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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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."
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
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.
Alan Hayes with Donald Monat, Tony Jay and Frans Erasmus
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