For Your Shelf Only: John Buss. When I asked Michael Richardson during our Avengers interview who might have a collection of vintage Mrs. Peel fashion, one name immediately came to mind- John Buss. John is a noted collector of spy pop-culture memorabilia and his gigantic collection can be viewed at the Little Storping Museum, which is located on-line at Murdersville. Fans of The Avengers will pick up the reference to one of the great Diana Rigg episodes. A great fan himself, John’s artifacts have featured prominently in The Avengers 50th celebration events at Chichester and other major exhibits. His museum includes an extensive archive of items based on UK and US television series and movies, as well as numerous images that provide a great resource to collectors and pop-culture scholars. John Buss, welcome to Spy Vibe!
Your museum website is so fun to visit. It serves as both a great resource for fellow collectors and as a celebration of the cult classics we all love. How did you come to choose the name (based on an episode of The Avengers)?
Firstly, thank you finding my site. It was the intention that it would hopefully be a good collector’s resource, though there is still a very long way to go. For me the collection and sharing the information is the most important thing. It’s nice to get recognition, but the site is about the collection, not me. I’ve owned the web domain "Murdersville" for nearly 20 years now and it came about from my love for The Avengers. This was also the very first episode of the series I saw, so for that reason, the name also holds a special meaning for me. Though it does raise a few eyebrows when I give people the web address!
Do you remember your first introduction to mystery adventure shows? What did you see?
My first introduction to this genre would probably have been reruns of the U.N.C.L.E. movies during the 1970s. I was hooked on these, along with Derek Flint, Matt Helm, etc. I also have vague memories of seeing early 70’s repeats of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).
What appealed to you about UNCLE or Flint when you first saw them as a kid?
I’m not really sure. Part of it was these guys were cool and had cool gadgets, but it was the whole package; the music, the fast pacing. (It may not look that fastly paced by todays standards, but back then!) Let’s face it, to a six-year-old kid growing up on a farm, they were exiting.
You cover many different films and television series. Which characters have been your core favorites over the years? What makes them stand out?
I guess Steed and Mrs Peel, Napoleon and Illya. For me these are the two shows I always return to. Both are so stylish and also hugely influential on many shows that came later. Before The Avengers there were no strong women characters. The influence on style and fashion was remarkable, with fashion shows devoted to items worn by Mrs Peel in the series. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. just defined cool. I read once that more merchandise was produced for this show than for any other series at the time, and U.N.C.L.E., more than Bond, was probably responsible for the plethora of spy gadgets to appear. It’s success on television also lead to I Spy, Mission Impossible, Get smart, and others appearing on our screens.
Did you start collecting as a kid? What kinds of things did you look for?
I was around 10 or 11 when I first started collecting these shows (way back in the late 70s). I’d always been a collector, but it was at this age I discovered there was all this wealth of stuff relating to these old spy shows that I adored. I started off with the die-cast toy cars, as basically these were the only items that I was aware of having been produced at the time. As I discovered the existence of other items relating to various shows, the collecting spread out. One of the earliest pieces I remember having as a small child was the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service gift set comprising of the VW and two bobsleighs, though the ones in my collection are not the originals I had. I had a corgi Aston and the Lotus from The Spy Who Loved Me. I’m fairly sure I still have my rather beaten up tatty originals.
How has your collection evolved over the years?
The main focus of my collection has been and always will be the action adventure genre - or Spy-fi as it seems to be known as now- of the 1960’s. One exception to that is I just love the original Indiana Jones movies of the 80’s. The collection has expanded to include many different shows that, while I don’t actively collect the shows, I will purchase if things come at the right price. Shows like Dad’s Army, The Army Game, The Invisible Man (1959), Sgt Bilko, Charlie’s Angels, Starsky and hutch. To a certain degree in recent years some of these additional series are ones that I felt deserved to be represented in such a museum, even though they do not really hold as much interest for me.
What are some of the prized treasures in the collection?
Very tricky question. There are many for many different reasons, and they are also not necessarily the most valuable items, though my favorite Emma Peel doll would have to one of them. My copy of the Dave Rogers Avengers book would be another, which I have had autographed by several original cast and crew from the series, including Patrick Macnee and Brian Clemens. Probably some of my die-cast items, as these are what started the whole slippery slope of collecting.
I really enjoy seeing pieces from different countries and your site features cool items from around the world. How do you conduct your research into international merchandizing and publishing?
