Imagine it's December 1972 and you're sitting in a living room in South Africa. There's no television,
so radio is the source of transmitted entertainment for the nation. Springbok Radio, "the Station
for Brighter Broadcasting", is phenomenally popular and is the home of a wide variety of radio
drama, comedy, variety and current affairs programming. This Monday evening, there's a new series
starting. Donald Monat, a household name for a slew of comedy and drama credits in South Africa, is
to play a character called John Steed in a show called The Avengers.
The Avengers? Now what's that all about?
Straight away, the radio series is heard in isolation - with no preconceptions, or certainly precious
few. The series had a limited release via home rentals on 16mm film, but it would hardly have pricked
the national consciousness. The radio series would have been the first big fanfare for
The Avengers in South Africa. To the listeners who enthusiastically tuned in each weeknight,
Donald Monat was Steed, Diane Appleby was Emma, Colin Fish was Mother. No argument.
It's all too easy to forget that to some, the television series was the secondary path off the main
road (even though, of course, chronologically, the radio series followed the television in terms
of production). Certainly, without the television series, the radio series would never have been
made, but the important thing to consider is audience perspective. The South African fans, who had
to wait many years before seeing the television episodes, may well have judged them against their
memories of the radio series. Maybe they asked questions like, "can Patrick Macnee ever really
replace Donald Monat?" or "does the series work outside the serial format?" or "why no narrator?" -
maybe they didn't, but it's an interesting idea. Without the preconceptions surrounding actors,
character depiction, storytelling, production style, incidental music and so on, the radio series was
always going to succeed or fail on its own merits. It wasn't trading on audience awareness of any
prior version. This wasn't The Avengers Return or even The Avengers Remade, to the
eager listening public. This was The Avengers. Full stop.