16 July 2012 | Installation_At_Orsk
I had never seen Department S until fairly recently when Top Gear did its spoof Sixties show "The Interceptors", which used the Department S theme music. Because I have a liking for the spy-fi shows of that era, I tracked down the DVDs of the series out of curiosity.
And I'm glad I did, because while it's no classic and falls some way short of the likes of The Avengers and The Prisoner, it's still lively and entertaining thanks to the interplay of its three leads. Joel Fabiani's Stewart Sullivan is largely the straight man and muscle, but still maintains a deadpan humour - with a righteous anger whenever politics interferes with justice. Rosemary Nichols' Annabelle Hurst has a flirty relationship with Stewart, and while something of a computer nerd is still more than capable of taking care of herself in the field.
Then... there's Jason King. Jason is the character known even by people who've never seen the show, simply because he's so outrageous. A chain-smoking dandy and fop who drives a Bentley even when trying to be inconspicuous and more often has a glass in his hand than not (he starts drinking when most people would be having their morning coffee and must surely be pleasantly buzzed, if not outright drunk, for 90% of his screen time), he's also arrogant, egotistical, rude, self-centred, lazy, hedonistic, snobbish, bitchy (poor Annabelle takes most of his cutting put-downs), a smarmy lech and is constantly outclassed in fights to the point where Annabelle chastises him for getting "knocked out AGAIN!" in quite an early episode. Yet despite all that, he's still utterly charming and magnetic because of Peter Wyngarde's effortlessly suave and confident performance. Played by anyone else Jason would seem like a buffoon - he was, after all, one of the inspirations for Austin Powers - but Wyngarde gives him class even at his most ridiculously pompous.
The actual stories are mixed; some of the mysteries Department S are called upon to investigate are genuinely clever, while others (mostly those written by Philip Broadley) are bog-standard ITC crime plots involving bank robbers, smuggling rings or the Mafia with a 'bizarre' opening slapped on them to fit the format of "crimes too weird for the normal police to solve". Watching on DVD, ITC's penny-pinching also becomes evident - the same locations and sets appear again and again with only slight changes (watch for the corridor with a distinctive illuminated ceiling, which appears in almost every episode), and if you ever see anyone driving a white Jaguar, you know it's going to go over a cliff! ("Toonces, look ouuuuuut!") But overall it's a fun, lightly tongue-in-cheek adventure show that gets by on pure charisma.