Well nowadays the internet has been a great resource for finding items from around the world, but I have been fortunate to meet and speak to many collectors from different parts of the world over years, who have aided in the never ending search.
Which pieces in your collection were the most difficult to track down?
Items from the 1960’s fashion ranges. Clothing gets worn out and thrown away. And the disposable items weren’t meant to be kept. I’m UK based so items either not produced or released in the UK, and with our modern gun laws here, even getting toy guns from the USA is starting to prove problematic.
Perhaps the rarest corner of the Little Storping Museum is dedicated to vintage Avengers fashion. I'm seeing Mrs. Peel jumpsuits, dresses, stockings, target beret, watches, and more. Tell us a bit about the history of Avengers clothes and accessories.
At the moment this is a very grey area as to the ranges, but as early as 1964 Hepworth advertised a Hardy Amies designed Jacket as worn by John Steed in The Avengers. Jean Varon (John Bates) designed for the first Emma Peel season, and by all accounts many of the items used in the series appeared in his ready-to-wear range that year. But as the pieces are not marked as being from the series, it is difficult to ascertain what actually appeared. It was during the second Mrs Peel season that we saw the fashion show, promoted by Edser Southey Design Associates. There was a brochure produced for this, outlining the items in the range, but it did not contain any illustrations. This show featured Alun Hughes designs from this season and the Pierre Cardin designed suits for Steed. Unlike the earlier items, pieces from this period do appear to be labeled and these fashion show items are some of the pieces that I have. I have to emphasise this a very difficult area to collect, as nobody actually knows for sure what was produced fashion-wise, also due to the influence of the series, many other totally unrelated/unlicensed fashion items appeared. On top that, clothing wears out, disintegrates, and is less likely to survive than, toys, books or records from the period.
How did you track fashion pieces down? You even have a ticket to The Avengers fashion show featured in the Pathe newsreel? And have you ever met anyone else who has these treasures?
There are many vintage clothing dealers and it really is just a case of combing through their stock.
Many of us in the Spy Vibe community began by collecting paperback books. What were some of your favorite cover designs when you began collecting?
I would have to say probably some of the 1950’s James Bond paperbacks, actually some of the covers of 1950’s paperbacks in general have some fantastic artwork.
What are your favorite 1950s Bond book covers?
The Great Pan covers from Dr No and From Russia with Love, which just struck me, were actually the first two movies.
Do you also have rare hardcovers or first editions?
I have got a first edition of the Steed Biography published around the time of The New Avengers, but some of my rarest first editions are actually Biggles books and not Spy-fi or TV-related in the slightest. I’m still waiting for the DVD release of the 50’s TV series. [Network appears to be working on a box set- Spy Vibe]. Also with the advent of the Internet and eBay, many items that were once thought to be extremely rare seem to be more common than was believed. It also has to be noted, as I’m sure you’re aware, that many of the TV/film-related titles only appeared in the one edition due to the ephemeral nature of society.
I was surprised to see there was an Adam Adamant sword stick produced. How does it compare to the John Steed sword umbrella?
It’s virtually the same item just produced with a different handle; also the sheath for the sword blade is in a different coloured plastic, black on Adamant’s and brown on Steed’s. What is different with the Adam Adamant one is that it came with a signet ring, sadly missing from my example, clipped to the handle, and there was a compartment in the handle to put the pellets.
Was there other merchandising for Adam Adamant? It seems like most of the Adamant memorabilia out there is printed matter like the Annual and Radio Times articles.
There was a Georgina Jones doll produced I believe by Fairylite, but I have never seen one, also the usual theme record. Other than that all I know of is just printed items. The annual, comic strips in TV Comic, not even a novel as far as I know. At this time apparently the series producer would be the one to deal with the companies wanting to produce merchandise. BBC records on this were patchy and many years ago I approached Verity Lambert on this matter (She had been the producer of this series as well as having been the producer on Doctor Who) I had a lovely letter back from her, which sadly failed to spread any further light.
I'm especially interested these days in international editions of books tied to The Avengers and Danger Man. Did countries like France and Germany publish the full range of titles we saw in English?
Not always. Taking The Avengers as an example, and please don’t take this as gospel, this is only what I personally have been able to ascertain: The first Avengers paperback was only published in the UK, the second two were published in both the UK and Portugal. The next four were published in the UK, France, Chili, The Netherlands and the USA. The USA saw two different editions of these four books. Three out of these four were also published in Germany, the exception being Heil Harris. An omnibus edition of the three was published in Germany, as well. The next five only saw publication in the USA. At the moment I am still working on Danger Man, as European publications for this, particularly in German, seem to be rather complicated.
