ITC Retro Action Vol 1 Blu-ray

Wednesday, 09 March 2011 00:00

In the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, Lord Lew Grade of Elstree had one goal in mind for his ITC filmed-TV series empire – crack America at every opportunity.  To do this meant investing in the best production values money could afford – originally on 35mm monochrome stock, and sooner than colour TV was available in the UK he switched to 35mm colour film. What that little history lesson means is that the shows of that era are now able to be given an amazing spit-and-polish, and be upgraded to Blu-ray with amazing results.

And so we have “Retro Action 1” from Network – five of the best series from the ITC vaults given their 21st Century makeover. And, in fact, one of these, Strange Report, was filmed on 16mm stock, a change made when Grade realised that only American syndicated markets, with smaller budgets, would play the game and buy his product. The excellent news is that this show has also benefited from its Blu-ray transformation, and although you’ll no doubt be tired of me saying this, looks like it was filmed yesterday, not some 40 years ago!

Retro Action from the ITC vaults on Blu-rayThe programmes contained on this disc have rarely, if ever, been seen at their full technical potential, and certainly not on the medium they were originally designed for (television). It is the legacy of both producers and contributors who aspired to high production values that only now can their work be fully appreciated. These new high definition transfers and restorations from the original elements herald a new era for these iconic series for both loyal fans and new audiences.

Network have, of course, already blazed a trail for vintage TV in this new arena, with their releases of The Prisoner, Space: 1999 and Robin of Sherwood.  In fact, they teased us with what the future might hold for monochrome entrants in the vaults by colourising an episode of the Black and White Anderson series Fireball XL5 and releasing it on Blu-ray. Rest assured that many of the shows on this taster volume, and the two others that have been released simultaneously with it, will not be far off from full series releases on the new medium.  I should perhaps put a disclaimer on this, which is the usual restraint in the commercial markets – “subject to sufficient interest and sales of other product”.

So, to the sampler episodes that make up this volume...

The Persuaders! - “Chain of Events” - Tony Curtis is American playboy Danny Wilde, Roger Moore is the landed gentry Lord Brett Sinclair, a pair thrown together by a learned Judge, keen to ensure that justice be done when the legal system has let the side down.

This episode is a bit of a departure from this, with the pair out camping in the woods.  Danny properly slums it, while Brett has brought all-mod-cons with him. Soon there’s a mistaken identity which leads to Danny getting chained to an attaché case, with some villains and the police all getting involved in the chase.  Suzanna Leigh (“The Pleasure Girls”) plays Emily Major, Peter Vaughan (Harry Grout in Porridge) is Schubert, George Baker (Bowler) is Britten, James Beckett (Dr Young in UFO “Close Up”) is Previn, and James Bree (Gumbold in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”) is Bill Wilton.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) - “When Did You Start to Stop Seeing Things?” – The series about a pair of detectives, with the quirk that one of them is dead.  This isn’t the Reeves and Mortimer remake, this is the superior original, but again this is a story that is a slight diversion from the usual format.

Marty (Kenneth Cope), as is normally the case, calls upon Jeff (Mike Pratt). To his horror, Jeff refuses to acknowledge the presence of his ghostly partner. He seems to have forgotten entirely about the spirit world’s interventions in his cases, and is more interested in his new assignment, concerning the leaking of stock market information from the Towler Corporation. He’s also acting a little lustily towards Jeannie (Annette Andre), which doesn’t go down well with anyone. Marty suspects Jeff has had a breakdown due to overwork, and searches for a way to get help for his partner. Also starring Ivor Dean (Inspector Teale in The Saint) as Inspector Large, Clifford Evans (Caswell Bligh in The Power Game) as Sir Oliver Norenton, Reginald Marsh (Sir Dennis Hodge in Terry and June) as James Laker, and Basil Dignam (The Cabinet Minister in UFO) as Hepple.

