In April 2002, Alan and Alys Hayes, webmasters of Avengers on the Radio, were contacted via
the wonders of email by John Wright, an old-time radio enthusiast living in Port Elizabeth, South
Africa. John had initially contacted One-Ten's
website, regarding his late friend, Douglas Enefer. When One-Ten learned that John had recorded the
Avengers radio series off-air in the 1970s, he suggested John contact us.
Before long, it became abundantly clear that, although John would scoff good-humouredly at the
suggestion, without his endeavours, there would be no website here for you to read and Donald Monat's
bravura turn as John Steed would have been lost forever in the ether.
Starting in the 1960s, John, an avid listener of Springbok Radio, began recording several programmes
off-air on ¼" reel-to-reel tape. Among these were series such as Address Unknown,
The Creaking Door, SF-68, Consider Your Verdict, Taxi,
Lux Radio Theatre, Medical File and the South African adaptations of the
Sherlock Holmes adventures.
John Wright's catalogue of his Avengers
And The Avengers! Nineteen complete serials of The Avengers! These
nineteen serials included the thirteen that were already known to exist (offered by OTR dealers in
their catalogues), and another six that had been unheard since 1973/4. Six serials - representing
another eight whole weeks of Avengers broadcasts - that were previously thought missing by
fans of the series.
There is clear evidence that the thirteen serials that were previously available were, in fact,
sourced from John's recordings. His tapes proffer many clues which lead one to this conclusion –
episodes on the OTR retail tapes feature introductory voice-overs on exactly the same episodes, and
several recording glitches are carried across from one to the other. To add weight to the argument,
John recalls making his Avengers recordings for the benefit of Ron Baron, a partially-sighted
radio enthusiast living in America. Ron – "a truly nice guy," as John recalls - was the only person
that he ever copied his Avengers tapes for. Clearly Ron made copies for others that he
exchanged tapes with - and thank goodness he did!
To this day, John is still not sure quite why he recorded so much of Springbok Radio's output. He
puts it down to a long love affair with radio and the desire to capture some of it for posterity,
fearing (correctly) that the heyday of radio drama would not last forever. His recordings of
The Avengers and other South African productions are all the more valuable when you consider
that precious little was ever archived officially. (See
The Series in Detail: 6 for further details on official
After a short while, John very generously decided to donate his Avengers recordings to
Avengers on the Radio, and mailed them to England in May 2002. This would no doubt have
happened earlier had the recipients not fretted over the possibility of the tapes becoming lost
in the post, and the best way to get them from South Africa to England avoiding this nightmarish
All the Rare Tapes Go to Die...
This was definitely a game we didn't
want to be playing with The Avengers!
Imagine, if you will, the thought of what may well be the only surviving off-air recordings of
The Avengers ending up in some postal Bermuda Triangle. This was a very real concern, and it
was therefore a great relief when the four packages arrived safely at the Mother-in-law's!
Fingernails had been bitten down to the quick and our toenails had begun to look up at us, afraid
for their future! Fortunately, all nine tapes survived the transit very well, with no appreciable
damage to either the reels or the boxes. Phew!
Now the painstaking process of transferring the tapes to the digital domain could begin, before
being restored to a professional standard. You can read more about the restoration process in the
very aptly named sister article to this one:
The Restoration Process!
TAPES... THE LOWDOWN...
The tapes themselves are mostly 1800' reels, with some 1200' and 2400' in the mix. Each tape is
divided into four separate monaural tracks (two on each side), each of which are recorded at 3¾ inches
per second. Originally, John recorded these tapes in two-track mode only (giving the possibility of
recording from stereo sources and a marginally better recording quality), but the scarcity
and expense of reels of blank tape (this at a time when compact cassette was making a significant
impression on the home recording market) meant that he eventually recorded over the inner tracks
on many of his tapes.
Present and Correct...
John Wright's reel-to-reel tapes
arrive in England and are given the red carpet treatment...
This practice preserved the original recording as a single rather than double track recording, and
allowed the taping of another programme over the other track. The great majority of John's off-airs
of The Avengers serials were recorded in this way, taping over the inside tracks of older
John made his recordings on Sony equipment - most regularly on a Sony-O-Matic with the remainder on a
Sony 260 stereo recorder, which John still has in working order to this day.
A similar model to one of the recorders John Wright used to tape The Avengers
Most recordings were achieved with a direct patch connection to the radio, giving an excellent
frequency response and a warm sound (and thankfully lacking, of course, the cries of "dinner's
ready!" and "who's a pretty boy, then?" that were preserved forever on many a fan recording!).
Occasionally, out of necessity when away from home, some recordings were made by placing a
telephone (suction-cup style) microphone over the speaker of a portable radio. Even in these
latter instances, while obviously not being of a studio quality, the results were perfectly
So, the $64,000 Question: How have the tapes survived? Well, on the whole, remarkably well.
Don't forget, these recordings were thirty years old in their year of recovery (and the tapes
themselves, even older). Inevitably, the tapes have developed drop outs – some reels more than
others. However, the overall quality is excellent, with minimal background noise, good frequency
response and clear sound. The fact that they were recorded using a direct connection to the radio
means that these are as near in quality to the original master recordings as fans of South African
radio and The Avengers are ever likely to hear today. They are very impressive (with a few
exceptions, see Restoration Reports), and a marked
improvement over the multi-generational copies previously in circulation. It is a pleasure to
have been involved in their recovery, and we look forward to restoring them, making them
available freely to enthusiasts and returning them to the SABC Radio Sound Archive for
August 2002 Update: A further episode has been recovered this month, adding
another episode to the so-far incomplete serial, Escape in Time:
Version Two. This episode is the third of the serial - previously, only Episodes One and
Two were known to exist (though the original source of these two episodes is unclear).
This recording has been sent to us by Barbara Peterson, who spent some of
her childhood living in South Africa while her father flew food into
famine-stricken Mozambique. Barbara made the recording on compact cassette shortly before moving to Lobatse,
Botswana (and out of range of Springbok Radio transmissions, unfortunately!) in 1973.
Barbara now lives in her native America.
Barbara Peterson's original cassette containing
Escape in Time: Version Two, Episode Three... Another episode recovered!
As with John Wright, Barbara has been very kind and trusting to send her original master recording
to us. The episode is missing the very first few seconds, though this is simply a reprise from
the end of Episode Two, so patching will be possible. We're very grateful for the generosity of
both Barbara and John. They have both earned themselves places in The Avengers hall of
by Alan and Alys Hayes