The Persuaders!

Not Always Persuasive But Usually Fun

By Craig Henderson


The Persuaders was a TV series that came along at an interesting juncture in television history. It was Roger Moore’s last series, after a decade of TV stardom in Maverick, The Alaskans and especially The Saint, which ran for most of the 1960s and was the series Moore declared would be his last.

It was Tony Curtis’ first series, after two decades of movie stardom. Still a big name, Curtis suddenly found himself, like so many film stars of his generation, no longer in demand in the rapidly changing American cinema of the late 60s and early 70s. In fact, so many veteran movie actors made an aggregative decision to try television that 1971-72 was known as the movie star TV season. Jimmy Stewart, Shirley MacLaine, Glenn Ford, Anthony Quinn and Henry Fonda joined Curtis in new TV series. And they all flopped, mostly because no one created interesting showcases for these stars in the apparent belief that star power alone would draw viewers. (Only Rock Hudson had a success with McMillan and Wife, which may have been because it only appeared every three or four weeks as part of the NBC Mystery Movie series.)

This lackadaisical approach was especially evident in The Persuaders. Depending on a viewer’s degree of affection for it, the show was arguably the last of the great British 60s adventure series, or the first of the more mediocre British 70s adventure series (e.g., The Protectors, UFO, The New Avengers, the spectacularly idiotic Space 1999). While British television may have perfected the lighthearted adventure with series like The Avengers, The Persuaders was so light it was frequently in danger of floating away.

Moore was Lord Brett Sinclair, a British peer of the realm who’s just a rich wastrel rather than a criminally inclined scoundrel like The Saint. Curtis was Danny Wilde, a poor kid who clawed his way up from the mean streets of the Bronx to become a multimillionaire business tycoon. Their highly contrasting lives were illustrated in the flashy opening titles every week, with unique credits that identified the stars only as “Curtis + Moore” and “The Persuaders!” — making this the only TV series that never identified its stars by their full names and whose proper title includes an exclamation point, for whatever that’s worth.

This mismatched pair was brought together by a certain Judge Fulton, a retired British magistrate who somehow decided that Wilde and Sinclair would make the perfect team for him to send out — unofficially, you understand — to right the wrongs that Fulton perceived were done in cases he presided over but which ended unjustly (at least in his opinion).

Oddly, the judge and this dubious premise largely vanished after several episodes, leaving The Persuaders to present a depressing number of “just so happens” stories: Danny and Brett just so happen to be driving down a country road together when they discover a murder victim. And they just so happen to be camping out in the woods together when they uncover a plot to assassinate the prime minister. And they just so happen to walk into a casino together at just the right time and say just the right thing to get Danny mistaken for a Russian spy.

It was pretty thin stuff, saved only by the characters’ incessant rivalry, banter, quips and putdowns, delivered with effortless timing and charisma by the two stars. They made the show watchable, even as you sat groaning at another creaky old plot device lumbering about. Scripts, surprisingly, were by the leading British TV writers of the time — Terry Nation, Brian Clemens, Val Guest and John Kruse among them.

When he did appear, Judge Fulton was ably played by veteran British actor Laurence Naismith, who viewers of The Persuaders also noticed in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (he was Sir Donald Munger, the diamond expert consulted by Bond and M at the beginning of the picture). Another of Naismith’s more interesting roles was Kris Kringle in Here’s Love, the 1963 flop Broadway musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street.

The Persuaders did have its virtues, mostly its glossy production values, with location shooting all over the glamour spots of Europe. And it had one of the best themes ever written for a TV series, composed by the incomparable John Barry, the prolific Oscar-winner best known to adventure fans for his terrific scores for many James Bond pictures. Ken Thorne’s episode scores were more typical TV fare.

The Persuaders started out on ABC in September 1971 airing Saturday nights at 10 opposite Mission: Impossible, a series going downhill in its sixth season but still drawing strong ratings. At mid-season, ABC moved The Persuaders to an allegedly better timeslot, Wednesdays at 9:30. But the network was having a less than successful season overall, and affiliates were nearly in open rebellion at the time, pre-empting weak network shows to make a quick buck on local movies and syndicated fare. The Persuaders lost a number of stations outright after the move to Wednesday, while others delayed the show to the wee small hours where it was guaranteed to be seen by no one.

With that treatment, The Persuaders was doomed and ABC cancelled the series. Although it was popular in other countries, the show couldn’t continue without the money from an American network sale. Just 24 episodes were produced before the end, and ABC didn’t even bother to air the last two. American viewers only saw them later in syndicated reruns.


The Persuaders on DVD is typical of A&E Home Video’s “cult TV” releases — topnotch source material and impeccable transfers, handsome boxed set with individual cases for each disc, and somewhat overpriced at $80 for a mere 13 episodes on four discs. For the same price you can get the entire first season of 32 episodes of The Outer Limits, to name just one example.

A&E also is following but not fully embracing the current trend to release TV series on DVD in a package encompassing an entire TV season. This first set of The Persuaders releases 13 episodes. Presumably there will be a second set with the remaining 11 episodes (and presumably it will cost another $80 or so). The A&E label pioneered DVD releases of TV shows, but its standard was two-disc boxed sets containing six episodes (seven if you were lucky).

This turned into quite an investment if you were collecting every episode of a series, but it also afforded casual viewers the opportunity to purchase a few episodes of a show that has a limited appeal. Not everyone wants to spend all this money to watch 26 episodes of The Protectors, or 32 episodes of Gilligan’s Island — or even 13 episodes of The Persuaders.

On the other hand, The Persuaders has a DVD feature most TV series lack — a commentary track on two episodes. Roger Moore and producers Robert S. Baker and Johnny Goodman got together to view and record commentary for “Overture,” the first episode of the series, and “The Time and the Place,” which Moore also directed. Nothing they say is incredibly insightful or revelatory, but it’s always fascinating to hear the participants discuss what was going on during production of these old shows. For fans of British TV adventure, these commentaries are too good to pass up.

Other extras are limited to the standard scene selection chapter stops, stills from the episodes and text bios of Curtis and Moore.

The Persuaders!

From A&E Home Video




Dolby Digital

Keep cases in boxed set

13 episodes, each 51 minutes

Special Features

Commentary track by actor Roger Moore,

producer Robert S. Baker and executive in charge

of production Johnny Goodman

Biographies of actors Tony Curtis and Roger Moore

Photo gallery from each episode

SRP: $79.95

Released November 2003