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Donald Monat

In April 2001, Donald Monat, 
the actor who played John Steed in the Sonovision radio series THE AVENGERS, 
kindly visited 
TheAvengers.TV Forum
to talk to fans of the series.

Presented here are extensive highlights 
of the conversations that took place.

Greetings from Donald Monat...

"Greetings to all Avengers fans ...

Alan and Alys Hayes invited me to visit your forum and I have to confess I am really impressed by your interest and devotion to the subject. As I mentioned to them when we first got in touch last year, I am truly amazed that anyone outside South Africa still remembers the radio series we did nearly 30 years ago in which I had the pleasure of playing John Steed...

Very best wishes to you all ... from Donald Monat"

Donald Monat is John Steed...

Question from Martin Holder: "Having enjoyed several of the radio adaptations, I was wondering whether you based your characterisation of John Steed upon Patrick Macnee's? Did you watch any of the TV episodes prior to recording to "get a feel" for the character, or did you just decide to stamp your own personality upon the role?

Donald Monat: "I certainly did enjoy seeing quite a few episodes of the TV series a few years before I was asked to play Steed in the radio adaptations and I'm sure Patrick Macnee's great performance had become embedded in my memories, but I didn't actually study the TV episodes at the time. I guess I was aiming to interpret the script in the spirit of the TV series, but in my own way - as my voice is quite different to Patrick's."

Question from Alan and Alys Hayes: "Comedy programmes such as Doctor Livingstone, I Presume? and The ABC Show turned yourself and wife and co-star, June Dixon, into household names in South Africa. Do you think that this grounding in comedy helped with the character of John Steed? There is a particularly nice touch in one of the surviving episodes where you develop quite a banter with the Narrator (Hugh Rouse), breaking the tradition of having the narrator as a storyteller simply relaying the tale. We realise that during your time as John Steed, you were playing in other shows too. Do you recall what these were?"

Donald Monat: "Yes, I'm sure that spending many years in comedy was a big help in keeping a light touch in The Avengers. After all these years, it's hard to remember the details of other shows I was doing at the same time but, looking up an old magazine article from 1973, it seems I was directing a drama series about two truck drivers called Wheels, playing regularly in Medical File, Personal Column, Max Headley - Special Agent and The White Oaks of Jalna, hosting a musical panel game called Going For A Song and June and I were writing and starring in a weekly satirical comedy show called Stop The Tape - I Want To Get Off!.

Question from Andrew Shepherd: "I believe that you played Steed for over a year - what is the happiest memory that you've got of your time playing in The Avengers?"

Donald Monat: "I'm not sure I could really pick on a specific incident or episode as the happiest - after some 30 years, my memories of individual recording sessions are a little hazy. In general, however, I thoroughly enjoyed playing in The Avengers because the stories were great fun, Steed was a wonderful role and, for me, a special bonus was that I didn't also have to worry about all the responsibilities of production which I had to handle in a great deal of my radio work.

The series was certainly a great success with the public and I'm sure we could have continued for at least another year or two if we hadn't run out of the original scripts. As you know, we did offer to write original episodes (and this is something we could have done well as we had several highly creative writers working in South African radio at the time) but I understand that permission was refused. Diane Appleby and I were asked to make personal appearances from time to time and we would pop up (in character) at department stores and big events, chat to fans of the show and autograph pictures for them."

Question from Mike Cunningham: "Did you have much opportunity to revise the role of Steed?"

Donald Monat: "While it's generally true that every actor brings his or her own interpretation and personality to a part (and I hope I managed to do that with Steed), our opportunities for revision were very limited. As you probably know from the website, in South African radio daily serials such as The Avengers were recorded at sight without any rehearsal or even a read-through. While I might occasionally change a line or two in order to get a more comfortable phrasing or even drop in an occasional ad lib, there was certainly no time for any serious revisions. We had to complete five (and sometimes six) episodes in an afternoon!"

Welcome Messages

"Welcome Mr Monat!

I was aware of the Avengers radio show only through articles etc - until I picked up a copy of A Deadly Gift at a film fair in Leeds and was mightily impressed with the show. I hope you enjoy your spell at the forum - and thanks again for your excellent interpretation of Steed."

David Tulley

"Hello Donald.

Just wanted to say thanks for dropping by ... and also to express my (belated) thanks for the enjoyment your radio versions of The Avengers have offered me. Having read about the shows before I heard them, I couldn't imagine how anybody else could be John Steed after the many hours I'd enjoyed of the television episodes. And then when I heard A Deadly Gift, I was totally won over with your interpretation of the role.

The shows you did are tremendous fun - and I'd delighted to have learnt so much more about them from the work which Alan, Alys and yourself have put into the website.

All my very best wishes. Thanks for visiting and I hope all the Avengerphiles make you most welcome!"

Andrew Pixley

"A Hearty Welcome!

It is a sincere honor to have such a noteworthy guest grace our forum- particularly someone with a very unique and fascinating perspective of our favorite program. We hope you will enjoy yourself and feel welcome to stay for a good long while."

David K. Smith

"Welcome, Mr Monat!!

A very warm welcome to the forum from all of us yet to say so already! :-)

I'd like to second the words of Andrew Pixley - (the radio series is) terrific fun and your performance brings a new light on the entertaining scripts!"

Gareth Humphreys

"Greetings!  Thanks very much for dropping by. It's a great pleasure to welcome you along. We hope you've enjoyed reading some of the comments on the Forum.

Thanks for your time and (as always) your seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm. Kindest regards."

Alan and Alys Hayes

Working in South Africa...

Question from Andrew Shepherd: "Reading your biography on the Avengers on the Radio website, I wondered why you and your wife June decided to go to South Africa to further your careers? As far as I understand, there was no TV there at the time, so wouldn't there have been more opportunity to get work in the UK or America?"

