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Avengers on the Radio designed, maintained and Copyright by Alan and Alys Hayes.

The Avengers is Copyright CANAL+IMAGE UK Ltd. No attempt to infringe this copyright is intended. 


The radio play is the form of performance closest to literature itself. Like literature, the success of a radio drama depends entirely upon the effect of words upon its audience. Unlike the Globe Theatre, it is a cockpit that can easily hold the vasty fields of France, since there is no dissonance between the eye and the imagination. True, the writer's words are abetted by a variety of sounds, not the least of which is the timbre and expressiveness of the actors' voices, but all sounds are merely an echo to the sense in a drama, even in opera.

As a writer, I've always been fond of radio plays. You don't have to worry about the director cutting your dialogue so he can insert a logically stupid but viscerally stunning visual effect in its place. (Has anyone else noticed how truly awful the writing is in most special effects movies?) If anything, for a radio play, even more words are needed. Since I usually get paid by the word (except for labours of love, of course, like this review), I'm all in favour of that.

One thing is certain: the FX in your head cost the producers considerably less than they do in a visual medium. For this reason, radio drama is a particularly effective solution to dramatising fantasy and science fiction. Long before The Lord of the Rings was produced successfully on celluloid, it had been well presented on radio. So what could be more natural than adapting the Brian Clemens-era Avengers episodes?

In a sense, of course, it's problematic, because everybody already knows what the episodes are supposed to look like. On the other hand, I can't claim I see Patrick Macnee when I listen to Donald Monat, although Steed's bowler and brolly are still in evidence.

Which brings me (at last) to From Venus With Love. As science fiction, the story is a complete disaster. Real lasers are silent. Real lasers do not dramatically increase ambient heat. Real lasers do not cover everything in their vicinity with white ash. Real lasers do not require the use of a parabolic dish antenna (as in the TV version). Despite all that, From Venus With Love has long been one of my favourite Avengers episodes because of all of the typical Avengerian quirks in the plot.

How can you not love Bertram Fortescue Winthrop-Smythe, the blue-blooded chimney sweep? (Note: Bert in the radio version is considerably less Bertie Wooster-like than in the TV version, but still an upstanding exemplar of the eccentric gentry.) How can you not adore Brigadier Whitehead fearlessly galloping between gramophones in performing his own radio play adaptation of his memoirs? How can you fail to be delighted with Primble's eye chart, portraying, as it does, images of different hats in place of the far more prosaic alphabet (or those boring 'E's pointed in different cardinal directions from my long ago youth)? And of course, there is the arch humour of the title itself, a gentle nudge in James Bond's ribs.

One wishes to report that in this episode, in which the sonic has an importance far beyond that in any other Avengers episode, the radio play has triumphed. One wishes to report that comparison with the TV original is superfluous. Alas, one cannot honestly report these things. The radio version is not without its disappointments. Venus Brown was an attractive (if somewhat distracted) wide-eyed and youngish brunette in the TV version. On the radio, she is a twenty-something blonde bombshell, whose exaggerated come-hither vocalisations sound like they are being uttered by a forty-something torch singer. The slapstick climax of the TV version, which was filled with visual gags, could not be adapted successfully for the radio, making for a too-abrupt denouement.

But what of the all-important sound effects? Such effects are produced in radically different ways in the two media. Filmed television adds sound effects in post production, i.e., after the film is 'in the can', as we say in Hollyweird. This is done by 'Foley men' (presumably named after the originator of the technique). When you see a cinematic burglar step on broken glass and hear the crunch of his boot further fracturing the fallen fragments, the odds are overwhelming that it was added by a Foley man long after the actors had moved on to their next projects. Radio plays, on the other hand, stick much closer to their live broadcast roots. Sound effects are performed by various means, frequently by the actors themselves, as the scripts are being read into the microphones.

In the case of From Venus With Love, the critical sound effect is that of the high-powered laser. On TV, this effect was produced by combining several sounds, including a recording of a bullet ricochet being played backwards and an electrical discharge against a charged plate. In the radio version, the sound was obviously mostly electronically generated - coming off like some gizmo on the bridge of the Sixties-vintage incarnation of the Starship Enterprise. It has far less impact. (To hear the television effect, click this icon , courtesy The Avengers Forever.)

But all is not lost. There is a charming new scene at the beginning, where Emma and Steed are dining in a rooftop garden, and Appleby's and Monat's performances throughout are completely engaging. The droll humour of the narrator is on a par with other episodes.

And the tag sequence suggests an amusing alternative to Cold Water Omo.

Reviewed by James Lincoln Warren