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Friday, 15 April 2016

A 5D love letter to the Six Million Dollar Man

When I was 9 or 10 years old my parents finally succumbed to my never ending pestering for a guitar. You see, even at that early age I had pretensions of being the next Jimmy Page, the next guitar rock god. I can't quite remember how long I moaned and sulked to get my very own instrument, but knowing me it was probably for a good few months that they had to endure it all until one Christmas, Santa did his thing. That brand new acoustic guitar was my immediate pride and joy - my dreams of conquering the music world had begun.

As it turns out those dreams eventually turned to dust as to soon it became abundantly clear that I had practically no discernible talent when it came to playing the guitar. In fact I was, and still am, bordering on the wrong side of atrocious in my playing. My childhood dreams of being a rock god lead guitarist were shattered beyond all redemption forever.

And it's all the fault of The Six Million Dollar Man. Yes, that's right  - Steve Austin stopped my from being the next Jimmy Page.

At the same time the guitar was delivered to me a worldwide television phenomenon was in full force with the tales of Steve Austin, Oscar Goldman, Jamie Sommers et al. The Six Million Dollar Man had been gracing British TV for a couple of years, and to say that for me and my close circle of friends it had become something of an obsession would a huge understatement. The programme had also found itself to be a bona fide cultural phenomenon; the requisite edition figure (which I proudly owned) seemed to be everywhere, the term 'bionic' became part of normal everyday conversation and the phrase 'we can rebuild him, we have the technology' was muttered even by politicians. Not only that, but wherever you looked kids under the age of 14 seemed to only ever run in slow motion whilst trying to make some strange metallic whooshing sound in their throats when they jumped or lifted anything - it was all so very bizarre.

My friends and I were no exception with our making use of every school break for the mandatory reenactments of the previous weeks episode - all including the inevitable bouts of slow motion running, jumping from (not very) large heights and holding a hand over one eye as we stared into the distance (all of which were accompanied by the strange whooshing noises). 

Good looking, charismatic, stylish....... well enough about me, 
here's Lee Majors as the Bionic Man
It didn't all run smoothly for us though, we all wanted to be the Bionic Man and none of the boys wanted to be the Bionic Woman - though eventually we did manage to press gang one of the girls in our class to be Jamie Summers. So we all became Steve Austin. I often wonder what visitors from another world would have made of their first view of the children of this part of planet Earth, none of them able to run faster than slow-motion. It must have been a bizarre sight.

Anyhoo, back to the Bionic man being responsible for my guitar rock god career crashing and burning before it ever really began. The fabulous Christmas present from my parents of the guitar also came with something to else, a dozen Guitar lessons form a local trained musician - nice! Well except for the fact it wasn't. The problem was that the lessons had to take place after school, on the one day of the week that the musician could fit me in..........At 6.30, to finish at 7.30........On the other side of town.......... Driven by my dad (the slowest driver in the whole of Christendom)........But it was also the night of The Six Million Dollar Man............ I would miss the first 10 minutes - maybe more if Captain Slow decided to well and truly live up to his name. 

Now before you kids out there ask about recording the show etc etc....... This was the mid-1970's baby, well before the Anderson family could afford such luxuries and witchcraft as a video recorder. I know that in these after wonderful streamingly binging days of rarely watching TV live this may seem like the dark ages, in some ways it was. If you missed a programme, there was no catch-up on line alternative....... In others words, you were buggered.

It was a quandary. On the one hand my parents had paid in advance for 12 (and not inexpensive) guitar lessons, plus things had been made even worse as my school teacher had arranged for me to play in front of the class on completion of the said lessons - no pressure then. On the other hand, my 10 year old Bionic world was about to crash and burn around my ears. There was no option except for me to suck it up and get on with the lessons. I managed this for two or three weeks, but it was horrible, as all I could think about during the lesson was getting home in time for the programme to start - and the panic that came with it knowing I wouldn't make it, no matter how many 'quick' routes home I devised for my dad to drive. 

Courtesy of
It wouldn't have been so bad an experience I suppose if for the fact that The Six Million Dollar man contained perhaps THE iconic opening intro sequence ever, and  one that people immediately still think of in connection with the show. In the days before that very first episode, whispers had abounded at school about this great new scifi show which was coming over from the States. Again to remind you, this was a lifetime before the trailer rich online teasers we enjoy today, all we had were a few magazine snippets here and there and the word of mouth (we had though moved on from using carrier Pigeons)..... So when I sat down with my best mate to watch this new show, we were mildly excited. By the time the opening credit sequence had finished we were practically uncontrollable with hyperactive hysteria.

The opening is pure genius and is still regarded as a template for programme makers. It uses real footage of a Northrop M2-f2 crash (the 1967 crash that nearly killed pilot Bruce Peterson and had acted as the inspiration for the original novel, Cyborg), Interspersed with authentic NASA type dialogue between Austin and mission control. After which comes the voice-over from Richard Anderson..........stunning, simply stunning.  It's a showcase example of intro perfection, in little under a minute and a half, a biography of a crash victim and an introduction into the world of bionics was expertly crafted, all wrapped up in a stunning musical soundtrack. 

