, allowing them to take the credit.
Ep 23: THE NIGHT PEOPLE 5th March 1969
A poacher is killed by white-robed figures he sees round a fire near Trennick House in Cornwall. Sharron investigates, posing as a student of architecture, but her cover is blown and she is captured by local landowner Trennick who sends an impostor to meet the boys when they come looking for her.
Ep 24: PROJECT ZERO 12th March 1969
Dr. Travis is shot by the post master in a remote Scottish village as he tries to ring the police and his body later found dumped in London. He is one of several scientists who have disappeared after going to work on something called Project Zero, allegedly under government auspices but actually a rogue project headed by one Dr. Voss.
Ep 25: DESERT JOURNEY 19th March 1969
The cobalt-rich Arab country of El Hari is on the verge of civil war and must stay united to prevent invasion. The best hope of stability is to restore the Bey, in exile in Rome, but he is reluctant to leave his playboy life-style and Sharron knocks him out so that she and Craig can fly him into El Hari.
Ep 26: FULL CIRCLE 26th March 1969
British agent Paul Westerman is remanded in prison on suspicion of having stolen a micro-film jeopardising an arms treaty, but noone can find the film.
Ep 27: NUTCRACKER 2nd April 1969
After a trip to the dentist government minister Lord Mauncey enters a secret vault and attempts to steal the F File, which contains the country's most important defence information.
Ep 28: THE FINAL COUNTDOWN 16th April 1969
After twenty-five years in prison for war crimes Nazi Field Marshall von Splitz is released and evades observers. He and his followers are anxious to trace an atom bomb, jettisoned from a stricken Heinkel in the last days of World War Two.
Ep 29: THE GUN-RUNNERS 23rd April 1969
A cache of Japanese arms from WW2 is unearthed in a Burmese jungle before gun-runners kill the recovery force, planning to sell their spoils in Bangkok to international arms trader Huntington.
Ep 30: AUTOKILL 30th April 1969
George Brading, a Nemesis agent, goes missing for two days and when he re-surfaces, shoots an American officer in the Nemesis headquarters. Some time afterwards, he dies, presumably of poison. His widow tells the Champions that just before he disappeared, his brief-case went missing. Tremayne also tries to kill a doctor and he too has had his brief-case taken. Richard acts as decoy by having his wallet stolen. He is taken to a police station by a bogus officer where he learns, first hand, that both George and Tremayne were drugged with a mind-altering substance...
Many Thanks to Jaz Wiseman for this article.
jW/ gR / 2015
1. Richardson, Michael. Dialogue with Dennis. Action TV Volume 2. Issue 2. August 2007. Page 20.
2. Wiseman, Jaz. Johnny Goodman, in conversation with…. The Morning After, No 19. June 2001. Page 12.
Monty Berman quotes courtesy of the BECTU Hisory Project.
Other quotes from Network DVD audio commentaries.
On 12th January 2014 the following tribute appeared on Twitter courtesy of Liza Goddard
"My dear friend Alexandra Bastedo died today. A beautiful person who will be greatly missed."
Actor Peter Egan, also a supporter of Alexandra Bastedo's ABC Animal Sanctuary, wrote:
"Deeply sad. Our dear friend Alexandra Bastedo lost her battle with cancer at 4pm today. A beautiful woman and Animal Champion."