THE PATH TO SONOVISION
series got underway at Sonovision Studios, two pilot shows for the The Avengers were made at
A.F. Stanley (a.k.a. AFS) Studios, another recording facility in Johannesburg. There were, in fact, a
good many production houses within walking distance of SABC's Broadcast House on Commissioner Street
at the time of The Avengers. Aside from Sonovision - who had recently moved from their initial
location on Kirk Street to a new state-of-the-art facility on Plein Street - and AFS, there were also
studios at CRC (Commercial Radio Corporation), AKA (Audio-Kine-Africa) and MvN (Manley van Niekerk)
among others. The great bulk of Springbok Radio output and many programmes and commercials for other
stations were produced in these production houses - it was a busy old life being involved in the
production of South African radio!
Just who was the original radio
It was during 1971, several months before the first Sonovision recordings, that the
first pilot version of The Avengers was performed and recorded at the AFS Studios.
Coincidentally, Donald Monat was also involved in this
production, but in a quite different capacity to the one that he would
later enjoy. "As far as I can remember, I played the chief villain.
Someone else played Steed, and there was a different director. I have a
vague memory that we did it twice with two different Steeds," Monat
recalls. It would appear that neither version was what was hoped for, and
clearly, there was some uncertainty over the casting of John Steed. Two names that have been
suggested as being possible Steeds in the unbroadcast pilots
are Rex Garner - who was Tony
Jay's first choice for the role - and
John Boulter, who sadly is no longer with us to confirm or deny the
theory. The "different director" that Donald Monat refers to is believed to have
been Colin Fish, who would play the character of Mother
in the Dennis Folbigge era Sonovision Avengers
Donald Monat knuckled down to other
work - of which there was always a great deal - but within a short while was in receipt of some
unexpected, but very welcome news about The Avengers. The production was to be shifted to the
recording studios at Sonovision - and Monat himself was being asked to play John Steed.
David Gooden, at his Johannesburg
production house, Sonovision Studios.
Sonovision had been confirmed as producing the radio series, they received a large number of
television scripts of The Avengers from EMI, who were the television series' owners at the
time. Under the auspices of David
Gooden, series producer and owner of Sonovision Studios, Tony Jay
was engaged to adapt these scripts for radio. Jay, an actor, writer and director on a multitude of
South African radio productions, is now better known for his work in America as an actor and
commercial voice artiste. His brief on The Avengers was wide-ranging - in addition to his
scripting duties, Jay was also in charge of casting and would go on to direct the productions.
Tony Jay recalls his time at Sonovision
with fondness. "My association with the wonderful Dave Gooden was very close, and I produced and acted
in innumerable series and one-off plays at Sonovision over a period of about six years, during which
time I had virtually carte-blanche as to how I wished to proceed and whom I wished to cast."
Initially, Tony Jay had approached the
highly-regarded British actor, Rex Garner, to play the part of John Steed. "With the late Dave
Gooden's approval, I cast Donald Monat immediately as Steed, after Rex Garner was either
unavailable or disinterested," Jay recalls today. Rex Garner, now nearing his eighties, has
become something of a national treasure in South Africa, due to his tireless work in theatre there
over five decades. While originally favouring Garner for the central role, Jay rightly acknowledges
the peerless contribution of the performers that he subsequently cast - "Donald Monat did very well as
Steed, as did Diane Appleby as Emma Peel."
While Donald Monat happily stepped into
the handmade designer shoes of John Steed, Rex Garner demonstrated that his rejection of the role was
not motivated by any dislike for the series. He would go on to appear alongside Donald Monat and
Diane Appleby in The Avengers in supporting roles on an occasional basis.
Alan Hayes with Donald Monat and Tony Jay
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