History Files



Gangsters was a unique series, and one very much rooted in its time. Its story was jerky, but absorbing, very racially orientated and the segregation and American-imported ghetto-mentality of the seventies was very much to the fore and dominating the language. There were plenty of jibes about blacks and Asians, English and Irish micks, something that would be virtually unthinkable on the sanitised tv of two decades later. Despite this, Gangsters was pure drama with a hefty touch of un-realism about it which endeared it to viewers and made sure it continued into a second year, becoming ever more bizarre and surreal. New and rather strange lyrics welcomed viewers to the start of the second series, together with titles which presented the turn towards Oriental gangland influences, now the other nationalities had been sorted out, and each episode had an individual episode title.

The writer of both seasons, Philip Martin, was renowned for producing intelligent and dramatic detective scripts, and one of his best creations was the character of John Kline, former part-nightclub owner and a strong, forceful individual with a slightly shady past - he had caused the death of a man who murdered his girlfriend - simply served to bring him closer to the audience. Each episode was very characteristic and quirky and ended in a cliffhanger, with the legend "To be continued..." written over a suddenly faded-out picture. The stunt adviser was Pat Roach, famous at the time for his all-in wrestling career. Philip Martin made a bizarre appearance in the final two episodes of season two as assassin White Devil, credited under the equally bizarre name of Larson E Whipsnade. He also starred as a writer in Khan's home country, dictating the story as it happened. All in all, Gangsters was absolutely, one hundred per cent 1970s tv, and watching it today is a revelation, in more ways than one.



John Kline Maurice Colbourne   Khan Ahmed Khalil
Anne Darracott Elizabeth Cassidy
Malleson Paul Barber (Season 1 Only)
Aslam Rafiq
Saeed Jaffrey
Kuldip Paul Satvender   Sarah Gant Alibe Parsons


Writer: Philip Martin
Producer: David Rose
Director: Alistair Reid
Music: Dave Greenslade, Season 2
  vocals by Chris Farlowe

Season One

John Kline is released from a Birmingham police station after only a couple of hours of questioning. With form and a prison stretch for manslaughter behind him he wonders why. He soon learns that Khan, a government agent, was the string-puller, and he wants Kline to join him and help in a little operation he has planned: since Kline caused the death of Rowlinson, the city’s crime boss, illegal activities in Birmingham are spiralling out of control, and together Khan and Kline will root out the new gang leaders and put paid to their careers. Of course, Kline is suspicious, and at first wants nothing more than to get his share of a nightclub he part-owns. However, he finds he’s been swindled by his erstwhile partner, Dermott MacIlvoy, boss of the Maverick Club and of the local Irish muscle, and there is no money to be had. Dermott himself is now in league with Malleson, ex-right hand man to Rowlinson and head of the black gang in the area. They are both being backed by the local Asians under the apparent leadership of Rafiq and his henchman Kuldip, who command illegal immigration in the Midlands, known as The Blackbird Run. Khan knows full well about this and is determined to put a stop to it, initially by forcing the wife of one such deported immigrant, Manga, to provide him with information on how her husband intends to return to Britain. Kline realises there is a lot of work to be done and, after a violent meeting with Malleson and his bodyguards, makes an instant enemy and throws in his lot with Khan.

Kline plans a cover which will see him aiming to set up in competition with the local gangs, with eventual domination and control of every crooked deal in mind. Then everything can be turned over to the boys in blue to clear up. Before things can get under way, the first thing Khan must do is rescue Kline from an old house which Malleson is about to demolish. Kline has already made himself a nuisance to be rid of. When this attempt fails, Malleson and Dermott set up Kline to be at the abandoned Snow Hill railway station, where the combined gangs are waiting for him. Rafiq, who is in reality a member of the shady Consortium, has already intended to play the ‘paddies’ off against the ‘wogs’, and rescues Kline, releasing him to be piggy-in-the-middle, something to keep Rafiq’s bothersome rivals busy. Kline can now run The Maverick without Dermott, who dares not return without some force behind him, and who eventually gets his IRA contacts to invite Kline to answer a few questions...

Soon after, Dermott is dead, and Kline makes sure his friends go the same way, before becoming embroiled in events between Malleson and Sarah Gant. Gant is the sister of Kline’s late girlfriend, whom Malleson killed. When she discovers the truth, Malleson finds his options running out. Also, Khan is getting closer to Jashir’s wife, whilst suffering the distraction of Jashir’s unexpected return, and a new boss who isn’t keen on his suspect operations, Kline also employs Anne Darracott, an old associate whom he saved from drug addiction, to set up a regular drugs run between Rafiq and his bosses, and a local Chinese gang.