It still gives me goosebumps even now...... even just here in it's raw dialogue form.

"It looks good at NASA One." Flight Com
"Roger." B-52 Pilot
"BCS Arm switch is on." B-52 Pilot
"Okay, Victor." Flight Com
"Landing Rocket Arm switch is on." B-52 Pilot
"Here comes the throttle." B-52 Pilot
"Circuit breakers in." B-52 Pilot
"We have separation." Steve
"Roger." SR-71 pilot
"Inboard and outboards are on." B-52 Pilot
"We're comin' forward with the side stick." B-52 Pilot
"All looks good." Flight Com
"Ah, Roger." B-52 Pilot
"I've got a blow-out in damper three!" Steve
"Get your pitch to zero." SR-71 pilot
"Pitch is out! I can't hold altitude!" Steve
"Correction, Alpha Hold is off. . . Trim selector is emergency!" B-52 Pilot
"Flight Con! I can't hold it! She's breaking up, she's break—" Steve

Narrator (Harve Bennett): "Steve Austin. Astronaut. A man barely alive."

Oscar Goldman: "Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better ... stronger ... faster."

Now have a look for yourself.....

So what made this show so special for it not only to be a ratings hit for the majority of it's original five series, but to become such a cultural phenomena?

Well for a start it had a leading man who for a time represtend the 1970's zeitgeist, Lee Majors was good looking and insanely charismatic - and not only that but he was married to Farrah Fawcett! Talk about the golden couple, and for a time until she dumped him for his best mate, the darlings of the press. Every man and boy wanted to be him, and many of us dreamt about being with her..... but that's another, ahem, less savoury story.

In addition, the characterisations were given a detailed level of layered texture and richness that up until that time had often been avoided by such genre shows. It's not often that a supporting character can come close to up-staging the lead, but in the case of Richard Anderson's portrayal of Austin's boss, Oscar Goldman we had an intelligent, warm and often humorous personality. The interplay between Anderson and Majors was always a joy.

The lovely Bionic couple
Another notable aspect of the series was the inclusion of practically a who's who of guest stars throughout it's lifespan - William Shatner, the fabulous Monte Markham (who played the tortured seven million dollar man), the legendary John Savage and of course, Farrah Fawcett herself to name but a few provided a regular weekly "Oh that's ........"

The result of which was that this was a series that made you genuinely care for the characters. Yes, it's true that on occasion (especially towards the end of it's life) it could occasionally wander into the realms of over-sweet sentimentality, but generally the emotional punch it delivered was extraordinary. Take for example the introduction of Jamie Sommers, the love interest of Steve Austin and soon to be Bionic woman. I can still remember the power of the shock when, after her bodies rejection of her Bionics she was 'killed off'. The day after that episode there happened to be the birthday party of one of my friends, essentially it was a non-event, we were emotionally dumbstruck by the death by the previous nights episode - it was genuinely powerful stuff for a 10 year old I tell you! It didn't harm also that I and a few million other boys were also a immediately more than a little in love with Lindsay Wagner.....

Add to the mix countless exciting and inventive storylines  - The Seven Million Dollar Man, The Secret of Bigfoot, Day of the Robot, Death Probe ....... perhaps my personal favourites with Death Probe being at the absolute top, brilliant stuff!. Yes in amongst the classics were some duds and occasional the lapse into drippy over-sentiment but in general the good far outweighed the bad.

But don't just take my word for it! By the mid to late 1970's the world of popular culture had been taken over by the show. Everybody could recite the "We have the technology" quote and hum the theme tune....... the sales of the Six million Dollar Man action figure were truly huge (yes I had one), as were the respective board games and other series merchandise. Not only that but the series itself spawned numerous spin-offs, including a very successful Bionic Woman series starring the aforementioned gorgeous Miss Wagner. And of course, I've already mentioned the infinite amounts of slow-motion running (with sound effects) in infinite playgrounds around the world.

So do you see my predicament? It was either the Bionic Man or the guitar lessons - one of them had to suffer. After a few weeks of missing chunks of what had now become my favourite ever TV series (and probably is even to this day) I cut short my lessons, stating that I had too much homework as an excuse. I know that makes me sound like a truly ungrateful son, and maybe that's correct, but in my defence I did apologise to my parents who accepted it on the proviso that I eventually pay them back the cost of the cancelled lessons. This I did by doubling up my daily paper rounds and working weekend in the local store for the next six months....... but it was worth it.

I never did become a guitar hero and it was all your fault, Steve my man. But boy you were worth it.

This article can also be found via the 5D website There you can find a veritable feast of blog articles, news items, pictures and other mouth-watering salutations to the gods of the geeks and the nerds. We have now inherited the earth, you know. 

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