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Series Guide
The Series in Detail

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Series Guide
• Background Notes
• The Series in Detail
• The Programmes
• Personnel File
• Steed Talks

News and Comment
• Episode Recoveries
• Restoration Project
• Features
• Reviews
• Your Views

Resources
• The Avengers Declassified

About this Site
• Site Stuff

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. 

4. ON THE AIR

Springbok Radio logo

The Avengers aired in a prime-time slot on one of South Africa's most popular commercial channels, Springbok Radio. Each Monday to Friday evening, listeners were able to tune in to The Avengers between 7.15 and 7.30pm on the station's evening frequencies - 4945kHz and 6195kHz.

The very nature of the timeslot (being only fifteen minutes in length) immediately forced Sonovision to stray from the traditional format of The Avengers. On British television, the series had always been presented one-hour stand-alone dramas which were transmitted weekly, and clearly Sonovision would be unable to adapt them verbatim for the serial format they would operate in. However, Gooden and Jay quickly realised that this gave them the ideal framework to deliver a serial a week, and to begin with, the series followed this path (later the number of episodes per serial rose to six and sometimes seven installments).

Another stipulation imposed upon the series was that each episode had to accommodate two 45-second commercial breaks - one after the opening theme and one before the closing theme. Allowing for station announcements and the like, this meant that for each Avengers episode, Sonovision would have to produce something in the region of thirteen minutes of programme material.

Serialisation proved not to have as major an impact on plot structure as might at first have been envisaged. The original television series had been designed to be sold to commercial broadcasters around the world, so there were an abundance of 'cliffhangers' written into each episode - after which, breaks could be inserted. any of these dramatic devices were retained and manifested themselves in climactic episode endings on the radio. Oddly, despite the fact that the serial format was very much imposed upon the production, it remains one of the most endearing aspects of the radio series.

The Avengers was a mainstay of Springbok Radio's weeknight schedule from 6th December 1971 until 28th December 1973. Other drama programmes running on the station at the time were The World of Hammond Innes, Sonovision's Squad Cars (an absolute mainstay of Springbok Radio, running from 1967 to 1985 when the station closed), and Max Headley - Special Agent, in which Donald Monat made many appearances.

CHANGES OF DIRECTION...

Tony Jay in the Control Room

In Control... 
Tony Jay directs an episode of The Avengers from the Sonovision Control Room.

At the outset, Tony Jay knew his involvement with the series would not be a permanent one. "When Dave Gooden approached me to instigate the series, I had already made plans to re-locate back to London, so I stayed on in South Africa for a further six months in order to get the show established on the air."

By the middle of 1972, Jay's six months was up and, as planned, he left the series and returned to England.

However, the series had become highly popular and any thoughts that the show might end then and there were quickly banished. To this end, David Gooden asked another actor-director, Dennis Folbigge, to assume Jay's role in the flourishing series. "This kind of thing was quite common in South Africa in those days," Donald Monat points out. "Those of us who wrote and directed often took over other colleagues' writing and production work when someone was away doing a movie, a theatrical tour or was just unavailable."

Folbigge's arrival prompted some changes. The first was out of necessity - the first six months' programming had eaten into the scripts available for adaptation, and as time moved on, Folbigge had to base more and more of his adaptations on scripts that were not written for Steed and Emma Peel, but for Steed and Tara King. Tara was the character introduced in the television series following the departure of Diana Rigg, the actress who played Emma Peel. Folbigge decided that for the sake of continuity, he would keep the Emma Peel character for the radio series, merely giving her Tara King's lines. Unfortunately, this often lead to Mrs. Peel appearing to be somewhat out of character. The other obvious change was to the number of installments per serial, which would now vary. The majority of serials transmitted during Folbigge's tenure were divided into six fifteen-minute programmes, though occasionally serials would run an episode more or less than this. In retrospect, this would appear to have made the Monday to Friday scheduling a little untidy, with serials over running into the next week, and no regular night for a new story to begin. However, this move does not appear to have had any quantifiable effect on the series' popularity.

The Avengers ran five nights a week for a period of just over two years. During this time, it is believed that as many as eighty-three serials could have been made - this is the number of Emma Peel and Tara King scripts that would have been available to be adapted.

