The Firechasers on DVD

Saturday, 30 October 2010 14:41

On the heels of the release of Baffled, another ITC pilot from the early 1970s, Network have uncovered The Firechasers, another production featuring an American lead and a fascinating premise that could have easily made a very watchable series.  Quentin Barnaby (Chad Everett) is the insurance investigator whose task is to unravel the mysteries behind blazes across the UK, and as far as we know, maybe even around the world.

Hitting the UK in January 1971, the feature-length pilot episode has style and finesse across its pores – producer Julian Wintle carried out similar duties on the Diana Rigg era of The Avengers.  Writer Philip Levene was a writer on this same era, also stretching into the Linda Thorson episodes. The connection continues with an excellent music score by Laurie Johnson. With that sort of pedigree, the pacing of this project is excellent, and the performances superb, available exclusively from the Network Shop.

The Firechasers - An ITC TV Pilot Movie Comes To DVDDirector Sidney Hayers commands the production confidently, something that can only be expected from someone who, by this point, had already taken charge of several episodes of The Human Jungle and The Avengers.  He would eventually make his home in America, helming segments of The Fall Guy, Knight Rider, The A Team, and Scarecrow and Mrs King, before returning to the UK for Space Precinct and CI5: The New Professionals.

Joanne Dainton is Valerie ‘Val’ Chrane, who has a joint role as Barnaby’s secretary, as well as forensic science skills in her CV, too. The wardrobe mistress gives almost a ‘Lady Penelope’ riff to some of her outfits. This could have been her big break had the format gone to series, following her guest performances in the likes of Sir Francis Drake, No Hiding Place, The Human Jungle, The Avengers, The Saint and The Persuaders!

It’s unclear whether Anjanette Comer would have been a series regular, with her American journalist character Toby Collins.  Certainly having a trio was in-vogue with ITC productions of the time (The Champions, Department ‘S’, Strange Report), so this is not beyond the realms of possibility. The different proposition would be this would be one man and two women helming the show.

Keith Barron is the main guest star, playing the arrogant and self-assured photographer Jim Maxwell. Rupert Davies tries to shake off the spectre of Maigret as Prentice, the boss to Toby and Jim on the ‘Daily Express’ newspaper – wonder how much a tabloid would have to pay these days for that sort of product placement! Century 21 fans will know Davies as the voice of Professor Ian McClaine in Joe 90.

Toby believes an arsonist is to blame for a series of fires, but without any proof she has no story to write, as far as her editor is concerned. Suave American Quentin Barnaby is the one man who may be able to help her.

Barnaby is a chief investigation officer for a major insurance company, previously a cop and an engineer, driving a white convertible Volvo, registration RB38. He soon discovers that he has more in common with Toby than the desire to find criminals. However, as the flames hit too close to home, the clues begin to mount up, and Barnaby has to face his greatest fears.

Playing Barnaby’s insurance boss Jarvis is another acting juggernaut, Allan Cuthbertson (Chilwell in Edge of Darkness). Top contact in the police force, Inspector Herman, of 20 years’ experience, is gruffly played by James Hayter (Captain Webster in The Onedin Line).

Scene stealing par excellence comes from Roy Kinnear as Roscoe, a taxi driver whose vehicle, painted in the most psychedelic of ways, summons up thoughts of “Austin Powers”. The paint job gives a clue to Roscoe’s interesting hobby.

As a heroic leading man, Chad Everett ticks all the right boxes - he would go on to play Joe Gannon for 170 episodes of Medical Center.  That said, some of us will never forget him 'turning to jelly' as Simon Kurtz in "Airplane II: The Sequel".

It’s hard to define why this format didn’t go to series.  The only reason I can surmise is that it was seen as too restricting to investigate fires week in, week out.  This could easily be got around by the team investigating more than just fires – much like Banacek did, which would follow Stateside the following year, in 1972. That would have meant “The Firechasers” would have become the pilot episode title, with a replacement series name being coined.

 “The Firechasers” is out now from Network exclusively available at their Network Shop, with a ‘PG’ certificate, a running time of 98 minutes approx, and a RRP of £12.99, but most of the times less than this!

 

“THE FIRECHASERS”

Chad Everett as Quentin Barnaby

Anjanette Comer as Toby Collins

Keith Barron as Jim Maxwell

Joanne Dainton as Valerie Chrane

Rupert Davies as Prentice

Robert Flemyng as Carlson

Roy Kinnear as Roscoe

John Loder as Routledge

Allan Cuthbertson as Jarvis

James Hayter as Inspector Herman

Joseph Barry as Watchman

 

Director:  Sidney Hayers

Writer: Philip Levene

Producer:  Julian Wintle

Associate Producers: Barry Delmaine and Philip Levene

Music: Laurie Johnson

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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