As soon as that distinctive theme tune commences… you know you’re in for an hour of enjoyable escapist entertainment!
……from Professor Spool’s archive
Towards the end of the 1960s, Roger Moore was hanging up his halo as Simon Templar, making a lightweight British cinema thriller Crossplot (1969) with his ‘The Saint’ (1962-1969) TV series producer Robert S. Baker – and he was being touted as the next James Bond. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Hollywood matinee idol Tony Curtis had been receiving critical acclaim for playing against type as the real life serial killer Albert DeSalvo in The Boston Strangler (1968). Little did either actor probably know at this time that media mogul Lew Grade had plans that would bring them both together in The Persuaders! It would be, in the early seventies, one of the most expensive British TV series.
Having done seven years as The Saint, Moore was not looking to commit to more television. However, during dinner with Moore, Grade had pitched his plans for an action adventure series and said he could get a big Hollywood name such as Glenn Ford, Rock Hudson or Curtis to co-star with Moore, who found himself unable to say no to Sir Lew.
Neither Curtis, Ford nor Hudson had done a television series and at that time, unlike now, Hollywood stars moving from the big to the small screen was considered a ‘career no-no’. Grade and Moore got Curtis. Incidentally, Ford would go onto to star as Cade in the US police series Cade’s County and Hudson would appear alongside Susan Saint James in the McMillan & Wife television detective series set in San Francisco.
The series that Curtis and Moore signed up to was originally going to be entitled ‘Friendly Persuaders’. This was changed to ‘The Persuaders!’ to avoid any confusion with the 1956 western film Friendly Persuasion starring Gary Cooper and a pre-Psycho Anthony Perkins.
Characters and format:
Curtis plays Danny Wilde, a wise cracking self made millionaire businessman who has risen successfully from the back streets of New York city. Moore, on the other hand, is the debonair Lord Brett Sinclair with his inherited wealth and privileged aristocratic background. These two affluent playboys are brought together by retired Judge Fulton (Laurence Naismith) who chides them for wasting their time and skills on a hedonistic lifestyle. Reluctantly, at first, the two are persuaded by the Judge to join forces in righting wrongs. The partnership between Wilde and Sinclair is prickly initially and always competitive. Despite their differences they become good buddies in their fighting of injustice.
This action adventure formula is very engaging even if some of the plots tend to be formulaic. The repartee between Curtis and Moore shines through, particularly in the sharp dialogue and funny exchanges – both actors roll with the ad-libs very well. Sinclair is suave and astute while Wilde is streetwise and smart. Both drive fast expensive cars and both are well dressed in seventies fashion. In fact, Moore designed his own clothes for the Sinclair character, while Curtis can be seen wearing gloves in most scenes, even washing his hands with gloves on in The Gold Napoleon episode! Both Moore and Curtis even appear in drag in an episode entitled A Death in the Family, the plot of which borrows heavily from the classic Ealing crime comedy Kind Hearts & Coronets (1949).
An initial series of 24 hour long episodes were made, filmed mostly on location in England, France and Italy. As with all ITC productions of the period, high quality film stock was used and experienced directors employed such as Val Guest, Leslie Norman and Roy Ward Baker. Notable guest stars included Susan George, Hannah Gordon, Joan Collins, Derren Nesbitt and Peter Bowles, with scripts written by the likes of Brian (The Avengers) Clemens and Terry (the Daleks) Nation.
Best Episodes of The Persuaders! :
Three of the best episodes which I believe exhibit well the entertaining combination of action and comedy and the witty repartee between the two leads are: Greensleeves, Chain of Events and Man in the Middle.
In Greensleeves, written by Terence Feely and directed by David Greene, one of his Lordship’s (as Sinclair is often referred to by Wilde) usually dormant ancestral estates is being misused by crooked entrepreneurs intent on getting an African state’s mining concessions. In a bizarre twist Sinclair has to pose as an actor impersonating himself while Wilde pretends to be his Hungarian butler. Ironically, in one scene Wilde’s Hungarian accent is ridiculed by the African premier’s daughter for being false. In real life, Curtis’ family were Hungarian immigrants and his birth name was Bernard Schwartz. Watch out for the secret passageways, swashbuckling and smart one-liners.
At the start of the Chain of Events episode (directed by Peter Hunt (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and written by Nation), Danny and Brett are taking contrasting camping holidays. The former goes back to nature, whilst the latter indulges the luxury style approach. The holiday is soon interrupted though when Danny is unwittingly chained to a briefcase that numerous people want and are prepared to kill him to get their hands on it. The briefcase has no key and the chain resists all efforts by Brett and Danny to break the links. A race against time ensues complete with an explosive ending.
The Man in the Middle episode, written by Donald James and directed by Norman, reunites Terry-Thomas with Curtis (they had appeared together previously as arch rivals in the comedy car race classic Monte Carlo or Bust (1969) also known as Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies!). Thomas plays Sinclair’s posh but very less well to do cousin Archie who charms and scrounges his way through life. He bumps into Danny and Brett just as the latter has been mistaken for a traitor and murderer! With Archie’s bumbling help, Sinclair and Wilde attempt to uncover the real traitor.
It is notable that in many Persuaders episodes Curtis does a lot of his own stunts such as: sword fighting in The Ozerov Inheritance; jumping off a trampoline in a fight sequence in The Morning After; leaping from the top of a moving lorry in The Gold Napoleon.
The Persuaders! premiered on the UK’s ITV network in September 1971 to good ratings. However, in the US it was scheduled up against the well established Mission: Impossible series on prime time television and as a result did not fare so well. Plans for a second series were, therefore, dropped.
The series stands up well today thanks largely to the high production values and the on-screen tension and chemistry between the two leads. As soon as that distinctive John Barry composed theme tune commences and is played over the split screen title sequence, you know you’re in for an hour of enjoyable escapist entertainment.