The Adventurer: First Impressions

Yesterday I bought the boxed set of a series I had heard of but never seen, The Adventurer starring Gene Barry. These are merely my first impressions, since I am watching my way through the set at the moment, but I want to rush my humble opinions into print because it seems to me that this series gets an unfair thrashing on t’internet. In fact, while I’m not slow to express my dislike for a TV programme (although when I think a programme is such a dud that it isn’t even worthy of thinking about, I won’t tend to blog about it here), I’m slightly surprised at the sheer extent of the venom this show has attracted. You will read that it is the worst ITC show ever – granted, there always has to be a worst, but the venom with which this is expressed surprises me – and that Barry plays the least likeable action hero ever.
Let’s get the main problems with the show out of the way to start off with. It didn’t work out as it was supposed to, largely because Barry took a dislike to most of the other people who acted on the show, frequently for no better reason than that they were taller than him, and got them sacked. A bit short-sighted, this, since a box would have solved this problem once and for all. It suffers from having a short time-slot, so that there is an almost complete lack of explanation of what is going on and who everyone is. You pick it up as you go along, but this is a genuine weakness: the very first episode doesn’t actually have any explanation of who the protagonist is before lurching into his first adventure, which results in the viewer being forced to draw conclusions on the basis of what usually happens in other TV shows.
And here is where it goes wrong: a show with no explanation of its premise is only ever going to be understood in comparison to other shows of the same type. This one is out of the ITC stable so unfortunately it tends to invite comparison with ITC shows, and the one it seems to be most often compared to is The Saint, attempting to put both shows into the gentleman-adventurer genre of spy show. The Adventurer doesn’t actually bear comparison to The Saint, in my humble opinion, because Bradley isn’t actually a gentleman adventurer, and if the show had bothered to make that more clear than it does, nobody would compare it to The Saint. Templar doesn’t really seem to do anything all day except find adventures which he doesn’t have to do at all. The whole point of The Adventurer is that Bradley is actually a spy who moonlights (what a mixed metaphor that is) as an actor.
Another unfavourable comparison made with The Saint is that Simon Templar embodies an earlier, more opulent, age than the 1970s, and that the apparent prosperous leisure enjoyed by Bradley (which didn’t happen, remember, it’s just for time constraints the programme never actually gets around to explaining what he does in his cover job) is less appropriate in the cash-strapped 1970s. I don’t find that this is a criticism made of Jason King, whose way of life was immensely opulent, just with the difference that he is shown nominally making a living from writing books. I find it interesting that Jason King at one point makes an advertisement, and is also shown having tax problems at another point, so it is plain that while he lives luxuriously his life is not actually completely without the real question of finance. Perhaps those who feel able to criticise The Adventurer find themselves more nonplussed when faced with the oddity which is Jason King! Anyway, my point is that pampered heroes who live in luxury were not missing from 1970s television – while the decade is perhaps best known for its gritty realism in such series as The Sweeney, simply a glance at my shelves of DVDs brings up The Persuaders as another series portraying leisured playboys of the time.
I know I keep banging on that analysing these old TV shows, while sometimes they are not built to withstand such close scrutiny because of having been intended for one ephemeral viewing and then junked, is remarkably helpful in understanding the age they were made. Having done a whole series of posts on 1970s shows the year before last, I feel that there is probably a misunderstanding of the time going on. The reason that pampered playboys are not inappropriate to the 1970s is precisely because on the one hand it was such a dreadful time of oil crisis, conflict and strikes, while on the other hand it was actually the 1960s for many people (if you see what I mean). In the 1970s many people had luxuries that they would never have had before, and such things as affordable foreign holidays became possible. That this was in a background of deprivation and conflict only goes to explain the portrayal of opulence on TV as escapism, because who the hell wants to go home from the pit to watch a TV show about a coal mine closing? I should perhaps also declare a certain defensiveness about this show because it is almost exactly the same age as me and some good things did come out of the 1970s!
The Adventurer, therefore, I feel is much better compared to a show such as Jason King. Certainly The Adventurer has its oddities – what made me really start to feel sympathetic to it was the sauna scene which illustrates this post – but I feel it is in an escapist genre of TV where the point is more the luxurious settings and what have you than the admittedly weak plots. Apart from the obvious weaknesses with which I began this post, Barry is obviously miscast as Bradley – he is not suave enough. I think now he would probably be seen as too old and not toned enough, but I think that would be to project the mores of today onto the 1970s. At the time the fashion was not for six-pack abs and no body hair that you get now – in fact a sexy man was quite the opposite. I think he is miscast because he isn’t suave enough – his character isn’t strong enough, established enough, or charismatic enough to carry the series on its own. But then he was intended to go with a partner played by Stuart Damon, to whom Barry took a dislike because he was 6’3” tall!
In fact, I would go so far with The Adventurer as to say that it is a mistake to compare it to any of the ITC stable of shows. When I think what it reminds me of, it reminds me most of the James Bond films of the 1970s. It has the same smooth sophisticated feel, and I find the plots of the Bond films of the time merge into each other as the plots of this show do. People sneer at the 1970s, but if you want the authentic feel of what the decade was like, then obviously the TV of the time is an obvious way to get it. If you want to feel what the 1970s were, get in some prawn cocktail, chicken in a basket and black forest gateau, put on The Adventurer, and suspend disbelief…