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The Series in Detail
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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. 

1. BEGINNINGS

On Monday 6th December 1971 at 7.16pm, Sonovision's The Avengers made its radio debut in South Africa. Those listening in would have heard the distinctive tones of Donald Monat as he brought a fresh interpretation to that most refined of agents, John Steed. Monat had carved out a career in acting, writing and directing on three continents prior to his time on The Avengers, working in South Africa, Canada and his native Britain. 

By the early Seventies, Monat had become a familiar voice on South African radio, having enjoyed considerable success in the 1960s with a succession of hit comedy programmes, which he had co-written and performed with his wife, June Dixon. He remembers the golden era of South African radio, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, as being an extraordinarily hectic, but exciting, period: "The South African radio networks were producing an astonishing volume of programming, broadcasting full services in English, Afrikaans and several African languages including Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana and Sotho. In English alone, they were turning out some forty-five hours a week of original drama and comedy programmes - which was probably considerably more than the total output of BBC Radio Drama at the time."

Donald Monat as John Steed, Diane Appleby as Emma Peel

The New Steed and Peel... 
Donald Monat as John Steed and Diane Appleby as Emma Peel - South Africa's Avengers...

The extraordinary thing, however, was that this massive volume of programming was actually made with a very small pool of actors. "Ninety percent of the work was done by a group of less than forty of us who went from studio to studio all day long, recording everything from Shakespeare to soap opera and, on a good day, a few commercials, which were much better paid," recalls Donald Monat. "Some actors were on the staff of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), but most were freelance. Many might also be working in the evening in a stage production. Budgets were tiny - and so were the fees, which meant that you had to do a great volume of work to make a living." 

While playing John Steed in The Avengers, Donald Monat found himself having to supplement his income by writing, directing and playing in several other programmes.

EARLY DAYS...

The Omo Superior!

The Omo Superior! 
Cold Water Omo, forever linked with The Avengers.

Springbok Radio, the station which broadcast The Avengers, was a commercial channel owned by SABC. In addition to the regular commercials that aired on Springbok Radio, many timeslots on the channel were held by sponsor advertisers, who would finance programme making in return for publicity.

It was not unknown for sponsor companies to suggest programming which they felt would benefit the image of their products. It is a possibility, therefore, that the germ of the idea of producing The Avengers originated in the advertising section of Lever Brothers, the detergent company who were to become the series' prime sponsors. Lever Brothers had held the 7.15-7.30pm timeslot on Springbok Radio for many years and had funded many long-running serials (notably No Place to Hide, which ran from 1959 to early 1971. The serial that directly preceded The Avengers was That Strong Family, starring Diane Wilson as Jody Strong). It is also worth considering that, in the early Seventies, a great many professionals in South African radio and advertising were British expatriates, who would have been likely to have seen the series while in Britain.

The Lever Brothers link, regardless of whether or not the credit for devising the series could be laid at their door, brought The Avengers essential financial support and a constant supply of recording media. In return, each night's opening announcement proclaimed that The Avengers came "from the makers of Cold Water Omo" (the voiceover by Denis Smith, and later, we believe, Malcolm Gooding). Omo was Lever Brothers' major detergent of the day, and the cold water variety was their latest innovation. While a detergent seems an unlikely product partner for The Avengers, the commercials transmitted during the broadcasts - for beauty products, household detergents, deodorants and iced lollies - suggest that a family audience listened to the series, with the South African housewife being the major target of advertisers at this time of the evening.

by Alan Hayes with Donald Monat

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