Episode 1: OVERTURE
Director: Basil Dearden
Writer: Brian Clemens
The opening episode of the 1970s T.V. series The Persuaders sets in place the characters and much of the tone of the following twenty three. Danny Wilde, a millionaire oil magnate, and Brett Sinclair, an English Lord and millionaire playboy, are each given an invite to a mysterious location in the south of France where they are ‘persuaded’ to help investigate the disappearance of an underworld capu.
Their employer is Judge Fulton – an unlikely name for a character I assumed would be French – and he has picked these two layabouts because they share a love of adventure that he identifies as ruthless ambition mixed with sheer cunning. I’m paraphrasing. It doesn’t really matter why they are chosen, for this episode, as pointed out by the metaphorical title, is merely a sign post to the audience, our introduction to Tony Curtis and Roger Moore as the titular Persuaders.
The director is Basil Dearden, a name more often associated with smallish British cinematic fare, some of which were quite gritty, like The Blue Lamp, Victim, Sapphire and The League of Gentlemen. He went international in the sixties and made adventures like Masquerade and Khartoum; he’d even directed both Connery (in Woman of Straw) and Moore (The Man who Haunted Himself). He was right at the end of his career here and while the episode shows flashes of cinematic style, he’s clearly not over interested in the narrative.
For all that he and editor Derek Chambers do a good job emphasising The Persuaders’ character traits through a series of split screen scenes during a long chase down the Cote d’Azur. The playboy element is heavily reinforced from the outset as each man is introduced surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women and driving flashy, fast cars (a red Ferrari Dino for Danny and a horrific banana coloured Aston Martin DBS for Brett) accompanied by a groovy piece of throwaway pop (“Gotta Get Away”) written and performed by Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch.
Later, like schoolboys, they argue over the composition of a cocktail and it appears their love-hate relationship as well as their fate as The Persuaders is sealed. [For the record, Brett is correct: there should be only one olive in a Creole Scream.] The fight itself is played badly for laughs and is repeated again later in the episode with far greater success and humour. In fact there is rather a lot of fist fighting in this story, which is actually rather slight and, when we get there, told with the minimum of fuss.
A beautiful girl called Maria Lorenzo is suspected of being the sister of Robert Du Pont (Michael Godfrey), the supposed deceased capu. As Fulton and most of the local police operatives are known to Maria or her bodyguards they can’t get close enough to identify her. The plan is to use Brett and Danny to do just that, authenticating her by a heart shaped birthmark on the small of her back. The wily Judge also plants some incriminating evidence to ensure the boys cooperate to the denouement of the tale, although the delectable Maria seems persuasion enough. They really have little choice: a gaol sentence for affray hangs over them if they fail to follow orders.
The external scenes look blissfully exotic, certainly for television c.1971/72. The studio scenes are neat and tidy. Everyone is well groomed. Of the actors, Imogen Hassel as Maria carves a suitable portrait of feminine interest, although I’m certain its Nikki Van Der Zyl dubbing her lines, and Laurence Naismith has a recurring role as Judge Fulton, a half-way M, who authorises the missions and has a few neat lines of pithy dialogue to deliver.
Overall I enjoyed the episode, although the physical humour did get tiring. It was well constructed, pleasantly written and presented with much pizzazz. Perhaps too, at this point, the leads are enthusiastic enough to take the shenanigans a tad seriously and that helps, if only to persuade us their acting personas, which really do seem be impersonations of Tony Curtis and Roger Moore, are a touch more genuine.