I’ve watched the whole 1964 ABC series The Protectors. This is quite different from The Protectors, the Gerry Anderson series from 1972-4. To start with, it’s in black & white, but more importantly it’s also set in that world where even ITV viewers were expected to sit up and pay attention to lengthy scenes in which posh-voiced men and women unwound quite elaborate setups and plots with minimal action.
The stories all concern the work of Souter & Shoesmith, an agency dealing in “security”. In his first scene, we encounter Ian Souter dictating a letter to a client whose commission they are turning down.
SOUTER:… we do undertake a broad range of security work, including the investigation, surveillance, and the safeguarding of client’s interests… we are unable to undertake assignments that clearly conflict with the public interest or the law itself.
There are 3 in the gang: Bob Shoesmith (formerly of the Met; left honourably, we are to understand, though the exact reasons aren’t stated, except maybe he just thought private consultancy would be more interesting), Ian Souter (exact background unclear but seems to know more about the technical aspects of the field), and Heather Keys, their secretary (her surname only starts appearing the credits mid-season).
The titles start with a ticking sound as various items of clockwork or locksmithery flicker past along with the main cast names.
Then the fanfare kicks in as we see the show’s name.
Things to note about this show: it was made in the days when TV drama was being pre-recorded, rather than broadcast live to air. Nevertheless no one was too precious about it, and no one seems to mind the occasional fluffs and fumbles, and a few obvious mistakes. When it happens, the cast do what they would have done in rep theatre: just carry on, or if possible say the line correctly on a second attempt. This seems to be normal behaviour right up to at least 1970, and my favourite example is the episode of The Fellows where Jill Booty gets a line wrong, pulls a face, and does it correctly; because the line in question is a terribly ironic, paradoxical observation about Richard Vernon’s smug liberalism, it’s hard for a jaded post-post-modernist viewer 50 years later to not assume it was a deliberate Brechtian break in the illusion. If I was someone willing to give TED talks for money I would get up a lecture about “the Hartnell Effect”. This would be my own term for the misconception that William Hartnell was particularly bad at fluffing his lines on Doctor Who. In fact, I would argue, Hartnell was no worse than any other 60s TV actor, given the amount of script he had to work on. He just looks bad if you only watch his shows (and no others from the same period) and judge them by later standards in which there was time and money to reshoot all those little mistakes. I haven’t done the maths to show these claims are true, however, but I feel sure they are, and I think that’s always been good enough for Malcolm Gladwell.
Some early Doctor Who writers are involved in The Protectors: Bill Strutton, who wrote The Web Planet, which caused Billy some problems with its wordy scripts, and Malcolm Hulke, who wrote some fine stories for Jon Pertwee, including The Sea Devils. Since there were only 14 episodes of The Protectors we may as well review them all. Each episode runs at 50 minutes, with 2 breaks cutting it into 3 segments.
Landscape With Bandits by Bill Strutton, broadcast 28th March 1964
Young Christopher Searle is unhappy working in a gallery owned by tyrannical Ware. The latter isn’t interested in displaying new, young artists, he just wants to buy famous works for private collectors. He wants to secure a rare work by Monet that is available, but he is held up in court trying to deal with a legal challenge, and because the ownership of the work is disputed at the last moment, it goes at auction to an unknown female buyer. Souter has the job of transporting the work securely to its new buyer, who turns out to be working with young Searle.
The two are rather hopeful that they can sell off the Monet quickly to raise funds to buy new art, but meanwhile they entrust S&S with the job of protecting their asset in the strong room of their London office. Fun fact: we only ever see either Souter or Shoesmith in the strong room in both the first and the last episodes of the series.
It all gets a bit convoluted with multiple players attempting to get hold of the painting, and it’s rather hard to care about for an opening episode.
The Bottle Shop by Martin Woodhouse, broadcast 4th April 1964
In the laboratory of Transco Pharmaceuticals, there is tension between their strong, assured presence of Dr Bradbury (played by Faith Brown) and neurotic, tetchy young Dr Fothergill (played by Peter Bowles).
Meanwhile the big boss James Fairchild has called in S&S as he is worried about industrial espionage stealing the latest research secrets of the business, including a potentially fruitful new area they are getting in to. Souter joins the staff pretending to be doing a time & motion study, and he asks for more background detail.
SOUTER: This new field of research you were talking about… can you give me details?
FAIRCHILD: …well, as I told you, we make sedatives and other sorts of drugs, and this is merely an extension of that area: psychiatric drugs for producing altered mental states. You must have heard of some of them: mescalin, lysergic acid-
FAIRCHILD: Yes. Pretty open field at the moment, not much is known. But we think this group of drugs is going to become very important in the next few years.
Meanwhile back at the office, Heather has mentioned that her old boyfriend Geoff Barnes was a research chemist who moved over in to “psychological” research for an American “foundation”. He turns out to be well-informed about the “ego-destroying drugs”.
He explains the bad effects of LSD to Souter by showing him a photo of a cat terrified of a mouse after receiving the drug (we don’t see these pictures). We do get to see the moment of panic when Souter carelessly inhales the hallucinogenic gas from one of the cylinders he took from the lab.
