Obituary – Brian Clemens (1931 – 2015)


Brian Clemens, one of British television’s most prolific scriptwriters, has died at the age of 83.

Born in Croydon in 1931, he broke into television in the 1950’s and contributed to series such as The Vise, Dial 999, Interpol Calling and H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man.  During the 1960’s he was a popular writer-for-hire, scripting stories for Danger Man, Ghost Squad, Adam Adamant Lives!, The Baron and The Champions amongst others, but by far his most enduring work during that decade was on The Avengers.

Clemens wrote several scripts during the early years, but it wasn’t until series four (when The Avengers became a film production) that he was to have a major influence on the programme.  Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell took over as producers and they turned the series into an international hit.  But not everybody approved of the more outlandish style and after the end of the fifth series Clemens and Fennell were unceremoniously fired and former producer John Bryce was invited back.

Diana Rigg (who had starred as Emma Peel during the fourth and fifth series) had also left, so Bryce’s first job was to cast a new Avengers girl.  He selected Linda Thorson and the first few stories went into production.  But it quickly became clear that things weren’t working, story-wise, so Bryce was sacked and Clemens and Fennell were reinstated.  Clemens understandably felt vindicated that the network had to come, cap in hand, to Fennell and himself to sort out the mess!

During the 1970’s Clemens would write film screenplays for Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad whilst his television work would be dominated by three series – Thriller, The New Avengers and The Professionals.

Clemens had originally planned to take something of a backseat with The Professionals after writing the first one, but when he found that some of the other scripts weren’t up to scratch he was forced to write a number of stories himself (eventually contributing 17 stories across the whole run).

In the 1980’s and 1990’s he split his time between the UK and the US.  For American television he wrote episodes of Remington Steele, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Father Dowling Mysteries and Perry Mason.  In the UK he created Bugs (1995 – 1999) a series that harked back to some of his past successes, whilst CI5 – The New Professionals (1999) was another show that traded on his past – although this wasn’t as successful and only lasted the one series.

Whilst Brian Clemens will undoubtedly be remembered for a number of key series (The Avengers, Thriller, The New Avengers, The Professionals) his work as a script-writer on other series shouldn’t be underestimated.  To take just one example, he only contributed a single script for Bergerac (Ninety Per Cent Proof from series three) but it’s a quality story that pushes Jim Bergerac into a very dark place.  It’s atypical in many ways (possibly Clemens wasn’t that familiar with the show) but this is a plus point and there’s certainly no indication that Clemens was simply going through the motions.  As ever with Clemens, it’s a tense and exciting story.

Clemens’ son Samuel told BBC News that just before his father died he watched an episode of The Avengers and his last words were “I did quite a good job”.  Something that I think we can all agree on.

Obituary – Bernard Kay (1928 – 2014)

bernard kay - colony in space

I was sorry to hear about the recent death of Bernard Kay.  He had a lengthy career with some notable film appearances (such as Doctor Zhivago & Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger) but many of his best performances were on television.

And one of his finest small-screen appearances must be the Tweedledum episode of Colditz (transmitted on the 21st of December 1972).  Michael Bryant played Wing Commander George Marsh, who decided to fake madness in order to get released from Colditz and gain repatriation to Britain.  Kay was Hartwig, the German soldier assigned to watch him.  Initially, Hartwig was convinced that Marsh was a fake and sought to prove this by various humiliating means.  Eventually though, he’s convinced and it’s Kay’s compassion that moved the story to another level.

Bernard Kay would become a familiar screen presence for decades, appearing in many popular series such as Out of the Unknown, Redcap, No Hiding Place, The Baron, Adam Adamant Lives!, Softly Softly, The Champions, Budgie, Z Cars, The Sweeney, Space 1999, Survivors, The Professionals, Grange Hill, Dick Turpin, Tales of the Unexpected, The Bill, Juliet Bravo, Remington Steele, London’s Burning, Coronation Street, Jonathan Creek, Foyle’s War and TV Burp amongst many, many others.

