Tag Archives: Brian Clemens

“A Clockwork Orange”, Dr Jekyll and an actor’s death… Ars longa… Vita brevis…

The SHOCK SHOCK SHOCK poster for Dr Jekyll

The SHOCK SHOCK SHOCK film poster

WARNING!

THE SEXUAL TRANSFORMATION OF A MAN INTO A WOMAN WILL ACTUALLY TAKE PLACE BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES!

That was the warning splashed across the movie posters.

Rubbish, of course.

The publicity, not the movie.

Hammer’s 1971 horror film Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde is actually an unusually well-scripted and well-produced (by Brian Clemens) and well-directed (by Roy Ward Baker) movie which mixes the original story with a lot of Jack The Ripper, a little Burke & Hare and a dash of sexual ambiguity.

The idea was suggested by Brian Clemens to Hammer Pictures’ boss Michael Carreras when they were having lunch at Elstree Studios. It was originally a joke, but Carreras liked the idea so much he had a poster designed and then made the movie.

It was made 41 years ago.

21 years ago, its star Ralph Bates died.

So it goes.

As well as several Hammer horror movies, he starred in BBC TV’s drama series Poldark and their comedy series Dear John.

Last night, I attended a screening of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde at the Cinema Museum. Three actresses from the film were there: Martine Beswick, Irene Bradshaw and Virginia Wetherell,

Virginia Wetherell remembered the first day she met Ralph Bates on the set.

Martine Beswick aka Ralph Bates

Two-faced Martine Beswick & Ralph Bates

“He literally stabbed me in the back,” she said last night. “And, when he put his hand over my mouth, they went Right! Cut! We’ll break for lunch now! and I left with ox’s blood – real blood – all around my face and it stank. It dried really hard and, for continuity, you have to keep the shape exactly the same. So they said I’m really sorry. We’ll bring you up a drink but you cannot eat because the blood will all peel off…

“That was the first time I met Ralph and, two years later, I married him.”

Last night, she talked of her early movies.

Since then, as Virginia Bates, she has opened the very successful Virginia Antiques shop in Portland Road, London W11.

Coincidentally, her first film was Michael Winner’s West 11 but she also acted in thrillers by now almost forgotten cult director Pete Walker:

"The Big Switch" aka "Strip Poker"

Pete Walker’s movie “The Big Switch”

“A laugh-a-minute,” she said last night. “Working on a Pete Walker film, you were lucky if you got three weeks to do a full-length movie – including the editing and the dubbing. He just knocked ‘em out. If it snowed or rained or you fell over – too bad – it got put in the story. I fell over during filming on the West Pier in The Big Switch. I got up and Pete yelled: Go on! Go on, Virginia! Why are you stopping? and I said Because I’ve fallen over and I’m looking in camera! and he yelled Don’t matter! Don’t matter! Keep going! Keep going!… And we did.”

But she also appeared, just before Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, in the rather more prestigious A Clockwork Orange with the meticulously obsessive Stanley Kubrick directing.

“A genius,” Virginia said last night. “You just trusted this man like he was God. When I auditioned, the role was to play a psychiatrist, which I assumed involved wearing a white overall and maybe a stethoscope – though I did have to have my hair dyed blue.”

A Clockwork Orange pair of knickers

Stanley Kubrick needed a dozen knickers

She appeared in a late scene in which hero Alex is undergoing ‘The Ludovico Treatment’ and she tests the effectiveness of it.

“I was hanging around the set for three or four days and nobody said anything, nobody talked to me. I just turned up every morning. A car would pick me up at 5.30. Finally, it was my turn and we shot in Norwood Library and the whole of the auditorium was packed with people who were meant to be from the Ministry.

“I was a little confused because nobody, obviously, was given a script – but my role was a psychiatrist and I was waiting for this white overall  and then the assistant came up to me and said: Oh, I’ve been told by Mr Kubrick I‘ve got to take you shopping, but we have to wait now for the shop to open. It doesn’t open till nine o’clock.

“So eventually off we went to the local store in Norwood and we bought twelve pairs of knickers. Alright. Fair enough. So then Stanley puts them all down on the stage and says I want you to put those on, so I put them on and I walk and we go through them all until he decides which are the right pair – because that was my entire costume.

