Updated Sunday 15 May, 2011 12:18 PM

   Headlines  |  Alternate Histories  |  International Edition

Home Page


Alternate Histories

International Edition

List of Updates

Want to join?

Join Writer Development Section

Writer Development Member Section

Join Club ChangerS


Chris Comments

Book Reviews


Letters To The Editor


Links Page

Terms and Conditions



Alternate Histories

International Edition

Alison Brooks



Other Stuff


If Baseball Integrated Early


Today in Alternate History

This Day in Alternate History Blog








Shaken, Not Stirred:

How A British Secret Agent Became An American TV Icon


By Chris Oakley

Part 6


adapted from material previously posted at Othertimelines.com





Summary: In the previous five installments of this series we recalled the creation of Quinn Martin’s 007 TV series; its evolution into a worldwide pop culture phenomenon; the way life intersected with art for the cast of 007 and its spinoff Felix Leiter during the Cuban missile crisis; the introduction of Roger Moore as Sean Connery’s successor as James Bond; some of the parodies and imitators 007 inspired; the more somber mood which the series took on after Ian Fleming’s death; the controversy that greeted ABC’s decision to cancel Leiter; and the debut of Janet Munro as Trevor Howard’s successor as M. In this chapter, we’ll see how the series adapted to the changing views of women’s roles in society during the late ‘60s and examine the impact of the Fugitive series finale on pop culture history.


After eight seasons on the air 007 was still going strong in spite of cast changes, seemingly endless protests over its content, and fierce competition from rival shows. In some ways, in fact, it was an even better series than it had been during the original cast’s heyday. Still there was a sense among Quinn Martin’s production team that it might be time to start considering life after 007; budget and salary costs for the series were climbing steadily upward and there were no guarantees the show would be renewed after the 1967-68 season. For that matter, it had taken some delicate contract re-negotiating between ABC and the 007 cast and crew to make sure the series would be on the air for the 1967-68 season.

The debut of 007’s ninth season hinted at a fundamental shift in the show’s portrayal of its female characters, a change influenced by the nascent women’s rights movement which was then just starting to to make itself felt as a major factor in American social and political life. In the ’67-’68 season premiere, titled "On The Burning Deck", Janet Munro’s M would drive most of the story-- which in itself was a sea change for 007 viewers accustomed to seeing Bond or one of his male comrades-in-arms hold center stage. Furthermore, "Deck" would be witness to a Bond rarity-- a female character(special guest star Grace Lee Whitney, portraying an NSA decoder) actually turning down 007’s romantic advances.

Some of this was an attempt by Quinn Martin Productions and ABC to capitalize on the latest social trends. But there was also genuine interest among the show’s production team in making the series more female-friendly; demographic research indicated that women in the 25- 40 age range would constitute an increasingly large and important part of the TV viewing audience, and Martin didn’t want to risk alienating potential fans by ignoring some of the more chauvinistic elements of 007’s world.

Yet in spite of all his anxieties about retaining female viewers, Martin actually had a good deal to be pleased about heading into the ’67-’68 TV season. In addition to 007’s continuing success in its time slot, Matt Helm had just been renewed by ABC for two more seasons and the Fugitive series finale was up for Primetime Emmy awards in no less than four different categories...


....which was hardly surprising given the rave reviews which the episode had originally gotten when it aired in late May of 1967. From the opening scene of Richard Kimble slipping back into his hometown under cover of darkness to the closing shot of Kimble and his former police adversary, Lt. Philip Gerard(guest star Barry Morse), making peace with one another at Mrs. Kimble’s grave,1 "The Day The Running Stopped" was unanimously hailed by viewer and critics alike as one of the greatest moments in TV history.

In fact, "Running" set a number of television ratings records; of all the U.S. households that owned TV sets in May of 1967, at least 65 percent had those sets tuned in to the Fugitive series finale, the highest number yet seen up to that time for a single episode of a TV series. It was a mark that would hold up for fourteen years until the CBS prime-time soap Dallas aired its famous "Who Stabbed J.R.?" show in October of 1981. When Fugitive went into syndication, "Running" was among the most popular reruns in most major viewing markets.

A novel based on "Running" was rushed into print in June of 1967 and quickly sold 100,000 copies; there was also a comic book version of the episode and a script adaptation for the stage. When "Running" was aired for the first time on the BBC in October of 1967, it was the third-most watched single TV episode in Britain that year.

When something works for one TV show, others practically trip on their own feet trying to duplicate it; not surprisingly, every other prime-time drama then on the air looked for a way to put its own spin on the main story of "Running". So did a few sitcoms, oddly enough:  the Avery Powers 1967-68 season premiere "The P.U.-gitive" had Powers going underground to clear fellow agent Dickie Thimble(special guest star Joey Bishop) of a bogus murder charge.

Of the four categories in which it was nominated for a Prime Time Emmy, "Running" won in three of those categories. The one award it didn’t get was, ironically, the one it had been most favored to win: it lost in the Best Writing department to Harlan Ellison’s script for the classic Star Trek episode "The City On The Edge Of Forever". But even that minor disappointment couldn’t keep Martin and his team from feeling a justified pleasure at what they’d accomplished in the  past-- or looking forward to what awaited them in the future.

A platoon of new adversaries for Bond was introduced during the ’67-’68 season, and some old foes made eye-popping return appearances.  The most notable of these was in the three-part episode "Precipice", in which Bond reluctantly joined forces with Ernst Stavros Blofeld to stop Hugo Drax from triggering a global nuclear holocaust. The final chapter of the trilogy, which featured Blofeld personally confronting Drax inside Drax’s lair, won its time slot going away and consistently racked up high viewer numbers when it was repeated in syndication in later years.

