The Baron (1966-67), is an entertaining, action-packed series that delivers excitement and thrills, in much the same style as The Saint. The program was produced by Britain's Incorporated Television Company (ITC), whose credits at this time included The Saint, Danger Man, and supermarionation programs like The Thunderbirds, and Fireball XL5. What made The Baron unusual, was that it featured an American actor, Steve Forrest, as its star.
John Mannering, nicknamed `The Baron', was originally a creation of British mystery writer John Creasy. Mannering was British, but for television, ITC changed him to a Texas cattle 'baron', who owned antique shops in London, Paris, and Boston. The series ran for just one season, producing 30 episodes, and was the first ITC production featuring live actors, to be shot in color. Like The Saint, The Baron was also distributed in the US, but because of poor ratings, was not renewed for a second season.
This was unfortunate, as the tall and handsome Forrest clearly demonstrated that an American could perform as a lead in a British action series, with dashing coolness, comparable to Roger Moore. Forrest, is physically a little smaller than Moore, but with fiery blue eyes, a similar wardrobe, and slicked back hair, there is more than a passing resemblance between the two. Forrest has a serious, tough, attitude which differs from the mischievous charm that Roger Moore brought to Simon Templar. The Saint and The Baron, have an extremely similar look, feel, and sound, as Edwin Astley, who provided the music for Danger Man and The Saint, also did the same for The Baron. Long time partners Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman co-created The Baron. Their partnership split, with Baker continuing to work on The Saint, and Berman taking control of The Baron.
Being an antique dealer, proves to be a gateway to thrilling adventure, as Mannering becomes embroiled in a variety of intrigue, with no shortage of mystery, murder, greedy villains, and beautiful women. Mannering mainly moves in the upper echelons of society, and though based in England, also travels to exotic locations. Mannering operates with the help of his associate David Marlowe (Paul Feriss), who is later replaced by Cordelia Winfield (Sue Lloyd, The Ipcress File), a government agent.
Mannering blends in wherever he goes, and has a fair for physical action. His car, a Jensen CV8 Mark II, has the personalized license plate 'BAR1', and is equipped with a car phone, quite an exclusive accessory for 1966. The Baron is a more action oriented program, with a higher level of violence, and use of firearms (many with silencers!), than either The Saint or Danger Man. Dead bodies stack up like cordwood.
The series features some of Britain's best acting talent. Lois Maxwell, Sylvia Syms, Annette Andre, Jane Merrow, Yvonne Furneaux, Bernard Lee, Jeremy Brett, Mike Pratt, Joseph Furst, Anton Diffring, Edward Woodward, Vladek Sheybal, Kenneth J. Warren, Raymond Huntley, Sam Wannamaker, Walter Gotell, David Bauer, and John Orchard, are among the many familiar faces.
The stories usually concern crime, intrigue, or espionage, as John Mannering tangles with crooks, criminals, and agents of foreign governments. The tone of the program changes after Cordelia Winfield replaces David Marlowe as Mannering's sidekick, as her presence helps to soften Mannering's 'all business' attitude. John Mannering isn't one that chases the ladies much, and there is no romance Cordelia. She knows nothing about antiques, but soon becomes a competent aide. On the flip side, as the series progresses, although a government agent, she seems to become less capable physically, and frequently is captured or needs rescuing.
Under the supervision of Terry Nation, the quality of the writing is very good. The action is lively, set in a wide variety of places, and with a very high level of violence. The stories don't repeat themselves, but the series has a few amusing clichés, that seem to be favored by the writers. The biggest, is the ubiquitous use of silencers. Others include cars flying off cliffs, bodies dropping from buildings, corpses falling out of closets, Cordelia's fainting spells, car crashes, and people overhearing conversations at doorways.
Image quality is probably about as good as it gets for an ITC series of this era, although the colors are rather flat. There isn't much dirt or print damage, but there is some softness, strange color shifts (typical for ITC), and most things shot at night look pretty dreadful. Except for long shots, Forrest is rarely doubled, and does most of his own stunts and fights.
The Baron is a tough, solid, action series, that almost always packs a wallop. Steve Forest's performance as an American who never seems out of place, at any level of British society, is impressive and convincing. Unfortunately Forrest is not featured in any of the extras, however Sue Lloyd and others in the production team, provide commentary for three of the episodes. For straight ahead no nonsense action, The Baron is one of ITE's best, and this eight DVD set is definitely recommended to fans of 1960's crime dramas. Steve Forrest would later star in the police drama SWAT (1975).