The Avengers vocal records are fun to collect and all of the stars of the series released singles. Which are the hardest records to find? Who do you think made the best vocal recording?
Probably the different European pressings of Linda Thorson’s single. The best vocally was probably Diana Rigg.
What are some rare items you are still looking for?
Really anything relating to the 60’s Spy-fi genre that I don’t have. I’m much more interested if items actually date from the period. I’m sure there is still stuff out there that I don’t even know about. It was only last year that I discovered that a German edition of The New Avengers target set had been produced, not that I’ve been able to find one yet!
Your site includes a shop! Do you look for pieces to sell?
Not really. I used to have a stall at some of the sci-fi and comic fairs back in the 90’s but I’ve always been more interested in collecting. I’d always come home having spent more on my collection than I actually sold. I might buy a job-lot of items just to get one bit that I actually want for my collection, the shop is just a way to try and get rid of some of this accumulation of additional stuff that I’ve ended up with. I don’t upgrade items for the sake of it, while I like an item to be fully original, I won’t go and buy another example because it’s in better condition. I would prefer to buy something that I don’t already have. I leave all this upgrading business to what I call the investment collectors, those that are more interested in what it’s worth than what it actually is. I buy stuff because I like it and it means something to me, not because I think I can make money from it. Here’s why I failed as a dealer! That’s not saying I don’t have a fairly good idea of what it’s worth , but that’s not the important thing to me. Which I hope is what comes across when I talk to people about collecting.
The fairs did lead to some nice additions to my collection, though, I remember one fair I was at, where out of all the stands there I was the only one with any proper vintage stuff. A member of the public came up to me because I had the old stuff asking me if I brought items. He had this old game he wanted to know more about, well it was a Thunderball underwater battle game by Triang, at the time only half dozen or so were know of on the collecting circuit. I explained how rare this item was and that it was something that I would love to have in my collection. I offered him a price if he wanted to sell it. He went off. To be honest I didn’t expect to see him again, as so often you’d get people pick your brains at these events and they would never return. This time however, about an hour later he returned carrying this game and I think virtually every dealer in that room tried to buy the game off of him before he got to me, but he said to me as I had been straight with him telling about it and talking with him that I could have it at the price I’d offered, which I was more than happy to do. Now I thought that was the end of it but no, he then pulled out of his bag two sets of boxed spare figures for the game, I never even knew of the existence of these, (and in the many years since I can only remember seeing one other set come up for sale) well I was a bit flummoxed on seeing these and I was trying to think of what I should offer, but no he didn’t want anything for these, he was giving these to me. This game and the spares sets still form an important part of my collection and are bits I would never part with.
Can you still find 1960s spy items in used bookshops in the UK, or do you rely mostly on the internet?
Surprisingly yes. Only the other week I picked up a couple of Avengers books cheaply in one place, and I got a stack of vintage Bond paperbacks in a charity shop a few months back, so it is still out there. I actually prefer to buy stuff in person and I’m always trawling around toyfairs, boot sales, charity shops , etc., and it’s amazing what still turns up.
There is a nice photo of you with Brian Clemens on your site. He’s a great hero of mine, of course. How was your experience talking with him? Did he see your collection?
I was lucky enough to meet Brian several times. The first time was back in about 1998 when I was trying to track down a copy of The Avengers stage show- which thanks to his help, I was able to do- but it was not until 2011 that he actually saw my collection. I always found him to be most amenable and he once said to me if there was anything he could do to help with the formation of a museum he would. One of my big regrets is I never took him up on that. He was one of the greats of British television and will be sorely missed.
Have you ever had a chance to lend pieces out for exhibits?
The opportunity has arisen a few times. I had always wanted a real physical museum for this stuff, but as I have a minor problem in that I tend to keep buying more bits, having the money to do so increasingly looked like an impossibility, hence the virtual museum was created just over a year ago.
I also dream of creating a museum to celebrate these shows we love so much. We need a business partner to help us set it up in the UK. It would certainly draw guests interested in 1960s pop culture and Swinging London. Maybe we can try a temporary exhibit to tie in with my (yet unannounced) book about the era next year?
