In all, 57 episodes were produced, filmed between 1977 and 1981. It starred Martin Shaw, Lewis Collins and Gordon Jackson as agents of the fictional “CI5” (Criminal Intelligence 5, alluding to the real-life MI5).
The Professionals was created by Brian Clemens, who had been one of the driving forces behind The Avengers. The show was originally to have been called The A-Squad. Clemens and Albert Fennell were executive producers, with business partner Laurie Johnson providing the theme music. Sidney Hayers produced the first series in 1977, and Raymond Menmuir the remainder.
CI5 (Criminal Intelligence 5) is a British law enforcement department, instructed by the Home Secretary to use any means to deal with crimes of a serious nature that go beyond the capacity of the police, but which are not tasks for the Security Service or the military.
The choice of CI5’s name is possibly inspired by Criminal Investigation Department and MI5. The premise allowed the programme-makers to involve a wide variety of villains, including terrorists, hit-men, racist groups and espionage suspects, with plots sometimes relating to the Cold War. Led by the formidable George Cowley (Gordon Jackson), CI5 is known for using unconventional and sometimes illegal methods to beat criminals, or as Cowley put it “Fight fire with fire!” The use of a fictitious force in this context was somewhat less controversial than the portrayal of the real Flying Squad in The Sweeney.
Cowley’s two best agents are Ray Doyle (Martin Shaw) and William Bodie (Lewis Collins). Doyle is an ex-detective constable who has worked the seedier parts of London, while Bodie is an ex-paratrooper, mercenary and Special Air Service sergeant. Of the two, Doyle is the softer, compassionate and more thoughtful character, while Bodie is ruthless and more willing to take on criminals on their own terms. That said, Doyle is more hot-headed and tended to rush in, while Bodie waits for the shooting to start.
While polar opposites, Bodie and Doyle have a deep and enduring friendship, and are almost inseparable. Although their loyalty to Cowley is beyond question, they have no qualms about disobeying orders if it means getting the right result, either for the case or themselves.
Initially, Anthony Andrews was contracted to play Bodie, but he and Shaw did not have the chemistry that Clemens was looking for. As Shaw was deemed to have more ‘screen presence’, Andrews was dropped, Clemens hiring Collins in his place. Shaw and Collins had played villains in a 1977 episode of The New Avengers (“Obsession”) together, and reportedly had not got on with each other. Ironically, since this was the reason Collins was brought into the production, he and Shaw became friends off-screen, although they managed to keep up the on-screen chemistry and abrasiveness of Bodie and Doyle’s relationship. The Collins character in “Obsession” signed off by saying “Maybe we should work together again. We’re a good team.” The first Professionals episode was produced later the same year.
Clemens intended to write two or three establishing episodes and then hand over to other writers, but their scripts were uneven and lacked the energy and pace needed. Clemens re-wrote nearly 10 scripts for the first-series episodes and took a direct hands-on approach to the filming. In later series, with the format established and the writers and directors familiar with the show, he took a more leisurely approach behind the scenes.
The early years of the show featured varied plots, good scripts and ongoing character development of Bodie and Doyle and to a lesser extent Cowley, but later series featured increasingly overused ideas and script devices, and both Collins and Shaw stated they felt the show was becoming stale. Although the final series was broadcast from November 1982 until February 1983, no episodes were filmed after May 1981.
Major George Cowley (Gordon Jackson) (born c. 1917) – Nicknamed “Morris” after the car of the same name. His operatives sometimes call him “The Cow”, though not to his face. Founder and head of CI5, making him Bodie and Doyle’s boss. As a young man he volunteered in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side, where he was shot in the leg; this left him with a painful limp. Served as an officer in the British Army, where he attained the rank of major. He then worked in the secret services (including MI5) before being seconded to CI5 to form and manage the team. A confident and very experienced man, able to defend himself against physical and high-level political attacks. With many contacts and friends in high places, he is not afraid to clash with leaders of other services like Special Branch and MI5 or to speak his mind, being insolent even towards superiors, one of whom looked upon Cowley as “Not a Very Civil Civil Servant“. Cowley’s favourite tipple is single malt Scotch whisky.
Raymond Doyle (Martin Shaw) (born c. 1949), a former police detective constable, who originated in Derby but later lived in an unspecified “city” with parallels to Birmingham. He was working the seedier parts of east London when recruited into CI5. He took art classes, and appears to be musically inclined as well. An expert shot with a pistol, he also ran a karate class for the children on his beat. He was recruited by Cowley, and was made Bodie’s partner shortly afterwards. Doyle is extremely intelligent and thoughtful but is also quick to anger, and his tendency to rush in often leaves Bodie having to race to the rescue. He is also more inclined to seek long-lasting relationships with women, and in one episode nearly married. Like Bodie he enjoyed football, but was a good cook and enjoyed a more healthy lifestyle. Doyle’s bubble perm hairstyle and 1970s dress sense were actually chosen by Martin Shaw and his wife. In the episode “Hunter/Hunted”, he is shown to live on Cliff Road in Camden.
