The superspy Search engine of the ’70s

It’s 1972. Missions to the moon are still being launched. A space station is about to go into orbit. Live television broadcasts and telephone communications via satellite are becoming commonplace, as are computers capable of handling and sorting immense amounts of information. In this context, the idea of one man, an Aston Martin, and a martini (shaken, but not stirred) standing between the free nations of the world and domination by evildoers seems quaint.

At least that’s the idea in NBC’s Search, a short-lived “spy-fi” series dreamed up by Leslie Stevens, the producer who had brought us The Outer Limits in its original 1960s incarnation. Search involves the top-secret World Security Corporation, evidently a commercial entity with connections in all the right (high) places. Deep inside World Security’s office building lies PROBE Control, a kind of “mission control” guiding the activities of an elite handful of special agents around the globe.

[Via] Warner Archive

Sitting in the big chair at the center of PROBE Control is V.C.R. Cameron (the simply amazing Burgess Meredith), a veteran at the spy game who now turns his expertise toward guiding younger agents in the field. Surrounding “Cam” is a circle of specialists in data retrieval and analysis who, together with PROBE’s amazing computer power, can piece together information on the fly to help agents in the field.
Search - Burgess Meredith

Those agents are themselves called Probes. Each agent has been fitted with an implant that allows them to hear and speak to PROBE Control via satellite, and each agent has a tiny camera, worn either as a pendant or as a ring, allowing PROBE Control to see what they say, analyze things or even people at the spectroscopic level, and monitors and records the agent’s vital signs.

Perhaps most importantly, there’s more than one agent, and an acknowledgement that each Probe needs time off to recover from each taxing adventure. One of three agents leads the charge in each episode: Hugh O’Brian as Lockwood, a.k.a. “Probe One”, the best and brightest of the agents; Anthony Franciosa as Nick Bianco, a.k.a. “Omega Probe”, a former cop with deep knowledge of the criminal underworld; and Doug McClure as the carefree C.R. Grover, the Backup Probe, who gets the assignments no one else wants – or inherits hazardous assignments from Probes who die in the line of duty. (On a purely logistical level, this arrangement would allow for multiple filming crews to be filming multiple scripts at multiple locations, and future-proofs the show against such real-world incidents as a star being hurt…or demanding a larger salary.)

The action starts with the pilot movie PROBE, which aired early in 1972, starring Hugh O’Brian and no less a guest star than Sir John Gielgud. Introducing the show’s jetsetting international scope, flashy stunt work, and the seemingly vast PROBE Control set, the movie can’t have been cheap, but it sets up the concept and some of the characters – and hooked enough viewers to get a go-ahead as a series.

There’s just one problem: PBS was airing a documentary/news series called Probe at the same time, and the producers were asked to change the name of the series when it returned in the fall, hence its rebirth as Search. O’Brian and Burgess Meredith were still aboard, along with many of the same actors who played the PROBE Control computer operators, but O’Brian began rotating episodes more or less evenly with Franciosa and McClure, and the settings changed drastically from week to week.

Search is fun in that early ’70s gotta-have-a-car-chase-if-it’s-on-TV kind of way. Each of the leading men have their own quirks and charms (though Franciosa, as Nick Bianco, emerges as an early favorite just for his character’s Rat-Pack-worthy swagger), and Burgess Meredith anchors each episode, providing his trademark good-natured crankiness.

And that awesome spy tech? The funny thing is, in this world of the internet and cell phones (and, yes, cell phones that can get on the internet), Search’s technology is just now landing this side of the “plausible” line. In 1972, the technology depicted, and its abilities, were pure science fiction, an attempt to transplant the NASA technology that everybody had seen get men to the moon into a spy thriller setting.

After decades of obscurity and being forgotten, Search is back, with the full series available on DVD. PROBE is available on its own disc. It may not be worthy of binge watching as we now know it, but it’s fun to watch an episode now and again. And how did Search fans enjoy the show after it played on their local NBC stations? Believe it or not…there was an official set of Search ViewMaster reels…because nothing is more fun for kids than reliving Hugh O’Brian stoically putting down a terrorist plot!

As cool as that is, however, Search – and its whistle-able theme song and neat spy tech – signed off after a single season. Over the course of its months on the air, the expense of mounting weekly international spy capers (even if “international” meant “Hollywood backlot”) was evidently getting to be a bit much, as PROBE Control shrinks noticeably as the show wears on.

Had the show stayed on for a second year, it would seem like getting the three leading men together, either for a one-off mission to save the world, or as part of an all-hands PROBE effort to stop some global scheme, would’ve been a no-brainer for a sweeps month – kind of like doing Doctor Who’s celebrated Five Doctors episode in year two instead of year 20.

