Robert Vaughn, who has died aged 83, was one of the good guys. After becoming a familiar face in a string of movies during the early 60s – most notably the classic western, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ – he ascended to international household name status with his role as Napoleon Solo in the iconic 60s US TV Spy series, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’. Running from 1964-68, it capitalised on the success of the Bond movies; Ian Fleming even contributed to the formation of the series, one of the last creative projects he was involved in. Starring alongside expat Brit David McCallum as Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin, Vaughn had found a well-paid steady job, yet potentially jeopardised his newfound fame and fortune by being one of the first star names in the States to speak out against American involvement in Vietnam, long before it was fashionable to do so.
The tide of popular opinion regarding Vietnam turned Vaughn’s way in the late 60s and his career wasn’t damaged by his brave stance. He played a memorable part in the legendary Steve McQueen movie ‘Bullitt’, and in the early 70s he decamped to the UK to take the lead role of Harry Rule in the last of the great ITC series, ‘The Protectors’. Co-starring Nyree Dawn Porter and Tony Anholt, ‘The Protectors’ was produced by Gerry Anderson for Lew Grade’s stable and despite following the flamboyant formula of escapism laid out by the likes of ‘Jason King’ and ‘The Persuaders’, it was fairly unique in its novel use of genuine European locations (rather than the standard ITC stock footage), and boasted one of the best theme tunes of its era in the Tony Christie-sung ‘Avenues and Alleyways’.
Vaughn remained in demand even at a relatively late stage of his career, starring for eight years in the noughties BBC series ‘Hustle’ and even appearing in ‘Coronation Street’ shortly afterwards. His death, announced the same day as that of Leonard Cohen (the two were born just a couple of years apart) is one more to add to a depressingly lengthening list this year, one more individual who I never personally met but whose earlier work impinged upon my consciousness, leaving residue that continues to provide curious comfort in ways that I can’t seem to find elsewhere.
Although not able to access the likes of Netflix myself, I have friends who can and who are kind enough to download the best of contemporary television such as ‘Black Mirror’ or ‘Broad City’ onto memory sticks that enable me to tune into the kind of shows mainstream TV has opted out of. I like them a lot, but the majority of my leisure viewing time tends to drift towards television featuring actors who are dead and grace my screen like the cathode ray ghosts they now are. There’s something about archive TV that has an extra magical element woven into it, something the new naturally cannot possess. I suspect it’s the association with the world we inhabited as children or the mystique of the one before we were born, a world we will never inhabit again, but one we can partially revisit by peering through a two-dimensional window. Quite why doing so serves as a visual narcotic in a different century with a different agenda is a strange symptom of this day and age; but it works.
It could be ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ or it could be ‘Man About the House’; it could be ‘The Onedin Line’ or it could be ‘Crown Court’. It’s an ident of a long-gone ITV company, a theme tune, an opening title sequence, a pair of sideburns, a pair of Cuban-heeled boots, a street bereft of parked cars, shop windows with £sd currency emblazoned on the special offer stickers stuck to the panes (or decimal currency with ½p included); it’s also audio – the warm dulcet tones of a Wogan or a Young or even a Bates; it’s unearthed off-air recordings of late night Radio 2 programmes from 1973, with easy listening instrumentals played by the BBC Midlands Light Orchestra direct from Pebble Mill in Birmingham; and that then evokes a now-demolished building whose foyer hosted a lunchtime TV show with avuncular friendly faces like Donny MacLeod, and you remember being sick off school and you can taste the Lucozade as you wait for ‘Mary, Mungo and Midge’. It’s a multitude of Madeleine Moments for the disillusioned and dejected, adrift in a 24-hour sound-bite of fast-food for the head that leaves it cold and empty.
The DVD has been incorporated into the escape pod once reserved for cannabis, alcohol, amphetamines, acid, ecstasy and simple straightforward sleep; and like all of them, it is transitory and temporary. But it keeps me from punching people who deserve it – and those c***s know who they are. I’m not talking about public figures, but nonentities who will never amount to anything due to their crippling mediocrity. They make the lives of those I love miserable, and while my c***s may not be your c***s, we all have them and we all want to unleash our rage upon them. But we don’t. We escape. We preserve our liberty that way and are not incarcerated in the prisons of the state, merely those of our own minds. So, RIP Robert Vaughn and everybody else dead and gone who played a part in something that helps me unwind and escape. You will never know of the service you continue to provide.
© The Editor