“If it had been Pete Walker, I wouldn’t have done it. I’d have said I don’t play those kind of roles! But Stanley Kubrick? I didn’t even think twice about it.”

The screening of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde at the Cinema Museum last night was in aid of the Ralph Bates Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund which Virginia set up in her late husband’s memory.

Virginia Wether

Virginia Bates at the Cinema Museum last night

When he was diagnosed with cancer, she “was told nothing could be done and he only had between six and eight weeks left to live… He was performing on stage in the West End with a movie lined-up for the Autumn… He and our 13 year-old son William had enjoyed the summer together messing about in boats and he’d spent many evenings with Daisy, our daughter, helping her with lines for the TV series Forever Green… Ten weeks and one day later, Ralph died.”

So it goes.

It took two months for Ralph Bates’ cancer to be diagnosed.

“This, unfortunately, is one of the hazards of pancreatic cancer,” Virginia Bates said last night. “It is difficult to detect and, when it is detected, it is usually too late.”

.

No government funding. Donations are vital

The charity is based at St George’s Hospital in Tooting and, since 1993, has actively funded research into the disease.

Over 90% of all donations are spent on the research work; the Trustees receive no remuneration and no reimbursement of any expenses.

In 2007, it funded the purchase, via an operating lease, of endoscopic ultrasound equipment for St George’s.

The total cost was £183,000.

The research receives no direct government support apart from Gift Aid on qualifying private donations.

More information on the Fund’s website.

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Diana Rigg was NOT cast to star in “The Avengers” – and why the series stopped

Prolific TV & film writer Brian Clemens

In three recent blogs, I have published parts of a chat I had with writer-producer Brian Clemens in 1979. It was published in issues 29 and 30 of Starburst magazine.

In Part One, he talked about his background and the early Avengers TV  series. In Part Two, he talked about the style of The Avengers. In Part Three, he talked about directing and about vampire films. This is the final part of that interview – on the trials and tribulations of producing. Remember it all took place in 1979 …

***

Today, Clemens is an executive as well as a creator; a producer as well as a writer. So does it cause problems being a producer and a writer and a sometime director?

“Well, it’s not as difficult for me as for some,” he says. “I’ve always been a co-producer, so Albert (Fennell, his business partner) is my conscience. He’s very good at editing and I think I am too, but it’s silly when you get too omnipotent. I think that’s destroyed a lot of good people; it destroys stars. How many people have said I’m going to produce my own film and it sits on the shelf? I think you need objectivity. I think that’s very, very important.”

Diana Rigg was not cast in The Avengers

It is a lesson he probably learnt from bitter experience on The Avengers. A lot of TV and film production decisions are a matter of internal politics and personal whim. For instance, Diana Rigs was not the original choice to play Emma Peel in The Avengers. The original actress cast for the role was Elizabeth Shepherd who, most unusually, was not screen-tested.

“That wasn’t my decision,” says Clemens. “That was Julian Winkle’s choice because he was executive producer. Liz Shepherd had done something on television and she was undeniably very beautiful and it wasn’t until we did one and a half episodes… She’s not a bad actress, but she just doesn’t have a sense of humour at all and it was essential in The Avengers. So we scrapped what we’d shot and got rid of her and then tested – which is what we should have done in the first place – and out of the tests came Diana Rigg. We tested a lot of people, like Moira Redmond and that sort of person and one or two unknowns like Sarah Brackett – whatever happened to her? – and Diana Rigg was head and shoulders above everybody else.”

Clemens worked for a total of six years on various Avengers series and then, when Diana Rigg left the show, he was suddenly thrown out.

Linda Thorson was cast – but with no sense of humour?

“I was sacked at the beginning of the Linda Thorson ones,” he says. “It was internal politics. The Avengers was owned by ABC Television and there was a great deal of back-biting because they’d brought in outside boys to make probably their greatest hit ever. Still is. If you go to America with Patrick Macnee, you can’t walk down the street even now – I promise you. In New York and California, you really cannot move if you’re with him and they’re all saying Hello Steed! His impact, internationally, is enormous.

