Bodyguards – The Killing Ground

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Worrell and Liz are assigned to protect Emile Gurwin (Raad Rawi), a controversial author who has received death threats from Islamic radicals following the publication of his book Interim Prophets.  The three travel to a remote part of Scotland where Gurwin plans to take a relaxing holiday, but a heavily armed gang has other ideas ….

It’s not hard to find a real-life parallel with Gurwin.  Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel The Satanic Verses sparked an identical storm of protest which saw Rushdie, like Gurwin, placed under sentence of death following the issue of a fatwa.

As ever with Bodyguards, political or ideological rights and wrongs aren’t pushed into the foreground.  Liz might regard Gurwin with mild disdain (believing that his problems are self inflicted) whilst Worrell (who claims to have read and enjoyed the book) is somewhat more forgiving, but once the action starts there’s precious little time for philosophising.

After their car is ambushed and then trapped on a bridge, they realise that the only way to escape is via the river.  This is an impressive stunt – one of several – as we see Worrell, Liz and Gurwin diving for their lives.  Gurwin comes off worst, with a broken arm, and the net result places the two agents in an incredibly difficult position – they’re wet through, in the middle of nowhere, possessing radios which no longer work and with the burden of an injured man.

After a few episodes which have been fairly light on action, Steve Griffiths’ script (his only one for the series) offers a sharp change of pace.  Worrell gets to demonstrate his countryside skills, some of which he says were picked up with the Boy Scouts rather than on his RAF survival course!

One slight plot contrivance is that MacIntyre is present in Scotland (he was attending an unrelated conference in the area).  Worrell later explains as to why he injured, rather than killed, one of their pursuers – an injured man is a burden for the others.  It shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that the ruthless group have no compunction in killing their wounded comrade – which is something of a cliché, to be honest if they hadn’t it would have been more surprising.

The Killing Ground brings to a conclusion this short, but interesting series.  Creator Jeffrey Caine had previously devised The Chief, although Bodyguards was quite a different beast.  The Chief had much more of a serial feel, with multiple storylines overlapping over a number of episodes.  Bodyguards is much more in the tradition of the likes of The Sweeney or The Professionals, featuring one-off stories with minimum overlap (the death of Worrell’s wife is the only story beat which features in a number of episodes).

With the combined talents of Lombard, Pertwee and Shrapnel, it’s a little surprising that Bodyguards never progressed beyond a single series.  A second run might have allowed for a more layered approach to the storytelling, certainly the potential was there.

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Bodyguards – Stand Off

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Maurice Boyd (Michael Williams), an ex-MI6 agent turned Russian defector, returns secretly to the UK to attend the funeral of his granddaughter.  The Close Protection Unit are assigned to project him and have put a strict secrecy blanket in operation – since many people (including MI6) would be far from happy if it was known that Boyd was back in the country ….

Stand Off benefits enormously from the presence of Michael Williams.   Maurice Boyd is something of a Kim Philby-like character and the audience’s knowledge of real-life defectors no doubt helps to fill in some of the blanks.  There’s something of a personal edge to the story, as MacIntyre and Boyd had been close colleagues.  Prior to his arrival, MacIntyre displays an understandable coolness towards his former friend (responsible for the deaths of many fellow agents) but we see something of a rapprochement as the story progresses.

Boyd later tells him that “I don’t regret what I did, I never will. But there are some things in my life that I do regret. And one of them is the rift between us.”  Since Boyd is an arch dissembler it’s left unclear whether this is the truth or yet another lie.  Throughout the story Boyd is presented as an affable, friendly sort – which means that reconciling his current behaviour with his previous actions is difficult, but that’s true of many real-life traitors.

Anthony Bate, an actor not unfamiliar with spy dramas, has the small but pivotal role of Sir Thomas Glennie.  It’s always a pleasure to see Bate, even in such a brief cameo, although it’s a little surprising that he didn’t return at the conclusion of the story.  But then as we’ve seen previously in Bodyguards, the focus of the series is the protection of their subjects rather than the solving of mysteries.

Stand Off poses the question as to who wants Boyd dead and there’s a credible answer provided – a high-up government official who, like Boyd, is a Russian agent, although he, unlike Boyd, has remained undetected.  With Boyd working on a book that (ala Peter Wright’s Spycatcher) plans to name names, this agent is keen to silence Boyd and so arranges for his granddaughter to be killed in order to lure him to the UK.