It would be nice. A small selection from the collection first went on display at the Towner art gallery and museum in Eastbourne in the late 1990’s. This was followed a few years later when a large portion of my James Bond collection formed part of a major display a Beaulie motor museum, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Bond movies. Then in 2011 my Avengers collection was on display as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations.
You were able to attend The Avengers 50th celebration? I couldn’t make it (to my great regret). What were some highlights?
I was lucky enough to be there as a V.I.P. with The Avengers section of my collection on display, though regrettably I actually saw very little of the actual event as most of the time I was with my collection making sure none of it disappeared.
I'm curious to hear about reactions to the collection during The Avengers 50th. Which items seemed to fascinate people most?
I think many were surprised at how much there was produced based on The Avengers. There seemed to be a lot of interest overall. Just as many people were interested in the books as were the fashion items. Several had to be told, “No this is a display, and items are NOT for sale”.
Have you been able to meet many of the people behind our favorite shows over the years?
I have been very lucky over the years and have met quite a few, but then there are also the ones that got away as it were. The prime example of that was several years ago I had a very minor part in an episode of Hustle. Great, I thought, I’ll get to meet Robert Vaughn. Imagine my disappointment when I arrived to discover he wasn’t on set that day. Though in my minor part as a lab tech, I did get away with having an U.N.C.L.E. communicator pen just visible in my top pocket. As for the ones I’ve met, I met Patrick Macnee back in the early 90’s. I’ve been lucky to have worked on theatre shows starring Honor Blackman, William Gaunt, Tony Arnholt, just to name a few. Stephanie Powers and Linda Thorson in particular stand out for me, both of whom I was able to have long chats with about their shows. Stephanie was even kind enough to send me the DVD box set of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.. I was also incredibly lucky last year to be able to meet Armie Hammer and have a long chat with him while he was filming the new U.N.C.L.E. movie. (Due for release later this year. For those that don’t know, he is playing Illya in this revamp of the show.) I’ve just been lucky, right place at the right time.
What did Stephanie have to say about U.N.C.L.E. or her experiences on the show?
I think she was delighted to be remembered for that, rather than Hart to Hart. I got the feeling she had found memories and I only wish I’d had a camera with me when I showed her my prop U.N.C.L.E. pen. I still have a vivid memory of her sitting in the dressing room, clutching this, which she quickly assembled proceeding to “open channel D” with an almost childlike twinkle in her eyes. The interesting thing was that when she arrived at the theatre everybody else was saying, "oh she won’t talk to you, very stand offish etc." So I think the rest of the staff were somewhat shocked when I had completely the opposite experience. It may have helped that I had mutual friends and we probably chatted more about them, magic, and some of her theatre work here in the UK.
What a nice experience. I enjoyed seeing your signed Adam Adamant annual. Does your collection include unique many signed items?
Quite a few of the items in the collection I have had personally signed. As I mentioned, I’ve been very lucky with who I’ve met, on several occasions not realising until after the event quite who it was I’d actually been working with or chatting to. One of those was Moray Watson, who I worked on a show with many years ago; he was even a one of my references at one time. It was only later I discovered he’d been in the original Quatermass and had guest-stared in episodes of The Saint, The Avengers and many other 60’s tv shows.
How about unique items, like original production materials, scripts, office artifacts, props?
Surprisingly no, not that much. One of the few totally original bits I do have is a German General's Greatcoat which came from the BBC TV series ‘Allo, ‘Allo.
I do have an original script for The Avengers stage play that was produced in the early seventies. I first found out about the stage show through Dave Rogers' book in the eighties, but nobody knew that much about it. I read his description of the show's opening, which I thought was terrific. that spurred me into thinking I have to really try to get a copy of this script, and contacted him to try and find out more. This lead me to speaking to Brian Clemens for the first time, who though he had been involved, did not have a script. He suggested I tried contacting Terrance Feely's widow to see if she could help. I mean, bless her, she hunted through all of his papers and eventually found a copy in a box in the garage. In the meantime, I had spoken to original cast members when they had visited the theatre. None had been able to help, though Kate O’Mara had fond memories. She remarked that the script was terrific but the production had been let down buy the producer, who had tried to cut too many corners in the costs, which she felt had been partly to blame for the production's failure. She told me about falling onto stage from a rope ladder and other mechanical props that failed to work. (Things which she also recounted in her autobiography, which she gave me a copy of). I seem to recall her telling me ”you really should get a copy of that script; it was such fun.”
