When most people think of the quintessential ‘60s spy television series, the first thing to come to mind is not ITC’s British drama Man in a Suitcase. The series, starring Richard Bradford as an American agent-for-hire McGill, aired in the U.S. during the during the heyday of television spy genre fare like Secret Agent Man (also ITC), Mission Impossible (1.0), The Avengers, I Spy, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The genre was extremely popular back then, of course taking its cue from that spy of all screen spies James Bond.
Most of television’s men and women of intrigue worked for super-secret spy agencies on behalf of their respective governments. Man in a Suitcase’s McGill was a free agent (as it were); a mercenary who travelled the world for clients private and public—as long as they paid him enough.
On the air for one season, Man in a Suitcase lasted 30 episodes. McGill is a former U.S. intelligence agent forced to resign after being accused of helping a scientist defect to the Soviets. We learn in the by episode six (“Man from the Dead”) that McGill was no traitor, taking the blame in an elaborate plan to plant a double agent with the Russians.
Richard Bradford, in his 30s when the show aired, despite his shock of gray hair, plays McGill as stoic—the quiet, but dangerous mercenary, who’ll do whatever is required—for a price. Yet, McGill also has a considerable store of vulnerability, and a soft spot for the powerless. Living out of a small leather suitcase, he travels the world. He’s no superhero; McGill often gets beat up. Bradford has explained that he wanted McGill to be realistic portrait—sort of an anti-Bond. He’s not often found chatting up the ladies or drinking martinis (shaken, not stirred). He’s a man of the espionage trenches.
Last year Acorn Media released the first half of that run on DVD, and has now released the remaining 15 episodes. The set also includes an interesting, but lengthy, interview with series star Richard Bradford, talking about the series, his method of preparation, and working in television. The interview was recorded many years after the series aired, so Bradford looks quite different, but that McGill drawl is unmistakable.
With its international settings, the series looks fairly dated from our vantage in the 21st Century; the world has changed much since the late ‘60s in so many ways. The era of British colonialism is long gone, and you can even sense in some of the episodes that McGill’s sympathies lie with the colonized, and not the Empire. Dated or not, the Man in a Suitcase stands as a hidden gem of a spy series, and a welcome addition to spy genre fans.