ABC followed up "Precipice" with "Slender Threads", a one-shot episode inspired by the Israelis’ decisive vanquishing of the Arabs in the Six-Day War six months before the first episode of "Precipice" was broadcast. In "Threads", Bond was dispatched to the Middle East to infiltrate a SMERSH ‘black ops’ cell that was attempting to provoke the Israeli Army into invading Syria and thereby lure it into a trap laid by a secret Soviet commando force waiting near the Syrian border. "Moshe Dayan licked the Arabs in six days," a New York Post TV critic would later quip about the episode, "but James Bond only needed sixty minutes to beat the Russians."

 Bond would return to the Middle East in "With Your Shields", in which the British secret agent was nearly killed thwarting an attempt by rogue SPECTRE agents to assassinate the Israeli prime minister. It was one of the most violent episodes in the show’s entire run; even Quinn Martin himself later acknowledged that some of the more intense scenes should have been toned down. But "Shields" had one important beneficial effect on the future course of the series; Janet Munro’s dialogue in that episode helped win over 007 fans who had previously been skeptical about her selection as the new M.


Another big stepping stone in the evolution of Munro’s M into a bona fide fan favorite was the two-part caper episode "Deadlock", in which M stepped out from behind her desk to personally direct a field operation to break up a SPECTRE-backed art smuggling ring in southern Europe. That episode saw M play out a number of action scenes which rivaled-- and at times surpassed --anything previous major female 007 characters had been involved with.

One sequence which particularly impressed viewers was a head-to-head fight between M and the number two smuggler(played by special guest star Eddie Laskey). It was the first time since joining the 007 cast that Munro had been asked to do a fight sequence, and she did a magnificent job in performing it; in fact, Munro’s execution of the fight sequence in "Deadlock" would later be nominated for a number of stunt choreography awards. Incidentally, "Deadlock" would also earn Munro a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 1968 Primetime Emmy Awards.2 Before long, Munro was getting more fans than any other member of the 007 cast with the exception of series leading man Roger Moore. At hair salons across the country women asked their hairdressers to give them a "Munro" or "M" in imitation of the actress’ hairstyle at the time; some pop culture historians deem the "Munro" craze to be a possible forefather of the "Rachel" fad started by Jennifer Aniston nearly three decades later.

But perhaps Munro’s finest hour that season was in the January 1968 two-part episode "Harvest Sun". In that saga Munro’s character risked her career(not to mention her life) to expose an agricultural sabotage conspiracy threatening Britain’s grain supply; one of the most memorable exchanges of dialogue of the season-- possibly of the entire series --came in the closing minutes of Part 1 of the episode, where M gets into a shouting match with the Foreign Secretary(special guest star Leo McKern) when he urges she not go on any further field missions because the risk of capture or execution is too great. What starts out as a simple recommendation quickly turns into a full-blown debate on the propriety of woman getting involved in dangerous lines of work like espionage, and to say the least Munro’s character does a rather splendid job of defending her position.

In March of 1968, as rumors started to circulate around Hollywood about possible plotlines for the proposed 007 movie and Lyndon Johnson stunned the American public by announcing he would not seek a second term as President, 007 once again went to the Caribbean, this time to pit Bond against a corrupt island police commissioner moonlighting as a drug dealer(portrayed by James Earl Jones) in the episode "Live And Let Die". Even in the relatively permissive cultural atmosphere which prevailed in America in the late ‘60s, the episode still managed to raise a few viewers’ eyebrows, particularly with its frenzied voodoo fire dance sequence midway through the show.3


Two months after "Live" was originally broadcast, millions of TV viewers across America tuned in to watch the 007 season finale "Mohammed To The Mountain". "Mountain" was notable for making two major changes to the Bond universe: one, it saw Greg Morris’ character John Shaft unexpectedly leave the NSA and move back to his old hometown for a new career as a private eye4, and second, it marked the demise of one of the series’ most notorious villains, Hugo Drax.  In a gunfight reminiscent of the Westerns which had dominated the American TV airwaves a decade or so earlier, Bond shot and killed Drax while the sinister genius was trying to escape a British military prison. Rarely since Rosa Klebb’s demise in "You Only Live Twice" had one of 007’s enemies met a more dramatic end-- or a more controversial one, as the 60,000 protest letters sent to ABC by particularly upset viewers would indicate.

Quinn Martin himself had agonized for weeks over the decision to kill off the Drax character. But with 007’s production costs steadily continuing to rise and some ABC executives hinting it might be time to finally cancel the series, Martin had reluctantly concluded that some housecleaning on the show might be in order for the sake of extending its run at least one more season....


To Be Continued



[1] The scene would be re-enacted over a quarter-century later by Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones when the movie adaptation of The Fugitive was released in the early ‘90s.

[2] Munro was narrowly edged out for the award by Agnes Moorehead, who did a guest appearance on Wild Wild West two weeks after “Deadlock” aired.

[3] “Live” also raised some blood pressures; thousands of complaint letters flooded ABC’s offices right after the episode was broadcast, protesting either the fire dance scene’s supposed sexual raunchiness or what some African-American viewers regarded as its racist undertones. At least three black technicians with the show’s production crew threatened to quit over the voodoo segment(and two of them made good on that threat). Quinn Martin would subsequently express regret that the scene had made it into the episode’s final cut, and when 007 went into syndication in the ‘70s the original fire dance scene was replaced with a more toned-down version from an earlier cut of “Live”.

[4] This was to set up the premise for Quinn Martin’s third Bond spinoff, Shaft, which would debut in October of 1968.


Hit Counter