By the conclusion, Kline has run out of immediate enemies; Malleson is dead, and Rafiq’s bosses in the Consortium, which happens to be headed by Khan’s new boss and a racist politician, have been arrested. Kline and Anne settle down to run the Maverick, Rafiq is now his own master, and Khan is heading for promotion.

Dermott MacIlvoy Paul Antrim
Manga June Bolton
The Tailor Milo Sperber
The Bomb-Planter Trevor Butler
Malleson’s Bodyguards Oswald Lindsay and Oscar James
Dermott’s Bodyguards John Main and Terry Downes
Maverick Comedian/Compere Rolf Day
Stripper Marie Dali
Blackbird Run Pilot Peter Fontaine
IRA Unit Commander Chris Gannon
IRA Gunman Terry Taplin
IRA Muscle Pat Roach
Detox Doctor Talat Hussain
Asst Managing Director Christopher Benjamin
Norah Mikel Lambert
Mr Yang Dennis Chin
Khan’s new boss Robert Stephens
Jashir Tariq Yunus
Consortium MD/Politician John Abineri
Prostitute Doña Croll


Season Two

Khan is in Pakistan, tracing the origins of the drug supplies that are swamping Europe and Britain. The trail leads him towards Birmingham’s Chinese community and the Triads. Kline, who is now living with Anne Darracott and has branched out into restaurant ownership, has passed important information concerning Birmingham’s Triad, The Red Disciples, and their leader, Shin Tang, to the police. This earns him Shin Tang’s permanent enmity, and after Kline’s first brush with him, he and Anne are rescued by Khan. But Kline doesn’t need Khan now. Neither does he want the intelligence operative bothering his operations, legal or otherwise, and Khan soon becomes a problem for both Kline and Sarah Gant, who is back in Britain working for the US drugs agency. Rafiq is also involved in events because of his recent business connections with the Chinese community, and it is this community, in the shape of Shin Tang’s daughter, Lily, and through the late Dermott MacIlvoy’s bodyguard Roy Studd, which launches a firebomb attack on Kline’s restaurant. Fortunately, the attack is badly bungled and Studd is killed, but assassin Red Stick is brought in to frighten Kline off, putting Anne into a martial arts-induced coma at the same time.

This isn’t going to stop Kline, however, and he is determined to continue disrupting the Triad business, and, through Gant who passes him information from Khan, he manages to gain a drugs package that forces the Triad leader to ensure Anne’s recovery. After a further assassination attempt on Kline, the ex-SAS man gives chase and puts paid to Red Stick’s career with deadly efficiency.

Rafiq has been ‘persuaded’ to help Khan against his Triad business partners, but instead plots with Kline and Gant to frame Khan for murder, thus putting him out of the picture. Due to Kline’s one indiscretion with Sarah Gant, Anne decides to leave him and get an honest job elsewhere, but it doesn’t work out. Due to his failures, Shin Tang is assassinated, and his daughter decides to take over, first in partnership with Kline, but, when he welcomes Anne back into his life, then with Rafiq.

Events continue to twist and turn with almost bewildering speed until Kline causes the death of assassin White Petal and makes a raid on Wo Shing Wo Triad’s heroin cache. The Triad bosses who sent White Petal, fed up with continued interference from Kline, send in top assassin White Devil, a bemusing character who bases himself on W C Fields, with just the middle initial changed. Khan’s father is caught up in all of this whilst in Britain to successfully prove his son’s innocence.

Gant, with CIA backing, is supporting White Devil to get rid of Kline, whom they think is a major heroin dealer. Kline, with enemies on all sides, wants nothing more than to sell up and settle down with Anne. But it’s not to be. White Devil delivers a killer blow, and Kline is buried shortly after. Lily and her fledgling Triad are rounded up by the police, Rafiq and Kuldip end up helping Gant and the CIA, and Khan is released from jail, all charges dropped.

Roy Studd Terry Downes
Shin Tang Robert Lee
Lily Li Tang Chai Lee
Mr Yang Dennis Chin
Red Stick Kahjoo Chura
Triad No.1 Kristopher Kum
Firebomber John Main
Khan’s Father Zia Mohyeddin
Double Petal Eric Young
W D Fields (White Devil) Larson E Whipsnade
Office Boss Donald Pickering
Other parts played by Philip Martin

Chapter One: The Dictates Of Sheng Tang
Chapter Two: The Red Executioner
Chapter Three: While Beauty Sleeps
Chapter Four: Double Peril
Chapter Five: Enter The White Devil
Chapter Six: East Of The Equator


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