The Avengers TV Series 1 (1961) – With Umbrella, Scotch And Cigarettes

^The video above shows the reunion of the two original stars, Ian Hendry and Patrick Macnee, as they discuss the very first year of The Avengers on Ian’s This Is Your Life (March 1978).

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A very warm welcome to Richard McGinlay who has just written a new book, with co-author Alan Hayes, detailing the story behind the first series of The Avengers. Richard has kindly agreed to answer a few of our questions and also share some of his in-depth knowledge on this cult British TV series.

Their first book, The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes -The Lost Stories of The Avengers Series 1, was co-authored with Alys Hayes and published in June 2013. An interview held with them to discuss this earlier publication can also be found on this website (click here).

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. But how and why the series began and the story behind that first year has been somewhat shrouded in mystery, due largely to the fact that most of the original tapes of the first series have been lost, presumed wiped.

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In their new book, With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes – An Unauthorised Guide to The Avengers Series 1, Richard McGinlay and Alan Hayes have retold that first year in glorious detail. The book is beautifully illustrated by Shaqui Le Vesconte and this article incorporates some of the artwork.

We’ll now let Richard explain more as he answers a few of our questions:

Your latest publication, ‘With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes…’ follows ‘hot on the heels’ of your first book, ‘A Strange Case of the Missing Episodes -The Lost Stories of The Avengers Series 1’. Both books deal with this first year of The Avengers , but from slightly different perspectives. Could you explain a little more about the background and structure of each book?

Richard: Certainly. With so many episodes from Series 1 being missing on film, the purpose of The Strange Case… was to recapture those lost adventures as best we could in textual form, working from scripts where possible and (where not even scripts have survived) other sources, such as storyline synopses and photographic evidence.

By contrast, With Umbrella… is an episode guide, which looks at the making of each episode, detailing backstage processes, discussing the talented personnel who worked on the show, and raising points of interest about each story. It also looks beyond the 26 episodes of Series 1 – examining, for instance, two unproduced storylines originally written for the Dr Keel era of the show, and also providing episode guides for Keel and Steed’s two forays into licensed fiction: the 1962 comic strip The Drug Pedlar and the 1990 novel Too Many Targets.

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Picture: Book cover artwork for With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes. Book illustration by Shaqui Le Vesconte.

With Umbrella… is the second book that you and Alan have written together. What did you learn from writing the first book together, and how did those experiences help to enhance the second?

Richard: Well, we’ve been a lot more ambitious with this book, spurred on by the success of the previous book and the feedback we’ve had in response to it. For example, whereas the first book included a single essay at the beginning, the second book has two essays, which go into far more depth. Other bells and whistles that we have added this time include a chronology of the major dates covered within the book, a guide to Series 1 related merchandise… and pictures! Amid the positive reviews that we garnered for the first book, several readers commented about the lack of images inside the book.

We agree that it would have been great to have included lots of photographs, because many do
exist, but unfortunately we cannot do that for reasons of copyright. This is why unofficial
guides such as this seldom contain photographs from the programmes they are dealing
with. However, we have been able to add a pictorial element by commissioning a set of
beautiful illustrations from Shaqui Le Vesconte

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Picture: Ian Hendry as Dr.David Keel – The Avengers (1961). Book illustration by Shaqui Le Vesconte.

Patrick Macnee was one of the guests on ‘This Is Your Life’ in March 1978, which featured Ian Hendry. He mentioned that without Ian, The Avengers may never have existed. The book covers this story in detail, but could you outline why Ian was so important to the show and what his major contribution was to the first series?

Richard: I don’t think there’s any ‘may’ about it. The Avengers was created as a vehicle for Ian Hendry when his previous series, Police Surgeon, was cancelled. The television company’s head of drama, Sydney Newman, recognised Ian’s talents and star potential, and didn’t want to risk losing him to a rival company, so the new show was built around him. This is detailed in an essay at the beginning of our book.

We also discuss how, during the making of The Avengers, Ian ruffled a few feathers and kept people on their toes in order to make the programme better. Both Patrick Macnee and director Don Leaver recall Ian demanding or actually carrying out rewrites, and – working together with the rest of the team – generally striving to make the show as good as it could possibly be. The Avengers had been hastily commissioned, and was up against some nail-biting production deadlines throughout its first year, but people like Ian (and producer Leonard White) made sure that the creative team never settled for a second-rate product or an attitude of ‘that’ll do’.

Avengers-Episode Guide

Picture: Ian Hendry as Dr. David Keel and Patrick Macnee as John Steed – The Avengers (1961). Book illustration by Shaqui Le Vesconte.

Given that only two complete episodes and a small portion of a third survive from The Avengers, Series 1, you and Alan needed to form a detective team of your own to uncover the full story. What were the main challenges presented to you both with regard to researching this book and what resources did you find to help you in your quest?

Richard: Actually, the survival rate of the episodes has surprisingly little relationship to how much information is known about the production of each one. For example, we know lots of nitty-gritty details about the making of the missing episode The Springers, thanks to the existence of not only a camera script, but also other documents such as the programme budget sheet, props list, and wardrobe and make-up requirements.