Another freaky detail is that the baddies don’t see to have a proper office and have to hold their meetings in a corridor, a pattern of behaviour that also occurred in some Doctor Who stories, such as Enemy Of The World (1967).
Happy Is The Loser by Lewis Davidson, broadcast 11th April 1964
Brian Wilde appears as Happy Dyer, a very nasty enforcer who has a nice racket worked out collecting bad debts for casinos and other venues.
S & S are working with an insurance group to encourage gambling businesses to take out a new kind of policy against bad debts, which should put operators like Happy out of the game. Realising they need to catch him at his work, they set up Heather to play the role of a good-time girl who runs up a bill she can’t pay.
Happy and his sidekick prove themselves to be thoroughly nasty pieces of work by holding a woman hostage. How do our heroes solve the problem of discovering her whereabouts in time? Er… by twisting the culprit’s arm and threatening more violence if he won’t confess immediately. Not a great moment for TV justice, and I’d like to suppose that this sort of behaviour is why Shoesmith had to leave the force, though it’s unlikely to have been, either then or for several more decades.
No Forwarding Address by Fiona McConnell, broadcast 18th April 1964
Ouir chaps are alerted to a “…despicable swindle… taking advantage of a loophole in the credit system.” Apparently there are bogus businesses buying up lots of stock on credit, filling up warehouses, taking orders, then packing up and clearing out without paying their bills and leaving it all to the recipients. So they go along to check out a suspicious new outfit.
There is indeed some dodgy activity going on, with some not very honest men standing behind dear old Norman Bird as he plays the role of semi-respectable front man for what will probably end up as an insurance fiddle… except the crooks get cheated by their own side, and there’s a morally dubious conclusion in which the fiddler stays clean because he never got the chance to play the fiddle… so it’s ok to do business with him. Souter & Shoesmith are not primarily crimefighters.
The Loop Men by Larry Forrester, broadcast 25th April 1964
Some very nasty men have been robbing loads of electrical items off goods trains. They seem to be awfully good at it, implying they’re being helped by an inside man. Shoesmith goes undercover with an utterly pisspoor Cockney accent, luckily the firm is based in Glasgow so no one complains about the vocal quality.
The mastermind is a completely unhinged ex-Royal Marine known as “The Corp”, declining into paranoia and prone to referring to crime scenes as “the beach”. He only seems to be stable when cuddling his pet kitten. Already he thinks these young lads today are no good, not now that National Service is over.
The Stamp Collection by Ian Kennedy Martin, broadcast 2nd May 1964
A highly valuable collection of stamps is kept in the highest security, but Souter & Shoesmith are on hand to check everything is ok.
Turns out the buyer isn’t as respectable as he’d have us believe: Shoesmith uses his old force contacts to have questions asked via Interpol (there is an irony here as he’s played by Edwin Richfield a regular in Interpol Calling). Turns out he was involved in bad business in Oran, and his service in the Royal Engineers taught him to make bombs with timers.
Also appearing: Glynn Edwards.
It Could Happen Here by Malcolm Hulke, broadcast 9th May 1964
Time for an excursion into the industrial working class and their trades unions. This includes Mike Pratt, later to appear in Randall And Hopkirk Deceased.
The union needs to increase subs, but needs to justify it against the competition posed by the bogus lotteries on offer around the works. So S&S are called in with the task of exposing one of these lotteries as a con.
Shoesmith makes a more convincing impression as an Irish guy who wants to get in to one of local factories, whilst concealing that he just came out of Pentonville. He surmises that ex-cons as the main source of recruitment by the nasty American schemer, who wants to take over the union and use it as an instrument of “industrial extortion” like he was used to back in the USA.
Freedom! by Bill Strutton, broadcast 16th May 1964
The only episode in which the title does not appear in the opening few minutes.
The Albanian orchestra are on a visit to London, including their country’s greatest composer Yurasov. He is disgusted at some of the awful pro-government works they have to perform, selected by the Artistic Director played by Roger Delgado. Although they are Albanian, everyone involved seems to have a Russian name.
Our boys are employed to mind the hotel, and of course they are old chums with one of the Foreign Office chaps in the vicinity.
Things get a bit complicated when some Albanians want to defect, and S & S diverge in their feelings about how to handle the situation. There are also some detailed speeches about the nature of freedom, and the fact that no artists anywhere can produce whatever they want; even writers in the West have to find employment and readers.
The Pirate by John Lucarotti, broadcast 23rd May 1964
The Pirate is jolly old international crook Smokey Grey, who makes the whole business a simply wonderful game for playboys to play at.
Smokey is prime suspect for an elaborate diamond heist a few years ago, and S&S are hired to keep an eye on him during his current trip to London, to see if he’s trying to dispose of the rocks. There are some very unusual scenes recorded from above, showing all the various characters scuttling around fashionable places at day and night.
Of course Smokey has to work hard to make everything seem as easy as it looks. He’s on the ropes a few times, and at one point has to be reminded by someone that he needed to be bailed out of trouble over the “Congo guns”.