ABC resented outside boys and thought it was easy. So they got rid of us and brought in some of their own boys and, within one and a half episodes, they asked us to come back because it really was going to fail. Unfortunately (the producer) had brought in his girlfriend, Linda Thorson, whom I would never have cast. And so we were stuck with her. Which is why I brought in the character of Mother – because she (Thorson) had no sense of humour either. I brought in Mother so Patrick Macnee could at least have jokes with somebody.”

Even so, the series proved unsalvageable and ended in 1968. Almost a decade later, Clemens, Albert Fennell and composer Laurie Johnson formed The Avengers (Film & TV) Enterprises Ltd. British financiers were not interested, so The New Avengers was produced with £3-4 million in French and later Canadian money.

This time, there was no chance taken with the female lead. Before Joanna Lumley was cast as Purdey, Clemens says he seriously considered 700 girls, interviewed 200, read scripts with 40 and screen tested 15.

The New Avengers – not just a ‘sleeper’ hit – a mega hit

“Most Avengers fans,” he admits, “don’t like The New Avengers as much as the old ones, but it did actually get a bigger audience.”

Although costing £125,000 per episode to produce, it was also financially successful. The irony was that, although Clemens could sell the finished product with ease, he was unable to get the initial finance in Britain. When I talked to him last year, he had been trying to finance another series of The New Avengers. He told me:

“London Weekend Television will put up half the money and CBS in America want to pay us $140,000 an episode and we’re short $50,000 an episode and we can’t get it anywhere – otherwise we’d make more Avengers – and The Avengers is really like printing money, because it just goes on forever and it’s got assured syndication – They’ve already got 87 of the first one.”

So far, new financing for The New Avengers has not materialised.

“I don’t know why it is,” Clemens tells me. “I mean, why didn’t Britain put up the money for Star Wars and Superman? They were made here but the money wasn’t put up here. Most of our film industry’s run by people who just don’t care much. At least Sam Goldwyn cared and Lew Grade (of ATV/ITC) cares. At least he’s making movies. You may not like them – some I don’t like – but he’s making them.”

The Professionals were hit men in more senses than one

The Professionals TV series started out costing £115,000 per episode but is now costing £150,000. It was sold to Canada, although its scripts make no concessions to foreign audiences. The first offer of US syndication was turned down because it was too low – $50,000 per show (about $25,000 at that time). Recently, a million dollar deal was negotiated by Clemens’ Mark One Productions and London Weekend Television (who co-finance the series) for the showing of 39 episodes on US cable TV. The deal also includes “substantial” American money for the production of future episodes and Clemens is also “hopeful” that a Professionals feature film will be made, probably with American financial backing.

It is astonishing that Clemens, with his extraordinarily successful track record, has had so much trouble raising finance in Britain. He is an international success. His original episodes of The Avengers are still showing in America and were networked again recently by CBS. The New Avengers series has been networked twice across America. And he is still trying to keep one step ahead of the trends.

“All drama goes in cycles,” he says. “If it’s been kitchen sink for four years, don’t think kitchen sink. I wanted to do The Magnificent Seven story as knights in armour – indeed, I was commissioned by EMI and then it all fell through – and now I see Ridley Scott’s project Knight (now to be directed by Walter Hill and re-titled The Sword). That could well open up that area and it would then be too late for me to follow because, by the time I get in, there’ll be lots of them – Return of The Knight and so on. The same with science fiction – it must come down again. If you can be the innovator or number two, you’re alright.”

So what sort of projects has he in mind? Well, there’s Bamboo Martini, which Rank planned to shoot before they collapsed. And there was a Vincent Price comedy-thriller which has also had problems.

“What’s it about? “ I asked.

“Well,” replied Brian Clemens, “it’s about transporting a dead body from one bed to another across the whole of America. If you can imagine that President Jimmy Carter is having an affair in Boston and is supposed to be in Washington and has a heart attack and his mistress then comes to Vincent Price and says: He’s got to be found in his own bed on Monday morning… Well that’s it.”

