A very warm welcome to Alan Hayes and Richard McGinlay, two of the co-authors of a new book detailing the narratives of the very first series of the cult British TV series, The Avengers. Both have kindly agreed to an in-depth interview which provides a fascinating insight into the first year of The Avengers.

The Avengers ran from 1961 until 1969, screening as one hour episodes during it’s entire run. By 1969, the series was shown in more than 90 countries.

Ian Hendry was originally cast as the lead, playing the part of Dr. David Keel, with Patrick Macnee cast as his trusted partner, John Steed.

The video clip above shows the reunion of two original stars, as they discuss the very first year of The Avengers on Ian’s This Is Your Life, in 1978.

 

Ian Hendry (Dr David Keel) Patrick Macnee (John Steed) The Avengers TV Series 1 1961

Picture: Ian Hendry (as Dr David Keel) and Patrick Macnee (as John Steed), The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961) 

 

But as the result of lost recordings of the show, the first series has become shrouded in a certain amount of mystery. How did it all begin, what was the first series really about and why have Alan Hayes, Richard McGinlay and Alys Hayes been hot on the trail, uncovering the lost stories behind the ‘birth’ of The Avengers?

In the following interview, Alan and Richard explain the answers to these questions and many more…..

 

Firstly, why this special interest for you in The Avengers?

Alan: I’ve been fascinated by television in general since childhood, and one of the very earliest ‘grown-up’ series I can remember being engrossed with was The New Avengers, which I saw on its first British transmission. I adored the adventures of Steed, Purdey and Gambit, and never stopped to think that if this series was new, there must have been something old for the distinction to be deemed necessary. I was obviously not as bright a child as my school reports attested! My love of this oft-overlooked revival series has not diminished with the passing years, and in 1982 I discovered its illustrious forebear thanks to the showings on Channel 4. I quickly found it was quite my cup of tea!

Richard: I began watching The Avengers with the 1982 repeats, but ironically, it was the bits that are missing that turned me from being a casual fan into a hardcore devotee and writer on the subject. When the latest DVDs started coming out, I thought to myself, “Hmmm, yes, I’ll buy those at some point.” I had no immediate plans to do so. However, when I learned that the first volume included Tele-Snaps (off-screen stills taken from the original transmissions) from missing episodes in a booklet, I had to get my hands on the DVDs sooner rather than later!

 

The Avengers 1961 Ian Hendry Patrick Macnee The Frighteners

 Picture: Ian Hendry (Dr David Keel) and Patrick Macnee (John Steed), The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961) ‘The Frighteners’

 

We understand, Alan, that you run a website dedicated to The Avengers. Please tell us more…

Alan: I set up my current site, The Avengers Declassified ( http://declassified.theavengers.tv/ ), in 2009, but had been running websites devoted to the series for ten years before that. For the greater part of that time, I ran a site documenting the little-known radio series of The Avengers that was produced and aired in South Africa in the early 1970s. Wonderful though that series variant is, I eventually felt a little stifled sticking to one small part of The Avengers’ legacy, and that’s why I launched Declassified. It deals with the series in all its forms, and its content ranges from detailed episode guides and transmission information to less intense features based on whichever aspect of the series, its spin-offs or merchandise, takes my fancy. It already consists of 425 pages and is always growing, often in unexpected ways!

Ian Hendry (as Dr David Keel) The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961) 'Rising Sun'

 Picture: Ian Hendry (as Dr David Keel) and Patrick Macnee (as John Steed), The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961)

 

And also, we know that you had involvement with the DVD release of The Avengers series from Studio Canal. Could you tell us some background to this?

Alan: Shortly after launching The Avengers Declassified, I was approached by Jaz Wiseman to be involved in proposing and producing special features for the new DVD range. To begin with, this consisted of suggesting archive extras, including the surviving Police Surgeon episode, starring Ian Hendry of course, and Diana Rigg’s 1964 Armchair Theatre, The Hothouse, among other ready-made programmes and excerpts. After Leonard White offered us the use of off-screen ‘Tele-Snaps’ of otherwise missing Series 1 episodes (also starring Ian Hendry!), we became involved in producing short programmes which attempted to reconstruct these lost stories. Over the next year, we made fourteen of these shorts, and it is these that proved to be the genesis of The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes, the new book, just published, that I have co-authored with Richard and my wife Alys.