This part of the plot doesn’t quite hold water – if Boyd was preparing to betray his Russian masters by revealing the identity of a mole inside the British establishment, why haven’t the Russians taken steps to silence Boyd and his co-writer?  It would have made more sense for the Russians to deal with Boyd in their own country rather than for the mole to spirit Boyd over to Britain.

A minor quibble, since – as previously touched upon – the mystery part of the story plays second fiddle to the job of keeping the target alive.  Williams and Shrapnel only have a few scenes together, which is a shame, but they certainly make the most of them.  Apart from a few explosions, Stand Off is fairly low-key – character interactions rather than gunplay drive it forward – but there are far worse ways to spend fifty minutes.

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Bodyguards – Target

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A shady businessman called Steven Ballard (John Bowe) is making a brief return to the UK in order to give evidence to a Commons Select Committee.  Various vested interests, apparently from the Middle East, would sooner he kept quiet, so he’s targeted for assassination …..

Ballard and Liz rather hit it off.  He might be a ruthless type in business, but he also possesses a considerable amount of charm and whilst Liz doesn’t bend, possibly she buckles ever so slightly.

Liz, Worrell and a third agent, Stuart Robbins (Ashley Barker) take it in turns to guard Ballard.  Since we’ve not seen Robbins before it shouldn’t be too hard to guess the way things turn out (if he had been wearing a red shirt it would have been even clearer).

Once again, the way the Close Protection Unit handles their charge is a little eye-raising.  Ballard stays in his own property – a fairly substantial building – with only one agent guarding him.  When a cat apparently triggers the alarm sensors it rather highlights how stretched they are – if Liz is by the window shooing the cat, who’s looking after Ballard?

During Robbins’ tour of duty things go badly wrong.  An assassin breaks in, shoots Robbins, then shoots a figure in the shower (which turns out to be Ballard’s maid) and is only frightened off after Ballard hits the alarm.  Not exactly the Close Protection Unit’s finest hour ….

David Saville is on good form as Nigel Henderson, a rather shady government type who’s quite keen to sweep this unpleasantness under the carpet.  After all, the maid was an illegal immigrant so there shouldn’t be any problems there.  Liz later raises the intriguing possibility that the British government might be the ones who would be happy if Ballard didn’t testify.

There’s also the possibility that Ballard’s security was compromised by someone inside his own organisation.  We don’t see many of Ballard’s people, so it seems obvious that his trusted right-hand man Greg Burns (Nick Reading) is the guilty party.  Or is that just too obvious?

Julian Jones penned four episodes of Bodyguards in addition to contributing to a score of popular series during the nineties (Taggart, Perfect Scoundrels, Stay Lucky, Soldier Soldier, Between the Lines, 99-1, Wycliffe, The Bill, The Ambassador) and more recently created the popular Saturday evening drama Merlin.

Target, by playing up the angle that no-one (not even their own masters) can be trusted, ups the ante a little, and whilst the nature of episodic television means that the reset switch has to be hit at the end, it helps to make the episode a cut above the norm.  The gun-heavy climax is entertaining as well.

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Bodyguards – Know Thine Enemy

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Worrell is designated to be the close protection agent on Robert Connor (William Hope), a right-wing Presidential hopeful.  Liz is put in overall command, which doesn’t please Golding (Aaron Swartz), a particularly aggressive American agent.  He doesn’t seem terribly impressed with the fact that she’s a woman, although the problem may be more that she’s British ….

Familiar tensions between the British and American agents are seen throughout Know Thine Enemy.  The Americans are all aggressive, trigger happy and unwilling to defer to anyone else – all clichés of course, but they help to stoke up the drama.

The way they approach the problem of Michael Aaronson (Peter Marinker) helps to highlight their differing approaches.  Aaronson holds Connor morally responsible (policy wise) for the death of his son and his arrival in Britain sets alarm bells ringing.  The Americans want him picked up and detained but MacIntyre – whilst happy to keep him under twenty-four hour surveillance –  won’t authorise this.

Given that Aaronson has no history of violence – he’s simply a political activist – the way he’s dealt with raises some interesting questions.  If they attempt to prevent his protest (he wants to present Connor with a petition requesting stricter gun control) then Aaronson’s civil liberties have obviously been interfered with – but is this the intention of the American agents?  Or do they truly believe he’s capable of violence?

