9 British TV shows that made it to America in the 1960s

The British Invasion went beyond the Beatles.

The British Invasion went beyond the Beatles and Herman's Hermits, beyond music in fact. Perhaps more so than any other time, the 1960s saw Americans devouring British pop culture, from Mary Quant's miniskirts to Mary Poppins. James Bond was the king of the big screen and MG advertised its cars in magazines.

Naturally, this carried over to television. The spy craze led to an influx of British television productions on American networks. Here were shows produced in the U.K. on the Big Three networks in primetime. Often, the imports were plugged in as summer replacements. Some of these shows were so massive — or used American actors — it's easy to forget they were English.

Here are nine British shows with their American network and year of U.S. premiere. They were all action series. No comedies made it over the pond to network primetime, because some things just don't translate culturally, despite the fad. In fact, the only thing that didn't seem to click with 1960s Americans (at first) was Monty Python. The comedy troupe's Flying Circus premiered on the BBC in 1969, but would not turn up on PBS for half a decade.

1. The Avengers


ABC, 1966

Though it now struggles against Marvel blockbusters in Google searches, the Avengers were once popular enough to merit its own (and admittedly regretful) cinematic remake in 1998. The sexy, tough Emma Peel and the posh John Steed made for a perfect pair, first appearing together in the fourth season in 1965. ABC paid a handsome $2 million for 26 episodes in 1966, affording the series high production values.

Image: ABC / ITV

2. The Baron


ABC, 1966

Novelist John Creasey cranked out hundreds of books, page-turning adventures with characters like Gideon of Scotland Yard and the Baron. The latter earned a television adaptation with American actor Steve Forrest in the title role as John Mannering, an antiques dealer and undercover agent. Filmed in the U.K., the dialogue was overdubbed to change terms like "petrol" to "gas," etc. Like any good agent, Mannering had an enviable car, a Jensen CV-8 Mk II.

Image: Wikipedia

3. The Champions


NBC, 1968

Why did the title have to cover up Alexandra Bastedo's face in the opening? (Not to mention the other two.) The stunning blond would at least get to show her features on the cover of a Smiths album in 1988. Bastedo, Stuart Damon and William Gaunt starred as a trio of agents for Nemesis, a United Nations intelligence agency based in Geneva. The three trotted across the globe, taking down Nazis and madmen.

Image: Wikipedia

4. Journey to the Unknown


ABC, 1968

Iconic horror house Hammer Film Productions Ltd. turned out this deliciously dark anthology series that featured American stars such as George Maharis and Patty Duke. In the episode "The Last Visitor," Duke plays a woman stalked at a resort. It fits nicely alongside series like Thriller and Night Gallery.

Image: Hammer Film / 20th Century Fox Television

5. Man in a Suitcase


ABC, 1968

When Patrick McGoohan jumped from Danger Man (a.k.a. Secret Agent) to The Prisoner, much of the Danger Man crew shifted to this espionage thriller. Like The Baron, Man in a Suitcase featured an American actor in the lead. Unlike the jet-setting spies of the era, this show's hero, McGill, was pushed into the shadows, a disgraced CIA agent forced to resign and take work where he could find it. With its gray morality and increased violence, this Man was ahead of his time.

Image: Wikipedia

6. The Prisoner


CBS, 1968

The brilliant blend of spy thriller and science-fiction became a cultural touchstone despite lasting a mere 17 episodes. The premise — an agent being held on a mysterious resort island — has been repeated, parodied and referenced countless times over the last half-century. Some fans theorized that McGoohan's character, No. 6, was in fact his earlier character John Drake of Secret Agent/Danger Man. The actor denied it, yet the debate rages on. It is fascinating to view The Prisoner as a Secret Agent sequel.

Image: CBS / ITV

7. The Saint


NBC, 1967

Before Roger Moore slurped his shaken martinis as James Bond, he was another dapper secret agent, Simon Templar. The adventures were based on the Templar novels originally written by Leslie Charteris in the 1920s and '30s. In the early black and white episodes, Moore breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience, though the gimmick was given up when the series went color. In 1997, Val Kilmer starred in a Hollywood remake.

8. Secret Agent


CBS, 1965

Sing along now: "Secret… AY-gent Man! Secret… AY-gent Man!" The twangy Johnny Rivers theme song helped popularize this American retitling of Danger Man, and the tune was later covered by Devo and stuck in the first Austin Powers movie. But this was far more than a catchy song, with McGoohan's John Drake taking on realistic Cold War threats.

Image: CBS / ITV

9. Thunderbirds


Syndicated, 1968

Puppet action! Just how popular were these marionettes? In 2015, Amazon Prime launched a new Thunderbirds Are Go series, though sadly it was computer animated, not controlled by strings. The inventive creation of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson was the Voltron for 1960s kids, mixing the family dynamics of Lost in Space with the low-budget thrills of playing make-believe with dolls. There was some serious special effects talent at work here. Effects director Derek Meddings went on to work on James Bond and Superman films. Miniature models beat CGI every time.

