Friday, 6 January 2017

Man of the World, season 1 (1962)

After the success of the original 1960 version of Danger Man it was obvious to ITC that action adventure series set in exotic locales in the contemporary world and with glamorous heroes were going to be reliable money-spinners. Man of the World, which aired from 1962 to 1963, was a typical example and a reasonably good one.

At this time Lew Grade had convinced himself that importing American actors was the only way to crack the US market. It was a silly idea - the British series that enjoyed the most success in the US (The Avengers and The Saint) were the ones without American actors. There was however no reasoning with Lew Grade on this point and so Man of the World has an American lead. Craig Stevens was a little unusual though, being an established star on American television as a result of the hit series Peter Gunn

Stevens plays globe-trotting photojournalist Michael Strait. It was the perfect setup for a series of this type - a hero with a glamorous occupation that paid enough to finance the jet-set lifestyle that heroes of action adventure series were expected to have plus it gave him entirely plausible reasons to be in exotic places hobnobbing with the rich, the powerful and the beautiful.

He has an equally glamorous sidekick in the person of Maggie Warren (Tracy Reed). I assume she’s supposed to be his secretary and/or assistant but what’s important is that she fulfills the role of good-looking female sidekick. 

The setup for Man of the World is clearly very similar to that of The Saint. The Saint had been so successful that ITC made repeated attempts to copy the formula, without a great deal of joy. Neither Man of the World nor The Baron were able to emulate the enormous success of The Saint. It’s not difficult to see why. Roger Moore had charm, wit, style and most of all charisma. It made him a very hard act to follow. Craig Stevens was a capable actor and he’s actually pretty good but he just doesn’t have the charisma of a Roger Moore or a Patrick McGoohan.

ITC had already realised that the future of television was colour and as early as 1956 several episodes of their adventure series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot were shot in colour. The pilot for Man of the World, Masquerade in Spain, was also shot in colour. It’s the kind of story that was a staple of the kinds of series but writer Lindsay Hardy adds enough twists to make it interesting. A beautiful heiress is kidnapped in Spain and MIchael Strait is caught in the middle and has a strong feeling he’s been set up. He’s just not sure why. 

Highland Story has a prologue in Australia (we know it’s Australia because we get some stock footage of kangaroos), The action then moves to the Scottish Highlands (we know it’s Scotland because we get some stock footage of Scotsmen in kilts tossing cabers). Something suspicious is going on at the Castle MacGillie and it has something to do with Australia. We get John Laurie as a guest star, which is always a treat, plus Ray Barrett putting on the most cringe-inducing exaggerated Australian accent I can ever recall hearing. British television has over the years given us some remarkably terrible attempts at Australian accents but this one is particularly embarrassing given that Ray Barrett was in fact an Australian.

Death of a Conference deals with the war in Algeria (a very topical issue indeed in 1962). Jet-setting international reporter/photographer Michael Strait (Craig Stevens) has been assigned to cover the peace conference. The day before the conference is due to start Algerian leader Dalguib is assassinated. A member of the French terrorist Secret Army (OAS), Thiboeuf (Patrick Troughton) is suspected. The assassination is rather convenient for Dalguib’s head of security Said (John Carson) who is now able to manoeuvre himself into leadership of the Algerian delegation. Said does not want peace. Strait suspects that this assassination is by no means as simple as it appears and he and Maggie, with some help from a cab driver who claims to be a Bulgarian prince (played by Warren Mitchell who must have played more guest roles in 60s action adventure series than any other actor), start digging for the truth.

Nature of Justice takes Michael Strait to Iraq where an archaeological expedition has just made a major find. Two members of the expedition set off for Kuwait by jeep. They never arrive and the following day a body is found. But only one body. Michael is determined to unravel this mystery and in the process he will learn a good deal about the nature of justice.

The main difference between this series and series like The Saint is that most of the stories in The Saint involve some kind of actual crime while this is not always the case with Man of the World. Some of the stories are simply the kinds of things that a photojournalist would get mixed up in - mysteries without actual criminal elements. 

The Runaways is such an episode, a lightweight but amusing story of a girl with an amazing tendency to fall in love with men who rescue her. And she seems to get rescued rather a lot. After her latest rescue she has decided to elope with a dashing but apparently penniless army officer. Since the girl is an heiress the elopement is the kind of story magazines pay good money for and thus Michael is reluctantly drawn into the affair. What he doesn’t realise is that you have to be very careful about rescuing young ladies with a penchant for falling in love with their rescuers.

Blaze of Glory is pretty lightweight also, a motor racing melodrama that is mostly an excuse for including lots of (admittedly extremely good) motor racing sequences. 

Portrait of a Girl is very lightweight indeed with a certain amusing charm to it although one can’t help thinking it would have worked even better as an episode of The Saint.

The Mindreader is quite a charming tale. A young woman, Carla, appears to have the ability to read minds. All the usual scientific tests seem to confirm that her ability really is genuine, that she is not a fake. Carla believes her own powers are genuine although she would actually have been much happier to discover that she was a fake - she has a horror of being thought to be some kind of freak. Despite the results of the tests Michael is convinced that he can give what she wants most - the knowledge that she has no psychic powers after all. Along the way we learn some interesting things about the mind-reading game. 

Specialist for the Kill on the other hand is a full-blown spy story about an unusual assassin. Strait’s photographs are the only leads that the CIA has. It’s an offbeat spy tale with a hint of the surrealism that would feature in other 60s British spy series like The Avengers although in this case the surrealism is played for grotesquerie rather than humour.

A Family Affair is another very serious (and reasonably good) episode involving a terrorist bombing in Paris.

Shadow of the Wall is yet another rather dark spy story. An old friend of Michael’s from West Berlin is accused of being a spy. Michael is convinced of his friend’s innocence but someone is certainly selling secrets to the East. The solution is all too realistic as well as being emotionally devastating. A very effective episode even if the major plot twist is unlikely to come as a great surprise.

Man of the World was successful enough to spawn a spin-off series. The season one episode The Sentimental Agent introduced a not entirely reputable Argentinian import-export agent named Borella, played by Carlos Thompson. The character had such obvious potential that he was given his own series, called (naturally) The Sentimental Agent although the character was made less disreputable and had his name changed slightly to Carlos Varela.  He’s still basically the same character - he’s a man who likes money but he likes adventure as well and rather enjoys playing the hero and enjoys it even more if he can do someone a good turn and make a profit as well. He’s the kind of character who would obviously be ideally suited to  feature in his own action adventure series so the spin-off was a very sound idea (and in fact The Sentimental Agent is even more fun than Man of the World). In this episode Michael Strait is left very much in the background but Carlos Thompson has more than enough good-natured charisma to carry the story on his own. While a typical Man of the World story involves Michael Strait rescuing someone from a dangerous situation in this episode he’s the one who needs to be rescued after being arrested by the new Cuban revolutionary government for espionage. Luckily Borella is just the man to do the rescuing, having some very useful connections with some very corrupt Cuban officials. 

Man of the World ran for 13 episodes in 1962 followed by an abbreviated second season of a further seven episodes the following year. This is generally decent undemanding entertainment with a few more serious moments. Recommended.

2 comments:

  1. I never knew this series existed and appreciated your alerting me to it. I'm gonna buy the set and enjoy Craig Stevens' suave and smooth brand of entertainment. PS: Another oft-overlooked Stevens series is THE INVISIBLE MAN starring David McCallum from the mid-1970s.

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    1. I've seen a few episodes of the David McCallum Invisible Man series. Seemed like an interesting series and it's on my list of series I need to take a closer look at.

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