• "TRAIN OF EVENTS"
Many of us fans who have literally devoured every available Avengers episode and become so
acquainted with the show, its characters and stars, have remained a bit sceptical about its
different follow-ups. A short-lived stage version and a disappointing motion picture seemed to
reinforce our views, proving that The Avengers has been rather unwelcoming to formats
other than television's.
However, those who have had the chance to dig for hidden treasures, found the possible exception
to the rule. Sonovision's radio adaptation of The Avengers that aired in South Africa thirty
years ago is a refreshing experience that might well change our minds and consign our memories of
the ill-fated movie to oblivion.
Not only that - this intriguing version of The Avengers makes a lot of sense, especially
the Emma Peel episodes adapted, because they comply almost entirely with the original scripts and
music score. In other words, this is a bona fide recreation of the TV show, with no further
alterations other than those essential for a radio adaptation. And that's where the magic lies:
this is pure radio theatre!
Does anyone remember what radio theatre really was? Sadly, I'm hardly aware of it. Its golden era
took place way back between the 1930s and 60s. However, when TV transmissions gradually began around
the world, radio plays faded away. I recall catching the last of them towards the mid Seventies,
when I was still a teenager. I never forgot the sense of adventure that swept me away then while
listening to those few plays. Being so familiar with television, I was surprised that theatre
could also be played on the radio. That was amazing since the audience had to rely solely on
what they could hear. From the actors' voices to the succession of sound effects - wind blowing,
cars speeding, doors slamming and the like - one had to figure the whole play out by stimulating
one's imagination. You had to work to see in your mind what you could only in fact hear. Sometimes,
such was the involvement one had in the play, that it was hard to admit that one was being
"taken in" by only a few actors gathered around a microphone, and someone behind playing hundreds
of different sound tapes or merely making noises withthe most unexpected devices! That was magic,
Now, three decades later, one hears a gravely pronounced "The wind was cold and bitter..." as a
blustery breeze engulfs our room leading us to a startling time tunnel... And the magic springs
True to the script of A Funny
Thing Happened On The Way To The Station (with only minor changes, except for the tag scene)
and supported by a lively narration, superior performances and an appropriate music score that at
times resembles Johnny Dankworth's zippy jazz tunes, Train of
Events is a delightful piece to enjoy throughout.
The atmosphere of trains and stations is splendidly generated right from the outset. Even though
we clearly appreciate steam trains "rolling" on radio - as opposed to the electric trains of the
TV version - the Doppler effect is well handled, creating the feeling of passing trains quite to
perfection. Also the phone calls, Emma listening to Steed's umbrella and the relatively hard to
reproduce on radio "Diddly-dah, diddly-dum" or the "D-U-R-B-R-I-D-G-E" thingy are clearly made out
without any trouble.
The roles of Crewe and the Admiral, in particular, drew my attention. The former succeeds in
portraying an old nutcase in very much the same vein as John Laurie's character of the TV play. The
Admiral's part, however, is developed a bit more into an equally old oddball. For some reason, he
occasionally reminds me of other Avengerish characters - though not that eccentric - such
as Maj.-Gen. Goddard of What
The Butler Saw, Hopkirk of
Honey For The Prince
or Jordan (again Ron Moody) of
The Bird Who Knew Too
Much. To me, this Admiral sounds much funnier than that of the TV version.
Even the trademark Steed-Emma banter hasn't vanished on radio. Apart from the lines coming from the
original script, there are some quite enjoyable additions. Perhaps the best is the first scene
together, which incidentally was never shown on television. Steed is playing with a train set he
acquired for his "retarded" nephew Willy, since the boy needed "something to concentrate on."
However, soon after the trains crash suddenly. "You didn't move the points, Steed," Mrs Peel
chuckles, as suggesting he failed to concentrate enough on the toy, whereupon Steed concludes he
should get "something a little more simple." No doubt, this could have been a much more amusing
teaser than the one Clemens created for the TV play, though the "retarded" angle is questionable.
I'm bound to say both Diane Appleby and Donald Monat give strong, fine performances. Neither sought
to emulate their counterparts, Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee, and I'm not sure I would have approved
that. Both deliver a free interpretation of our heroes, with different voices, mannerisms and even
British intonations, the latter being somewhat dissimilar compared with the classic Pat Macnee's or
Di Rigg's "Queen's English" we grew so accustomed to hearing. Mr. Monat has been so very kind to
explain to me recently that the plain modulations they spoke with were in agreement to the standard
followed by many British-born performers working abroad. A "more internationally neutral tone" was
the general trend to "subdue any 'very British' or old-style BBC intonations." Very interesting
Only the tag scene is completely different in relation to that we all know from the TV version.
Whether it was deliberate or not is hard to pin down, but knowing that Sonovision frequently
received draft copies of the TV scripts, such a change might be fully justified. In the radio
version, we have a tag in the style of the Peel monochrome TV season that in no way detracts
from the overall storyline.
If radio is a tricky vehicle for plays, then a good part of their success relies on talent and
effort. The fact that one gets into a play previously seen on television a dozen of times, and
even so enjoys it as if seeing it afresh in the mind, is indicative that some kind of magic
occurred during the process. Only talent and effort can achieve that.
Listening to these impeccable Sonovision productions, one becomes aware of these talents and the
dedication of all involved, concluding that the magnetism of radio theatre still stands, after so
many years. And I'm delighted to revive that wonderful charisma arm in arm with
Reviewed by Susana B. Grassino