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“The Avengers” writer on directing for TV and film and un-made vampire films

Prolific TV & film writer Brian Clemens

Recently, I have posted a couple of blogs comprising parts of an interview I did with writer Brian Clemens in 1979. It was published in issues 29 and 30 of Starburst magazine.

In Part One, he talked about his background and the early Avengers TV  series. In Part Two, he talked about the style of The Avengers and about internationalising shows. This is Part Three of that interview…

***

Although Brian Clemens claims to have lived a bland life, it has been pretty tough. For ten years he was married to an ex-model called Brenda; they divorced in 1966. Then Diane Enright, Diana Rigg’s stand-in for the 1965-1967 Avengers series, was with Clemens for ten years. But, in 1976, she committed suicide. There was also a particularly acrimonious and very expensive court case in 1975 when Clemens accused writer Terry Nation of copying his idea for the Survivors TV series.

Clemens claimed he had registered the series format with the Writers’ Guild in 1965 and asked the High Court “to rule that the ideas were his property and told in confidence to Mr Nation between 1967 and 1969”. Nation and the BBC defended the case. To this day, both Clemens and Nation believe they were the innocent party and are reticent on the subject – neither will talk about the case except off-the-record.

One thing Clemens will talk about, though, is the astonishing fact that he seldom pre-researches any facts for his highly-detailed plots:

“I don’t really believe in research,” he says. “Usually I do the plot and then go back and research it. And it’s strange, really, because I’m usually 99% right. It’s curious that a layman’s knowledge is usually enough. After all, though, if you’re writing something about science, it’s got to ultimately appeal to a layman, so it works like that.

“I did a fringe theatre play about the Moors Murders which had a certain amount of success at the King’s Head and the Rock Garden (two London fringe theatres). And, as a result of the publicity, I met the Chief Constable of Lancashire who was in charge of the case. There were certain things I’d put in the play which were not in the public domain at all – I’d invented them – and it turned out they were absolutely true. That was only interpreting the known facts, really, from a dramatic point of view.”

Clemens directed the play but what he would really like is to direct another film.

“I could have done The New Avengers or The Professionals on TV or something,” he says. “But that’s not really… I’m not diminishing it… But I think you’ve got to be a really experienced director  to put anything on screen in ten days that means something. Having only directed one film (Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, 1972) I’d probably direct a very bad Avengers under those circumstances. You need plenty of preparation time.”

A few years ago, Clemens was quoted as saying that TV directors don’t have a visual imagination, so he was starting to write visual directions into his scripts. But this is not a true reflection of his views. His point is much more subtle:

“I don’t think they’re idiots,” he says. “I think the system’s idiotic. Within (video) tape TV, they never get a chance to develop a visual sense. (Director) Desmond Davis told me that the difference between tape and film is that, with tape, you have to place the camera always just not quite where you want it to be, This is because a taped show is shot ‘live’ with three or four cameras which can get in each other’s way; film is shot with a single camera and each angle is shot separately”.

Clemens also believes “the machinery behind tape means that a director is always subjugated to the system and so never gets a chance to develop his own style. Filmed series like The Sweeney and The Professionals have probably liberated new directors more, in a few weeks, than they ever got in years in tape. You see, I believe that there is ultimately only one place a camera should be in viz a viz a certain scene or emotion.

“You just have to watch any Hitchcock movie to find that out. (Director) John Ford never zoomed in his whole career – a cut from wide to close-up is so much more incisive and more controllable too – and he rarely panned either. He just composed wonderful shots, played scenes within the shot, then cut to the next bit.”

Another factor which limits creativity on material shot exclusively for television is, according to Clemens, the internal restriction imposed by unrealistic time-schedules. He gives as an example any episode of his Thriller series (made by ATV).

The title sequence of Brian Clemens’ Thriller series on ITV

Each Thriller, he says, is made up of plot and atmosphere and, like a good joke, depends very much on exact timing:

“All the Thrillers I did I could improve 50% with an extra day and a half of editing. You see, you’re taken over by the system, where you edit from A-Z. As the time runs out, the last reel – which is the most important – is the one you’re doing quickly. And over that 3-day edit, you might have three film editors. Now that’s rather like having Van Gogh and his brother and sister paint a portrait and I don’t understand that.