William Andrew Philip Bodie (Lewis Collins) (born c. 1950) was a former paratrooper and Special Air Service (SAS) soldier. After leaving school aged 14, he joined the Merchant Navy and eventually ended up in Africa as a mercenary fighting bush wars. Noticed by Cowley during his SAS career, he was asked to join CI5 in 1975. Keen on parties, and a ladies’ man, Bodie had a witty comment ready for almost every occasion. He was more immediately approachable than Doyle, and was generally relaxed and confident, although tending to hide his intelligence behind his hard-man image. Specialising in weaponry, martial arts and advanced driving, Bodie was the muscle of the three leads. He enjoyed football, cricket, drinking, and English literature.
The best-known car used by CI5 was the Ford Capri 3.0 S (primarily the Mark III model and one Mk II). Two were used: Bodie drove a silver version (1978–1981 episodes), Doyle a gold (1980–81 episodes), in the first season a silver Mk II with a black vinyl roof and a Series X bodykit was also briefly used, the first two cars mentioned still exist and were saved from being scrapped and restored in the 1990s, but the existence of the silver Mk II driven by Bodie is still uncertain and debated. Cowley used a latest model Ford Granada (1978–1981 Ghia model) while other Ford models such as a Ford Escort RS2000 (1978–79 episodes, driven by Doyle) and the Ford Cortina, particularly the Mark V (TF) model, were occasionally seen. However, in the first (1977) series, the cars used were mainly those of British Leyland, including a Rover SD1, a Rover P6, a Princess, a Triumph 2000, a Triumph Dolomite Sprint and a Triumph TR7. The SD1, a turmeric yellow 3500, bore the registration MOO 229R; in The New Avengers John Steed drove an identical-looking car with the number MOC 229P. The producers of The Professionals DVDs have speculated that these may in fact have been one and the same car.
However, reliability problems with the cars and BL requiring them back to give to the motoring press was causing disruption to filming. Midway through the first series, the supplier was then switched to Ford after they offered to provide vehicles for the production crew as well as for on-screen use. The first Ford to be prominent was a black 1600 Capri used by another CI5 agent, Tommy MacKay.
Many of the episodes featured some kind of car chase, a role for which the Capri, at least in terms of its market positioning, was particularly well-suited.
“It’s not a toy, Bodie.”— George Cowley, Hunter/Hunted
Bodie and Doyle originally carried 9 mm Inglis Hi-Power Mk.I pistols as their standard service sidearms for the first two series. They were issued .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolvers when on bodyguard duties (as seen in the episode “Mixed Doubles”). In later series Bodie carried a .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 19 snub-nose revolver and Doyle often carried a 9 mm Walther P38 as their personal sidearms. George Cowley carried a .38-calibre Smith & Wesson Model 36 snub nose revolver.
The “A180 Laser Lock” sniper rifle (from Series 2, Episode 1; “Hunter/Hunted”) was an AR-10 with a sight bracket on the carrying handle and a large laser projector under the barrel. A converted Thompson M1928 50-round drum mounted on the top of the barrel, supposedly the ammo supply, hid the battery pack. It was memorable as one of the first uses of a laser sight in visual media after the use of a similar weapon in the episode “Nightmare” in series 4 of The Sweeney.
Another star of the show was the Pye PF8 UHF handheld radio, a genuine police radio of the times and not a prop as many believed, the radio actually more resembled an electric shaver of the times than a radio although it was a design well ahead of its time with an inbuilt antenna, dual microphones (top and bottom of the radio) these radios are highly sought after by fans of the show and radio hams who convert them to work on modern frequency bands.
The opening credits for the first series (broadcast 1977–78) starts with a Rolls-Royce speeding onto and through an industrial estate before skidding to a stop. As the Rolls-Royce enters and goes through the industrial estate, the title “The Professionals” appears on screen. Cowley, Bodie and Doyle get out of the vehicle and Bodie and Doyle then go through an assault course whilst being timed on a stopwatch by Cowley. It ends with them going through set windows and a close up of the stopwatch being stopped and Cowley standing by the car motioning them to get in. Just as the theme tune ends they get in the car and it drives off. The first two broadcast episodes of the series – “Private Madness, Public Danger” and “The Female Factor” – feature a voiceover by Cowley over the top of the title sequence but this was removed from the third episode (“Old Dog With New Tricks”) onwards. When the first series has been repeated, all episodes (bar “When The Heat Cools Off” and the usually unscreened “Klansman”) are shown using the more familiar title sequence employed for the second series onwards. This means that the Cowley voiceover is never married to the correct visuals on the repeat broadcasts of the episodes featuring it.