 

Ian Hendry (as Dr David Keel) The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961) 'Rising Sun'

 Picture: Ian Hendry (as Dr David Keel) The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961) ‘Brought To Book’

 

What inspired you to write this particular book and could you tell us what is its focus?

Alan: It came about really from adapting the reconstruction scripts into in-depth online synopses for The Avengers Declassified.

Richard: Having enjoyed all of the reconstructions that Alan and Alys had made, I wanted to know more about the episodes that not been reconstructed (due to lack of images) and were not yet covered on Declassified. I contacted Alan through the site, and he generously aided me in my researches. Partly as a “thank you” to Alan but largely because I was so enthused about these missing episodes, I offered to write up summaries to help plug the Series 1 gaps on Declassified. I did not envisage having a great deal to contribute to the episode guide areas of the site but, as it turns out, I did have quite a bit to say!

Alan: Eleven episodes (including two which survived) remained outstanding, and in just under a year, Richard had tackled each of them, blowing the dust off storylines that had become forgotten in the fifty years since they were televised. As the gaps were filled, we discussed putting them together into a book, along with the production information that we had researched for the site’s episode guide pages. Before long, we realised that such a book would be unwieldy and prohibitively expensive, so we pared the idea back to simply presenting the in-depth Series 1 narratives in synopsis form, many with script extracts.

Richard: A further volume is planned that will take another look at Series 1, from the production side.

 

Ian Hendry (Dr David Keel) The Avengers TV Series 1 1961 Sewer

Picture: Ian Hendry (as Dr David Keel), The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961) ‘Hunt the Man Down’ 

 

Obviously Ian Hendry played a key, but often forgotten role, in the creation of The Avengers. Could you briefly outline the background to the first series?

Richard: Prior to The Avengers, Ian played a different doctor in another ABC drama series called Police Surgeon. It had not been a great success, but viewers and industry insiders alike recognised the charisma and star quality of its lead actor, so when Police Surgeon was cancelled, The Avengers was created as a new vehicle for him, with Patrick Macnee brought in as his co-star. As Patrick himself has recalled in interviews and biographies, Ian took an active interest in the production of the show, often seeking to refine the scripts and generally make the programme as good as it could possibly be.

Alan: In the first episode, we are introduced to Ian’s character, Dr David Keel, and we learn that he and his receptionist, Peggy Stevens, are soon to be married. However, the couple’s plans are overturned in tragic fashion when a gang of drug dealers inadvertently send a consignment of heroin to the surgery. As Peggy took the delivery and saw the courier, the gang decided to kill her, so that she cannot identify the man. Their plan is carried out and Keel finds himself drawn into the underworld as he attempts to avenge her murder. He is helped by a shady, secretive man, who we later learn is John Steed. And so The Avengers was born.

 

Picture: Ian Hendry (as Dr David Keel) and Patrick Macnee (as John Steed), The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961) 'Toy Trap'  #2

 Picture: Ian Hendry (as Dr David Keel) and Patrick Macnee (as John Steed), The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961) ‘Toy Trap’

 

What key themes define the first series for you?

Richard: As is common with many TV shows, The Avengers was finding its feet during Series 1. It had not yet settled into the far-fetched fantasy that would define its later years, though you can see aspects of that gradually emerging. The production team, actors and writers were trying out various different styles and subjects, to see what worked best. Therefore, there is a huge variety in the stories of Series 1, everything from down ’n’ dirty drug dealers to space researchers reaching for the stars. There are some recurring elements. A number of episodes revolve around characters getting kidnapped, while several others see Keel or Steed masquerading as members of the criminal fraternity. I suppose the key defining theme of Series 1 is the sometimes uneasy alliance between Keel and Steed. Here are two people from very different backgrounds and with very different ideals who are united in a common goal. As a doctor and a humanitarian, Keel wants to do what is right, whereas Steed often uses ruthless methods if he thinks the ends justify the means. Keel criticises Steed for this attitude on a number of occasions, and the pair even come to blows about it at the end of the episode Toy Trap. I’d like to think that the later development of Steed into a less callous character is partly as a result of Keel’s influence.

