Craig Stirling, Richard Barrett and Sharron Macready... endowed with the qualities and skills of super humans - qualities and skills, both physical and mental, to the peak of human performance. Gifts given to them by an unknown race of people, when their plane crashed near a lost civilisation in Tibet. Now, with their secret known only to them, they are able to use their fantastic powers to their best advantage... as The Champions of Law, Order and Justice. Operators of the International Agency, Nemesis!
- Voiceover from title sequence to The Champions
From the company that brought you Danger Man1, The Saint and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)2 and the team that would bring you Department S and Jason King, comes The Champions, the story of three agents of the international crime-fighting agency Nemesis.
The first episode 'The Beginning' sets the story: Richard (William Gaunt) and Craig (Stuart Damon) are 'hard-bitten Nemesis agents', Sharron (Alexandra Bastedo) has joined them for her first mission, to retrieve evidence of new germ-warfare tests 'behind the bamboo curtain' (in more politically correct terms, China). Hit by gunfire as they escape, their plane crashes in the mountains of Tibet. There, they are rescued by a hidden Tibetian civilisation which mends their bodies and raises them to the peak of human physical and mental performance. Vowing to keep this a secret, the three agents set about using their powers in their role as Nemesis agents.
In a conversation with Richard, a member of this Tibetian civilisation explains that they 'are not immortal', or perfect, they can still fail and make mistakes. They have become 'super humans, not superhuman'. It is also established that even the people that grant them these powers do not know exactly how they will manifest in each of the agents - a neat ploy that allows the writers to introduce previously unmentioned powers as storylines demand.
The series was the brainchild of Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman, both veterans of the cult action/adventure genre, but this would be the first time they had created a series together. Spooner had previously written for series such as The Saint and The Baron, as well as being a script editor for Doctor Who. Berman had been one of the driving forces behind the creation of the TV series of The Saint as well as Gideon's Way. All these series came from the stable of Lew Grade, via his famous company ITC3. The memorable theme music was written by Tony Hatch, who would go on to write the themes for shows such as Crossroads and Neighbours. Hatch also had a career as a pop-song writer, writing songs for artists such as Petula Clark.
The first episode made its debut on 25 September 1968, and the series would continue to air weekly at eight in the evening until 30 April, 1969, with the final episode, 'Autokill'. After the first episode, the format was quickly established - each episode would begin with a pre-credit sequence establishing the week's threat, which lead into the credits. After the credits, a sequence featuring one or more of the trio would showcase one of their 'powers', accompanied by a voice-over explaining the show's premise. This would be followed by a cut to the three in the office of their boss, Tremayne (Anthony Nicholls), and then in to the story's main action. Throughout the course of the series, one never feels that the true limit of the characters' powers have been shown, but we do know that: they are tremendously strong; they can bend steel with their bare hands4; they can clear 10 foot fences in a jump5; they have ESP6 powers which allow them to sense danger to themselves and the other Champions; they can hold their breath for long periods of time7; their hearing and vision are very acute; and they have total recall8.
Richard Barrett - William Gaunt
Craig Stirling - Stuart Damon
Sharron Macready - Alexandra Bastedo
Commander William Lawrence Tremayne - Anthony Nicholls
Dashingly handsome Stuart Damon is now best known as Dr Alan Quartermaine from the award-winning9 US soap opera General Hospital, from 1997 to date, but at 31 he was cast as Craig Stirling, the American of the team. It was common ITC policy to cast Americans in leading roles, as Lew Grade was very keen on appealing to the lucrative USA market. Also 31 when cast, William Gaunt is probably best known to cult fans as Orcini, from the 1985 Doctor Who story 'Revelation of the Daleks', while the general public would be more likely to recognise him from Next of Kin, A Gentleman's Club or No Place Like Home. Strikingly beautiful Alexandra Bastedo was only 22 when she was cast as Sharron Macready, but she had already had guest roles in other ITC series such as The Saint. Modern viewers may recognise her as Penny Casper-Morse, Eddy's terribly fashionable friend (who turned out to be blind) from the Absolutely Fabulous episode 'Fat'. Anthony Nicholls was already a veteran of TV by the time of The Champions - he made his TV debut in 1937, and was an accomplished stage actor. He passed away in 1977.