“It offends me, because it means that what they’re putting on screen they don’t really give a shit about. If they really did, they’d say We can’t have three editors! It’s got to be one man. I mean, that’s traditional in all the media: you don’t change the director or the star of a stage play halfway through. It’s exactly the same. Getting back to the thing I said about television directors… There are some film directors… Lean, Ford, Kurosawa… if I see a shot of their work I can tell it’s theirs. You can’t say that about many television directors. If any.”

Clemens was involved in scripting major movies early in his career, such as Station Six Sahara (1964) and The Peking Medallion (1964 aka The Corrupt Ones) but it was not until after And Soon The Darkness (1970), which he also produced, that he decided he really wanted to be a director himself.

“My business partner (Albert Fennell) said You should have directed it and suddenly I thought Yeah, perhaps I should have done. I knew I could have directed it better. Then I wrote and produced a film for Hammer – Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) – and, in the meantime, we wrote an original screenplay called Buff where Bryan Forbes (then Head of Production at ABPC) agreed I would direct. Then he was thrown out, so I was left with the script and that became Blind Terror (1971 aka See No Evil) with Mia Farrow, which Dick Fleischer directed.”

Clemens got his chance to direct when Hammer accepted his storyline for Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1972), now a cult film.

Captain Kronos reflected Brian Clemens’ desire to direct

“The name Kronos is Greek for Time,” says Clemens, “and I thought that, if the idea took off, I’d be able to move him through the centuries. A whole series of films. I even had some follow-up stories.”

For Clemens, Kronos represented the return of the film hero.

“You see,” he says, “in all the Dracula films, Dracula’s the hero so you’re rooting for a villain and you know he’s going to end up staked through the heart. I thought Well, it’s good to change the emphasis and have a proper hero. So I invented Kronos, who’s a swashbuckling character with a hunchback aide and he picks up a beautiful bird (Caroline Munro) along the way and they’re vampire hunters.

I think why people such as the Time Out reviewers like it is because I turned the genre upside down and had a speech from the hunchback which really liberated all vampire films. A guy says But these girls were drained of youth. They die very old. They can’t be vampires. And the hunchback, who’s the authority, says There are as many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey. Their method and motive of attack varies and so does the way you kill them. Some you can’t kill with a stake through the heart; some you have to kill by decapitation or hanging, drowning and so on.

“It’s a super scene in Kronos where they have a vampire, tie him to a chair, put a stake through his heart and he lives and they hang him and burn him and they gradually find out he’s got to be stabbed with a piece of holy steel. It did liberate the vampire lore.”

The film is a combination of Errol Flynn swashbuckler and Hammer horror. It climaxes in a three-minute sword fight between Kronos and the vampire.

“It’s got this marvellous moment,” says Clemens, “where Kronos stabs him with the wrong sword and this vampire walks around with this rapier through him. There’s quite a bit of humour in it.”

Tragically, Hammer/EMI kept the film on the shelf for two years, not releasing it until 1975 and then giving it poor distribution as part of a double feature. Clemens is uncertain why his film was treated in this way but thinks it was probably “a tax loss/tax shelter thing”.

He says: “I really enjoyed Kronos. I was on a peak then. I was ready to go into another thing and make it better, but it didn’t happen. I was hoping to make another Kronos adventure, but then I got into Thriller for TV – I did 43 of those, which is quite a lot, really. They’re 90 minutes each in America – 72 minutes running time – which is quite a lot of writing.”

Nonetheless, Clemens is so prolific that, at the end of the series, he still had another 20 plots lined up and ready to go. He says he enjoyed doing the Thriller stories and found them pleasant and rather easy to do: “Easy because they weren’t locked into running characters and you could just let things happen as you wanted.”

Plotting comes quite easily to him: “If, in a one-hour show, you’ve got four highspots, you’ve just got to link them. Sometimes it can be just a single brilliant idea. I mean, with Alien, people just went to see the thing burst out of his stomach; they didn’t really know what the rest was about. With The Exorcist, they went to see the bloke puked-on. In Bullitt, it was the car chase.”