Image: ITC Entertainment

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ArtJaramillo 36 months ago
Everyone thought that Johnny Rivers was singing the lyric "Secret ASIAN Man",right?
jeopardyhead ArtJaramillo 36 months ago
I never thought that was the case, but I eventually noticed that that's how it sounded.
JMichaelCastelluccio 51 months ago
The Prisoner is a MUST see. I have the entire season. Patrick McGoohan was fantastic. After the Prisoner he did an episode of Columbo. He always played some kind of spy, like in Secret Agent. On the Columbo episode he used a lot of the phrases from the Prisoner. He went of do so several Columbo shows and also directed them. He won several Emmy awards for directing. Years ago when I was a kid he was a Disney special called The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. He was the resistance to the British in the Revolutionary War. He was disguised as a Scarecrow. Another Disney series set in the Revolutionary War was The Swap Fox, staring a then dashing Leslie Nielson. I mention this because in Columbo Identity Crisis both actors are in it.
EricFuller 52 months ago
There was an early British TV show called "The Cheaters" that John Ireland starred as an insurance investigator.
Waukegan 52 months ago
Did PBS air any episodes of Dr. Who in the 1960's? I know Monty Python's Flying Circus didn't air until the 1970's even though they premiered on the BBC in 1969 but am thinking Dr. Who was imported in the 60's.
MikeBugal Waukegan 52 months ago
PBS started showing Doctor Who in the mid to late 1970's.
HachikoTelly 52 months ago
I was never into the Thunderbirds TV series. However, I liked Supercar. I believe it came from the same people. That show preceded Thunderbirds ... at least, that's the way I remember it.
Runeshaper 52 months ago
I'm sure I would have liked most to possibly all of these shows! I do remember The Avengers remake in the late 90s. That was pretty cool too!
TCKirkham Runeshaper 52 months ago
Time for brutal honesty - there was NOTHING wrong with "The Avengers" as a film - I remember seeing so many people complaining "oh it's NOTHING like the series" when in fact it was EXACTLY like the series, at least in it's final season, after Linda Thorson replaced Diana Rigg - full of goofy plotlines and science fiction elements; many fans didn't like the series after that point, and it is a key reason why they didn't like the film. Me, I LOVED the film, and i'm a HUGE fan of the original series in all it's incarnations. The only thing I thought out of place was the romantic attraction between Steed and Emma - Emma very much loved her missing hubby in the series, and the film shouldn't have messed with that element. But the rest was right out of the show, in fact, it included several ideas and homages throughout...including Patrick MacNee himself! So I just ignore all the haters about the film - I still think it's great!
Runeshaper TCKirkham 52 months ago
To sum up my response to your reply; "Agreed!" LOL :)
ELEANOR 52 months ago
I didn't really remember any of the shows listed above. HOWEVER, there's one show that we all know very well. Sanford and Son did come over from Jolly Old England. Across the Pond it was known as Steptoe and Son. And the show was based on the problems and difficulties of being not Black but Jewish. And they handled the problems admirably.
Kiyone57 ELEANOR 45 months ago
Sanford and Son was an American adaptation of the original Steptoe and Son. The shows in the article were America aired the original British productions.
ELEANOR Kiyone57 45 months ago
Oddly enough, what was Redd Foxx's real name? It was John Elroy Sanford.
harlow1313 52 months ago
The Avengers had great style. I love Steed's Bentley, Mrs. Peel's leathers, and the off-kilter British humor.
Lillyrose 52 months ago
I haven't seen any of the shows listed. Although, I have heard of The Avengers.
15inchBlackandWhite 52 months ago
How could they leave out Monty Python's Flying Circus? Especially in view of the fact that Terry Jones passed away yesterday.
Moody 15inchBlackandWhite 52 months ago
Monty Python didn't premiere in the states until 1974. The article was about shows from the 1960s.
15inchBlackandWhite Moody 52 months ago
It premiered in Britain in 1968. They need to be a bit more clear.
Moody 15inchBlackandWhite 52 months ago
I thought it was pretty clear. The article is about British Tv shows that made it to America in the 1960s. Monte Python premiered in Britain the 60s but not until the 70s in America.
Moody Moody 52 months ago
I'm not trying to pick a fight just trying to help clarify things.
TCKirkham Moody 52 months ago
Maybe I'm wrong, but I distinctly remember watching MPFC for the first time on our local Ohio PBS station when I was in third grade, and talking to other kids and even teachers about it - that would have been late 1971 or early 1972. Maybe it was available in a handful of places before 1974. Hey I'd never even heard of Doctor Who until 1981, because none of our local stations ran it in Washington, but it was all over TV in Ohio that year, but I know it ran in parts of the US as early as midway through the Pertwee years, which would have been 1972-73.
cperrynaples 52 months ago
How could you talk about Man In A Suitcase and not mention Richard Bradford? He was the reason Americans watched!
MrsPhilHarris 52 months ago
ME please air these shoes, especially The Avengers, The Saint, The Prisoner and my favourite, Thunderbirds!
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MrsPhilHarris AlanRamsey 52 months ago
Thanks for that, but I'm in Canada and we don't get Dish.
MrsPhilHarris Utzaake 52 months ago
The should put it on at 7 pm.
harlow1313 MrsPhilHarris 52 months ago
I often wish I lived in Dog River. Too bad it is fictional...
MrsPhilHarris harlow1313 52 months ago
Love Dog River. Wish I could go to The Ruby for lunch.
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