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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Action > Mystery > Espionage > British TV > Department S – 30th Anniversary Special Edition 7-DVD Set (1969 – 1970/British Spy TV/Umbrella Entertainment/Region Zero/PAL)

Department S – 30th Anniversary Special Edition 7-DVD Set (1969 – 1970/British Spy TV/Umbrella Entertainment/Region Zero/PAL)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Episodes: B



PLEASE NOTE: This DVD can only be operated on machines capable of playing back DVDs that can handle Region Zero/0 PAL format software and can be ordered from our friends at Umbrella Entertainment at the website address provided at the end of the review.



With The Avengers the biggest hit of all the television Spy series, it become the most imitated series of the 1960s, give or take the Adam West Batman.  When it came to spy shows in particular, they all wanted to be The Avengers and one in particular was so obviously intent on it that it managed to be the best of the imitators.  It helped that some of the talent from The Avengers (namely the final season with Linda Thorson) was also involved in Department S, a hit series about a special unit in France’s Interpol (a country where the Tara King Avengers was as popular as it deserved to be) that investigated unusual cases.  The other forerunner of The X-Files besides Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the series had a trio of investigators and yet another higher-up they reported to, but with some differences.


Rosemary Nichols (sporting a black hairdo similar to Thorson’s Tara King on The Avengers, though her fighting skills are far from her counterpart’s abilities) played super-reference investigator Annabelle Hurst, Joel Fabian played partner Stewart Sullivan who was more than able-bodied enough to handle himself physically and Peter Wyngarde played Jason King, a writer who lived the adventures he wrote about.  He was not a relative of Tara King from The Avengers, produced by a different company.  The result was some interesting chemistry that lasted the whole run of the show until it played itself out.  They would sometimes report to Sir Curtis Secrete (Dennis Alba Peters in a groundbreaking role for a black actor) who was a federal official.  You would rarely see that on The Avengers, but one not overdone here like similar Mother/Alexander Waverly-type characters that can slow down the narrative too often.


The Tara King episodes are indeed the ones this series is especially interested in being like, as if the participants from that show felt their ideas were not being fully realized or being held back by the world already established on that show.  It can be no unlike Space: 1999 in its first season when it had no qualms looking similar to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet still being its own kind of separate world.  Sometimes the places where the crimes take place are overused (airports, for example) making the shows less memorable and separate than The Avengers, Mission: Impossible or even Man From U.N.C.L.E. (all reviewed elsewhere on this site), but Department S holds its own and has not been seen in the U.S for decades.  A typical show will have memory lapses and/or time lapses that seem fantastic, but turn out to be a trick by villains up to no good.  Can the team stop the evil plot?  It is very good at this and smarter than you think.  All 28 hour-long shows are here and they are some of the best Action/Spy TV you have likely not seen or seen in a long time being only available in Europe and Australia.


As the titles are part of the mystery puzzle of each show, we’ll only reveal the highlights of the guest cast of whom include Peter Bowles, Bernard Horsfall, Patricia Hanes, Simon Oates, Bill Nagy, Richard Vernon, Jeremy Young, Anton Rodgers, Basil Dignam, Stratford Johns, Dawn Addams, Neil McCallum, Sue Lloyd, David Sumner, Paul Stassino, Edward De Souza, Michael Godfrey, Isla Blair, David Prowse, Alan MacNaughtan, Kate O’Mara, Adrienne Corri, Eric Pohlmann, Angela Lovell, David Kelsey, Nik Zaran, Michael Gothard, Eric Lander, Eddie Byrne, Kieron Moore, Barbara Murray, Alan Lake, David Bauer, Fiona Lewis, Michael Gwynn, Patricia English, Leslie Sands, Derek Newark, Lois Maxwell, Donald Houston, John Nettleton, Tony Selby, Duncan Lamont, Guy Rolfe, Cyril Luckham, Jean Marsh, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, Sue Gerrard, Robert Urquhart, Ann Bell, Iain Cuthbertson, Patricia Donahue, Lee Montague, Frederick Jaeger, Michael Griffiths, Ronald Lacey, Patrick Mower, Pippa Steel, Pamela Ann Davey, Sandor Eles and Anthony Hopkins.


Another Monty Berman/Dennis Spooner creation, the show was blatant in and made no apologies in being like The Avengers, but was in a more realistic world to the extent that these are more like police procedurals and outright mystery tales than action spy tales that build into something more fantastic with such a world to match.  Some may feel that does work, others will not, but I like both series very much and feel both are underrated; I am referring to the Tara King Avengers as the earlier Diana Rigg/Emma Peel shows are universally considered the classic episodes of the series.  Whatever the original approach of Department S, it manages to develop into its own show just the same and that is why it is such a welcome, enduring Spy TV series whose DVD availability is something to be very happy about.



The 1.33 X 1 color PAL image very looks good for its age, with very limited color variance between episode transfers and making one want to see a film print or HD Blu-ray version.  The show was shot in 35mm film and looks top rate like the best ITC/Lew Grade productions.  Frank Watts was Director of Photography on the show and he made it look really good, as he always did, while Brian Elvin also lensed some shows that also turned out very well.  Color is very consistent and nice, but the blue in the opening and especially closing credits can be grey on some prints.  Still, that is a minor complaint for how good these shows really look.  Some shots are even demo quality for the format which would rate it higher than our average grade above.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (miscredited as Dolby 1.0 on the package) also sounds good for its age including the dialogue, sound effects and memorable instrumental theme song by Edwin Astley, usually sounding very clean and clear throughout.  This is one of Astley’s best theme songs.


Extras are many and besides the great box art (which is competitive with the many clever designs for home video versions of this show going back to VHS) offers trailers for other ITC/Umbrella DVD releases, guest cast profiles, various production notes, original ITC pressbook text inside each case and rare stills on all seven main DVDs.  Besides a mini-reproduction booklet with the set, DVD 1 adds a reprint of the ITC pressbook in miniature inside the DVD case, Wyngarde commentary on episode #4, DVD 2 adds UK/US promotion for the show, DVD 3 adds a trailer for the show and isolated music and sound effects on Episodes #9 & 10 though volume tends to be lower than expected so be careful upon playback of the shows and DVD 7 adds Wyngarde introducing episode #26 in which Anthony Hopkins guest stars.  That is a partial audio commentary track.  In all, this is a great, involving set of extras and will remind those lucky enough to get their hands on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. DVD set how much fun such extras can be.


Instead of continuing the show as it was and likely realizing the show had run its course in content, Wyngarde’s character was spun off onto his own show.  Jason King had the writer/agent leaving Department S and going out on his own.  Not helping was how the Stewart Sullivan character was being underwritten in the end, making him seems more shrill than he was meant to be, or that Annabelle Hurst did no learn enough self-defense or show it, ruining any character trajectory.


You can read our coverage on Jason King at this link:






As noted above, you can order this PAL DVD import exclusively from Umbrella at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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