November 25, 2015

AVENGERS: ALAN HAYES INTERVIEW

Avengers Interview: Alan Hayes. Spy Vibers may know Alan Hayes from his previous books about The Avengers and for his contributions to The Avengers DVD and Blu-ray sets overseas. Alan is a fellow pop culture scholar and writer, who often works alongside his wife Alys in their secret UK base. We enjoyed some summer missions together to visit filming locations from The Avengers, The Saint, The Champions, and many other classic series (stay tuned for more photographs). Alan stopped by the Spy Vibe lair this week to tell us about a new Avengers book that was just released called Two Against the Underworld. Alan, welcome to Spy Vibe!


Two Against the Underworld compiles some work from two previous volumes. Can you tell us more about the content of the new book?

Essentially, it’s the content of The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes and With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes combined and updated. Both books – written by myself with Richard McGinlay and Alys Hayes - concentrated on the debut season of The Avengers, but each homed in on particular aspects: the first covered the narratives and the missing episodes angle (only two episodes survive complete from 26), while the second focused on production information, plus details of transmission, personnel and reception. What we’ve done is to interweave the content of both books to produce a single book that takes the reader on a journey from the creation of the series, through its first year, towards to setting up of the second season, which would of course introduce Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale. (Previous book covers below)


What are some of the details you were able to update for this edition?

There’s quite a lot that we’ve been able to update, in fact. For starters, we have been careful to correct inaccuracies that were found in the original books and have also taken heed of feedback received. Some commentators bemoaned the lack of story synopses in The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes for the two surviving Series 1 episodes, Girl on the Trapeze and The Frighteners, and detailed summaries have consequently been added to the new edition. We have also taken the opportunity to check through the existing synopses, paying special attention to the nine scriptless episodes (Nightmare, Crescent Moon, Diamond Cut Diamond, Hunt the Man Down, Death on the Slipway, Tunnel of Fear, The Far Distant Dead, The Deadly Air and Dragonsfield).

In the episode guide section, we have revised and augmented production information and other subsections, where appropriate. We have also firmed up the information we presented in With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes concerning how the episodes were seen in the Republic of Ireland in 1961. In the essays, we have added fresh information about One-Ten, Ian Hendry’s marriage to Janet Munro, and significant details about the missing episodes, particularly in terms of potential foreign sales of Series 1, overseas distribution, and the fate of the ABC archive. We have also updated the Merchandise Guide to bring it bang up to date to include details about the 2015 Blu-ray, DVD and CD releases. Finally, there is a short essay which looks at how Ian Hendry’s departure between seasons affected the long-term future of the series, and this is completely new. Despite the cutting of large amounts of text that were present in both the original books, the word count has actually risen, too.


The lost first series of The Avengers is one of those holy grails we wish could be discovered in an abandoned station overseas. Tell us how your team approaches research. Are you able to draw to draw on company records, interviews, etc?

Well, we’ve been very lucky in that we’ve been granted access to ABC Television scripts and documentation pertaining to the series, and have also been able to study story outlines and other paperwork at the British Film Institute’s Reuben Library in central London. We have also made reference to the archives of newspapers and journals and have had the co-operation of series personnel, archive television organisations and Avengers enthusiasts, all of whom have helped to bring the story of the show’s first year into sharp focus.

Spy Vibers know The Avengers well, particularly the Diana Rigg seasons. What are some of the key elements of the show that were there right from the beginning?

The funny thing about those later series is that the viewer just accepts the show for what it is, and rarely thinks to ask “how did The Avengers become Avengers?” – and it is in this first series that the flashpoint happens, the incident that brings John Steed into the life of a seemingly ordinary London doctor. Thanks to the surviving footage from the very first episode, we get to see the reason that The Avengers get together, even if we don’t see John Steed, who first appeared in Act Two of this episode, which along with the third, remaining missing. Over the first year, a buddy-buddy relationship develops, having started with mistrust. The stories are definitely grittier, even perhaps than the other videotape era shows, and their subject matter is often more “film noir” than typical Avengers fare, though it is most often laced with humour. However, among the stories about protection rackets, prostitution, food poisoning and drug smuggling, there were also visits to Avengerish locales – the circus, a private zoo, research establishments, and even a dance school (shades of Quick-Quick Slow Death!). Additionally, towards the end of the first run, the series leans more and more heavily towards science fiction ideas in stories such as The Deadly Air, Dead of Winter and Dragonsfield. And these tales are all related in extended synopsis form in Two Against the Underworld, offering readers the opportunity to experience episodes that haven’t aired anywhere since 1961.


How about major turning points that opened the doors for the series to evolve?

The first of these is undoubtedly the gradual change in Steed from a shady, hard to trust manipulator to the gentleman spy of later seasons, and this transformation begins during the first year. However, the most important turning point didn’t even happen on screen. When an actors’ strike brought production on Series 1 to a halt in late 1961, the series lost the services of its main star – Ian Hendry (that’s right, Patrick Macnee was not top billed). This departure cast an uncertainty over the series’ future, and the ramifications on the series’ destiny are explored in the new essay that I’ve mentioned previously.


What are some of your favorite discoveries while researching the early days of The Avengers?

One that springs to mind is a remarkably bizarre and amusing exchange that we discovered in ABC correspondence concerning foreign sales to Lebanon. This information is again new to this book. We were also able to dig a little deeper into the missing episodes question, and this is something we all find fascinating. Other than that, it’s the fact that these episodes are, in the main, probably lost forever that makes researching this ‘lost year’ of The Avengers so rewarding and endlessly intriguing. All the other seasons are retained complete in television archives, have been released on VHS, DVD and now even Blu-ray, which is of course wonderful, but the ease of access we have to those episodes make them somehow less exciting, in terms of wanting to research them. Researching Series 1 was a great challenge, through which we wanted to remove the shroud of mystery that has for decades hung over these episodes, and being able to do that has been, without a doubt, our favourite thing about the process. Through a succession of discoveries, some small, some large, we’ve been able to present what we believe is the clearest picture yet of the programme that aired in the dim, distant days of 1961, never to be seen again.

Where can readers find the book? Is it available in hardcover, softcover, and ebook editions?

The book is currently available via Hidden Tiger – www.hiddentigerbooks.co.uk – with checkout and delivery via Lulu.com. Readers might be able to save 15% by using the sale codeword: FWD15. It is currently available in dust-jacketed hardcover and perfect bound softcover editions. The paperback will be available from Amazon sites within one month and a Kindle ebook will follow in the New Year.


What projects are next on the horizon for you?

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on another Avengers project, this one spanning the full series, called Avengerworld. This is a charity project comprising something in the region of 40 essays, written by Avengers fans around the world [Spy Vibe's Jason Whiton contributed the Afterword], on the theme “The Avengers in my life”. Judging by the high standard of essays received thus far, this will not only be an entertaining read, it will also relate some anecdotes and information that will be of great interest to fans of the series.

Also nearing completion is a follow-up book to Two Against the Underworld, which – typically for us – is a prequel rather than a sequel! It will bring to life another mostly missing British television series, Police Surgeon, which was the show that directly preceded The Avengers and also starred Ian Hendry. For this book, we’ve been granted access to the 11 surviving scripts and have had the assistance of several people involved in the production of the series. This should be ready in the early months of 2016, all things going to plan!

Sounds exciting! With the influence of The Avengers still resonating throughout popular culture and fashion, I'm happy to know you are digging further into the records to shed more light on this transformative period. Thanks, Alan! I look forward to chatting more about the next releases. 



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1 comment:

  1. new 30% off sale through Nov 30 with codeword: GWT30

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