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WRITING CULT TV: THE GOLDEN AGE OF ITC
AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR ROBERT SELLERS
By Andrew Screen
What compelled you to write a book about ITC?

ROBERT: I was doing some research at the British Film Institute library and came across a reference book on ITC that was just an episode guide and A to Z, there was no info on the actual making of the shows. Somebody should do a book like that, I thought, and why not me. My idea was to produce an oral history, getting as many of the actors, directors and writers responsible for those classic ITC shows to tell their story. I also thought that Lew Grade's amazing achievement with ITC really ought to be celebrated. That period was a golden age for British TV and I was just amazed that no book had yet tackled the subject in an in-depth way.


How long did the book take to research and write?

ROBERT: About three years, so it was a big undertaking. I was really lucky that everybody I contacted was more than happy to share his or her (mostly) happy memories working for ITC. The first person I interviewed was actually Tony Curtis and he was delightful. That really spurred me on to track down as many ITC veterans as possible. In the end I carried out 50 interviews. I must say it's been a pleasure and honour to meet and speak to the people responsible for shows that I still enjoy watching. Also, let's face it, many of them aren't getting any younger so I think it's been incredibly valuable to get their thoughts and experiences documented before it's too late.

Was it difficult to find a publisher?

ROBERT: Sadly yes. Unfortunately books like this don't really sell very well and publishers just won't take a risk when they can churn out biographies on brain dead celebrities (Jordan, Chantelle etc) to an equally brain dead readership. Reynolds and Hearn, who publish terrific film and cult TV books, reacted negatively to the proposal, which I must say rather surprised me since I thought they would be ideal. In the end it took me two years to find a publisher and I'm incredibly grateful to Plexus for taking the plunge and committing so enthusiastically. During the process they've all become ITC fans.


What other books or publications have you contributed to

ROBERT: I've written biographies on Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver and Tom Cruise. My last book was called 'Very Naughty Boys' and was about HandMade Films, which produced Life of Brian, Time Bandits, Mona Lisa, Withnail and I and many others.


What is your favourite ITC series and why?

ROBERT: That's incredibly difficult because I enjoy watching so many of them. It's partly out of nostalgia for when I watched them repeated in the early 70s as a kid, and partly the fact that they still hold up today, and the style and excitement with which they were made is so rarely seen on TV today. But if I had to choose one it would probably be The Persuaders. Why? I guess because of Moore and Curtis, the inter-play between them is always wonderful to watch. Also, is John Barry's theme tune just the best ever.


Whilst researching the book you interviewed many people associated with the production of ITC shows - was there anyone who stands out more than others and was there anyone who was not very forthcoming?

ROBERT: One of the great pleasures of writing this book was meeting my heroes; people who meant a lot to me when I was growing up. Tony Curtis was the first person I interviewed and he was delightful and very amusing discussing The Persuaders. After that practically everyone I approached was only too happy to talk about ITC and share memories of what had been for most of them the most enjoyable period of their working lives. The love and enthusiasm in which they hold ITC really comes over on the page.

Who was your favourite person that you interviewed?

ROBERT: I guess it must be Gerry Anderson; I loved his shows as a kid and so to meet him was a real thrill. He's terribly underrated in this country; boy if he'd achieved the same level of success in the States he'd be a revered figure now. I met Gerry at his office in Pinewood about four or five times and got on really well with him. His contribution to the book was invaluable. Special mention too for Roger Moore who agreed to talk on the phone from his home in Monaco and also provided a wonderful foreword to the book. Moore is quite simply one of the nicest and most genuine people in showbusiness.

During your research did you uncover anything that surprised you and took the book in another direction?

ROBERT: My plan was always to produce an oral history of ITC's cult shows, nothing threw me off that path, and no revelation changed it. Of course, interviewing some 50 people a multitude of new facts and stories have emerged, plus some controversial opinions. One actress, for instance, did not hold back her views on Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner, which were negative to say the least.


