A few evenings ago, a friend and I went to the Picture House on Edinburgh’s Lothian Road to attend a concert by Johnny Marr and his band. Marr, of course, is most famous for being guitarist with The Smiths back in the 1980s and, while the band played some good stuff from his post-Smiths career, it was the handful of classic Smiths songs that peppered their set that evoked the biggest and fondest reactions from the crowd. However, I have to say that even the likes of Panic, Big Mouth Strikes Again, How Soon is Now and There is a Light that Never Goes Out didn’t raise the hairs on the back of my neck quite as much as the tune that played over the venue’s speakers as Marr and his band-members walked on stage and picked up their instruments at the start of the gig.
That tune was the theme for the 1971 TV series The Persuaders. Johnny Marr certainly knows what music to use when he’s making an entrance.
The epic and atmospheric Persuaders theme was composed by John Barry, who by then had scored a string of famous themes for the James Bond movies. All swirling strings and synthesisers, it suggests that the television show following on from it will be full of wonderfully dark and gothic things. Which, actually, it wasn’t. Produced by Lord Lew Grade’s ITC Entertainment, The Persuaders was about the crime-fighting adventures of two millionaire playboys, Englishman Lord Brett Sinclair and American Danny Wilde. The leads were played by Roger Moore (just after he’d spent seven years playing the hero of another ITC show, The Saint, and shortly before he became James Bond in 1973’s Live and Let Die) and Tony Curtis (who’d been a major film draw in the 1950s and 1960s but whose star, unlike Moore’s, was on a downward trajectory – many behind-the-scenes stories about his stint on The Persuaders suggest that by then he was a considerable pothead, which no doubt didn’t help).
With Moore and Curtis mugging their way in a comical manner through a milieu that combined James Bond-style casinos and luxury hotels with what middle-aged, middle-class TV executives thought decadent, hard-partying late-1960s swinging London had been like, the best that could be said about The Persuaders was that it was amiably silly. (No doubt there were tales to tell about the ‘Chelsea set’ scene of the time, wherein aristocratic dandies like Robert Fraser and Christopher Gibbs had rubbed shoulders with drugged-out rock-stars like the Rolling Stones and with fixtures of London’s gangland like the Krays. Indeed, this had been touched upon in Nicholas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s movie Performance. But The Persuaders’ producer Robert S. Baker didn’t want to go there, even if he’d known that ‘there’ existed.)
There was actually one episode of The Persuaders that disturbed me when I saw it as a kid – A Death in the Family, scripted by Terry Nation, which was a variation on the famous Ealing black-comedy movie Kind Hearts and Coronets. In it, the members of Brett Sinclair’s family are murdered one by one by a minor and embittered relative who wants the family title and fortune for himself. Whereas in Kind Hearts and Coronets, the various members of the family were played by Sir Alec Guinness, sometimes in drag, in this Persuaders episode several of the victims are played by Roger Moore, in different guises, including one in drag too. Now if the sight of Roger Moore dressed as a woman isn’t disturbing, I don’t know what is. Also making an unsettling impression on my six-year-old mind was Moore’s unflappable reaction as, one after another, his family are slaughtered around him. That may possibly be due to the stiff-upper-lipped nature of his character, or, more likely, due to the woodenness of his performing style.
But never mind the show itself – John Barry’s The Persuaders theme is, to my mind, the best piece of music that’s ever been composed for a TV show. Sometimes I like to fantasise that, one day, the show will be remade – by, say, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the Roger Moore role and some up-and-coming American star (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, for instance, or Ryan Gosling) in the Tony Curtis one. They’ll keep the old theme music, of course, but make the show itself much darker and edgier than the original ever was. That way, the drama will actually match John Barry’s wonderful music.