Saturday, 17 December 2011

Roger Moore & Tony Curtis are The Persuaders (1971)

File:The Persuaders! titlecard.jpg
I was a young boy of 5 when ITV first screened the Persuaders. I was a huge fan of Roger Moore's even then and The Persuaders has remained my all time favourite television series. They just simply do not make them like this any more.
The Persuaders! was an action/adventure series, produced by ITC Entertainment for initial broadcast on ITV and ABC in 1971. It has been called "the last major entry in the cycle of adventure series that had begun eleven years earlier with Danger Man in 1960", as well as "the most ambitious and most expensive of Sir Lew Grade's international action adventure series".
Despite its focus on the British and American markets, the show was popular elsewhere. It won its highest awards from Australia and Spain while Roger Moore and Tony Curtis were decorated in Germany and France for their acting. It persists in the memory of European filmmakers and audiences, having been casually referenced in 21st century productions from Sweden, France, Britain and Germany.
The Persuaders starred Tony Curtis as Danny Wilde, and Roger Moore as Brett Rupert George Robert Andrew Sinclair, 15th Earl of Marnock, referred to through most of the series by his courtesy title of Lord Brett Sinclair, two international playboys. Much of the humour of the show derived from playful observations about the differences between British and American customs. The show ended after one season, in consequence of failing to make an impact on US TV, thereby releasing Roger Moore to star in the popular Bond films. Roger Moore had been directly involved in the production of the series, and the need for an American co-star was deemed by all imperative to ensure a television release in the USA. An overture to Rock Hudson was rejected, as it was by second choice Glenn Ford. A list of candidates was then sought from ABC America. Tony Curtis agreed to the series project and flew into England in April 1970 to commence location filming, only to create headlines of a different type by way of his arrest at Heathrow Airport for possession of cannabis. He was fined £50.
The Persuaders! are two equally-matched men from different backgrounds who reluctantly team together to solve cases which the courts cannot.
  • Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis) is a rough diamond, educated and moulded in the back slums of New York City, who escaped by enlisting in the U.S. Navy. He later became a millionaire in the oil business. (Curtis himself suffered a tough childhood in the Bronx, and served in the US Navy. He was 46 when he made The Persuaders, but performed all his own stunts and fight sequences.)
  • Lord Brett Sinclair (Roger Moore) is a polished Harrow and Oxford educated English aristocrat; a former British Army officer and an ex-racing car driver, who addresses his comrade-in-arms as "Daniel".
Now globe-trotting playboys, the men meet on holiday in the French Riviera, instantly disliking each other and destroying a hotel bar with their fist-fight. Arrested, they are delivered to retired Judge Fulton (Laurence Naismith) who offers them the choice of spending ninety days in jail or helping him right errors of impunity. Grudgingly, Wilde and Sinclair agree to help solve Fulton's initial case. He then releases them from any threat of jail.
The men develop a sparing affection for each other, and are soon stumbling into more adventures: sometimes by chance, sometimes due again to Judge Fulton. Although the Judge recurs in the series, he has no formal relationship with his two agents. Several episodes depict his finding a way to convince Wilde and Sinclair to act on his behalf. For instance, in "Angie, Angie" he easily convinces one of the pair. In "The Man in the Middle" he endangers his agents, so that they must act in his behalf. When they are short of cash, he lures them with money. In "Powerswitch" he manipulates events from the shadows, with Sinclair and Wilde not knowing of the Judge's involvement.
In episode 12, "That's Me Over There", it appears that Sinclair has had a longstanding interest in crime-fighting, as he has had installed a dedicated telephone line for an informer on a master criminal. In episode 17, "Five Miles to Midnight", he tells Joan Collin's character that he personally works for the Judge because it has given him something worthwhile to do after his failed motor racing career; Wilde never reveals nor explains his reasons.
The Persuaders titles and synthesiser theme, by John Barry establish the background and current identities of the protagonists via split-screen narrative technique: two folders, one red, one blue, labelled Danny Wilde and Brett Sinclair simultaneously narrate their lives. As the biographies approach their current ages, a series of four short sequences combine live footage with torn newspaper clippings, connoting their excitingly peripatetic lifestyles. The conclusion shows them together enjoying a life of sport, drink, women, and gambling. The titles were specifically designed so that neither actor would appear to have top billing, something both Moore and Curtis stipulated when they agreed to co-star.
