Lewis Collins, Professionals star who tried out for 007, dies

Lewis Collins, a star of the British television series The Professionals, has died at 67, according to obituaries by THE BBC and the DAILY MAIL. He also unsuccessfully tried out to play James Bond in the early 1980s.

The Professionals, created by Brian Clemens, concerned operatives of CI5, which was assigned to combat terrorism and other major crimes. Collins played William Bodie, a former paratrooper and SAS soldier who had a “rule-free approach to policing,” according to the Daily Mail’s obituary.

Both obits reference how Collins auditioned for the part of 007 in 1982, when it appeared Roger Moore might have departed the role for good. Each obit references a quote where Broccoli is supposed to have found Collins “too aggressive” to play Bond. Here’s the key passage in the BBC obituary:

“I was in Albert R Broccoli’s office for five minutes, but it was really over for me in seconds,” he is reported to have said.

“He’s expecting another Connery to walk through the door and there are few of them around.”

UPDATE (3:10 p.m.): The BBC has AN INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR IAN SHARP who worked with Collins a number of times. Sharp had this to say about Collins’s 007 audition:

Everybody agrees Lewis would have made a great James Bond. He had all the right qualities: He had the looks, he had the humour, he didn’t take himself too seriously.

(snip)
These days people would grab him with both hands. In those days, they wanted the smoothie type, like Roger Moore and, if you like, he was a Daniel Craig in a Roger Moore era.

Thanks to @bondmemes for pointing out the Ian Sharp interview on Twitter.

The Avengers: a half century of John Steed & Co.

Better late than never, we felt we should note this was the 50th anniversary of The Avengers, in which the English gentleman agent John Steed and his various associates battled forces that threatened the U.K.

Actually, when the show began in January 1961, Patrick Macnee, who played Steed, had second billing and Steed wasn’t yet in gentleman agent mode. Receiving top billing was Ian Hendry as Dr. David Keel. The show began with Keel’s financee being murdered. The mysterious Steed pops up and two proceed to avenge the death of the financee.

For the second season, Dr. Keel was gone and Macnee was now the clear star. Eventually, he’d partner with Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), who favored leather clothing and was skilled at judo. Blackman went off to play Pussy Galore in 1964’s Goldfinger. Below, Cathy Gale tells Steed goodbye and the dialogue provides a hint of Blackman’s upcoming 007 role:

Diana Rigg took Blackman’s place as yet another “talented amateur,” Emma Peel. At this point, the U.S. television network ABC to import the U.K. series and the Steed-Peel combo clicked with American audiences. Also, the show apparently got a bigger budget. Production switched from videotape to film, freeing up the crew to shoot sequences outdoors and not just be confined to a studio. The original John Danworkth theme was discarded and a snappier theme, composed by Laurie Johnson, was recorded.

Macnee and Rigg had an appealing chemistry, helped along by scripts from the likes of Brian Clemens and Philip Levene. David McDaniel, who penned some of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. tie-in paperback novels worked Steed and Mrs. Peel into The Rainbow Affair, though the duo aren’t named.

However, after a couple of seasons, bigger things beckoned for Rigg. She, like her predecessor, would be the female lead in a James Bond movie, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Another replacement, Tara King (Linda Thorson) rounded out the original show.

It’s hard to keep a good agent down. Macnee’s Steed had a return engagement in the 1970s in The New Avengers, this time with two partners, Gareth Hunt’s Mike Gambit (to take over some of the rough stuff from Steed) and Joanna Lumley as Purdey. The show was overseen by Clemens and Albert Fennell, who had produced the last few seasons of the original show. Laurie Johnson returned, composing a new theme. The New Avengers was shown by CBS in the U.S. as part of The CBS Late Movie. The New Avengers only lasted two seasons, though Diana Rigg did make a cameo as Mrs. Peel.

The Avengers was also something of a farm team for Eon Productions. Besides Blackman and Rigg, various character actors from the show got cast in Bond movies, such as Philip Locke (Vargas in Thunderball), Julian Glover (Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only) and James Villiers (Bill Tanner in For Your Eyes Only). And members of The Avengers crew, such as director of photography Alan Hume and art director Harry Pottle would get hired to work on Bond movies. Thus, it was appropriate that Macnee finally be cast in a 007 film, 1985’s A View To a Kill.

Inevitably, The Avengers would be considered for a feature film. The result was the uneven 1998 namesake film with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman facing off against a villain played by Sean Connery. Macnee got a small voice-only cameo. Today, the original series remains fondly remembered while the film….well, the less said, the better.

Happy 50th, Mr. Steed. Here’s a look at the different main titles of The Avengers and The New Avengers:

The brains behind The Avengers awarded with the OBE

Brian Clemens, a writer and producer on The Avengers, recently received an Order of the British Empire.

According to thisTHIS STORY on the BBC’s Web site:

The main creative driving force behind The Avengers, The Professionals and many other successful television series and films has been appointed OBE.

Brian Clemens, who lives near Ampthill, Bedfordshire, has been honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to broadcasting and drama.

Clemens wrote 32 episodes of The Avengers and another 17 of its 1970s revival, The New Avvengers, according tohis profile on IMDB.com.

Here’s the main titles to one of the episodes of The Avengers written by Clemens (b. 1931). It’s from the first season with Diana Rigg co-starring with Patrick Macnee. During this particular season Clemens was associate producer of the show. In the first color season, he’d get promoted to producer, a post he (along with Albert Fennell) held through the rest of the series. The pair would also produce the revival series.

We also give a shoutout to Wes Britton, who alerted us to Clemens getting the OBE.

UPDATE: Digging a little further back, here’s an opening and closing from earlier when Macnee co-starred with Honor Blackman on The Avengers. This episode was also written by Clemens.

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