Monday 5 March 2018

The Professionals and other Novelisations...

A couple of weeks ago I posted the cover of the book I was then reading on Facebook.  It got much more of a reaction than I expected, with several friends saying they’d been inspired to track down copies of their own.  When I shared the same image on Twitter it led to people I didn’t know (often on the other side of the world) sharing reminisces of the TV show and, often, pictures of their own library and it was wonderful, social media at its very best.  And it got me thinking about the joy of novelisations.
cover scan of my copy
First published by Sphere Books in 1980, reprinted in 1981 and 1982 (this edition)
A few weeks before, alone in the house, I caught the end of an episode of The Professionals on ITV4.  It had been a long time since I’d last seen one and it worked so well, I set it up to series record and assumed I’d be re-watching them on my own.  I mentioned it to Alison who hummed the opening riff of the theme tune and decided she’d like to watch some too and we’ve been catching up with them ever since.

The day after my birthday we went to a Toy Fair at the NEC and, in addition to picking up a couple of the annuals I’d lost over time, I found a small box on one stall selling a handful of the Sphere novelisations.  I bought all the ones there and decided to start with this one, volume 8, because we’d just seen the title episode and I really enjoyed it. 
Before catching the show again, I only had book 4 in my collection., the Toy Fair and ebay helping me fill some of the gaps
Novelisations were a big deal in the 70s and 80s because video wasn’t readily available and these slim paperbacks were the only way to relive your favourite TV show or film - my first (no surprise to regular readers of this blog) was Star Wars, as ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster (which I wrote about here).  Film novelisations began being published in the 1920’s for silent films such as London After Midnight and Sparrows, while the first talkie to be novelised was King Kong (1933).  They hit a peak in the 1970s that carried easily into the 1980s (one of my favourites from this time was Some Kind Of Wonderful by David Bischoff, based on the screenplay by John Hughes - I still haven’t seen the film) and continues today (friends of mine write them regularly).  There were also lots published to coincide with TV series and one particular treat of haunting second hand bookshops is stumbling on the occasional treasure, a paperback link you never knew existed to a show that mainly exists in your memories.

There were fifteen volumes in The Professionals series, credited to the house name “Ken Blake”, though all but four of them were by science-fiction writer Kenneth Bulmer (fantasy author Robert Holdstock wrote the others).  All were based on the shooting scripts and, as with James Blish's Star Trek novelisations, most featured three episodes (though a couple were based on just one). 
Top line from left, images from "Dead Reckoning", "Mixed Doubles" and "Need To Know"
bottom image - Bodie & Doyle
Dead Reckoning features the eponymous episode (written by Robin Estridge), where a spy is extradited in secret to the UK but the Bulgarians who exchanged him seem to want his arrival made public.  When he’s murdered, CI5 suspect his estranged daughter. 

Mixed Doubles (written by series creator Brian Clemens) has Bodie & Doyle undergoing training to protect a Middle Eastern president called Parsali, their programme duplicated by two killers who are preparing to assassinate him.  This contains the killer line, wonderfully delivered by Lewis Collins: “I believe in me, 'cos I was born tall, dark and beautiful.... and engagingly modest, of course!”  Interestingly, I was reading this part of the book when the episode came up in our run.

The final story is Need To Know (episode also by Clemens) wherein an old colleague of Cowley’s is arrested for being a double agent, implicated the CI5 chief. 

Having seen all three episodes recently, it was interesting to compare them and, for the most part, the book did a good job.  Bulmer wrote them well (though he seemed to have a thing for Bodie’s ‘famous’ eyebrows, lips and nostrils), with a good grasp of action and location and they cracked along at a terrific pace.
cover scan of my copy
First published by Star, a division of W H Allen in 1983
I had a similar thing happen last year, when I re-discovered The A-Team on Forces TV.  Admittedly not as well made as The Professionals, the first three series (which I remembered fondly-if-vaguely from my teens) were great fun and inspired me to seek out the novelisations, a few of which I’d originally owned but long since lost.  There were ten books in the series (the last four of which were only published in the UK), the first six written by Charles Heath with most blending two episodes.  My favourites (back in the 80s and on these re-reads) were both from double-length episodes, the first book above (adapted from the pilot Mexican Slayride) and the third, the simply brilliant When You Comin' Back, Range Rider? (adapted from the eponymous second series episode written by Frank Lupo).  In fact, if someone were to ask me to define The A-Team, I’d point them towards that episode and novelisation.  As I wrote on Goodreads:
This is precisely what the A-Team was all about - there’s plenty of action, a lot of humour (between the team themselves and also other characters, such as a couple on Hollywood Boulevard who think Decker is George Peppard) and a decent resolution to the story. The characters (all clearly defined on the show by then) are well drawn, the Arizona locations well described and the pace is spot on, the story racing from one set-piece to the next. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, so much so I wanted to re-watch the double-episode as soon as I’d finished it. 
A selection of some of the novelisations from my library
So what were your favourite novelisations?

If you’re looking to find old favourites, ebay is often your friend (but be aware of how some sellers define ‘Very Good’), though nothing can beat the sense of triumph when you find something exciting quite by chance in a second hand book emporium.  Happy hunting!

For more information on The Professionals, I highly recommend Dave Matthews’ Authorised Guide To The Professionals which you can find at this link.  I will be publishing a blog about The A-Team later this year.

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