The title sequence retains a cinematic technique cachet among professional film editors. In 1995, Peugeot released an advertisement for the 306 car, with the theme of the opening title sequence, the split screen process and even the voice of Michel Roux, who dubbed Tony Curtis in the original series. In 2007, France 2 satirically used it to introduce a report about relations between the newly-elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his first Prime Minister Francois Fillon Moreover, the same channel reprised the satire for the 13 October 2007 episode of On n'est pas couche about the strained relationship between McLaren Formula One drivers Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
Both Brett Sinclair & Danny Wilde drive signature cars: Danny Wilde drives a Red left-hand-drive Ferrari Dino 246 GT, Brett Sinclair drives a UK-registered Bahama Yellow right-hand-drive Aston Martin DBS with V8 wheels and markings. As with Simon Templar (Roger Moore's character from The Saint television series), Lord Brett Sinclair's car has Personalised number plates of his initials; Templar’s were “ST 1”, Sinclair’s are “BS 1” (Except for one scene in the episode "The Gold Napoleon" where the car had its original UK registration number PPP 6H instead). In fact, the true owner of the plates at the time, Billy Smart Jr permitted their fictional use. The Aston Martin from the show was sold by the factory after filming ended, via HR Owen in London, to its first private owner. It was restored to a very high standard in recent years by the Aston Martin factory and is still in private ownership in the UK. Danny Wilde’s car bears Italian registration plates, 221400.MO (the 'MO' component represents the city of Modena, which happens to be the headquarters and manufacturing base of Ferrari). The exact whereabouts of the Dino today is unknown but it is reliably believed to be alive and well in Italy with a private owner.
The concept of The Persuaders originated in one of the final episodes of The Saint titled "The Ex King of Diamonds", wherein Simon Templar (Moore) is partnered with a Texas oilman (Stuart Damon) in a Monte Carlo gambling adventure. Liking that combination, Robert S. Baker and Lew Grade funded a new series. Unusually, production of the series began and continued without contracts among the producers and Moore. Moreover, Moore's role as producer is not obvious from watching the series, but Curtis confirmed the fact: "Roger was always like the host with the show, because it was his company that was producing it. I would say he was the largest independent owner of it; Roger and his company owned it with Bob Baker, and Sir Lew owned the rest of it."
At the time, the twenty-four episode The Persuaders! was the most expensive British television series produced, each episode costing £100,000, ( 2007:£1,800,000 ) for location filming in France, Spain, Sweden, and Italy, and star salaries. One of the series' unusual production aspects was that Roger Moore was — officially and practically — his own wardrobe artist, stemming from genuine sartorial interest and marketing his line of clothes by the Pearson and Foster firm.
There has been much speculation over the years concerning the professional relationship between Roger Moore and Tony Curtis on- and off-set. In her autobiography, Second Act, Joan Collins detailed how they did not get along when she was a guest star. She cited Curtis's foul temper for why the set of the "Five Miles to Midnight" episode was tense. Episode director Val Guest, in a 2005 interview to the British Film Institute confirmed Collins's assessment of Curtis:
Yes, it was great fun doing The Persuaders, despite Tony Curtis. [laughter] I'll tell you a funny story about that:
"Tony was on pot at the time, and I used to have to say 'Oh, go and have a smoke'm', because he always had some gripe of some kind, and, one day, we were shooting on the Croisette, in Cannes, and we’d been roped off our little thing, and there were crowds all around watching us film and everything, and Tony Curtis came down to do his scene and he was just carrying on at the wardrobe saying, 'You didn’t do this, and you should have done that... and in Hollywood you would have been fired....' And dear Roger Moore walked over, took him by the lapels, looked him straight in the eyes and said, 'And to think those lips once kissed Piper Laurie'. [laughter] Well, the whole of the Croisette collapsed, the unit collapsed, and, I must, say even Tony had to laugh, but we were asked to do another... we got the award that year for the best TV series, I think it was, and they wanted to do a repeat, and I remember Roger saying, 'With Tony Curtis, not on your life', and he went on to become James Bond, so he did all right."
—Val Guest, Director
In his autobiography, Still Dancing, Lew Grade notes that the actors "Didn't hit it off all that well", because of different work ethics. Despite third-party claims, Curtis and Moore consistently maintained they had an amicable working relationship. Moore says: "Tony and I had a good on- and off-screen relationship, we are two very different people, but we did share a sense of humour".
In a 2005 interview, Curtis referred to Moore with affection and revealed he would not participate in a remake of The Persuaders! without Moore.
Lew Grade was always keen to break into the American TV market, which is why he kept coming up with series featuring American actors (Man in a Suitcase, The Champions, The Baron). Failure to do so would often lead to cancellation. But The Persuaders made little impact in the US, where it aired opposite Mission Impossible on Saturday nights. It was very much a case of "mission impossible" for the British series to "persuade" audiences to switch over despite the fact that Impossible was itself not in the top 30 of all programs in 1971. The show was pulled by ABC before all 24 episodes were shown.
Four pairs of episodes from the series were re-edited into four individual TV movies for the ITC American market, entitled The Switch, Mission: Monte Carlo, Sporting Chance and London Conspiracy. A fifth episode pairing was planned, simply entitled The Persuaders, but never completed. This format, too, did little to spark American interest.
In Britain the show fared much better, placing easily in the top 20 of all shows in 1971.
The series' popularity in Britain earned it re-runs on Channel 4, Granada Plus, Bravo and ITV4 in the 1990s and 2000s. When the pilot episode Overture was screened as part of Channel 4's nostalgia strand TV Heaven in 1992, that series' host, comedy writer Frank Muir, said in a Radio Times interview that The Persuaders "must have been the best bad series ever made... absolute hokum". However, BBC Radio 5 presenter Dave Aldridge later asked: "Was seventies TV really this good?"