I will be honest with you. I adore the Professionals and have done since I was a child with (what felt like) a life-size poster of Bodie and Doyle on my bedroom wall. When I heard about the remastering of the show for DVD and Blu-Ray, you could probably have heard the squeeing from space. But, be warned, I watch this show with my slash goggles on – they allow me to overlook the political incorrectness, sexism and ludicrous moments like Cowley calling for a “helicopter and the nuclear bomb squad” or Bodie and Doyle defusing an atom bomb in a bowling alley (Stake Out) and focus on the alchemical gold of Bodie and Doyle.
For those who prefer a, ahem, straighter reading of the text, this is what you need to know. The lads have never looked better. Watching the repeats on ITV4 is genuinely like peering back through 30-odd years of grime. I’m not sure the show looked this good even when it was first aired… Network has done an incredible clean-up job. And the shiny new boxed set comes with lots of gorgeous extras, including exhaustive production notes (a 180-page paperback filled with everything you could ever want to know about the making of the first series. My only complaint is the tiny font they’ve used – good for the trees, bad for my eyes), Without Walls – the 1996 Channel 4 documentary about the show (which left me wanting to give creator Brian Clemens a slap, to be honest), a couple of bits of unused footage, and a massive gallery of photos, many of which haven’t been seen before, and covering the first few days’ shooting with Anthony Andrews as Bodie (on Old Dog With New Tricks).
Oh and Network has put the episodes back together with the original, unintentionally hilarious, title sequences. I was too young to see the first couple of series, so for me Laurie Johnson’s iconic theme tune has always conjured the image of a car smashing through a window, Martin Shaw looking like he’s about to chop down a particularly nefarious tree and Lewis Collins ferociously working out in the gym. The sight of Shaw and Collins vigorously throwing themselves at random targets in the original titles is one that makes me smile and wince in equal measure. (We also get the original closing titles, worth checking for the sheer lack of traffic on the roads of London back then.)
If you’ve spent the last 35 years or so ignoring Bodie grabbing Doyle’s arse, Doyle touching up Bodie, or the pair of them making eyes at each other and flirting, and would like to continue watching from a heteronormative perspective – now’s the time to jump ship (if you’ll pardon the pun) on this review. Those who ship (or at least don’t mind if others ship) Bodie and Doyle, come with me below the line…
Still here? Excellent! Now, as I was saying, I adore this show, but the only thing that has really stood the test of time here is the chemistry between Bodie and Doyle. (Actually, we can add the relationship between them and Cowley too – Gordon Jackson being a class act at all times).
The show got slashier in later series, but it’s quickly established even here in series one that Bodie and Doyle have no sense of each other’s personal space, that Bodie is very tactile where his partner is concerned (the scene where Bodie calms Doyle down in Stake Out is a classic example), that despite spending their working hours living in each other’s pockets they’re happy to be together off-duty too, and that there is a deep bond between the two. They banter and bicker like an old married couple most of the time – leading a fellow Pros fan to tag them ‘action husbands‘. An excellent description.
There’s good fun to be had recognising the guest actors too. Pamela Stephenson was obviously popular with someone on the production team, popping up in three different roles. Nadim Sawalha, Keith Barron, Phil Davis, David Suchet, Geoffrey Palmer, Diane Keen, Lalla Ward and Roger Lloyd-Pack all grace our screens in the first series. (An achingly young Pierce Brosnan makes an appearance in the fourth series.)
The writing is distinctly hit and miss to be honest. There are the scripted lines that still raise a smile (CID sergeant: “You CI5 boys think you’re the cat’s whiskers don’t you?” Bodie: “Well at least at we’re at the right end of the cat.”), the ad libbed car exchanges (Bodie:” Oh, I was just thinking. Cowley and a woman.” [Doyle laughs]: “Yeah. He’d kick the door down, throw her on the bed…” Bodie: And frisk her.”) and then there are painful scenes like the one with the young woman who’s been sucked into sex work and got hooked on drugs. I presume it’s cocaine, but it’s hard to be sure as she’s always complaining about needing “stuff”. (Funnily enough, in the same episode it was fine to show us a naked dead woman dumped at the edge of the Thames – I’d say some things don’t change, but actually the Professionals didn’t glamourise her death the way modern crime thrillers usually do.)
Anyway, when I want intelligent, left-leaning, thought-provoking, character-driven drama I can reach for my West Wing DVDs. What The Professionals brings to my life is a little joyous chaos, a sense memory of what it was to be growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, a relief that, while there’s still a way to go, Britain is a less racist, sexist and homophobic place than it was in 1977, and two handsome men cutting through the bullshit of their macho environment to flirt with each other…
And for all its brick-through-a-window (or, perhaps that should be Bodie-through-a-window) subtlety ninety per cent of the time, it will still surprise you on occasion. Bodie (yeah, the ‘cool’ one, the killer, the ex-army ladies’ man and former mercenary) will quote Keats for you at 6am after a night in the open air running surveillance, or nickname his partner Angelfish (The Ojuka Situation). Cowley will paraphrase AA Milne’s Vespers in his orders regarding a hitman (Long Shot) and Doyle (the ‘hot’ one, the Guardian-reader with a conscience, the ex-copper who has a visceral hatred of corruption, defender of prostitutes as human beings) will conjure a cover story out of thin air based on the time the family cat got into the fish tank, or call his partner a priapismic monster (again, The Ojuka Situation).
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch the boys climb out of a lake in a distinctly suggestive manner (Private Madness, Public Danger).