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The Champions

The Champions

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The Champions is a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

/science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

/occult detective fiction adventure series consisting of 30 episodes broadcast on the UK network ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

 during 1968–1969, produced by Lew Grade
Lew Grade
Lew Grade, Baron Grade , born Lev Winogradsky, was an influential Russian-born English impresario and media mogul.-Early years:...

's ITC Entertainment
ITC Entertainment
The Incorporated Television Company was a British television company largely involved in production and distribution. It was founded by Lew Grade.-History:...

 production company. The series was broadcast in the US on NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

, starting in summer 1968.

Overview and premise

The series features Craig Stirling, Sharron Macready and Richard Barrett as agents for a United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 law enforcement organization called "Nemesis", based in Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

. The three have different backgrounds: Barrett is a code breaker, Stirling a pilot, and Macready a recently widowed scientist and doctor.

During their first mission as a team, their plane crashes in the Himalayas
The Himalaya Range or Himalaya Mountains Sanskrit: Devanagari: हिमालय, literally "abode of snow"), usually called the Himalayas or Himalaya for short, is a mountain range in Asia, separating the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau...

. They are rescued by an advanced civilization living secretly in the mountains, who save their lives, granting them perfected human abilities, including powers to communicate with one another over distances by ESP (telepathy), and to foresee events (precognition), enhanced five senses and intellect, and physical abilities to 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 & 70s TV, in part due to both the domestic audience and writers having been 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 friends and foe alike. Each episode begins with a post title sequence vignette in which one 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, laughing hoodlums block in Macready's car, which she physically pulls out of the parking space one-handed. Ironically, 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. Tremayne does not know that his agents have special abilities, though he does ask innocent questions about just how on their missions they managed to carry out certain tasks about which their reports were vague.

Cast and characters

  • Stuart Damon
    Stuart Damon
    Stuart Damon is an American actor. He is known for thirty years of portraying the character Dr. Alan Quartermaine on the American soap opera General Hospital, for which he won an Emmy Award in 1999....

     as Craig Stirling
  • Alexandra Bastedo
    Alexandra Bastedo
    Alexandra Bastedo is a British actress, best-known for her role as secret agent Sharron Macready in the 1968 British espionage/science fiction adventure series The Champions...

     as Sharron Macready
  • William Gaunt
    William Gaunt
    William Charles Anthony Gaunt is an English actor, sometimes credited as Bill Gaunt.-Early life:...

     as Richard Barrett
  • Anthony Nicholls
    Anthony Nicholls (actor)
    Anthony Nicholls was an English film, television, and stage actor.-Life and career:Nicholls was born Sydney Horace Nicholls on 16 October 1902 in Windsor, Berkshire, England, the son of Florence and photojournalist Horace Nicholls. He served in the Royal Artillery...

     as Tremayne


The series was created by Dennis Spooner
Dennis Spooner
Dennis Spooner was an English television screenwriter and story editor, known primarily for his programmes about fictional spies and his work in children's television in the 1960s...

 and its episodes were written by veterans of popular British spy series, including The Avengers
The Avengers (TV series)
The Avengers is a spy-fi British television series set in the 1960s Britain. The Avengers initially focused on Dr. David Keel and his assistant John Steed . Hendry left after the first series and Steed became the main character, partnered with a succession of assistants...

and Danger Man
Danger Man
Danger Man is a British television series that was broadcast between 1960 and 1962, and again between 1964 and 1968. The series featured Patrick McGoohan as secret agent John Drake. Ralph Smart created the program and wrote many of the scripts...

. The series used an unfilmed script written for Danger Man.

The series was produced by Monty Berman
Monty Berman
Nestor Montague Berman was a British cinematographer and film and television producer.-Early career:...

 who had co-produced, with Robert S. Baker
Robert S. Baker
Robert Sidney Baker was a British film and television producer, who at times was also a cinematographer and director.- Movie career :...

, The Saint
The Saint (TV series)
The Saint was an ITC mystery spy thriller television series that aired in the UK on ITV between 1962 and 1969. It centred on the Leslie Charteris literary character, Simon Templar, a Robin Hood-like adventurer with a penchant for disguise. The character may be nicknamed The Saint because the...

, Gideon's Way
Gideon's Way
Gideon's Way is a British television crime series made by ITC Entertainment in 1964/65, based on the novels by John Creasey . The series was made at Elstree in twin production with The Saint TV series...

and numerous B-movie
A B movie is a low-budget commercial motion picture that is not definitively an arthouse or pornographic film. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the term more precisely identified a film intended for distribution as the less-publicized, bottom half of a double feature....

s of the 1950s. Berman went on to produce, working with many of the writers, directors and crew, other ITC series including Department S
Department S
Department S is a United Kingdom spy-fi adventure series produced by ITC Entertainment. The series consists of 28 episodes which originally aired in 1969–1970. It starred Peter Wyngarde as author Jason King , Joel Fabiani as Stewart Sullivan, and Rosemary Nicols as computer expert Annabelle Hurst...

