On this day (7th January)

Hot Snow, the first episode of The Avengers, was broadcast on ITV in 1961.

The surviving fragment of this debut episode gives us a tantalising glimpse into the birth of the series. Totally different of course from what was to come later – this is a straightforward crime story with ‘cor blimey guvnor’ bad guys and a good guy – Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry) – who’s yet to realise that he’s about to swop a medical career for a crime-fighting one.

There are various ways to sample most of the first series (Big Finish’s audio remakes, the camera scripts) but I wouldn’t be averse to a few more episodes turning up. Maybe one day.

The first edition of World in Action was broadcast on ITV in 1963.

Running for 35 years between 1963 and 1998, Network have released four volumes of World In Action on DVD and they’re all worth investigating. Right from the start the series had a brash, brisk approach which quickly got to the heart of each topic (this was necessary, since they usually only had 25 minutes to play with).

A Family Festival, the first episode of The Forsyte Saga, was broadcast on BBC2 in 1967.

This sprawling adaptation of John Galsworthy’s Forsyte novels was the brainchild of Donald Wilson and ran for 26 episodes during the first half of 1967. Ratings on BBC2 were fairly modest (only a fraction of the country could receive the channel at that time) but when it was repeated on BBC1 the following year it suddenly became a hot topic of conversation.

As the legends have it, pubs were emptied and church services went unattended as a nation were glued to each twist and turn every Sunday evening. How much truth there is in that I’m not sure, but it is easy to get hooked on The Forsyte Saga.

The cast is packed with talent, but Eric Porter’s performance as Soames has to be the highlight. Hero or villain? He’s both at different times of the story as Porter was able to give the character plenty of shade – Soames was never simply painted in black and white.

Given that this was a monochrome serial, we have to be thankful that it’s survived in full. Certainly worth checking out if you’ve never seen it before.

Also making their first appearances today – The Last of the Mohicans (1971, directed by David Maloney and featuring a mesmerising performance by Philip Madoc – albeit one that you wouldn’t see today), Telford’s Change (Peter Barkworth), Ripping Yarns, Wish You Were Here, Keep It In The Family and The Fourth Arm (one of Gerard Glaister’s less well known WW2 dramas).

Bowler Hats and Kinky Boots: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to The Avengers by Michael Richardson (Book Review)

coverRunning for most of the 1960’s, The Avengers transformed itself from a humble domestic series shot on VT to a glossy all-film vehicle that enjoyed a successful run on American network television.

Whilst there have been a number of books about the series previously published, there has never been any which have discussed the production history of the programme in any great depth, until this one.

hendry macnee
Ian Hendry and Patrick Macnee

This has clearly been a labour of love for Michael Richardson as years of research and writing has finally been distilled into a heavyweight tome – clocking in at an impressive 810 pages.

Honor Blackman
Honor Blackman

The first section of the book is devoted to an indepth production history of the original series and The New Avengers, season by season and story by story. There’s plenty of information that was new to me, and Richardson has made use of all the available production paperwork to paint as full a picture as could be expected. Rewrites, proposed storylines from various writers which were never made, network feedback, production wrangles, etc all help to illuminate the production process.

Diana Rigg
Diana Rigg

The later sections of the book look at the various spin offs (the 1970’s play, the South African radio series and the 1990’s film amongst others). There’s also a lengthy appendix devoted to listing as much as is known concerning the production filming dates. Not all the paperwork exists, but it’s fascinating reading to look at certain stories and see exactly where and when they were shot – and also how the shooting of various stories overlapped. Of niche interest maybe, but I’m glad it’s been included.

Linda Thorson
Linda Thorson

This is very much a factual book, so if you’re looking for reviews and analysis then this might not be the book for you. It’s more in the line of Andrew Pixley’s writings and probably isn’t something that is necessarily best read from cover to cover – rather it’s an ideal companion to a chronological rewatch of the series.

The paperback is currently retailing for around the £25.00 mark (and given the pagecount I do wonder how long it would be before the spine begins to show evidence of wear and tear). Given this, I went for the much more affordable Kindle option – which is currently selling for around £5.00. The first Kindle edition didn’t have a table of contents and there were also a few typos, but these have now been corrected and all is as it should be.

L-R - Joanna Lumley, Gareth Hunt and Patrick Macnee
L-R – Joanna Lumley, Gareth Hunt and Patrick Macnee

For anybody interested in the production history of The Avengers, this is an essential read.

Telos Publishing, June 2014.