Is this one of those underground classics that needs a modern reboot? Should the Search continue? Seek out the original and judge for yourself.

Do You Know That Daniel Craig Was In A 1993 Episode of Zorro?!

When I was growing up I was always a fan of comic books. Captain America and Batman being two of my favorites as a kid. So is it any real surprise that when my Father told me about the 1957 Walt Disney Zorro TV series that I totally became interested in all things regarding “Zorro, the fox so cunning and free.”?

[Via] Free Dog Shampoo

Thankfully for myself I was eventually able to see that wonderful TV series when the Disney Channel had one of their free weekends back in the early ’80s. I honestly loved it, Guy Williams (Lost in Space) performance as the leisurely Don Diego de la Vega is fantastic, especially considering his very real athleticism and skill with a blade as Zorro that was on display each episode.

[Via] Board Uploads

So imagine my delight when I learned back in 1990 that the Family Channel was bringing a new Zorro series to television, one that starred Duncan Regehr (Dracula from 1987’s The Monster Squad) as both Don Diego and his costumed alter ego. Batman had come out just a year earlier so the timing was perfect to bring to a new audience Johnston McCulley’s 1919 literary character…one that obviously had an influence in the creation of Batman.

[Via] Zorro2850

Which leads us to this clip from the fourth season episode entitled “Death and Taxes” that originally aired on January 16, 1993 that just happens to feature future James Bond star, Daniel Craig, as the villainous Lt. Hildago.
Zorro - Daniel Craig

[Via] larry

This video says that it’s Daniel Craig’s first role but that actually was in 1992 when he appeared in The Power of One, I also need to point out that in that same year he appeared in the pilot episode of Covington Cross…as a guard on the walkway. At least in that role he didn’t get the sign of the Z carved into his clothing!

What Was Popular In 1966’s Popular Science? Bond. James Bond.

Thanks to Retro Art Blog, a couple of months ago I received a wonderful package containing many…well…retro items. Like this January issues of Popular Science from 1966 focusing on “The Weird World of Inventions in Thunderball”.

Desmond Llewelyn showing off some of the equipment he has brought from Q branch!

Desmond Llewelyn showing off some of the equipment he has brought from Q branch!

The article focused on some of the more exciting inventions that Bond uses in the movie to battle Emilio Largo, SPECTRE’s number two, and his army of minions.
Thunderball 1
Popular Science - Thunderball - 1966
Thunderball 2

[Via] Movieclips Trailer Vault

Popular Science 1
Also in the magazine you could find articles on choosing the right brand of motor oil, how to get more life out of your vehicle’s battery, how to humidify your home, sightings of a UFO by MacKinlay Kantor, and if Front-Wheel Drive is really for you.

The name is Sage. Vic Sage.

A View To A Kill: The Extended Mix

A View To A Kill by Duran Duran

I’m a massive fan of all things James Bond, and this love of 007 definitely extends to the music and theme tunes of the numerous film offerings. Thanks to my 80’s childhood, when it came to Duran Duran taking on A View to a Kill, I was singing along in 1985 and my purchase of the 7″ single helped propel the song towards the top of the charts.

I learned recently that the band also produced a 12″ extended mix of the titular track, but it went unreleased thanks to bass player John Taylor. According to the MI6 HQ website, Taylor wanted to ‘keep a certain purity’ to the original and that was that, the track vanished for almost 30 years.

Until now. Here is the full 7:30 mix, courtesy of TheOWF on YouTube:

The song is obviously good enough to listen to it twice, so treat yourself to the original video too:

And I’ll finish with an interesting fact from Wikipedia; Shirley Bassey covered the song for an album of Bond theme songs, however, she wasn’t satisfied with the quality, so the album was withdrawn from sale. You can hear the track over on Youtube!

James Bond Action Pen & Vaper Paper

Action Pen and Vaper Paper

Ignoring the dubious spelling of ‘vapor’, this 1965 James Bond set from the American Character company is one of the coolest 007 gadgets I’ve ever seen. You can never go wrong with a spy pen, especially one that fires projectiles and doubles as an alert whistle!

This video also includes the expanded pack which adds to the fun with a spy ring and ID bracelet!

The real gimmick here though isn’t the pen, it’s the paper. As you’ll see in the video, once you’ve written your secret messages, you can place the paper in a cup of water and marvel as it disintegrates. Fantastic stuff until you realise that once it’s gone, you can’t drink the water and you can no longer write a further message. Ah well, you’ve still got that pen!