He also made four appearances in Doctor Who, between 1964 and 1971.  The first, The Dalek Invasion of Earth was opposite William Hartnell and he played Tyler – a member of the Earth resistance fighting the Daleks.  A few months later he returned to the series, as Saladin in David Whitaker’s The Crusade.

Since Kay (along with several other actors) was browned-up in The Crusade, this might mean that some people would view the story today as politically incorrect, but Whitaker’s script certainly wasn’t.  Kay’s Saladin isn’t a monster – indeed he seems to be just as rational as Julian Glover’s Richard the Lionheart (possibly more so).  As Richard blusters, Saladin is content to remain cold and logical.  It’s Kay’s best Doctor Who performance.

A few years later, he played Inspector Crossland opposite Patrick Troughton’s Doctor in The Faceless Ones and would make his final appearance in the series in 1971.  Jon Pertwee was the Doctor at the time and whilst the story (Colony in Space) is a little dull, Kay was, as usual, very good – this time as Caldwell, a man who finds himself increasingly at odds with his IMC (Interplanetary Mining Company) colleagues.

Kay was born in Bolton in 1928, and following his National Service he trained to become an actor at the Old Vic Theatre School.  Although the majority of his work was either on television or film, he was no stranger to the Theatre.  One notable early performance was as Macbeth in the Nottingham Playhouse’s production of  1952.  When the actor playing Macbeth had to pull out, Kay stepped into the part – with only 24 hours to learn the role.

Bernard Kay was always somebody who spoke his mind – and this is demonstrated in these fascinating interviews, conduced by Toby Hadoke for his Who’s Round Project – Part One and Part Two.  At times painfully frank, they provide a good insight into the personality of a fine character actor.

Obituary – Bill Kerr (1922 – 2014)

Bill Kerr in Ghost Squad (1961)
Bill Kerr in Ghost Squad (1961)

Australian actor Bill Kerr has died at the age of 92.

Kerr was born in Cape Town in June 1922 and was raised in Australia. A radio star in his own country he moved to Britain in 1947 in search of new career opportunities.  During the four decades or so he was resident in the UK he notched up numerous credits on film, television and radio.

He appeared in films such as The Dam Busters and The Wrong Arm of the Law and television series like Ghost Squad, No Hiding Place, Compact and Dixon of Dock Green.  Another notable guest appearance on British television during the 1960’s was as Giles Kent in the Doctor Who story The Enemy of the World.  Five episodes of this six part story were lost until 2013 and Kerr’s performance is one of the highlights of an impressive serial.

For many people though, he will always be best remembered as a comic foil for Tony Hancock across six radio series of Hancock’s Half Hour.

L-R - Sid James, Tony Hancock and Bill Kerr
L-R – Sid James, Tony Hancock and Bill Kerr

Although Kerr never crossed over to the television version of HHH, he did appear with Sid James in the first series of Citizen James.  This series, like HHH, was written by Galton and Simpson and it’s quite possible to imagine that the Sid and Bill from this series are the same characters that appeared in HHH.

Kerr returned to Australia in the late 1970’s and continued to work, appearing in films such as Gallipoli and television series like Anzacs with his last recorded credit coming in Southern Cross in 2004.

Obituary – Voytek (1925 – 2014)

Wojciech Roman Pawel Jerzy Szendzikowski, more commonly known as Voytek, has died at the age of 89.

He worked as a production designer and director in television, theatre and the movies. His distinctive name would have become familiar to viewers after it appeared on the end credits of numerous British television programmes during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

He directed top-rated shows such as Callan, Man At The Top and Special Branch and was the designer of multiple episodes of programmes including Armchair Theatre.

Guardian Obituary –

Charles Sturridge discusses directing Lauren Bacall in A Foreign Field

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)
Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)

Amongst the numerous tributes paid over the past week to screen legend Lauren Bacall was this one in the Guardian, written by Charles Sturridge who directed Bacall in the 1994 BBC Screen One production A Foreign Field.

Having recently watched and blogged about this drama here, it was a very interesting read.