|Show Name:||The Champions|
|Format:||Sci-Fi Action Adventure|
|Theme Music Composer:||Tony Hatch|
|Picture Format:||Film 35mm Colour|
|First Aired:||25 September 1968|
|Last Aired:||30 April 1969|
The Champions is a British espionage/science fiction/occult detective fiction adventure series consisting of 30 episodes broadcast on the UK network ITV during 1968–1969, produced by Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment production company. The series was broadcast in the US on NBC, starting in summer 1968.
The series features Craig Stirling, Sharron Macready and Richard Barrett as agents for a United Nations law enforcement organization called "Nemesis", based in Geneva. The three have different backgrounds: Barrett is a code breaker, Stirling a pilot, and Macready a recently widowed scientist and doctor.
During their first mission as a team, their plane crashes in the Himalayas. They are rescued by an advanced civilization living secretly in the mountains, who save their lives, granting them perfected human abilities, including powers to communicate with one another over distances by ESP (telepathy), and to foresee events (precognition), enhanced five senses and intellect, and physical abilities to the fullest extent of human capabilities. 
Many stories feature unusual villains, such as fascist regimes from unspecified South American countries, Nazis (a common theme of ITC 1960s & 70s TV, in part due to both the domestic audience and writers having been the "War generation") or the Chinese. The villains' schemes often threaten world peace — Nemesis' brief is international, so the agents deal with threats transcending national interests. The main characters have to learn the use of their new powers as they go along, keeping what they discover secret from friends and foe alike. Each episode begins with a post title sequence vignette in which one of The Champions demonstrates exceptional mental or physical abilities, often astonishing or humiliating others. In one example Stirling participates in a sharpshooting contest. In another, laughing hoodlums block in Macready's car, which she physically pulls out of the parking space one-handed. Ironically, the narration during these often public demonstrations usually mentions the need to keep the powers a secret.
The only other series regular is the Champions' boss, Tremayne. Tremayne does not know that his agents have special abilities, though he does ask innocent questions about just how on their missions they managed to carry out certain tasks about which their reports were vague.
The series was created by Dennis Spooner and its episodes were written by veterans of popular British spy series, including The Avengers and Danger Man. The series used an unfilmed script written for Danger Man.
The series was produced by Monty Berman who had co-produced, with Robert S. Baker, The Saint, Gideon's Way and numerous B-movies of the 1950s. Berman went on to produce, working with many of the writers, directors and crew, other ITC series including Department S, Jason King, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and The Adventurer.
Because of budget constraints, many sets were reused: three episodes were set on a submarine and three set in the arctic. Stock footage was used. Like most such ITC series much of the exterior action took place in and around the studio lot — usually, as was the case with The Champions, Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Herts. For at least one episode, Desert Journey, foreign filming did take place, but with a second unit, and extras standing in for the main cast.
Although short-lived, the series is fondly remembered and had three repeats across the ITV regions, after its initial run, up to 1976, and once more on ITV in the mid 1980s. It was also regularly repeated in the UK, on ITV's digital channel ITV4 until January 2011. The Champions was broadcast on BBC2 in 1995, at about the time when Gaunt was appearing in the sitcom Next of Kin and it had at least three further repeat runs after that. This was the last time complete prints were seen on UK television's main channels.
Episodes were released on DVD in North America, and in the UK, where the full series has been released twice, with the most recent edition seeing Damon, Bastedo and Gaunt reunite to provide a commentary for several episodes (Damon's continuing role on US series General Hospital meant that Bastedo and Gaunt had to be flown to America for this to occur). 
In 1983, ITC edited episodes "The Beginning" and "The Interrogation" into Legend of the Champions, a feature length film intended for overseas markets.
Unusually for such features, the two episodes were not simply joined together, but substantially re-cut and edited, with "The Interrogation" being the framing episode, and the flashback sequences originally used in that episode (principally from "The Beginning") expanded. Additionally, new credits were filmed, not using any of the original actors but photographs taken at the time.
A notable plot change was the renaming of a character from the original version of "The Beginning" to accommodate a plot device in "The Interrogation". In "The Interrogation", Craig Stirling is ostensibly being quizzed on the activities of one Julius Retford, who remains unseen. For the film, the opening credits explicitly identify Retford as the character named Ho Ling (played by Ric Young) in "The Beginning". This allows the germ warfare theme of "The Beginning" to interlink with the sequences in "The Interrogation". Confusingly, in the end credits Young is credited as playing 'Ho Ling', a name never used in the film version.
This release credited Stuart Damon as the star, with Alexandra Bastedo and William Gaunt receiving co-star credits. This was partly because Damon was a well-established star in the US by this time, and partly because "The Interrogation" is essentially a two-hander between Damon and Colin Blakely, with the rest of the regular cast appearing only briefly.
Legend of the Champions was released on DVD as part of the Network box-set.
Note: 'Bookend' sequences were shot for the first episode "The Beginning" showing Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) recording the story on to a tape recorder in Tremaynes office, this was done so that the episode could be shown out of order on repeat runs without causing any continuity problems, both sequences were included as extras on the Network DVD box-set.
In November 2007, it was reported that Guillermo del Toro would produce and write a film adaptation of The Champions for United Artists. In 2008, Christopher McQuarrie was signed to co-write and co-produce the film. Since then there have been no further developments about it.
Paperbacks based on the TV series include:
|Title||Writer||Director||Guest actors||UK airdate|
Guy Rolfe ... Walter Pelham Edina Ronay ... Sandra Hurst Michael Standing
. Jeff Rovin. The Encyclopedia of Superheroes. Facts On File. 1985. 0-8160-1679-8. 351.