The second volume of the UFO Comic Anthology is now shipping from the Gerry Anderson Store! Volume Two features 320 pages of colour and black and white strips from TV Action as well as articles and interviews by Anderson comics expert Shaqui Le Vesconte, giving the reader context and fascinating insights into TV Action’s history, artists and UFO‘s life in comics.
However, UFO wasn’t the only Anderson series to grace the pages of TV Action, and in the first of a two-part feature Shaqui gives us the lowdown on the adventures of The Protectors in comic form!
Unlike the 1960s, where one Anderson series followed another on an almost annual basis, UFO was to be the last future orientated production for a few years. With contemporary action series becoming increasingly vogue on television, their next production – which the Andersons admit was thrust upon them by Lew Grade – had to follow suit, and The Protectors was born. Starring ex-Man from U.N.C.L.E. actor Robert Vaughn, with Nyree Dawn Porter and Tony Anholt, the series is usually overlooked among the Anderson series, and its appearance in TV Action means the comic tie-in is usually equally dismissed.
While the UFO strip had a high profile throughout, the other Anderson strips dwindled away to be replaced by popular television fare such as The Persuaders!, Hawaii Five-O and Mission: Impossible. Issue 96 had already flagged that The Protectors, along with Cannon and Droopy, were ‘coming soon in TV Action’ with a half page photo montage. The following issue, reader Carl Jackson from Birmingham had his letter published asking if The Protectors could be put in TV Action. ‘Yes!’ was the emphatic reply, ‘We shall incorporate these in a new-style TV Action beginning with issue 101’.
The relaunch did warrant being listed as a ‘boom issue’ in Smiths Trade News – the trade term for publications which had additional advertising which could increase sales. ‘TV spots’ were listed for both TV Action and TV Comic that week, on a form for shops to place new or bolster existing orders.
Come issue 101, perhaps the only familiar thing to readers was the rotation of strips, a feature of the Countdown era, where they alternated between complete stories, serials and being rested for a few issues. The complete strips, or ‘big stories’, were promoted with a front cover illustration, and after a colour photo centrespread introduction in issue 100, this was how The Protectors started…
The Protectors exist to protect those in peril, its members are the super agents of the world’s best detective agencies, who now work for a private organisation which is unrestricted by legal red tape. Money is no object for The Protectors, whose methods are as unconventional as they are hazardous…
According to this preview, the up-and-coming first story ‘concerns a threat to kidnap a young pop star’. Instead, a different story called A Boxfull of Trouble (at least on the cover, or ‘Boxful of Trouble’ inside) saw artist Frank Langford moved from The Persuaders! to draw the debut b/w complete strip. This was a quite satisfying opener with a lot of twists to the concise plot about protecting the brother of a deceased Mafia-like crime syndicate leader, while bearing similarities to the episode The Bodyguards, which concerned the ‘protection’ of a crook’s dead body to lure associates after a hidden cache of stolen money. The strip was considerably enlivened by Langford’s precise likenesses, and it is also the only one to feature all five of the main ‘Protectors’ from the series – Harry Rule and his oriental servant Suki, the Contessa di Contini and her martial arts trained butler/chauffeur Chino, and Paul Buchet.
The Protectors was rested for a couple of issues, returning with the promised ‘pop star’ story Boy Wonder. The colour serial initially had no artist credit, and then incorrectly named Spanish artist Jose Ortiz, who was now drawing The Persuaders!. One can only ponder if there was an eleventh-hour reshuffle, which caused the delay and mix-up over who was drawing what. The artist actually taking over was another Spaniard, Enrique Badia Romero, well known to art editor Roger Perry as he had drawn strips for the late 1960s Lady Penelope annuals, as well as contributing to The Persuaders! Holiday Special the previous year. Unfortunately, while a dynamic artist, Romero’s likenesses were a poor second to Langford’s exacting work. This did not help the plot where readers were expected to believe the Contessa – a woman in her thirties – could pass as teen idol Wee Davey to hide the fact that he has been kidnapped.
Thankfully, The Protectors returned to form with another complete b/w strip, Busman’s Holiday, which focused on Harry Rule, on a recuperative ‘holiday’ as cover for working on a rescue mission alone in a Middle East state. This was to be Frank Langford’s swansong for the weekly TV Action, although his work would be seen in the TV Action Annual 1974 in the autumn, with a full colour strip for The Persuaders!.
The second serial for The Protectors is another downward step. Artist Rab Hamilton, last seen drawing UFO in the Countdown era, was not a bad artist, and his likenesses were passable but his semi-whimsical style does the action no real favours. Combined with a story concerning a valuable Piece of the Moon, the result is uneven with somewhat incomprehensible plotting, leading to confusion for the reader.
Hawaii Five-O artist Leslie Branton was given a couple of tries on the strip. The Dodo is Dead veers away from the usual gritty fare of the ‘avenues and alleyways’ to the Scottish highlands, where Rule and the Contessa are tasked with protecting a rare live specimen of a bird thought extinct, making it or its eggs the target for fanatical collectors. The eagle-eyed reader may spot that Branton used the two owl-like alien ambassadors from Sydney Jordan’s newspaper strip Jeff Hawke as reference for the Lesser Auks. The budding ornithologists among the readers might have baulked at the fact it was actually the flightless penguin-like Great Auks which became extinct in the 19th century, with neither looking like those depicted.
Branton gets to shine with the next serial The Combat Man, which pits the Protectors against the man who trained them; Sergeant Peter Crump was jailed for taking bribes after being caught by his students, Rule, the Contessa and Buchet. Branton may not be the most innovative artist but his workmanship style is a good match for this grim uncompromising tale of vengeance, resulting in one of the better strips. It also reminds us the Protectors are human, with all three injured and nursing their wounds at the end.
To be continued…