Out of all the ITC series which one would be ripe for a remake or film version in your opinion?

ROBERT: I think The Champions would make an ideal movie, you've got great potential for casting big stars in the three leads, say Tom Cruise in Stuart Damon's role, Paul Bettany in William Gaunt's place and Keira Knightley for Alexandra Bastedo. You could also boost their super power capabilities, especially nowadays with Marvel superheroes being so in vogue and have some great effects and action sequences. Is a Hollywood producer taking note here.


Most of the ITC series ran to a formula. Which ones do you think broke the mould?

ROBERT: Certainly Man in a Suitcase because it had a much tougher edge than previous shows. The Champions too was important in that it was the first real fantastical show ITC made, and the first to employ multiple lead characters, where previously the shows relied on a solo hero (Danger Man, Saint, the Baron etc). Both new developments certainly influenced the likes of Dept S and Randall and Hopkirk.


Do you think a company like ITC could operate in today's TV industry?

ROBERT: No way. ITC was run, of course, by the great Lew Grade who was a unique businessman. If someone came into his office with a pitch for a TV show he liked and he knew the creative people behind the idea were reliable and knew their job he'd just say, ok here's the money, do it. No focus groups, no market research, no committees of executives talking for months on end, no, it was, go and do it. He also ran ITC on trust, often shows went ahead with no contracts signed, and usually a handshake was enough. Incredibly there were no contracts signed between Grade and McGoohan over The Prisoner neither did Moore sign anything to do The Persuaders, it was all based on trust. Would that happen today, I doubt it.


What do you think was the worst ITC series?

ROBERT: Probably The Adventurer. Does anybody remember it? And Gene Barry was hardly Mr. Charisma. I believe the ITC shows that worked best were those that featured strong and personable leads. We love Randall and Hopkirk because of the chemistry between Cope and Pratt. The Saint worked because of Roger Moore etc. So many of those shows worked and have endured because they were cast so brilliantly.


What other TV series are you a fan of?

ROBERT: I've a huge soft spot for The Persuaders, I think the chemistry between Moore and Curtis just hasn't been bettered in any TV buddy-buddy series since. The Prisoner and The Saint are just givens; they're absolute classics. I also like Man in a Suitcase and Randall and Hopkirk. In fact I could happily sit down and watch an episode of practically any ITC series; they're quite simply better than anything on the box today. Every night I scan the TV guide and quite frankly bugger all is on, unless you're a fan of two irritating women cleaning up excrement in people's bathrooms, or Jamie Oliver telling us what our children should eat with the world's most patronizing expression on his face.


Is there anything you felt could have been improved or if you had the time would have covered more fully?

ROBERT: My original intention was to cover the entire ITC back catalogue, every show and film they produced, but it was too mammoth a task. That's when I came up with the idea of just tackling the big cult shows, the ones that everyone knows. I'm sure in a few years when I re-read the book I might cringe at the odd thing, but overall I'm really happy at how it's turned out. I'm also delighted that the publisher has agreed to illustrate the book with well over 200 photos, and we really have some great photos, rare shots plus merchandise images and promotional stuff; I think the fans are going to love them.


What projects have you got lined up next?

ROBERT: I've another book coming out hopefully before the end of the year entitled 'BATTLE FOR BOND: THE GENESIS OF CINEMA'S GREATEST HERO.' Any Bond fans out there will know all about Kevin McClory and the controversy behind the making of Thunderball. This book looks at the whole story, which stretches over 40 years. Did you know, for instance, that Thunderball was planned as the first Bond film back in 1959, before Broccoli and Saltzman came on the scene, and was to have been directed by Alfred Hitchcock with Richard Burton as 007. I've also been lucky enough to gain access to 100s of private letters and documents never previously published. If anybody's interested in info on this book they can log onto the publishers web site which is - www.tomahawkmedia.co.uk.


Thanks to Robert in sparing time to answer our questions.



Robert Sellers has a Myspace webpage devoted to the book here.



You go also visit the publisher Plexus for more information.