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The A-Team

It just wouldn’t happen today: a kid-orientated TV show, scheduled for tea-time Saturday on ITV, in which the main protagonists - and intended role-models - were a mix of gun-wielding chain-smoker, social misfit-cum-thug, womanising egotist, and a ‘comedy’ paranoid schizophrenic (or, if you’d rather, "crazy damn fool"). Hannibal, BA "Big Arse" Baracus, Face and Murdoch respectively, were The A Team, a bunch of Vietnam War veterans dedicated to bringing down evil meat farm bosses, and corrupt local land dealers. For money.

Fugitives from the law, on the run from an unspecified crime they did not commit (Cow tipping? Driving with undue care and attention? Acting the giddy goat in a public place?), The A Team underlined the fact that risking your life for your country - particularly in America - was no guarantee of respect. Brilliant!

Nobody ever got killed or seriously wounded in The A Team, aside from one episode in which, if we recall correctly, "Howling Mad" Murdoch got shot (he was saved by an emergency blood transfusion from BA, performed using a length of guttering, a garden fork, and some sticky-back plastic - or it might have been the other way around). Whether this approach was more damaging than a series in which guns are shown to blow people’s heads off - rather than a convenient means of detonating oil drums, and cutting through ropes at long distance - has never been properly debated.

Generally, though, The A Team was wholesome entertainment, packed with all the explosions and hardware - much of it constructed with corrugating iron and rusty bed frames (Hannibal loved it when a plan came together, remember?) - that kids adore. By far our favourite episode featured an imprisioned Murdoch chanting "I want some trash bags", until his captors had supplied him with enough bin liners to build his own inflatable Mr T, or something.

As with all good shows, The A Team plummeted downhill following the inevitable ‘change of direction’. Its anti-establishment origins were turned on their head when the team was offered a full pardon in return for employment by "The Man". Funny-eyed Man From U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughan played their new boss, assisted by some woman in a split skirt, but it was clear that this was a nadir from which the show would never recover.

Throughout its relatively short life, The A Team left us with many enduring images, such as the trademark black and red van, Hannibal’s unsettling penchant for leather gloves, BA’s terrible fear of flying, and Murdoch’s encroaching alopecia.

Nowadays, only Murdoch is seen with any sort of regularity in public, popping up occasionally in a recurring cameo role in Star Trek spin-offs, his balding near complete, while George Peppard, who played Hannibal, died a few years back from something or other.  The iconic Mr T - aka BA Baracus - has suffered ill-health in recent years, and turned to religion, though he followed his A Team zenith with a degrading voice part in his own Mr T cartoon series, throughout which he helped kids investigate rigged basketball games and the like, usually rounded off with some sort of tedious, to-camera moralising ("Take it from Mr T, kids: rigging basketball games is evil. Praise the Lord!").  Dirk Benedict - the nicely-haired Face-Man - is rumoured to be interested in reprising his role as Starbuck in a proposed Battlestar Galactica revival., though there’s probably about as much chance of that happening as there is of Automan making a comeback.

The world has become too cynical and ironic now for another A Team to surface. Also, the current wave of misplaced moralising in the wake of assorted American high school shootings, mean that the networks are steering clear of anything which involves guns, especially if it’s aimed at younger viewers. This is a crying shame: how else are we going to breed a new generation of embittered, Uzi-wielding loners?

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1. What was on the license plate of BA’s van?

2. Which of these is not an A Team episode title?

3. What was Faceman’s full name?

4. What was written on the back of Murdoch’s jacket?

5. Which of these pop stars appeared in The A Team?


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