THE PREVENTERS. ITV, UK, 16 December 1996. One-off, 30 minutes. Absolutely Productions / Carlton Television. Cast: Morwenna Banks as Penelope Gold, Robert Harley as Craig Sturdy, Chris England as Mike Stallion, William Gaunt as The Controller, Ed Devereaux as Roger Stavro Mordik, and Simon William as Lord Timothy Belvoir St. Nash. Written by Morwenna Banks, Chris England and Robert Harley. Directed by Liddy Oldroyd. Executive Producer: Miles Bullough; Line Producer: Terry Bamber.

   THE PREVENTERS is a near perfect satire of my favorite form of television fiction – the “troubleshooters” of ITV (era: 1960-70s). In reaction to the stuffy BBC and a desire to break into the American market, ITV produced a variety of troubleshooter/spy series from the serious DANGER MAN to the surreal DEPARTMENT S to the adventure series of puppet master Gerry Anderson (THUNDERBIRDS). The lighter part of the ITV brand became very popular to the British audience and cult favorites over in America.

   Filmed in 1996, THE PREVENTERS could almost be considered a lovely tribute to the style of television that gave us THE AVENGERS, THE BARON, THE CHAMPIONS, THE CORRIDOR PEOPLE, THE PRISONER, THE PRESUADERS, THE PROTECTORS, THE SAINT, THE SENTIMENTAL AGENT, THE ZOO GANG and the many others that title did not begin with THE.


   The villainous group The Consortium’s latest plan to take over the World is to use television to brainwash everyone to believe it is the 1960s again and turn hippies into assassins. Good guy organization The Movement calls for The Preventers. Only they – three ordinary citizens now trained top agents – can prevent the evil plan from succeeding.

   We open in typical ITV style – a car driving through the British countryside via horrible rear projection shots. The driver, the head of British Television believes he is alone but he shares his last ride with his killer. According to IMDb, the footage here is lifted from ITV’s RANDALL AND HOPKIRK (DECEASED) episode “Its Supposed to Be Thicker Than Water” (February 20,1970).

   The opening theme begins as we have our heroes stylishly posing in THE AVENGERS (and other series) style. The Preventers are introduced, banter and backstory is exchanged.

   After a clue and the first attempt to kill them, The Preventers decide to split up. Craig and Penelope rush off to Paris and then Monte Carlo via rear projected stock footage and interior studio action. Mike, “The Third One” (a joke anyone familiar with THE CHAMPIONS would appreciate) gets stuck with the dirty disgusting hippies and their Woodstock-like rock concert. Mike’s establishment attitude towards the hippie style and his taste in fashion reveals him to be a “square” and he barely escapes.

   At Monte Carlo, Mike joins Craig and Penelope as they search for the mastermind behind it all. Penelope meets Lord Tim whose last name Belvoir St. Nash – according to Lord Tim – is pronounced Beaver Snatch. The Consortium’s representative is there, an Australian media mogul who is dressed for the Outback and carries a small wallaby with him.

   What follows is typical ITV low budgeted action. Penelope seduces Lord Tim and goes with him to his country home. Craig and Mike rush to rescue her. The three are captured and Lord Tim attempts to brainwash Craig. The plot is defeated but the mansion is about to self-destruct. Our heroes get out in time and join The Controller to celebrate with toasts of champagne. But there is a final twist and we end with a cliffhanger.

   This episode succeeds on all levels. Not just the writing, acting, and direction, but from every phase of TV production. Beginning with the cheap grainy look of the film done by cinematographer John Walker, no element of the ITV style goes untouched. Constant stream of gags and shout-outs flow non-stop through the thirty minutes. ITV fans will enjoy the opening titles, the set designs (Chrysoula Sofitsi), costumes (Debbie Scott), and music (Peter Baikie).

   THE PREVENTERS’ writers played the three heroes with the same insight to the ITV style of protagonist that the entire production showed. It was also fun to see William Gault as The Controller. Gault was in THE CHAMPIONS and his character was represented here as Mike Stallion “The Third One.”

   The episode ends with a cliffhanger and a graphic telling us the story is “to be continued.” But it never was. Perhaps it was not supposed to continue. It certainly would have been difficult to continue to satirize a form of fiction that was virtually a spoof itself as ITV pushed against the old conservative but socially conscious BBC that had programs such as THE WEDNESDAY PLAY.

   It didn’t help that when THE PREVENTERS aired in 1996 the role of the spy had changed. With the British government spy scandals of the 70s and the end of the Cold War in the 80s by the 90s the TV spy had been reduced to sitcoms such as THE PIGLET FILES.

   I miss the style of the 60s ITV light dramas. Writers such as Brian Clemens (THE AVENGERS) and Dennis Spooner (THE CHAMPIONS) had the talent to create light drama with surreal plots and weird characters while maintaining believability with the audience. The style fit in with the real world of 60s sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The ITV troubleshooters may not have always approved of the changing world in fashion, music, and young people’s behavior, but many of those ITV shows existed best in such a world.

   For those who are not familiar with the ITV style here is a sample, the final episode of THE CHAMPIONS. (The occasional movement of the picture is a problem caused by downloading it on YouTube.)

“Autokill”. April 30, 1969. Written by Brian Clemens – Directed by Roy Ward Baker. Cast: Stuart Damon as Craig Stirling, Alexandra Basted as Sharron Macready. William Gaunt as Richard Barrett and Anthony Nicholls as Col. W.L. Tremayne. Guest Cast: Eric Pohlmann and Paul Eddington. *** Someone has found a way to brainwash Nemesis agents to become assassins. The latest to be brainwashed is Colonel Tremayne, the man who commands The Champions.

   THE CHAMPIONS is not one of my favorites ITV series, but it does have the ITV style. The plots range from strange to stupid. Why brainwash the boss Tremayne to kill the doctor? The bad guys had nothing more evilly productive to do to Tremayne?

   The characters are likable, simple but believable. The writing and direction adds the proper amount of humor and pace to entertain and prevent the audience from actually thinking about what was happening and why.

   The ITV light drama of the 60s and 70s worked because the audience was in on it. This was not some brilliant serious filmmaker such as Dennis Potter (STAND UP, NIGEL BARTON) or Ken Loach (CATHY COME HOME) examining the troubles of modern society, ITV shows were fun. THE PREVENTERS got that right too.