The Deadly Chameleon by Tony O’Grady, broadcast 30th May 1964
This is nearer to something like an episode of Shadows Of Fear or other 70s anthology series. The chaps are called in byWentworths Bank in order to do a full background check on all staff, as a requirement for a “Fidelity Bond” in a deal with a US bank. Souter doesn’t like this sort of work, thinks it’s unethical, so Shoesmith does most of the investigation into the mysterious secret life of Harold Tillsworth, played by Peter Barkworth as a stereotype “nerd”.
Appearance by Gretchen Franklyn, later of East Enders.
Note the weird continuity error: Shoesmith jeers at Tillsworth about the “special locks” on his car… but how would he know about them? They weren’t mentioned when he saw the car earlier; the viewers only know about them because they were revealed in the previous scene at the garage… with Souter. So unless the 2 actually have a telepathic link they never acknowledge, it’s a scripting slip-up.
Who Killed Lazoryck? by Larry Forrester, broadcast 6th June 1964
Lord Keele and his security man The Major are concerned about the early release of Pearce Kettner.
Kettner is/was the celebrated left-wing pacifist poet and campaigner who was found guilty and jailed as a Soviet spy a few years ago following the death of Lazoryck, a Polish emigre who turned out to be a courier. It was inferred that Kettner killed him to stop him revealing the network of espionage whereby he was stealing classified information from files Keele carelessly brought back from Whitehall to his country retreat. Both Keele and Kettner were old pals from the Spanish Civil War when they both met, though one of them took the respectable civil service career and the other didn’t.
Souter is a close pal of Kettner’s daughter, who is concerned for her father’s safety now that he is vulnerable to angry patriots who want to dish out summary justice to a freed traitor.
I think you can guess who the real traitor was. There is a battle with communist agents posing as respectable business men. One of whom explains that he was able to blackmail his agent into supporting the cause by getting him to unwittingly aid an IRA man who bombed an RUC station. We also get recriminations against Kettner for decaying in to a flabby liberal who ceased to believe in the Revolution.
Channel Crossing by Malcolm Hulke, broadcast 13th June 1964
Wealthy businessman James Benson is bothered by the size of his life insurance premiums, especially as his business is in trouble and the Fraud Squad are on to him for some dodgy dealing. He is annoyed that his secretary accepted an invitation to be guest speaker at the reunion dinner for his regiment on the anniversary of its escape at Dunkirk. But then he evolves a plot to use the cross-channel journey to fake his own death. The fact that one of the other old soldiers hates him for what he actually did in 1940 just makes the plan even better.
Benson is not totally stupid: note that during the after-dinner chat he is advising the other old City boys to watch out for the Japanese car industry, and to see it taking over in Britain.
S&S are on board in the service of the life insurance firm, to make sure Benson is safe. It’s not clear where this voyage is setting out from; wherever it is takes several hours to reach Dunkirk, so we can’t have started from Dover unless we went around in circles for a bit.
As his secretary explains: “Haven’t you ever wanted to send an anonymous letter to someone, someone you hated?” Social media would have been instantly popular in 1964, don’t pretend that people were different. All the baddies in this story are double-crossing and double-bluffing every one else.
Cargo From Corinth by John Lucarotti, broadcast 20th June 1964
The only episode set abroad (apart from the Paris scenes in the first one). This is mostly on a cruise around the Mediterranean, and George Pravda must have been delighted to get a chance to play a Greek billionaire instead of a KGB officer for a change.
There’s an old Gestapo officer on the boat as well, and a few people recognise him and are ready to kill him. Here, as with the other episodes that reach back to the War years, there is always a chorus ready to argue back that it was all a long time ago and we need to move on from the 1940s.
Shoesmith and Heather are all on board to protect the transfer of a valuable artefact to Venice, where it can be embarked on a plane to America… the valuable artefact gets stolen anyway, a detail which does not seem to cause a dent in their reputation as “the best in the business”, God knows how bad the competition must be, on this showing.
The Reluctant Thief by Bill Strutton, broadcast 27th June 1964
A Clockwork Orange is a few years old by now, and it’s time that the world of violent, aimless youths was recognised by Souter and Shoesmith. Young Hughie, played by Derek Fowlds, steals Heather’s handbag, but he’s so incompetent at crime he loses his identity bracelet and is easily caught. Because she’s a bleeding heart Hampstead liberal she persuades the boys to give the youngster a second chance and employ him as an office boy. This is of course a terrible idea, since he’s still under the spell of the gang who robbed a bookies and killed a nightwatchman, and Hughie isn’t sure if he’d be found innocent if all that came out.
Note the appearance of David Battley playing one of the other droogs, who went on to be in a million other things.
Of course what these young toerags need isn’t empathy and hand-holding, it’s a bloody good dose of National Service, or at least a clobbering by a former Met officer.
But how exactly did the gang get the combination details for the strong room? I think Hughie tells them that Shoesmith keeps the paper in his pocket after using it, so there must have been a pickpocketing scene that is omitted before they turn up in the office with the paper he used earlier.
So those were The Protectors, and they were mostly successful.