, Jason King
Jason King (TV series)
Jason King was a British television series produced from 1971 to 1972. Each episode was one hour in duration , and the series had a run of one season of 26 episodes. As well as its native UK, the series was also screened in countries as far afield as Australia, Norway, Argentina and Peru...

, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)
Randall and Hopkirk , first transmitted during 1969-70, is a British private detective television series starring Mike Pratt and Kenneth Cope as the private detectives Jeff Randall and Marty Hopkirk, respectively. The series was originally created by Dennis Spooner and produced by Monty Berman...

and The Adventurer
The Adventurer (TV series)
The Adventurer is an ITC Entertainment TV adventure series created by Dennis Spooner that ran for one season from 1972 to 1973. It premiered in the UK on 29 September 1972. The show starred Gene Barry as Gene Bradley, a government agent of independent means who poses as a glamorous American movie...


Because of budget constraints, many sets were reused: three episodes were set on a submarine and three set in the arctic. Stock footage was used. Like most such ITC series much of the exterior action took place in and around the studio lot — usually, as was the case with The Champions, Elstree Studios
Elstree Studios
"Elstree Studios" refers to any of several film studios that were based in the towns of Borehamwood and Elstree in Hertfordshire, England, since film production begun in 1927.-Name:...

 in Borehamwood, Herts. For at least one episode, Desert Journey, foreign filming did take place, but with a second unit
Second unit
In film, the second unit is a team that shoots subsidiary footage for a motion picture. Its work is distinct from that of the first unit, which shoots all scenes involving principal actors...

, and extras standing in for the main cast.

The theme music to the series was written by Tony Hatch
Tony Hatch
Anthony Peter "Tony" Hatch is an English composer, songwriter, pianist, music arranger and producer.-Early life and early career:...

, with Albert Elms
Albert Elms
Albert Elms was a British composer and arranger who worked mainly on television and film.Elms is best known for providing incidental music to ITC series such as Man in a Suitcase, The Champions and Ivanhoe...

 and Edwin Astley supplying incidental music.

Further broadcasts and releases

Although short-lived, the series is fondly remembered and had three repeats across the ITV regions, after its initial run, up to 1976, and once more on ITV in the mid 1980s. It was also regularly repeated in the UK, on ITV's digital channel ITV4
ITV4 is a British television station which was launched on 1 November 2005. It is owned by ITV Digital Channels Ltd, a division of ITV plc, and is part of the ITV network. The channel has a male-oriented line-up, including sport, cop shows and US comedies and dramas, as well as classic ITV action...

 until January 2011.
The Champions was broadcast on BBC2 in 1995, at about the time when Gaunt was appearing in the sitcom Next of Kin
Next of Kin (TV series)
Next of Kin is a British sitcom that aired on BBC1 from 1995 to 1997. It starred Penelope Keith in her last regular sitcom role. It was written byGavin Petrie and Jan Etherington....

and it had at least three further repeat runs after that. This was the last time complete prints were seen on UK television's main channels.

Episodes were released on DVD
A DVD is an optical disc storage media format, invented and developed by Philips, Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic in 1995. DVDs offer higher storage capacity than Compact Discs while having the same dimensions....

 in North America, 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
General Hospital
General Hospital is an American daytime television drama that is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running American soap opera currently in production and the third longest running drama in television in American history after Guiding Light and As the World Turns....

meant that Bastedo and Gaunt had to be flown to America for this to occur).

Legend of the Champions

In 1983, ITC edited 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
Ric Young
- Selected Filmography :- External links :...

) 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 US by this time, and partly because "The Interrogation" is essentially a two-hander between Damon and Colin Blakely
Colin Blakely
Colin George Blakely was a Northern Irish character actor. He was considered an actor of great range.-Early life:...

, 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 Tremaynes 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
Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro is a Mexican director, producer, screenwriter, novelist and designer. He is mostly known for his acclaimed films, Blade II, Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy film franchise. He is a frequent collaborator with Ron Perlman, Federico Luppi and Doug Jones...

 would produce and write a film adaptation of The Champions for United Artists
United Artists
United Artists Corporation is an American film studio. The original studio of that name was founded in 1919 by D. W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks....

. In 2008, Christopher McQuarrie
Christopher McQuarrie
Christopher McQuarrie is an American screenwriter, producer and director. His screenplays include The Usual Suspects, for which he won the 1996 Academy Award, The Way of the Gun and Valkyrie....

 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

List of episodes

# Title Writer Director Guest actors Guy Rolfe ... Walter Pelham
Edina Ronay ... Sandra Hurst
Michael Standing

External links

  • Series entry at BFI
    British Film Institute
    The British Film Institute is a charitable organisation established by Royal Charter to:-Cinemas:The BFI runs the BFI Southbank and IMAX theatre, both located on the south bank of the River Thames in London...

  • Series overview at CulTv
  • Series review at Television Heaven