Either way it’s slightly terrifying how the State apparatus is able to monitor him with ease, which raises the debate (not really touched upon here – the agents have already picked their side) about how far the liberties of the individual should be eroded in the quest to prevent terrorist attacks.

Liz intercepts and searches him and is happy that he presents no violent threat.  She then allows him to take his place outside the Queen Elizabeth Centre, where Connor is speaking, so Aaronson can hand over a petition.  But she doesn’t seem to have mentioned this to Golding and the other American agents, so when they see Aaronson reaching into a bag they naturally react promptly and violently.

You can’t blame them for their actions, which poses the question as to whether Liz deliberately didn’t tell them that Aaronson was present but not armed.  Given the storm of negative newspaper coverage it’s hard to imagine she would have done so, which leave us with the probability that Liz just screwed up.  She does tell MacIntyre that communications were fraught, but you’d have assumed this would have been a fairly vital piece of information to pass on.

Aaronson – hospitalized with a broken arm – isn’t unhappy though, as he’s gained the sort of publicity he previously could only dream of.  This enables him to give Liz a lead on a potentially dangerous threat to Connor.

Throughout the episode we’ve seen a nail-bomb being prepared.  Initially it seemed that Aaronson might be responsible, but after he’s put out of action – and the bomb-making continues – it becomes clear that the threat isn’t coming from him.  As with previous Bodyguards episodes, the hostile party is presented in a rather abstract way (we learn little about them).

Worrell and Liz are split up for most of the episode.  Worrell gets a few lighter moments – mocking Aaronson and the others (Worrell has a decent American accent) – but he’s rather placed into the background here.  Liz, fretting about her first taste of command, has more to do, but Know Thine Enemy never really sparks into life.  It’s decent enough fare, but lacks the personal edge of some of the previous stories.

Bodyguards – Out of the Mouths of Babes

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A thirteen year-old boy called Alan Taylor (Dean Steel) is the only witness to the murder of a priest and will therefore be vital in gaining a successful conviction.  Worrell, returning from compassionate leave, is assigned – along with Liz – to the job of protecting him in the run up to the trial.  MacIntyre considers it to be just the sort of routine mission which will gently ease him back into the swing of things, but events prove otherwise …..

Police intelligence seems to be somewhat lacking in this one.  MacIntyre doesn’t take the threats against Alan seriously and the investigating officers, lead by DCS Granger (Roger Blake), appear not to have linked the murder to a feral teenage Manchester gang, all of whom are skilled in the use of firearms.

That Alan and his family are under serious threat is made plain when his younger brother, Jamie (Dean Cook), is kidnapped.  But this is a strange part of the story – you’d assume that Jamie’s abduction would be the lever that forces Alan’s mother, Helen (Eve Bland), to withdraw her elder son from testifying – but not so.  Jamie is discovered, albeit dosed in petrol and traumatised, unhurt.

We never find out why they didn’t hang onto him, as the gang remain nebulous characters, little more than objects of abstract menace.  None of them have names or speaking roles, which skewers the narrative very firmly on the police’s side.  Programmes like The Bill also favoured this storytelling style, but it doesn’t work terribly well here.

Out of the Mouths of Babes continues to develop Worrell’s character – at the start he’s still somewhat emotionally fragile (MacIntyre wonders whether he should have returned at all) but seems to regain his equilibrium as the story progresses.  Most notably, we see how he and Liz form a bond with Alan.

For the first time we also start to probe a little deeper into Liz’s character as she relates the story about how she received a commendation for bravery – but since it concerned the death of her colleague it’s a bitter-sweet remembrance.  There’s another of the series’ action-packed sequences at the conclusion of the episode as the gang – via a forklift truck – force their way into the secure secret location where Worrell and Liz are guarding Alan.  Not much of a secret location then ….

The relative youth of the gang has already been stated, but it’s not been possible to really register this as they’ve been masked in their few, fleeting appearances.  So the moment when Worrell corners one and pulls off his mask only to reveal a child not much older than Alan is a suitably jarring moment.

Although it clips along at a decent pace, not allowing the gang a voice is a problem as is the pre-credits sequence which shows Alan observing the murder.  Since the murderer was masked, how exactly could Alan have identified him?  This is another puzzling part of the story which I’d hope would be addressed, but alas never was.

