1 9 6 8 – 1 9 7 3 (UK)
104 x 30 minute episodes
A group of crime-fighting teenagers, the Freewheelers, were called upon on an ad hoc basis by the security services to help out when official channels fail.
Early (black & white) episodes pitted Bill Cowan (Tom Owen), Chris Kelly (Gregory Phillips) and Terry Driver (Mary Maude) against their nemesis Von Gelb (Geoffrey Toone), a cigar-smoking, brandy-drinking, Wagner-loving Nazi war criminal bent on revenge for World War II.
Chris Kelly was replaced in series two by Nick Carter (Chris Chittell) and Jeanne Moody joined the cast as Olga Yevchenko. Von Gelb was removed from the format when West Germany decided to buy the series.
Subsequently, Sue Craig (Wendy Padbury), Mike Hobbs (Adrian Wright) and Steve Walker (Leonard Gregory) were recruited by dashing, debonair MI6 intelligence agent – and master of disguise – Colonel Buchan (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) and his smashing girl assistant, Fiona (Carole Mowlam).
Later episodes featured the brilliant Professor Nero (Jerome Willis) who had found the answer to the world’s food shortage.
He planned to bombard microscopically small animal and vegetable life in the sea with radiation to cause the ocean’s plankton to grow enormously which, in turn, would vastly increase the weight of the fishermen’s catch.
Unfortunately, a radiation accident and government rejection of further financial aid completely changed Nero’s personality and he became a man obsessed with revenge and a single-minded desire to punish the whole world for not realising the potential of his scheme.
“Action is what Freewheelers is all about . . . the snarl of high-powered engines, the stammer of automatic rifles and the shattering roar of a bomb that only just missed blowing the Freewheelers sky high,” read the publicity blurb.
At a time when most children’s television still consisted of studio-bound presentations to the camera, Freewheelers crashed into the kids’ schedules with bone-jarring impact. It was essentially James Bond without the sex or sadism.
Southern TV’s most successful serial ran for 104 episodes (eight series’ of thirteen stories each) between 1968 and 1973. For five years, fleets of sports cars, jeeps, beach buggies, motorboats, warships, tanks and helicopters roared across the small screen, much to the delight of the Action Man generation.
Plots were usually secondary to on-screen action and in later years, plot developments seemed to rely on whichever European country – Spain, Sweden or France – had been persuaded to back the series.
The series relied heavily on Southern’s high-powered, jet-engined outside broadcast boat, Southerner, which was used for newsgathering – although it was first seen as a ‘stunt boat’ in the serial Danger Island (1967). The Southerner captured many high-speed boat chases over the years and even doubled as the villain’s own craft in several episodes.
The theme tune was a piece of stock library music by Keith Mansfield called Teenage Carnival.