During the 1960s and early 1970s, the ITC studio experimented with a few “international-friendly” formats to sell their shows around the world. The Champions featured a familiar grouping of secret agents: an American, an Englishman, and the posh, nebulously European woman. Or, as The Preventers, one of the funniest half-hours of television ever made, would put it a quarter-century later, “vaguely foreign.”
The Champions was created by Monty Berman and Dennis Spooner and produced in 1968. The 30 episodes were written by many of the same veterans who worked on most of Britain’s adventure TV shows of the day, and it starred Stuart Damon, William Gaunt, and Alexandra Bastedo as agents of a UN-affiliated agency called Nemesis based in Geneva. There were lots of these kinds of shows in the late sixties, but The Champions had a twist that really set it apart, and which I didn’t tell my family about: these secret agents have super powers.
In Dennis Spooner’s “The Beginning,” our heroes’ getaway plane crashes somewhere in the Himalayas after heisting a bacterial weapon from a Chinese laboratory. Days later, they wake up, their wounds healed and their minds and bodies improved somehow. They have fleeting memories of a secret city, ancient mystics, and technology far beyond our own. There was a lot of this in the sixties, and the old man flatly looks like he walked right out of a Steve Ditko-drawn issue of Strange Tales. So, with telepathy, enhanced senses, heightened reflexes, and super strength, our heroes overpower the soldiers sent to capture them and wonder how they’ll keep their powers a secret while serving the greater good. Guest stars in this installment include Joseph Furst, just to keep all the stuff in Geneva appreciably international, and Burt Kwouk and Anthony Chinn, who ITC had on speed dial whenever they needed Chinese soldiers.
I really enjoyed watching our son realize where this was going. Except I fumbled a little. I hinted that this would be a show kind of like The Avengers and Adam Adamant Lives!, forgetting that when you say Avengers to this kid, he immediately thinks of those other, lesser Avengers and all their movies and Lego sets. So he was expecting super heroes, and wondered what was up with these normal humans and all the machine guns! But he liked it, and it did have a fine little fight at the end, and I hope he continues to enjoy it.