Charlie’s Angels’ all-American, all-women action team was a runaway success on British small screens from 1 977 to 1 982, but it was not until 1985 that ITV chiefs realised a similar formula was missing from home-grown product.
Enter the stiff-upper-lipped British version, C.A.T.S. Eyes: three gun-toting action women with a suitable history and sufficiently sensible hairstyles for native taste.
The trio worked for the Eyes Enquiry Agency – on the surface a run-of-the-mill investigation outfit, but actually a cover for the top-secret Home Office security squad known as C.A.T.S. (Covert Activities Thames Section). Leader of the three was Pru Standfast,a tall Oxford University graduate (and former student union president) with a War Office background.
Also on board was Maggie Forbes, played byjill Gascoine. Widowed ex-detective Forbes – with eighteen years’ police experience under her belt, five of them in CID – had been Britain’s first policewoman star in her own ITV series The Gentle Touch.
As well as her all-action job, as loyal viewers knew, Forbes had plenty of problems at home bringing up a teenage son single-handed. The third member of the team, and the youngest, was Frederika ‘Fred’ Smith, played by Leslie Ash.
Smith’s dual talents were driving at breakneck speed and a precocious flair for computers which had attracted attention in the Civil Service. Helping the women with their investigations was ‘man from the ministry’ Nigel Beaumont, their link to those in command.
The series was set up by a 90-minute pilot, ‘Goodbye Jenny Wren’, written by creator Terence Feely, in which Maggie Forbes joins the team on the day Jenny Cartwright, another team member, is killed.
From then on jewels, foreign scoundrels, the Mafia and Triads routinely supplied the cases, with specifically female interest supplied by a marriage racket using Asian girls, a woman terrorist, and (in season two) the need for Tessa Robinson to go undercover as a club barmaid while Maggie took the spotlight and sang the blues.
C.A.T.S. Eyes’ ratings never compared with those of glitzy precursor Charlie’s Angels, although season one was quality fare with high-calibre writers, directors and theme music (composed by John Kongos).
From season two on, however, there were major changes both in front of the camera (Maggie Forbes was promoted to leader and Pru Standfast was replaced by Tessa Robinson) and behind. Producers relied on an inferior creative team (and even a different theme tune), and the compromise was all too apparent on screen.
UK / ITV – TVS / 30×60 minute episodes / Broadcast 12 April 1985 – 6 June 1987
Creator: Terence Feely / Theme Music: John Kongos / Executive Producer: Rex Firkin
Jill Gascoine as Detective Inspector Maggie Forbes
Leslie Ash as Fred Smith
Don Warrington as Nigel Beaumont
Rosalyn Landor as Pru Standfast (season 1)
Tracy-Louise Ward as Tessa (season 2)