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‘In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.’
The A-Team is about four Vietnam veterans and was pitched to NBC executives as a mix of The Dirty Dozen, Mission Impossible, The Magnificent Seven, Mad Max and Hill Street Blues and even before a camera was switched on, George Peppard said they had a huge hit on their hands.
In some ways The A-Team was homage to the Robin Hood story whereby the four were generally acting for the good guys in the face of ‘the man’ and the series capitalized on momentary cultural trends such as helicopters (it was the time of Airwolf), machine guns (think Rambo) and cartoon-like, massively over-the-top violence where very few people died which was extremely popular in the 80s.
Why did we love The A-Team? Perhaps it was the characters? Maybe it was the fact that the episodes were formulaic and familiar to audiences? How about their uncanny ability to build almost anything out of the contents of a disused shed? It could have been the catchphrases or the GMC van.
It was a combination of all these elements that puts The A-Team up there with the best 80s US shows and in 2003 a research project headed by Yahoo! amongst TV viewers found that The A-Team was the show most viewers would like to see revived, beating heady competition including The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider.
Over the course of 98 episodes amazingly (or not), only five people died! The violence was very Tom & Jerry; no-one bled or bruised and bullets never hit anyone and towards the end, audiences were migrating to more wholesome family entertainment like The Cosby Show, Family Ties and Who’s The Boss? Because, according to John J O’Connor writing in the New York Times in 1986 ‘…a substantial number of viewers, if the ratings in recent months are to be believed, are clearly fed up with mindless violence of the car-chasing, fist-slugging variety.’
He was right, but that didn’t stop The A-Team from becoming a global (and cult) hit and its longevity is validated by the fact that you can still find it on obscure satellite and cable channels even now. At its peak it was getting over 20m viewers a week.
The A-Team was a cartoon played out in real life. It was bonkers, the characters and storylines were bonkers and it hung around half a season too long but none of that matters. We loved it because it was bonkers, and not despite of it.
The A-Team Trivia
The name A-Team is taken from A-Teams, the nickname for Operational Detachments Alpha in the Vietnam War.
Face, BA and Hannibal were all Green Berets, members of the US Army Special Forces while Murdock was an army helicopter pilot.
Virtually every episode features a crazy car stunt/crash but the passengers all seem to emerge unscathed. Writer Stephen J Cannell said they did this to test the limits of realism!
The crime they didn’t commit was robbing a bank in Hanoi as ordered by their commanding officer in Vietnam, Colonel Morrison.
Mr T and George Peppard didn’t get on too well on the set. Peppard claimed he was a ‘proper movie actor’ as Mr T became the star of the show. Also, Mr T was paid more!
The gold worn by Mr T weighed somewhere around 35-40lb!
Some of our favourite The A-Team quotes…
BA Baracus: I ain’t goin’ on no airplane!
Hannibal: I love it when a plan comes together!
BA Baracus: Shut up, fool.
Hannibal: Hickory, dickory, dock. The mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one, and down he run, and you smell worse than my socks!
Face: Uh, Murdoch, what’s going to happen?
Murdock: Looks like we’re going to crash.
Face: No, what’s ‘really’ going to happen?
Murdock: Looks like we’re going to crash and die.
B.A. Baracus: You messed up, now I gotta mess you up. It’s the law!
Hannibal: I believe it was General Grant who said ‘when you’re surrounded and outnumbered, there’s only one way out’.
Amy: Yeah, so what is it?
The Stars of The A-Team – Where Are They Now
An accomplished actor who made his name in war films but also played opposite Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He died from lung cancer in 1994. He was 65.
His career effectively nosedived after The A-Team. He had little success with a theatre career, he starred in the film Shadow Force in 1993 and ended up on the UK version of Celebrity Big Brother. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and wrote a book advocating the macrobiotic lifestyle he adopted.
An unknown before becoming ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock, he appeared in two Star Trek movies and now provides voiceovers for video games.
Outside of The A-Team, Laurence Tureaud is probably best known for his role as the brutal fighter Clubber Lang in Rocky III. He was a former wrestling champion in Chicago, a bouncer and bodyguard (to Steve McQueen, Muhammad Ali and Diana Ross), and was spotted by Sylvester Stallone competing in America’s Toughest Bouncer. He was a pro wrestler but never quite reached the heights of his early 80s exploits. He now does commercials for Snickers!