Bodyguards – A Choice of Evils

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Dusan Mesic (Anton Lesser) is a Bosnian-Serb leader who has come to London in order to participate in the ongoing peace talks.  Worrell is assigned to be his close protection agent, but he’s thrown into a spin when terrorists kidnap his wife, Pat (Kate Fenwick), and daughter, Gemma (Laura Harling).

They plan to assassinate Mesic shortly after he leaves a memorial service held aboard HMS Belfast.  If Worrell leaves enough space for the sniper to take a shot, then his wife and child will be released unharmed – which leaves Worrell with an impossible dilemma, his family or his duty?

Although we’re given a little background about Mesic, both from the man himself and the pair – Ivan (Boris Boscovic) and Marija (Yolanda Vazquez) – holding Pat and Gemma hostage, he’s not the focus of the episode.  Mesic maintains that he wasn’t responsible for the massacre in his home village whilst Ivan and Marija are convinced that he is.  Both Ivan and Marija lost their own children (later discovered in a mass grave) which answers Pat’s question as to how they could threaten a seven year old child like Gemma.  We do learn that Mesic is a skilled and charming politician, but it’s left to the audience to decide whether he personally had blood on his hands.

In many ways, Mesic simply exists in order to provide Worrell with a moral dilemma.  After he’s received the call from Ivan, we see him visibly sag – can he really go through the day pretending nothing has happened, or will he have confide in someone?  The tension is unresolved for a few minutes, but eventually he does speak to MacIntyre.  This then allows the narrative to be split in three directions – Worrell returns to guard Mesic, MacIntyre heads off to locate the sniper’s position whilst Liz and a number of others monitor Pat’s house

Once again, it’s Pertwee who dominates proceedings as events play out to their bleak conclusion.  The sniper is caught and killed before he can make an attempt on Mesic’s life, but when Liz and the others storm the house, Pat is killed in the crossfire.  It’s a jarring moment which causes both Worrell and Liz to reflect on the choices they’ve made.

Liz blames herself for Pat’s death, but then so does Worrell.  The ending, as Worrell comforts a distressed Gemma (reliving her mother’s death), is as downbeat a moment as you could hope for.  Worrell did the right thing professionally, but the personal damage has been immense.

Broadcast a year after the pilot, A Choice of Evils was an arresting way to open the series proper.  It increases Worrell’s emotional baggage and it’ll be interesting to see how this is dealt with as the series progresses.

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Bodyguards – Pilot

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Broadcast in 1996/97, Bodyguards starred Louise Lombard and Sean Pertwee as Close Protection Agents Elizabeth Shaw and Ian Worrell. The opening episode, scripted by series creator, Jeffrey Caine, sets up the series parameters.

Liz Shaw (a nod back to Pertwee Snr’s Doctor Who?) is an experienced protection agent, whilst Ian Worrell is one of a number of new recruits. The newbies are put through the mill by the intimidating Commander Alan MacIntyre (John Shrapnel). MacIntyre’s unorthodox approach is made clear right from the start, after he calmly informs Worrell that he’s placed a bomb under his chair. You might expect that it was a fake bomb, but no – it was real (as demonstrated when it later explodes harmlessly in a sand bucket).

Worrell’s keen, but can he be relied upon? His training results are inconclusive, but MacIntyre takes a chance on him. Pertwee exhibits a nice stillness during these early scenes, his piercing eyes telling their own story.

As might be expected, both Shaw and Worrell are isolated figures – Shaw is cold-shouldered by her old colleagues after she leaves Special Branch to return to protection duties, whilst Worrell takes a call during training which quickly sketches out the fact that he’s divorced/seperated and struggling to maintain a relationship with his young child.

Plenty of familiar faces appear in this opening episode. Josette Simon (Blakes 7) and Stefan Kalipha (For Your Eyes Only) guest star as two foreign VIP’s who come under the protection of Shaw and Worrell. The likes of Geoffrey Beevers, Julian Coy, Trevor Cooper and Terence Harvey also pop up.

Although billed first, Lombard somewhat plays second fiddle in this one to Pertwee – Worrell’s journey from loose cannon to trusted team member is the main focus of the pilot. Shrapnel, as the uncompromising MacIntyre (he threatens horrible reprisals to the first person to call him “guv”!) impresses hugely. And there’s plenty of action, explosions and gunfire along the way. A solid opener.

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