Tony Jay and Dennis Folbigge generally made their radio adaptations based upon early versions of the television scripts. This means that radio listeners got to hear Too Many Olés set in Spain (as its source episode, They Keep Killing Steed was intended to be) and were also treated to an adaptation of at least one of the unfinished Tara King episodes, Invitation to a Killing (as Straight from the Shoulder). This practice also meant that several scenes that were planned for television episodes, but were aborted, manifest themselves in the radio episodes.

Dennis Folbigge

The New Man...
Dennis Folbigge, The Avengers adaptor and director Mk. II.

 

Today, these are fascinating insights for Avengers fans into what might have been. It is a tantalising thought that The Great, Great Britain Crime - the other abandoned Tara King episode - may well have been produced for the radio... It is also certain that although no serials were repeated, some serials were remade later in the run, reperformed with minor plot and character changes. These were based on earlier adaptations of episodes. It is now known that the three existing episodes of Escape in Time hail from a second version of the story scripted by Dennis Folbigge, with the character of Mother incorporated. (Tony Jay never used the Mother character.)

As the number of scripts suitable for adapting dwindled, David Gooden briefly investigated the possibility of Sonovision's writers devising their own Avengers plotlines for serials. Sadly, permission to do this was not forthcoming from EMI. Consequently, the series would eventually cease production in 1974 for no reason other than that Sonovision simply ran out of television scripts to adapt.

THE LAST LAUGH...

After the series finished, there was one more, albeit fairly fleeting appearance for Monat and Appleby as Steed and Emma on Springbok Radio. The occasion of this return to their Avengers characters was the popular radio station's Silver Jubilee celebration in April 1975.

Commissioned to write a celebratory romp through the best of Springbok Radio's output, Donald Monat and June Dixon came up with The Great Gong Robbery, a forty-minute programme which incorporated characters and personalities from many of Springbok's greatest successes. Produced by Donald and featuring a cast of household names from South African radio, the programme was ultimately broadcast live in prime time on 30th April 1975. Donald Monat remembers: "The Great Gong Robbery was performed live in front of a studio audience at the SABC Variety Theatre, Broadcast House, Johannesburg at the time of transmission. This was quite a challenge, as none of us had done a drama or comedy programme literally live on the air for decades."

Springbok Radio Silver Jubilee Show Souvenir Album

Party Time... 
The SABC got together with Trutone to issue a souvenir double album of Springbok Radio's Silver Jubilee show. The album contained The Great Gong Robbery and many memories from 25 years of Springbok broadcasts.

The accent was on comedy and the plot was straightforward - someone had stolen the famous Springbok Gong (a distinctive xylophone-style instrument upon which station announcers would play call signs at regular times on Springbok Radio), and it was down to a succession of Springbok characters, past and present, to recover it. Two bumbling South African policemen (lifted from Sonovision's legendary Squad Cars and played by Michael Mayer and Hal Orlandini) were assigned to the case and formed the linking device, whereby they would call on characters from other Springbok successes, such as The Mind of Tracy Dark (which was by this time well-established in the timeslot relinquished by The Avengers), Taxi, Jet Jungle (starring Diane Appleby) and many others. The spoofery did not stick to radio drama sources, taking in variety and quiz shows, such as Pick-A-Box (a development of British TV's Take Your Pick from the 1950s) and Going for a Song along the way. Since there was such a large cast, it was possible to include characters from two or three series that were no longer on the air. The Avengers was one of these instances, made possible as both Donald Monat and Diane Appleby would be appearing in the broadcast in any case. When we meet them in the show, the crime-fighting pair state that they are retired. And the reason for their retirement? Well, without putting too fine a point on it, they seem to have shacked up together! (Obviously, the retirement comment refers to their recent absence from the airwaves.)

The Great Gong Robbery proved immensely popular, as did the whole two-hour commemorative programme. So much so, in fact, that the whole two hours, including The Great Gong Robbery, were issued on SABC Records (Catalogue No. UKBC 1) some months later, distributed by Trutone (who still exist today as part of Gallo Africa Limited). By all accounts, the record - a double album - sold in great numbers.

The two-minute section of The Great Gong Robbery that features Steed and Emma is available from the Free Stuff section, to download.

by Alan Hayes with Donald Monat, Tony Jay and Frans Erasmus

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