Agents Bodie (right) and Doyle (left) were The Professionals
In the late 1970s, Britain’s television news was dominated by assassinations on the streets of London, terrorism, hostage sieges, violent crime, and widespread strikes by public sector workers. As well as creating a fervent sense of discord and social unrest the zeitgeist would also have a dramatic effect on primetime entertainment. The wholesome image of British law enforcement, dram atised by long-running shows like ‘Z-Cars’ and ‘Dixon of Dock Green’, seemed as culturally dissonant as glitzy US imports such as ‘Starsky & Hutch’ and ‘Kojak’. The TV-loving public wanted entertainment that better reflected the reality of the day. This gave rise to a new generation of crime drama, more gritty and more hard-hitting than had ever been seen before. New shows included ‘The Sweeney’, based on London’s Flying Squad, a specialised police unit tackling armed robbery and violent crime; and ‘Minder’, a more comedic but equally unerring take on London’s criminal underworld. Then, at the start of 1979, came the most controversial new show of them all, ‘The Professionals’. Agents William Bodie and Ray Doyle belonged to a fictive elite government crime-fighting unit, called CI5 (Criminal Intelligence Dept. 5), an amalgam of MI5 and the CID. Not cast from the same ‘upper class’ mold as other fictional British secret agents, Bodie and Doyle were working-class heroes. Bodie was a cynical, ex-SAS hard man from Liverpool, and Doyle a hot-headed Midlander, recruited into CI5 from Vice Squad. At some point during the show’s pre-production, it was decided that CI5 operatives would be issued with the Ollech & Wajs Precision Caribbean 1000. The recommendation most likely came from the ‘properties master’, who was responsible for all the hardware and equipment used in the show.
The OW Caribbean, which in 1964 was the first commercially available dive watch certified to 1,000 meters, had also proven popular with US Special Forces in Vietnam. Virtually unknown outside of military and scuba diving circles, an OW was more likely to go unnoticed than a Rolex or an Omega. This made it ideal for a CI5 agent on an undercover operation.
The OW Caribbean came with either a 60-minute dive bezel or a 12-hour, dual-time zone bezel. Given that CI5’s jurisdiction was officially domestic, Bodie and Doyle’s watches were most likely fitted with the former. The Ollech & Wajs advertising slogan, ‘Equal to any challenge — For men of action’, was certainly put to the test on the wrists of the dynamic duo. Saving London from a biochemical terror attack, thwarting Soviet agents’ attempts to bring down the British government, a kidnap attempt on the home secretary, a bank raid, an international terrorist plot, two hostage sieges, two assassination attempts, a corruption case and foiling a plot to destroy London with an atom bomb … and that was just the first season! ‘The Professionals’ straddled the line between action entertainment and gratuitous violence, with many arguing that the show more often strayed firmly into the latter.
It is worth remembering that there were at the time only three TV channels in the UK and rarely more than one television set per household. Consequently, primetime shows had viewing figures of several million per episode and were subject to far greater scrutiny than today. As an aside, Lewis Collins, who played Bodie, later auditioned for the role of James Bond but was reputedly considered ‘too aggressive’ for 007.
Though ‘The Professionals’ certainly had its critics, five seasons and 57 episodes are a testament to its popularity with the British public. Beyond the commercial success, Bodie and Doyle provided a blueprint for the high-octane crime drama genre that endures today, just as Ollech & Wajs continues to set the standard for the modern dive watch.