SCRIPTING AND PRODUCTION
After being given the go-ahead to produce their new series, Sonovision, and
Tony Jay in particular, found themselves with little time
to spend in pre-production before the delivery of the first serial to Springbok Radio for broadcast.
"The time-frame for pre-broadcast development was not long at all, that being the normal routine in
South Africa in those days," Tony Jay recalls ruefully. In these supposedly enlightened days when
movies and television series are "in development" for many months, even years, it is difficult to
accept that in the 1970s, a series could go from next to nothing through scripting, recording to
broadcast in the space of little more than a fortnight! "I had about two weeks to prepare the first
two serials - each comprising five fifteen-minute scripts - prior to recording and broadcast. But
that was nothing unusual, as most radio jobs were facilitated at lightning speed - something I've
always been grateful for, since it taught me to sight read, a great advantage in my later career.
Subsequent scripts were usually prepared only one or two weeks ahead, as I had to spend much time
sorting through the pile of available TV scripts in order to decide which ones were less 'visual'
A 1990s publicity photograph.
Coping with overtly visual content in the television scripts was was one of the major hurdles for Tony
Jay to overcome in adapting The Avengers for radio. Should he eject it completely, or could
he communicate visual material in sound in a way that would not patronise the audience?
Eventually, Jay would decide that some
of this content would have to replaced with fresh, more radio-friendly material, but that in many
other instances, there was indeed a way forward. "I soon realized that I would need a narrator, which
the late Hugh Rouse did marvellously well," Jay remembers.
"But I wanted a narrator with a point of view and more than a touch of irony, a kind of interested,
but sceptical observer, and those interpolations were created by myself, adding a very attractive
twist to the programme."
Narrators have been used in radio programmes since the medium's inception, often with mediocre
results. It is to Tony Jay's credit that the narrator character he devised exists at the very
centre of the piece, giving the series an off-beat style and humour that is entirely its own,
but which seems to fit into The Avengers format seamlessly. Jay's deft scripting and Hugh
Rouse's assured delivery are among the many factors which mark out the Sonovision radio series as
a very individual take on The Avengers.
Avengers in Studio...
Above: Michael Mayer, Diane
Appleby and June Dixon record an early episode of The Avengers.
Don McCorkindale and Rex Garner at the same recording session.
The serials were recorded in what can only be described as a state of frenetic activity.
Donald Monat casts his mind back: "The principal and most
successful radio actors became very skilled - and so did the technicians, which was essential as
rehearsal time was minimal. A major, ninety-minute play-of-the-week had to be rehearsed and recorded
in one day - and serials like The Avengers were recorded at sight, with no rehearsal or
read-through, five or six episodes in one afternoon. Normally, you didn't even get the scripts in
advance. The first time you saw them was when you walked into the studio for the recording. All live
effects - such as footsteps, doors opening, drinks being poured, etc - were done by the actors and
all recorded effects and music were normally incorporated as we recorded so that there was very
little editing or post-production to be done."
The company of players that made The Avengers would usually number no more than eight for a
serial, mainly to save on costs. As a serial might have twenty character parts in it, this meant
that actors would often have to play two or three roles. For this reason, full casts were rarely
announced in either The Avengers or other Springbok Radio productions. Donald Monat notes
that "this wouldn't have sounded too good... In fact, it was extremely rare for even the leads
to get credited (in anything under half an hour in length)." (In the case of The Avengers,
the two lead actors and the adaptor/director and producer received an on-air credit once a week, at
the end of each Friday night episode.) Over the full length of the series, the majority of the pool
of actors who worked regularly for Sonovision would have appeared in
The Avengers at some point.
The only ever-present performers in the series aside from Donald Monat were
Diane Appleby, cast as Emma Peel, and the narrator, Hugh
Rouse, who succeeded in keeping the programmes moving at a jaunty pace. The single semi-regular
character, Mother, played here in most instances by Colin Fish,
appeared mainly in serials based on scripts from the final series of The Avengers, in which the
character featured as Steed's department head. The other players, who would only appear sporadically
on the show, are somewhat shrouded in mystery. However, more than a little belatedly, we can now
reveal at least some of the unsung 'back row' heroes of The Avengers: Clive Belman,
June Dixon, Rex Garner,
Bruce Millar, Hal Orlandini,
and Shelagh Holliday (many more are listed in the
Personnel File)... Take a bow, ladies and gentlemen!
Recording studios are pretty much the same the world over, and Sonovision was no exception. In one part of
the studio, the actors would have performed roles at the microphones, while in the other - a small
sound-proofed Control Room - the technical side of the recording session would have been overseen by
the production staff.
At Sonovision, there were generally three people in the Control Room: a director, a producer and a
controller. These roles often varied considerably from organisation to organisation - for instance,
in some Johannesburg production houses, the roles of director and producer were amalgamated and
were carried out by a single person. For this reason, it is sensible to explain what these jobs
entailed at Sonovision.
Sound Controller, Paul Wright
(seated) and producer, David Gooden, go through the requirements for the
episode in production.
The Director - initially Tony Jay, and later Dennis
Folbigge - was responsible for directing the artistic side of the production. His brief
would have included the oversight of sound effects and music to be included in the programme, and
liaison with, and direction of, the actors. The latter task would be achieved visually, through
the control room window, and via 'talkback', where he could communicate directly with performers
via their headphones.
The Producer's role in South African radio was essentially administrative and organisational.
Many producers approached productions in different ways. David
Gooden, producer of The Avengers, for instance, coming from a technical background,
would, aside from his organisational tasks, also regularly supervise the sound engineering side
of the production.
The Controller - or sound engineer - sat at the mixing desk, adjusting the levels of the
various channels in the mix. Paul Wright (pictured above,
with David Gooden) was often the controller on The Avengers, but there were others who
filled this role throughout the duration of the series.
One of the major operations within the Control Room would be the playing in of any recorded sound
effects and incidental or theme music. These would generally be fed into the mixing console from
vinyl disc and be combined with the microphone sources from the actors' area. Where particular
themes were to be used regularly, such as the Theme to The Avengers, which would be used for
every episode, they would often be transferred to reel-to-reel quarter-inch tape to avoid excessive
wear to the original discs. Much of the incidental music used for The Avengers would have
been from 'library' collections of stock music. Copyright clearances on tracks from library discs
were relatively inexpensive, and each producer would normally have his or her favourite libraries
of theme and background music. Among the music for The Avengers, the
Laurie Johnson pieces, such as the series theme and the
Synthesis excerpt would have been licensed separately by EMI.
The Control Room would also be the setting for post-production work, if any was needed. While
programmes were recorded, where possible, without breaks, inevitably actors would occasionally
"fluff" their lines, or a technical problem might arise. These tended to be removed by rewinding
the tape to a point prior to the fluff and 'picking up' at a point on the tape where an edit would
be imperceptible. Often there would be some minor mistakes that would have to be taken out
afterwards. Cuts, in those days, were nearly always made by physically cutting and splicing the
tape. If there were too many splices in a tape - more than, say, four or five - the tape would
be dubbed in its entirety on to a fresh tape. This was to guard against a splice coming apart
while a programme was being broadcast.
Post production would also be performed on recordings to make them run to time, and occasionally to
tighten up gaps between actors' lines or sound effects for dramatic effect.
Alan Hayes with Donald Monat and Tony Jay
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