Conversely, not a single scrap of production documentation pertaining to the surviving episode The Frighteners is known to exist today, just a dialogue script that was transcribed from the episode itself decades after the fact (in 1997). Of course, that hasn’t stopped Alan and I from finding things out about The Frighteners, such as the fascinating life of its writer Berkeley Mather, or from making copious observations about it!

To help provide a clearer picture of the whole series, Alan has been in touch with many of the production personnel who were involved (or the relatives of those who are unfortunately no longer with us), who have kindly helped us to fill in the blanks. These include John Whitney and Rosemary Bellman (the widow of John’s co-writer, Geoffrey Bellman). We have also consulted biographical works, such as Leonard White’s Armchair Theatre – The Lost Years, and contemporary press coverage, all of which are duly acknowledged in our book.

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Picture: Patrick Macnee as John Steed – The Avengers (1961). Book illustration by Shaqui Le Vesconte.

After so many years, it’s fascinating to see so much interest in The Avengers, Series 1, with the publication of your new books and also the recreation of the episodes by Big Finish as audio productions. Why all this renewed interest and what inspired you and Alan to write these books in the first place?

Richard: I think the StudioCanal DVD releases of The Avengers during 2009–2011 helped a lot, because while Jaz Wiseman was preparing special features for the range it became apparent that Leonard White held Tele-Snaps (off-screen stills) from several of the missing episodes. These were published in a booklet accompanying the first DVD set and led to reconstructions of missing episodes (produced by Alan and his wife Alys) being included as special features across the rest of the range. These presentations really brought the missing Avengers episodes to people’s attention – they certainly brought them to mine!

I think there has also been a healthy interest in vintage TV in general, which has in recent years led to the DVD release of surviving episodes from other shows from a similar period, such as the BBC’s Quatermass serials, A for Andromeda and Adam Adamant Lives! and ABC’s (the ITV company that gave us The Avengers) Pathfinders serials, Public Eye and Callan.

Alan and I (and Alys in the case of The Strange Case…) decided to write about Series 1 of The Avengers because we happened to have a lot to say about it, and we realised that there aren’t any other books out there that cover this mostly missing year in anything like this level of detail. In fact, we originally set out to produce a single book, covering both the storylines and the behind-the-scenes stuff, but it quickly became apparent to us that we had way too much information to fit into just one book, so one became two!

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Picture: Book illustration by Shaqui Le Vesconte.

Could you share one of your favourite anecdotes about the first series?

Richard: One of the most surprising for me was that the episode A Change of Bait, an apparently harmless little story concerning insurance scams and an awful lot of chatting on telephones, led to a complaint being made to the Independent Television Authority, which resulted in the episode being screened before a delegation from the ITA and the Home Office! The reason for the complaint is not known, but it seems likely that it had to do with a detailed depiction of arson in the episode. Fortunately, those present at the screening found nothing to substantiate the complaint and in fact greatly enjoyed the show!

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Picture: The two Avengers Series 1 books. A Strange Case Of The Missing Episodes (left) and With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes (right)

So you have now completed two fine books on The Avengers – Series 1, but we hear that you and Alan are not yet finished and that a new project is in the pipe-line. What’s the subject matter of your next book and when do you anticipate publication?

Richard: I have already mentioned how one book became two. Well, during the preparation of this second volume, it gave rise to a third! Our researches for With Umbrella…led us to look into Police Surgeon, the ‘predecessor’ to The Avengers. Not much is generally known about that series, which ran for just 13 half-hour episodes back in 1960, of which only one episode survives. However, even we were staggered by how much information we have amassed about Police Surgeon, and so now, though it is covered in this book to a degree, it will also be getting a book of its very own!

It should be ready in the early months of 2015, and it will cover both the narrative and production side of things. I don’t want to go into too much more detail than that as of yet, because the book is still being prepared, and I wouldn’t want to steal the thunder from our current publication, With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes! Together, we like to think of these three volumes (two Avengers books and one Police Surgeon book) as our unofficial ‘Ian Hendry trilogy’.

Thanks Richard for taking the time to chat with us and sharing some fascinating insights into the series. We wish both you and Alan great success with your new book, which will definitely be a very enjoyable read and valuable resource for the many fans of The Avengers.

Richard: My pleasure!

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Now Available:

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With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes – An Unauthorised Guide to The Avengers Series 1

Authors: Richard McGinlay and Alan Hayes.

Published by: Lulu.com

Discount Code: Use the discount code MATEY25 at the checkout on Lulu.com to get an amazing 25% off the price of all paperbacks AND hardcover books. Until September 22nd 2014.

Further Details: For full details of the book and how to purchase, please click on the link below:

>>> For Hard Back/ Paperback Versions: Click here

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For details of their first book, The Strange Case Of The Missing Episodes – The Lost Stories Of The Avengers Series 1 click here

And lastly! Alan Hayes also runs the The Avengers Declassified website which is well worth checking out. It covers every season of The Avengers as well as the show’s reincarnation as the New Avengers.

Best wishes

Neil Hendry
Editor, Official Website of Ian Hendry

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Further Reading

A detailed account of the life and work of Ian Hendry in the new biography:

Read:  ‘Send in the Clowns – The Yo Yo Life Of Ian Hendry’ by Gabriel Hershman

Send In The Clowns - The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry

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