For the remaining series the opening titles started with a car driving through a tinted window before cutting to various shots of the main characters running and Cowley getting into a car before putting down a car phone in the back seat. We then see the green title card with CI5 written in big, black, stencil-style letters, “The Professionals” written in white over it and three yellow squares on the right hand side, each containing a silhouette of one of the three principal actors. It then zooms in on the top square and we see various shots of Gordon Jackson, followed by a pan to a close-up shot of a typewriter, and various shots of Martin Shaw running through an oil refinery and wielding a kendo stick. It then cuts to shots of Lewis Collins walking down a street, weightlifting, and using a punching bag, before cutting to a car driving through a dimly lit tunnel; Gordon Jackson walking out of a government building (10 Trinity Square, City of London); and the three of them walking down the street away from that building and towards the camera.
The whole sequence is fast-paced, hinting at the action to come within the programme itself.
Although depictions of actual bloodshed were scarce, the series was often criticised for its level of violence, with shootings, martial arts and asphyxiation a common means of assassination.
To help maximise the on-screen action, Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins were taught stunt driving skills and encouraged to propel their respective cars through streets as rapidly as possible, although LWT insisted that the stars had to be chauffeured when travelling to filming sets. In his last interview about the series, Brian Clemens laughed off the actors’ claims about ‘doing their own stunts’ in the cars. He said that they had been taught little more than how to execute a handbrake turn. The British stuntman and stunt co-ordinator Peter Brayham did most of the precision driving, and with his dark curly hair, often stood in for Martin Shaw during the scenes where Doyle was driving. Shaw in particular, was known within the production team to be fairly inept with the cars. He was far too heavy on the brakes and throttle, regularly kerbed the cars, and often over-steered himself into trouble. This can be seen in many episodes. In the episode “Weekend in the Country”, Gordon Jackson can be seen pulling away from a stationary position at the roadside, in a Chrysler Alpine. He can be seen pulling out without fully checking the traffic flow, directly in front of an approaching Volkswagen Beetle. This inevitably led to either an accident, or a dramatic near miss, but the editor obviously cut to the next scene at this point.
Some quarters of the British press seized on these aspects to insist that the programme was moronic and “comic-strip”. However, reaction from other critics, including The Times and The Daily Telegraph newspapers, was more favourable.
The first series episode “Klansmen” was withdrawn in the UK, ostensibly due to its race-related subject matter. The episode has never been screened on terrestrial television in the UK, although it did screen uncut on the cable television channel Super-channel in 1987, and has been screened on free-to-air television in other countries including South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and the Philippines. LWT refused to explain its view that while the episode remained unsuitable for British television viewers, it continued to be licensed to broadcasters in other countries.
The show was also criticised for political incorrectness. Mary Whitehouse, President of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, was among those who highlighted the occasional use of sexist and racist terms. At the time such dialogue was not seen as being disparaging towards minority groups. However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s the series was criticised by feminist groups. Yet, with the exception of “Klansmen”, for which racist terms were a necessary part of the story, use of such terms in The Professionals was scarce in comparison to, for example, the 1970s police television programme The Sweeney.
Martin Shaw was publicly critical of the series during its production, feeling he was playing a one-dimensional character in a one-dimensional show. Several years after the series ended London Weekend Television was contractually obliged to re-negotiate repeat fees with the lead actors. Unwilling to accede to Martin Shaw’s demands, plans for further repeat screenings on the UK’s ITV network had to be withdrawn, leading to Lewis Collins expressing his anger towards Shaw in an interview for the British press. However, Shaw eventually agreed to UK satellite screenings, although according to a Radio Times interview only after being discreetly made aware that Gordon Jackson’s widow, actress Rona Anderson (who guested in “Cry Wolf”), was suffering financial difficulties after her husband’s death and needed the repeat fees.
Episodes were shown on terrestrial TV as part of special occasions, such as a general overview of ITV’s history; LWT, which produced the series, repeated a selection of episodes from the series in the early 1990s, although was the only region to do so. It was not until 2008 that the series gained a re-run on ITV4. The Professionals has also been regularly shown on cable TV.
The entire series was regularly screened on the now-defunct Granada Plus channel from 1997, where it was consistently the channel’s highest-rated show, initially achieving close to one million viewers. The episodes shown were heavily edited to make them suitable for daytime viewing and it is these same prints that are being used for transmission on ITV4. Neither station screened the “Klansmen” episode, stating that London Weekend Television continued to forbid its transmission.
In 1987, ITV was re-running some episodes. After the Hungerford shooting incident the particular episode that was to be aired, “Lawson’s Last Stand”, had a theme that was deemed insensitive and was replaced by the less violent “The Untouchables”.
After the series ended, ITV produced Dempsey and Makepeace as its replacement, while Raymond Menmuir produced Special Squad for Australia’s Network Ten in the mid-1980s, following The Professionals‘ format. A revival series, CI5: The New Professionals was produced for Sky in the late 1990s and starred Edward Woodward, but it was not a success.
The BBC introduced Spender in the early 1990s, which featured several Professionals influenced themes. The BBC television series Spooks that was broadcast in 2002 also had a fact action style inspired by The Professionals.