Department S – “A Small War of Nerves” – the ultimate in bizarre mysteries which made a star of Peter Wyngarde as crime novelist come detective Jason King, supported by American leading actor Joel Fabiani as Stewart Sullivan, and Rosemary Nicols as computer expert Annabelle Hurst.  Taking their orders from Sir Curtis Seretse (Dennis Alaba Peters), once more this is another non-format episode.

Greg Halliday (played by THE Anthony Hopkins) is a chemical engineer who creates weapons that can take out the populations of large cities. He leaves work with a canister of one such deadly chemical. Our trio has out to find him before others who want the chemicals can get to him first, and there’s always the risk that Halliday will use the weapon himself. Also starring # Eleanor Summerfield (Muriel Thompson in UFO “The Cat with Ten Lives”) as Mrs Evans, Frederick Jaeger (Fletcher in Special Branch) as Major Harwood, and Colin Gordon (Albert Thompson in UFO “The Cat With Ten Lives”) as Dr Stickney.


The Champions - “The Invisible Man” – Crashing in Tibet, three agents of international organisation Nemesis are given extraordinary powers by the local inhabitants.  When Craig Sterling (Stuart Damon), Sharron Macready (Alexandra Bastedo) and Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) return home, what has happened suddenly dawns upon them. They try to keep their secret from their boss, Tremayne (Anthony Nicholls).

In this episode, Banker Frederick Howerd (Basil Dignam, again!) is terrified by an apparently invisible man, and by strange voices he hears in his head. Craig receives a tip-off that a Swiss bank is due to receive a consignment of stolen gold worth thirty-million dollars from a bank robbery, but Frederick is very unhelpful. When the banker is murdered, Craig follows the clues to Doctor John Hallam (Peter Wyngarde, pre Department S), but is captured and abducted to Holland. Watch out for Darth Vader himself, Dave Prowse, as a weightlifter at the start of the episode.

Strange Report - “Report 2493: Kidnap - ‘Whose Pretty Girl Are You?’” – this was a short-run series by ITC standards, but one of their best. Anthony Quayle is Adam Strange, the leader of a trio of criminologist investigators who, much like Department S, look into incredible cases that are beyond usual police investigation techniques.  He drives around London in own black taxi cab, and assisting him are Hamlyn Gynt (Kaz Garas), and Evelyn McLean (Anneke Wills).

A headstrong girl is kidnapped from a beauty pageant, but is the kidnap what it appears to be? She’s certainly not a ‘daddy’s girl’, that’s for sure. The strength of this episode lies in its incredible guest cast. We have Sally Geeson (Sally Abbott in Bless This House) as Jennifer Dean, Ian Ogilvy (Simon Templar in Return of the Saint) as Toby, Richard O'Sullivan (the star of Dick Turpin) as Perk, Caroline Blakiston (Patience Hardacre in Brass) as Louise, Peter Jones (voice of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) as George Lucas (I kid thee not), David Bauer (The Judge in The Prisoner “Living In Harmony”) as Otis Dean, and  John Arnatt (Borusa in Doctor Who “The Invasion of Time”) as Inspector Hughes.

Retro-Action Volume 1 is a Region B Blu-ray disc, with running time of 250 mins approx, a ‘PG’ certificate, and  has a RRP of £20.41 or less, exclusively available at the Network Online Shop.


Retro Action Volume 2 on Blu-rayVolume 2 (not reviewed):

The Saint – “The Queen’s Ransom”;

Danger Man – “No Marks for Servility”;

The Prisoner – “Arrival”;

Gideon’s Way – “The Tin God”;

Man in a Suitcase – “Somebody Loses, Somebody… Wins?”




Retro Action Volume 3 on Blu-rayVolume 3 (not reviewed):

The Adventures of Robin Hood – “The Sheriff’s Boots”;

Shirley’s World – “The Rally”;

The Invisible Man – “Secret Experiment”;

The Baron – “Something For A Rainy Day”;

Return of the Saint – “One Black September”;

The Zoo Gang – “Revenge: Post Dated”;

Danger Man – “View From the Villa”.

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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