There are plenty of people who think that Laurie Johnson’s instantly recognisable, utterly seventies, wah-wah and brass theme tune for The Professionals was the best thing about it, and that every episode went rapidly downhill from there. But the title sequence left you in no doubt about two things. First, there was going to be action. And second, from the moment a MkI Granada – completely inexplicably – comes smashing through a plate glass window, you know the Ford Motor Company owns this show.
I think I might have seen every episode of The Professionals. First shown between ’78 and ’83, I was just about old enough to watch the repeats in the late ‘80s before Martin Shaw, now seeing himself as a serious ac-tor, refused to let ITV show any more. Its comeback on the now-defunct Granada Plus cable channel in the late nineties unfortunately coincided with the start of my career as a freelance writer in my early twenties: it was the perfect work-displacement activity and meant a lot of missed deadlines.
But I’ve never thought it was any good. In tv-speak, The Professionals ‘jumped the shark’ in series 1, episode 1. It was always a parody of itself; you didn’t watch it for the scripts or the acting, but for the hilarious, high-camp, brain-out action. And for the Fords: Cowley’s grown-up Granada (with a telephone in it! A phone! In a car!), Doyle’s white Escort RS2000, and most of all, for the Capris.
The impressive but worryingly detailed fan site mark-1.co.uk has tracked down all the significant cars to feature in The Professionals. It records the brief dalliance with British Leyland vehicles, before the unreliability of both the cars and the company got them the boot, and that a couple of MkII Capris featured in the show’s early days, including a very cool, very rare body-kitted example on Ronal alloys.
But it’s the silver and bronze, quad-headlamp MkIIIs that CI5 agents Bodie and Doyle are most associated with, and which sealed the Capri’s reputation as the blue-collar bloke’s transport of choice. The image the Capri ended up with was a world away from the one Ford probably hoped for when it named its new coupe after a dolce vita Italian seaside resort. Bodie and Doyle epitomised an era when men were men, women were birds, bathing was optional and moisturiser unheard of. They thought nothing of spending all afternoon in the boozer before roaring off to the next cheaply-staged action scene in a Capri. The cars got plenty of camera time and spent much of it sideways, though that could only be achieved with the gratuitous use of the handbrake as even the top-spec, Essex V6-powered 3.0S mustered only 138bhp.
But it worked for Ford. The Professionals followed neatly on from The Sweeney, which finished in ’78 and which Ford had also dominated, featuring its Granadas and Cortinas. Five years of prime-time exposure kept the Capri’s sales up in the UK when they were slumping elsewhere. It was finally offed in 1984 in the other European markets but lived on for another two years here. Not only did Bodie and Doyle save the UK from Russian agents, nuclear disaster and various sniper madmen, but they saved our favourite coupe too, and for that we can almost forgive Martin Shaw’s terrible cardigans and bubble perm. Almost.
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