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Freewheelers

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5.3/10 TV

Original language(s)  English
No. of episodes  104
First episode date  4 April 1968
Network  ITV
Cast  Jenny Till
7.7/10 IMDb

Country of origin  United Kingdom
No. of series  8
Producer(s)  Chris McMaster
Final episode date  5 May 1973
Number of episodes  104
Location(s)  Southern England, Spain, France, Sweden, Netherlands
Genre  Children's television series
Similar  The Flockton Flyer, Ace of Wands, Follyfoot, Timeslip, The Flaxton Boys

Keith mansfield theme from freewheelers


Freewheelers is a British television series made by Southern Television between 1968 and 1973. It was the brainchild of television producer Chris McMaster, who was aware of the popularity of adult action series such as The Avengers and Department S amongst teenagers and saw the potential of a version aimed at a younger audience. In 2010, reruns of Freewheelers were being shown on the British satellite television channel Film 24.

Contents

Freewheelers teenage carnival


Plot

In the opening story three young people become caught up in the plans of ex-Nazi officer Karl von Gelb to "reverse the verdict of the last war" and inflict revenge on his former enemies. Under the direction of Colonel Buchan of MI5 the trio thwart von Gelb's scheme to launch Polaris missiles on London from a captured nuclear submarine. This set the template for future stories with the teenagers regularly preventing von Gelb from carrying out massive and ingenious threats to Britain's security.

Background and production

The format of fast paced action and outdoor locations was enormously successful and the programme enjoyed a large home audience as well as gaining overseas sales. In colour from the fourth series, location filming moved out of the South of England with scenes shot in Spain and Majorca. Future locations would include Amsterdam, Sweden and the Ard├Ęche.

High-tech gadgets were a regular component, often machines developed for peaceful purposes seized by the villain and turned to criminal use. Whole teams of scientists were also regularly kidnapped and induced into building similar gadgets. Devices for changing the weather, controlling minds and melting metal at great distances all featured.

Strong incidental and closing music by Laurie Johnson and a memorable theme tune, the Carnaby Street Pop Orchestra's "Teenage Carnival" composed by Keith Mansfield, helped maintain the momentum and Von Gelb's appearances were invariably accompanied by stirring passages from Wagner's Ring Cycle.

The frequent waterborne sequences of the programme were recorded using Southern Television's unique marine outside broadcast unit known as Southerner, which also doubled as von Gelb's ship.

The children's magazine Look-in featured a weekly cartoon strip of Freewheelers and two new stories by Alan Fennell were published in paperback in 1972.

Cast and characters

Ronald Leigh-Hunt as the British secret service agent Colonel Buchan was the most regular cast member, appearing in series 1-4 and series 6. In 1971 he had a major part in the feature film Le Mans and when production of that overran by two months he was unavailable for series 5, the absence of his character from the series being explained as an overseas mission.

The teenagers, almost invariably referred to as "the kids", varied over the years. The original lineup consisted of Tom Owen, Mary Maude and Gregory Phillips. Chris Chittell featured in series 2 and 3 and Adrian Wright played Mike Hobbs in four later series. Former Doctor Who companion Wendy Padbury joined the cast in series 5 as art student Sue Craig. Her youthful looks enabled her to portray a character several years her junior although by the final series, with the actress in her mid-twenties and at the time married to actor Melvyn Hayes, careful camera angles were required to conceal an advancing pregnancy.

Initially Geoffrey Toone played the resident villain Karl von Gelb, however as a result of the sale of the programme to West Germany references to the character's Nazi past were dropped in series 3. From series 4 the character was replaced by a succession of similarly crazed criminal masterminds, notably Jerome Willis as Professor Nero and Commander Caine played by Kevin Stoney. The criminals were aided by various henchmen, perhaps most memorably by Ryan (Richard Shaw) and the beret wearing Burke (Michael Ripper) in series 5 and 6.

Episodes

A total of 104 episodes over 8 series were made. The first five series were all wiped by Southern but telerecordings of series 1 and a single episode from series 2 survive. The final three series (6-8) exist in various formats.

DVD releases

A Region 2 DVD release of series 6 was made in April 2009.

References

Freewheelers Wikipedia