 

Ian Hendry (Dr David Keel) Patrick Macnee (John Steed) The Avengers TV Series 1 1961 Toy Trap

Picture: Ian Hendry (as Dr David Keel) and Patrick Macnee (as John Steed), The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961) ‘Toy Trap’

 

Given that Series 1 starred Ian Hendry as the lead (as Dr. David Keel) and Patrick Macnee as his supporting partner (as John Steed), how does it compare with the subsequent series of The Avengers which saw Patrick take on the lead role, when Ian departed to work more in films?

Richard: Luckily for the show, its format allowed for such a cast change. It was not entitled The Adventures of Keel and Steed – not that titles ever prevented shows like Blake’s 7 or Taggart from carrying on without their respective leads! Also, the focus of the series shifted between its two main characters, particularly during the early live episodes. Some predominantly featured Keel, while certain others turned the spotlight upon Steed. Two episodes (Girl on the Trapeze, which fortunately still survives today, and The Far Distant Dead) did not feature Steed at all, while one other (Dragonsfield) featured Steed alone, and so precedents had already been set for either character to go it alone or to gain a different partner. Though later series would typically revolve around Steed and a female partner, there is some foreshadowing of this in Series 1. Keel’s receptionist Carol Wilson (Ingrid Hafner) plays an active role alongside the doctor in Girl on the Trapeze, and she does so again alongside Steed in Ashes of Roses.

 

Ian Hendry (Dr David Keel) Carol Wilson (Ingrid Hafner) The Avengers TV Series 1 1961

Picture: Ian Hendry (as Dr David Keel) and Ingrid Hafner (as Carol Wilson), The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961) 

 

Do you think this book will help raise a greater appreciation of Ian’s role within the existing fan-base of The Avengers as well as the wider public?

Richard: Being realistic, I don’t think this book will have a huge impact on the wider public. It’s a very niche product and we don’t expect to sell thousands of copies – though it would be lovely to be proven wrong about that! Within the existing fan-base, yes, I think every little helps.

Alan: It’s certainly our intention to redress the balance where Ian Hendry is concerned. Unlike those actors and actresses who followed on from him in The Avengers, Ian doesn’t have the luxury of a full set of prints residing in the archives, that Avengers fans can watch and revisit on TV and DVD. Two full episodes and one extended extract are all that survive from his twenty-six episode stint on the series, and the missing episodes are unseen since 1961. Bearing these facts in mind, it is unsurprising that Patrick Macnee, Diana Rigg and Honor Blackman are embedded in the audience’s memories of the series, and Ian is not. However, we really believe in The Avengers Series 1, its narratives, and in the Hendry-Macnee partnership that was forged in them. We wanted to start our Avengers range off with this special publication, which is designed to blow the cobwebs off the forgotten beginnings of The Avengers, explain how the Avengers actually became avengers, and celebrate the contribution to the series of Ian Hendry, a remarkable and gifted actor who should not be forgotten. As Richard says, it’s a niche publication for a niche audience, but in tandem with Gabriel Hershman’s excellent biography Send in the Clowns – The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry and your own website, we trust that it will give people cause to look more deeply at Ian’s contribution to The Avengers, and spark interest in his work before and after the series.

 

Lastly, thank you both for talking to the Ian Hendry Official Website, and we wish you all the very best with your new book!

 

The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes – The Lost Stories of The Avengers Series 1 is now available from the Hidden Tiger Books website:

 

 Click Here To Visit The Hidden Tiger Books Website

 

The Strange Case Of The Missing Episodes - The Lost Stories Of The Avengers Series 1 Ian Hendry (as Dr David Keel) Patrick Macnee (as John Steed)

 

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