Judge Paul Corupe's distaste for the color aquamarine soured his relationship with this mod '60s British series.
The Man from F.U.N.K.Y.
Three years after leaving U.N.C.L.E., Robert Vaughn starred in this explosive British spy/private eye hybrid series featuring colorful plots enhanced by smart writing. It's also something of a time capsule, with outrageously bad outfits and interior design eyesores that could have only occurred in the early 1970s. Still, if you can stop snickering at the ill-conceived pantsuits and bright pink rooms long enough, you'll find that The Protectors it's a well-written show that has thankfully been rescued from obscurity by A&E's enjoyable box set.
Facts of the Case
"The Protectors" is a high-priced private detective agency that specializes in helping clients who don't want to turn to the police. Led by the unflappable Harry Rule (Robert Vaughn, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), The Protectors' assignments across Europe often lead them into dangerous situations beyond their original mission, including clashes with local police departments and British Intelligence. Harry's associates are the Contessa Caroline di Contini (Nyree Dawn Porter, Forsythe Saga), a wealthy British noblewoman, and Frenchman Paul Buchet (Tony Anholt, Coronation Street, Space: 1999), a suave, technically adept field man.
More a team of "private spies" than "private eyes," The Protectors updated the gumshoe formula for the 1970s with a dose of political instability and international intrigue. Harry and his fellow detectives faced communist and terrorist groups, as well as common kidnappers and blackmailers. The Protectors may not be as charming as more popular shows like The Avengers, but all things considered, it's not a bad little action drama deserving of your attention.
Series producer Gerry Anderson is best known for his puppet-populated "Supermarionation" TV shows of the 1960s, including Thunderbirds and Fireball XL5. Under Sir Lew Grade's ITC company, which already had several successful British spy shows like The Saint and Danger Man under its belt, Anderson branched out to live action in the 1970s. After working on the short-lived sci-fi series UFO, Anderson tapped Robert Vaughn to star in The Protectors, a half-hour show which was much more in tune with ITC's proven hits. One of the things that set The Protectors apart from other British spy and crime shows of the time was its exotic settings. It wasn't uncommon for Harry to fly off to Italy, France, or Germany on a moment's notice.
This four disc set by A&E collects the 26 episodes that make up the second and final season of The Protectors. They are presented in their broadcast order.
• "Fighting Fund"
• "The Last Frontier"
• "Baubles, Bangles and Beads"
• "Goodbye George"
• "WAM Part One"
• "Dragon Chase"
• "Border Line"
• "Zeke's Blues"
• "The Bridge"
• "Sugar and Spice"
• "Burning Bush"
• "The Tiger and the Goat"
• "Route 27"
• "A Pocketful of Posies"
• "The Insider"
It took me three or four episodes to get into The Protectors, but I ended up enjoying this series, which tempers its serious side with a sense of fun. This particular season is a bit uneven, and the box set tends to work in fits and spurts-several entertaining episodes are presented back to back, followed by a couple of rough patches. Despite this, The Protectors is generally a well-written and compelling British private eye/spy series that just happens to love dynamite explosions.
Initially, one of the problems I had with The Protectors was that many of the episodes adhere to a basic plot formula: Harry and his associates must rescue the son or daughter of a wealthy family, who was naïvely drawn into a political, spiritual, or criminal fringe group that has a TNT stockpile. Variations on this scenario occur in at least nine of the episodes, but in each case, the stories then go off in wildly divergent directions. With enough crosses, double-crosses, twist endings and inside agents, The Protectors is neither predictable nor boring. Of course, most of this is due to the experienced talent behind the camera. Most of the directors and writers who worked on The Protectors were already veterans of other British spy series like The Avengers and The Saint, and they know not only how to make this series work, but also how to keep it original and fresh.
Because each member of The Protectors contributes in their own way, the better episodes usually feature a team mission. These don't happen as often as I would have liked, with some shows featuring just Harry or the Contessa on solo assignments. Paul is greatly underused, which is a shame since he's an interesting character—not only is he "the charmer," but he's usually the one operating sophisticated electronic devices and getting the actual legwork done. Also, his wardrobe tends to cause much less eyestrain than the Contessa's needlessly elaborate outfits.
The most impressive thing about The Protectors is that it manages to pack all of its intrigue and explosions into a brief 25 minutes. Not a frame of film is wasted, with each episode launching almost immediately into action. As a trade-off, the series often sacrifices characterization. Very little is made known about Harry, the Contessa, or Paul, which can be a little disorienting for a newcomer to the series. Strangely, the show occasionally throws out nuggets of personal information that it never bothers to resolve. For instance, several episodes seem to indicate that Harry and the Contessa are an item, but nothing is ever presented to confirm or deny their romance.
Nyree Dawn Porter's portrayal of the Contessa is often forced to pick up the acting slack from Robert Vaughn, who never comes off as especially believable as Harry Rule. Reportedly, Vaughn and the producers did not get along on set at all, a situation that was exasperated when Lew Grade expressed his hatred for an episode from the first season that he allowed Vaughn to direct. Vaughn did not like the show, and his lack of heart is sometimes apparent on screen. Everyone else does a commendable job though, especially the endless parade of long-haired revolutionaries and drug dealers—essentially thankless roles that are always carried off with the right amount of menacing and cockiness.
Also contributing to the show is a great musical score. "In the Avenues and Alleyways," the closing credits theme by Tony Christie, was a minor hit on British charts, but it is John Cameron's incidental funk tracks that give the show a playful 1970s vibe. Part of the legendary KPM production house, Cameron's distinct brand of library music sets the mood with Isaac Hayes-inspired rhythm guitar and percussive bongo beats.
I was generally happy with A&E's presentation of The Protectors. Each episode of the show has that grainy 1970s look with slightly unnatural colors, but it's on par with A&E's other British TV sets. There is one weird quirk though—in almost every episode, the scene immediately following the credits sequence is extremely fuzzy. Sound quality is not bad at all, with clear dialogue and a full-sounding score. The biggest disappointment on this set has to be the noticeable lack of extras. Cast bios and a "photo gallery" comprised of screen captures from the episodes are about all you'll find here.
Occupying a middle ground between campy and serious, The Protectors isn't the best or most popular of the British "cult" shows of the 1960s and '70s, but it still makes for an enjoyable DVD release. The fashion may be outdated, but the show itself has aged well. Too bad A&E obviously dropped the ball on offering extras, since a few interesting featurettes really could have made this set dy-no-mite.
For failing to provide supplementary evidence, A&E is instructed to carefully check under their hood the next time they start their car. Harry Rule and the rest of The Protectors are ordered to immediately go back to work keeping the streets safe from criminals considered armed and extremely groovy.
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