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
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."
... 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
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,
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
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?"
by Alan Hayes