Donald Monat: "I was born in England, then I was evacuated to South Africa as a child in 1940, went to school and University there and started my career as an actor in Johannesburg at the age of 17. Then went to London to further my career - met and married June and we went back to Johannesburg in 1950 for the beginning of Springbok Radio and started our own production company. We returned to London in 1952 and were developing our careers in television and films there ... then had an offer to go to Canada in 1960. We returned to South Africa in 1962 for family reasons after the sad death of my brother there. Originally it was only going to be a visit for a few months, but we were asked to do a stage revue, then a radio comedy show ... and then one thing led to another and fairly soon we were working morning, noon and night doing our best to support ourselves and our five young children.

Although we were often thinking of moving back to the UK or even going to America, it only became possible in the mid-eighties when we finally moved here to Los Angeles."

Question from Jane Clarke: "How were people in the arts in South Africa were affected by the political unrest in the country?"

Donald Monat: "Many of us were deeply affected by it. When we went back in 1962, we ran into major problems with our stage revue in Cape Town, Party Lines, which had a multi-racial cast and we were always having hassles with the censors over our radio comedy shows which frequently ridiculed the appalling policies of the nationalist government. However, in all fairness, to the SABC, they did let us have a surprising amount freedom to do this and, in fact, I think it's fair to say that many artists and writers made major contributions in pressing for the reforms that ultimately brought about the collapse of apartheid and the emergence of the new South Africa. It's a complex and serious story, but I hope that gives you a little perspective."

Sponsorship ... and Censorship ... in S.A. Radio

Question from Alan Hayes: "Did all programmes recorded for the radio have to be submitted to the sponsors? If so, was this practice still in operation at the time of the making of The Avengers at Sonovision. As a writer and director as well as an actor in South African radio, I suspect that you would have been more aware of the procedures than most."

Donald Monat: "When Springbok Radio started in 1950, many programmes were fully sponsored, that is to say the sponsors bought the time and directly commissioned and paid for the programmes, which gave them the right to approve all scripts and recordings and insert their own commercials, subject to the rules and practices of the network. This was in the style of American commercial radio. However, by the time The Avengers took the air in the seventies things had changed. Most programmes were selected, approved and paid for by the network and advertisers simply bought commercial spots within them. But there was also a form of limited sponsorship which gave the advertiser the right to a "presented by" type of credit such as the "Now, from the makers of Cold Water Omo..."

To the best of my recollection, Lever Brothers had held the daily 7.15 pm strip since the days of full sponsorship and then simply carried on with the more limited form permitted. But, as far as I can remember, although they could and did make suggestions (particularly when new series were being developed), this did not give them the right to approve or reject actual scripts or individual programmes in the seventies. That was the sole prerogative of the network. All any unhappy advertisers could do was to withdraw their advertising - rather like the situation in network television today in the US and, presumably, the UK."

Question from Alan Hayes: "Perhaps you could clarify how the censors worked, and exactly who they were."

Donald Monat: "This is a complex subject. At that time in South Africa the various media - print, films and radio - came under censorship from different boards or bodies. For radio, there were even different procedures for the different networks but, in the case of Springbok Radio programmes (as distinct from the commercials), each programme episode tape had to be submitted to the station a week in advance for servicing, together with two copies of its script and the appropriate music clearance returns. If some words or lines were not acceptable they were usually edited out by the Service Department. If major surgery was required they would contact the production company who might then have to re-edit or even re-record. However, most producers were well aware of the acceptance code and tended to steer clear of anything that might be rejected. Things that were unacceptable were rather like the BBC in the old days - bad language, explicit sex, anything that might be construed as sacriligous, or an attack on the government. I don't think The Avengers ran into many major problems as the original TV scripts already reflected the acceptance policies of British and American commercial television 40 years ago - which were not all that different.

Springbok Radio programmes were censored (or what the station considered "approved for broadcast") only as finished recordings. The people who did this were not really a government department - they were employees of the SABC, which (at the time) was rather like the BBC - i.e. an independent body, but ultimately responsible to a minister of the government.

Our own comedy shows were in a different situation. They ran into problems on Springbok Radio all the time, although we did manage to slip some pretty nifty stuff through, mainly because some of the overworked servicing people were not always paying full attention and sometimes missed the more subtle jokes. However, on the non-commercial English Service (where many of our best series were broadcast) there was no specific censorship. Each producer was held responsible for the programmes he or she put out. Nearly all of them were on the staff, of course, and so were not inclined to risk their jobs - but I was in the fortunate position of being one of the very few freelance producer/directors who also worked directly for the English Service.

Our shows were designed to be topical, and they were usually written and recorded only a few days before transmission. I did all the editing personally, often delivering a programme tape to the continuity suite only an hour or two before broadcast. Generally, the first time anyone in senior authority ever heard them was when they were broadcast. As a result of this, we got ourselves into deep trouble on several occasions!" 

Steed to Return?

Question from Mike Cunningham: I was wondering if you had any interest in ever redoing the series on the radio with new scripts?

Donald Monat: "I must confess I had never thought about it - in fact, until I came across Alan Hayes' original essay about the series by chance last year I had absolutely no idea that there were people outside of South Africa who had ever heard of our radio programmes, let alone fans who collected copies of them. It was quite a surprise! But, to answer your question, yes - it would be perfectly possible to create new recordings with new scripts if (a) the necessary funds were available and (b) the present copyright holders of the original stories and characters would agree to it. Radio production is still very inexpensive compared with almost any other medium of entertainment so the costs would be relatively modest. If any company or organisation was interested in so doing, I would rather enjoy tackling it. I think it's pretty unlikely - but, who knows?"

Transcribed by Alan Hayes