A few other interesting bits have passed through my hands, at one time I had fake CIA files from Spygame, which I loaned to my local cinema at the time of the film's release, but these are long gone. Other bits I have are a Decca record player, exactly the same make and model as one used in several Avengers episodes, but I have no evidence that this is the on-screen one. Same holds true for a mirror from Thunderbirds, a dress from Carry on Girls, and several other bits. I do have a pair of Cufflinks and a tie that are supposed to have been Max Zorin's in A View to a Kill. Some bits I know defiantly came from a film or TV show, as they are my own bit of costume or prop that I used when on a background job.
When you look over all the cool artifacts you have gathered and documented, what are a few of the elements or qualities of Spy-fi that you find most enjoyable and interesting?
Gadgets! I love the whole idea of things not being what they seem; swords hidden in umbrellas, exploding cufflinks, pen radios, (I’m still waiting for a mobile phone company to make me a real U.N.C.L.E. communicator pen), ejector seats in cars; things that look like one thing but are in-fact something else entirely. This probably also explains my fascination with magic.
Let’s play a version of Desert Island Discs. If you were stranded on an island, and we allowed you a television with discs, which five spy-tv episodes would you take and why?
"Murdersville" (The Avengers) would defiantly have to be there. As I said earlier, it was my first introduction to the delectable Mrs Peel. From U.N.C.L.E. I think I would pick "The Double Affair", which became the second feature film The Spy With My Face, as it was these U.N.C.L.E. movies that started my love of the series. On a lighter side, maybe a Get Smart, possibly "Spy School". I just loved Don Adams as this bumbling secret agent- “hold the call on my right cufflink and transfer it to my left shoe”, “Sorry about that Chief”. Probably a Champions episode; possibly the one where they track down nazi gold in a Swiss lake and mine system. Once again this is an episode I remember as a kid. Finally probably my favourite New Avengers episode, "The Eagles Nest". I think like most children of the 70’s, there was a strong fascination with World War Two and Nazi Germany, also this episode starred Peter Cushing- one of the greats of British cinema!
Which book and luxury item would you include?
Luxury item. Can I request Mrs Peel as a Luxury item? If not, a Swiss Army knife will have to do if one must be more practical.
Thank you, John! It's been a pleasure to spotlight your fabulous collection on Spy Vibe! If Spy Vibers have questions, please don't hesitate to contact me. And make sure to go on-line to visit the Little Storping Museum.Selected Spy Vibe posts: Diana Rigg eBook, Avengers Season 5 Titles, Saint Volvo, Mod Tales Interview, Agente Secreto Comics, Danger Man Comics 2, Danger Man Comics, John Drake Comics, Der Mann Von UNCLE, Golden Margaret Nolan, Man From UNCLE Rocksteady, Pussy Galore Calypso, Cynthia Lennon R.I.P., Edward Mann Fashion, Leonard Nimoy Tribute, Shatner at 84, Bob Morane series, New Saint Publications, The Saint Complete box set, Gerry Anderson Box Sets, Music For Spies, Thai Bond Design, Brian Clemens RIP, Bond vs Modernism, Imitation Game, New Avengers Books, Ringo Does Goldfinger, Sixties Beat Wear, Popular Skullture, Art of Modesty, Avengers Blu-ray update, Tokyo Beat 1964, Polaroid Spy, Feraud Mod Fashion, Flint Scores!, Bond Danish, New Richard Sala Book, New 007 Comics, Designing Bond Books, Green Hornet Manga, Margaret Nolan Art, No 6 Festival, Barbarella Returns, Designer: Gene Winfield, Avengers Interview: Michael Richardson, Ian Fleming: Wicked Grin, Jane Bond Hong Kong Records, Ryan Heshka Interview, Comics Week: Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E., Comics Week: Archie, Comics Week: Robots, Comics Week: Cold War Atomic, Comics Week: SPYMAN, Comics Week: Jimmy Olsen, Rare Avengers Scripts, Man From Uncle UK Comics, Thunderbirds Comics, Shakespeare Spies: Diana Rigg, Shakespeare Spies I, Rodney Marshall Avengers Interview, Avengers Book: Bowler Hats & Kinky Boots, George Lois Design & Mad Men, Richard Sala: Super-Enigmatix, Cold War Archie, Playboy Bunny Interview, The 10th Victim Japanese and Kindle, U.N.C.L.E. Japanese Books, The Saint books return, Trina Robbins Interview, Catsuits, Batman '66 Green Hornet Interview: Ralph Garman Ty Templeton.