With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes, the sister-book to The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes, has just been released – with co-authors Richard McGinlay and Alan Hayes telling the fascinating behind-the-scenes story of the mostly-missing series one of cult ’60s TV show The Avengers.
In this exclusive guest article, Richard explains why he and Alan (who also runs the The Avengers Declassified website) decided to don the trenchcoats once more and further investigate the monochrome crime-fighting adventures of Patrick Macnee’s mysterious secret agent John Steed and Ian Hendry’s Dr. David Keel.
“Some of you might be thinking: “Hang on a minute! The Avengers? Series 1? Haven’t you done a book about that already?”
Well, yes, we have. In 2013, Alan Hayes, his wife Alys, and I produced a book entitled The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes, which retold, in the form of detailed summaries, the lost stories from the first series of The Avengers. There were plenty of those to cram into the book, as 24 of the 26 episodes from that period of the show are missing or incomplete, presumed wiped.
However, Alan and I had a lot more to say about this mostly missing year. Aside from a short introductory essay, Strange Case had barely scratched the surface of the real-life story of Series 1 – that is, its production. With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes looks at the why, who, how and where of the Keel and Steed era of The Avengers. It examines why the show was commissioned in the first place, touching upon the cancellation of Ian Hendry’s previous series, Police Surgeon. It discusses who worked on The Avengers behind the scenes, including detailed biographical information about drama supervisor Sydney Newman, producer Leonard White, the directors, writers, actors, and many others. It describes how The Avengers was realised, from the earliest discussions of the show’s format and the gathering of scripts, to the design of sets and the creation of special effects. It also explores where the series was made, including a history of Teddington Studios and details about the locations used for exterior filming.
It wasn’t an easy ride for the programme makers, and our new book documents all the difficulties of the process – from late scripts and contentious rewrites to rickety props and stunts that did not go quite according to plan – as well as the pleasures. Despite the problems, those involved with the series have all looked back upon it with affection.
Alan and I had this book in mind even before the publication of The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes. Our initial plan was to produce a single book about Series 1, covering the storylines as well as the behind-the-scenes stuff. However, as soon as we started collating our researches, it became clear that there had to be two books. The total page count of the two volumes we have now published is close to 700 pages, and though it would have been possible to produce a book of that extent, it would not have been economical for us to do so. Therefore, we published the storylines book first… and now the ‘making of’ book.
In case you are wondering why it has taken us a year to complete With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes, there are a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, we wanted to see how the first book went down with its readers. As it happens, we have had a lot of very positive and useful feedback, which has helped us to make the second book even better! For example, reader comments inspired us to add illustrations, which were provided by the talented artist Shaqui Le Vesconte. The second and arguably the most important consideration is that we have been a lot more ambitious with the content of this book.
As some of you will be aware, there is already a large body of work about the making of Series 1 on Alan’s website, The Avengers Declassified. However, we have built upon those researches substantially. Though of course our coverage of the individual episodes contains some fundamental facts that are common to both the book and the website, the episodic chapters of With Umbrella have been expanded considerably. Nowhere else can you read about the hazards of the sewer sets from Hunt the Man Down, for instance, or the Armchair Mystery Theatre and Callan teleplays that bear comparison to the episodes Death on the Slipway and Kill the King. About a third of the page count is wholly exclusive to the book, in the form of an in-depth essay at the front, covering the creation of The Avengers, another essay at the back, regarding the enforced hiatus that brought about a change of direction for the show after Series 1, and 60 pages of appendices, including full episode guides for the unmade storylines and licensed publications featuring Keel and Steed.
The opening essay includes some impressive detective work by Alan regarding precisely where and when a set of famous ‘sleuthing shots’ of Ian Hendry and Patrick Macnee were taken. Alan has also contacted a number of people who were involved in making The Avengers (or the relatives of those who are sadly no longer with us), who have kindly helped us to fill in some of the blanks. We’ve also been out and about, visiting the British Film Institute, for example, in whose Special Collections reside the unproduced Keel storylines The White Rook and Fifi and the Scorpion.
Yes, Alan and I had a very great deal to say about Series 1 of The Avengers, which is somewhat better represented in terms of production documentation than it is in the form of actual surviving episodes – but after this book, we are moving on to other subjects.
The topic of our next volume will be of related interest, though, as it will cover the aforementioned Ian Hendry series Police Surgeon, of which only one episode is known to exist from its thirteen-week run back in 1960. Dr Hendry’s Casebook will be published some time next year. After that, we have some nebulous ideas for other books that should also appeal to readers of Wiped News!
With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes (£19,99 paperback/£24.99 hardback) and The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes (£19,99 paperback/£24.99 hardback/£2.99 ebook) are available in print exclusively from www.lulu.com, though from November 2014 they will also be for sale at Amazon sites worldwide. Until October 6, you can use the following discount codes togetger: ‘FWD15’ gets 15% off and ‘GMF14’ gives free shipping.