November 28, 2017

INTERVIEW: PLAYBOYS, SPIES, PRIVATE EYES

Writer and pop culture historian Alan Hayes stopped by the Spy Vibe lair this week to tell us about his new book, Playboys, Spies, and Private Eyes -Inspired by ITC, which he co-edited with Rick Davy (The Prisoner – The Essential Guide, The Unmutual). The new book features essays centered around classic ITC series such as The Saint, Man in a Suitcase, Secret Agent, and The Prisoner. Hayes has authored a number of cool books about classic spy shows, including Two Against the Underworld (about dawn of The Avengers), and Avengerworld (an essay omnibus about The Avengers -I contributed the Afterword about Patrick Macnee). Hayes also runs the Randall and Hopkirk Declassified website and he has been a regular contributor on Spy Vibe. Congratulations on the new book, Alan, and welcome back to the lair!


What is the book about and how did the project evolve?

Playboys, Spies and Private Eyes – Inspired by ITC is, in a nutshell, a series of personal love letters to spy-fi television series from the ITC stable. This company, which was formed in the 1950s to make filmed series for Independent Television, produced a succession of popular and memorable series which have touched the lives of millions. Therefore it seemed an excellent second step after the Avengerworld anthology which I edited for Hidden Tiger in 2016. That book, like this one, was written by a team of writers who gave their services for free, with the book’s proceeds being donated to charity. The Avengers book has so far raised more than £800 for Champion Chanzige, a charity which resources a primary school in South Tanzania, while this one is designed to benefit the Born Free Foundation, which is the favoured charity of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) actress Annette Andre, who has kindly written the foreword for the new book.

The project evolved through discussions between myself and Rick Davy, author of The Prisoner – The Essential Guide (Quoit Media), and grew out of an initial idea to extend the Avengerworld concept to The Prisoner, to produce an anthology of fan memories and anecdotes about that iconic series. When it became clear that another publisher was coincidentally working on a very similar project for The Prisoner, we decided to widen our scope to include all the ITC spy-fi shows. If I’m honest, I think it’s a better and more varied read for that, too. 

What is the scope of the book? How many ITC series are covered in the essays?

In commissioning writers, both Rick and I have endeavoured not to be too prescriptive beyond the essays being written from personal perspectives. It means that in addition to the wide range of ITC shows under the spotlight, the chapters also have a variety to them, hopefully meaning that the reader will never know quite what to expect. The book plots a chronological course through ITC’s oeuvre, starting in the 50s with The New Adventures of Charlie Chan and concluding in the late 70s with Return of the Saint. All the ‘big-hitter’ shows are covered – in most cases with multiple chapters – as are the majority of the series that are less well known. In total there are 35 chapters, with 19 distinct series being tackled. But these chapters are as much about the writers themselves, their experiences as fans of those shows, and what they were inspired to do by them. We were also keen to pitch some of the contributors into unfamiliar territory, for instance asking fans of one show to write about others they had never seen before, therefore offering fresh perspectives. 


Does it focus on the spy/thriller shows, or are the historical adventures also included?

The former. We are of course aware that ITC were responsible for a wide range of programming – the spy/thriller genre was just one string to their bow. Shows such as The Saint, The Prisoner and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) retain a high profile, as do the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation and live action shows produced under the ITC banner in the 60s and 70s, but the company also produced period dramas like The Adventures of Robin Hood, lighthearted fare such as From A Bird’s Eye View and Shirley’s World, and music shows such as This Is Tom Jones. The ITC catalogue is pretty immense… and therefore it seemed sensible to limit ourselves to one genre – or we’d end up with a book so large and unwieldy that it would barely be marketable!

I really enjoyed contributing to the Avengerworld book, and it seemed to gather quite a community around a love of the series. Can you talk a bit about the ITC community and the contributors to this project?

As you might imagine due to the number of series that the company made, the ITC community is somewhat more fragmented than the one for The Avengers, and there is indeed significant crossover, with many Avengers fans also being devoted to the ITC shows. Indeed, there are a small number of writers who have written for both the Avengerworld book and this, though we made a conscious decision to approach new writers for the most part as we felt that many people who wrote for Avengerworld would have similar memories of the ITC shows (we were determined that Playboys, Spies and Private Eyes shouldn’t just be the Avengers book with the series name changed!). 

There have been several ITC fan clubs, but to the best of my knowledge, they have always been for specific series – The Saint, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), The Persuaders! – and we are delighted to say that we have chapters written by people who ran those fan clubs (Ian Dickerson, Vanessa Bergman and Jaz Wiseman), and it’s fascinating to read their accounts of what it was like to be in the driving seats of fandom. We’ve also engaged a number of professional writers – Robert Fairclough, Steve O’Brien, Gabriel Hershman, Max Pemberton and Robert Morton – plus industry insiders – Jon Older, Stephen La Rivière – and (coining an Avengers phrase) a superb team of “talented amateurs”. Some of these run websites about the individual series, write blogs, attend events and/or visit filming locations. And there’s me. Twice. But people can easily skip those two. :)

Additionally, we are privileged to have Elaine Spooner (daughter of writer/series creator DennisSpooner) on board; she has contributed the perfect afterword for the book. Finally, the book is enhanced greatly by the cover design and artwork of Shaqui Le Vesconte, some of which you can see accompanying this interview. Shaqui has worked with me before on Avengers and Police Surgeon projects – and I’m always blown away by what he delivers.


