With the news that American company United Artists are considering a film remake of the 1960s series The Champions we take a look at the original series.
The Champions was created by writer Dennis Spooner and was developed from an un-filmed script Spooner had written for another 60s serial, Danger Man. The Champions was produced by Lew Grade’s ITC Entertainment production company, the company responsible for many popular drama show’s of the 1960s. Lew Grade was also a major shareholder in the ITV franchise ATV, which served the midlands, but created the ITC name in order to sell his shows to an American market. During the 1960s and 1970s under Grade ITC made a series of programmes designed to break into the profitable American market. Other shows made by ITC include The Saint, Danger Man, The Prisoner, Department S, its spin-off Jason King and Thunderbirds.
The Champions fell into the espionage genre and was in similar vain to many ITC programmes of the time such as Department S and The Saint. Looking back on the show today it is considered kitch and full of 1960s pop culture. The series revolved around three spies who worked for a United Nations law enforcement organisation code-named Nemesis based on Geneva, Switzerland. Each spy had a different specialised background that aided the team over all. Craig Stirling [Stuart Damon] was a pilot while Sharron Maccready [Alexandra Bastedo] was a scientist and doctor and Richard Barrett [William Gaunt] was a code breaker.
On the team’s first mission their plane crashed in the Himalayas and they were rescued by a highly advanced but secretive civilisation, who lived in the mountains, and the three were given special powers such as telepathy and precognition. The three spies were able to use these new found powers while investigating various organisations and criminals and the various schemes these individuals would have.
Although the budget for the series was larger than most British drama’s at the time it still wasn’t enough to meet the demands of the series and the scope of the format and so sets were often reused in order to save money. For example three episodes of the series took place on submarines, in order to recycle sets while a further three were set in the arctic, once again to reuse sets and save on money. Stock footage was extensively used as well. Location filming for the series didn’t really stretch much further than the studio complex where The Champions was filmed. The series was filmed as the Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, just north of London, which were owned by ATV at the time. The studios are now owned by the BBC and where EastEnders and Holby City are filmed. The only time any oversees filming took place the main cast were substituted in shots by extra’s in order to keep costs down.
Dennis Spooner wrote three episodes of the series which included its opening episode and other episode writers included; Terry Nation, who wrote two episodes, Ian Stuart Black, Brian Clemens, Gerald Kelsey, Donald James and Phillip Broadley. Dennis Spooner had been a script editor on the BBC series Doctor Who and had also written several stories in the series but left Who in 1966. Spooner left Doctor Who in order to work alongside Terry Nation on The Baron, Spooner and Nation having previously worked together on Doctor Who. Although The Baron didn’t prove to be a big hit in American it bought Spooner together with Monty Berman, who had been a producer on the series. When Spooner created The Champions Berman was the producer on the series and the two also worked together on other ITC shows after The Champions ended, on dramas such as Department S and its spin-off, Jason King.
The theme tune for the series was written by Tony Hatch who was no stranger to Lew Grade having created the iconic theme tune to Crossroads, the ATV Birmingham based soap. Crossroads wasn’t the only soap that Hatch created the theme tune for with Emmerdale Farm  and Neighbours  also following.
In all The Champions ran for 30 episodes between 1968 and 1969 before being dropped and aired on ITV in the UK and NBC in America. The series attracted many guest stars such as; Burt Kwouk, Nicholas Courtney, Michael Cough, Dallas Cavell, Bernard Kay, Stephen Yardley, Kate O’Mara, Andrew Keir, Julian Glover, Jennie Linden, Tony Caunter, Bernard Lee, Phillip Madoc, Jeremy Brett, Gabrielle Drake, Hannah Gordon and Roger Delgado.
The series has been repeated several times in the UK and most recently on digital channel ITV4 and also on BBC Two in the mid 1990’s. The series has been released twice on DVD in the UK and America and the most recent version saw the three main stars of the series reunite to provide audio commentary tracks for several episodes.