What are some of the stories that surprised you or stood out during the editing process? Did you discover new perspectives after reading the essays?

There are dozens of wonderful anecdotes related by our writers, and it almost seems unfair to highlight one or two over the others… but from a personal perspective, since my two favourite ITC series are (this week!) The Prisoner and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), I’d have to highlight Vanessa Bergman’s vivid memories of her 1970 meeting with Mike Pratt, the marvellous actor who brought Jeff Randall to life, and who died tragically young in 1976, and Robert Fairclough’s recollections of an unexpected and characteristically enigmatic phone call from Patrick McGoohan in the early 2000s. But there’s much more besides – stories of Leslie Charteris, Dennis Spooner and how The Champions were reunited 40 years on. The chapters are written with such affection for the shows and the people who made them that you can’t come away unaffected –  and always in a positive way. Also, there’s a lightness of touch to the essays – this is a fun read, perfect for the Christmas holidays; something to warm the heart when it’s cold outside!

Part of the proceeds from the project are going to help a charity. Can you tell us more about that cause?

Actually, all the proceeds – once we clear production and delivery costs – will be donated to the Born Free Foundation. As mentioned before, they are Annette Andre’s favoured charity, and as such we are delighted to follow her suggestion that they be the beneficiary of Playboys, Spies and Private Eyes. This is what she says about the BFF: “I’ve been a lifelong animal lover and advocate for their care both in captivity and in the wild. For more than twenty-five years, I’ve been an active supporter of the Born Free Foundation (BFF), founded by Virginia McKenna and her husband Bill Travers, stars of the film Born Free, and run today by their son, Will Travers. Years ago, I went to hear Ginny and Bill give a talk on their efforts to close zoos in the UK that mistreated the creatures in their care. I was hooked instantly, and began giving talks on the BFF’s many projects to rescue and protect wildlife wherever threatened. Along the way I became close friends with Ginny and Bill and expanded my efforts to include investigating zoos and circuses to expose inhumane conditions. The BFF remains a vital part of my life.”

The classic ITC shows established so much of what we understand about modern day spy adventures. After working on the book, I wonder what your thoughts are about the legacy of classic ITC programming?

The thing I find interesting about the ITC spy thriller series – something I only learned long after watching them as a kid – is that they were produced quickly and on the cheap, and that no-one working on them expected them to have the longevity that they have ultimately enjoyed. I always thought they looked classy, a step above the studio-bound videotaped productions that filled our TV screens in those days. These were like mini-feature films, with high production values, and sometimes they really pushed the boundaries of television drama. Certain episodes of Danger Man, Man in a Suitcase, The Champions, and ALL of The Prisoner spring to mind. The fact that today, nearly forty years on from the last hurrah of ITC spy-fi, these series are still being repeated on television and are being restored in High Definition, reaching new audiences, proves that the company’s output was something special. Although these days I can tell that Roger Moore was standing on a cold Borehamwood backlot and not on the sunny French Riviera in The Saint, back then it didn’t matter. Today, it’s part of the charm of these series. Through the magic of television they took us to foreign climes at a time when – for me at least – the family holiday wasn’t to Alicante but to a farm in North Wales. ITC expanded our horizons. The Prisoner continues to be influential (The Truman Show, Wayward Pines, anyone?) and barely a year passes without whispers of a remake of this series or that…


Where can readers find the book?

At the moment, the book is available to pre-order from Quoit Media, and is due in mid-December. Until publication, the book is being offered at the discounted price of £11.99 including UK delivery (RRP £12.99 + P&P). After publication it will be available from retailers such as Amazon. We ask people to support us and buy, as the better the book sells, the better Born Free does out of it!

Let's get an update on this important question: Alan, what would your ideal bachelor pad or secret lair look like if you lived in a spy/adventure world?

Well, as a very happily married man, I don’t think about bachelor pads these days (actually, I don’t think I ever did!), but a secret lair… Tempting… As someone who adores staying at Portmeirion, it’d be hard not to just plump for that, but I like finding the unexpected in mundane settings, so perhaps The Beatles’ knocked-through terraced houses from Help! (1965) would admirably serve my need for world domination… After all, who’d look for a diabolical mastermind in Aisla Avenue, Twickenham?


Your secret is safe! More information about Alan's publications at Hidden Tiger Books. Related posts: Interview: Alan Hayes (early Avengers Book), The Prisoner Audio Review vol 1, The Prisoner Audio Review vol 2, Avengerworld Book, Umbrella Man, Interview: The Prisoner Guide Portmeirion Photography 1Portmeirion Photography Interview: Ian OlgivyInterview: Brian Gorman Avengers Interview: Mike Richardson, The Saint Interview: Ian DickersonAvengers Interview: Rodney MarshallAvengers Interview Rodney Marshall 2John Buss InterviewJaz Wiseman InterviewFarewell Steed

In other news, check out my episodes of Cocktail Nation radio as I introduce some of the great spy classics and soundtracks: Episode #1 (Danger Man) and Episode #2 (The 10th Victim), Epsiode #3 (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), Episode #4 (Roger Moore/The Saint), and Episode #5 (The Avengers), Episode #6 (The Prisoner), and Episode #7 (The Ipcress File), Episode #8 (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.). Enjoy!

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