TO BE CONTINUED… HERE 

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“The Avengers” was like a Doris Day comedy – says writer Brian Clemens

The Avengers’ style was dictated by the budget

In 1979, I chatted to writer Brian Clemens, the man behind British TV successes The Avengers and The Professionals. The interview was published in Starburst issues 29 & 30.

Yesterday I posted the first half of the first part of that interview. Now the second half…

* * * * *

The two words that epitomise everyone’s memories of The Avengers are visual style. How did that develop? According to Brian Clemens an important factor was economics.

“A lot of the evolution of the style was really because they didn’t have any sets. (Director) Peter Hammond was always shooting through wine glasses because, if he moved the camera over here, they didn’t have any windows or walls. A great deal of the evolution of the style was pure economics.

Women could be tied but not killed

“But, having seen the way it was going, when we started making the shows on film (with the Diana Rigg series) I introduced certain ground rules: that there shouldn’t be any blood, that women shouldn’t be killed and the streets should only be populated with people in the plot. They tended to be empty streets because if you put Steed, who is an anachronism – a pantomime character – alongside any reality, then you’ll stop believing in him.

“It’s really in the mould of a Doris Day comedy, where there are no upstairs rooms. The world of fantasy only works if you totally believe in the world it’s enclosed in and we tried to do that in The Avengers. In some of the plots we broke the rules. We did have one where it was necessary to show ordinary, busy streets in order to then say Now there’s nobody there. Generally speaking, we abided by the rules, but the rules were always totally flexible. One could always bend the rules for the sake of an exceptional plot.”

Another part of The Avengers’ style was the inversion of the dramatic cliché.

“We did that an awful lot,” says Clemens, “like Sherlock Holmes planting clues. And we had a marvellous teaser once with the body outline marked out on the floor and this chap comes in, they shoot him and he falls into the outline. We were always doing that sort of thing.”

Co-stars included Arthur Lowe (later star of “Dad’s Army”)

The series got more and more bizarre and, as well as debunking Sherlock Holmes, famous film plots started turning up – High Noon, The Maltese Falcon and Tarzan movies were just some.

“At one time,” says Clemens, “the premise was that once we attacked a subject nobody could ever do it again for real. But, again, we were ahead of our time and it didn’t totally work in international terms because, when you got to the Teutonic masses or the mid-West, they were all taking it for real. Today I think it would have a completely different impact.”

Throughout the various Avengers series, Clemens’ influence was considerable. On the early videotaped series, he had just been an occasional writer. After the Honor Blackman series, he was offered a job as general videotape producer-director at ABC Television. He turned this down when he was offered a job as script editor and associate producer on the new filmed Avengers series starring Diana Rigg.

“What they wanted,” he explains, “was someone who knew The Avengers and knew film and I was the only person who was qualified.”

Today he has no regrets about turning down the producer-director job. “If I’d produced and directed on tape, I could be sitting with Sydney Newman now. (Former Head of Drama at ABC and the BBC.) Sydney was a brilliant man but didn’t make any impact internationally. The thing about getting involved in something that was very successful internationally was that I could go to Hollywood four years later and people had heard of me and knew what I’d done.

“I don’t hold a great brief for America. But unfortunately, as we have no film industry, if you want something to be done these days, you have to think of America as the mecca of film-making. It’s sad. I mean, five years ago, I wanted to make Britain the Hollywood of television product – which it could easily be if you could find anybody who’s willing to take a chance. And it’s not much of a chance.

“If you’re a millionaire and I say to you Give me a million pounds and I’ll invest it in television product, you might not do a Jaws, you might not make £50 million, but you wouldn’t lose your million. I don’t just mean The New Avengers. Almost anything. I don’t think anything I’ve written has been transAtlantic, but they’ve always sold internationally and I don’t just mean America. Thriller has sold in 90 countries and The Avengers has sold in something like 120 and The Professionals is selling. I don’t think indigenous success (in Britain) means quite so much. It means people in the local pub like you, but it restricts you ultimately.”

One of Brian Clemens’ Avengers scripts

One reason Clemens’ work has always sold internationally is probably because he writes strong plots and, if he has to be pigeonholed at all as a writer, he could be called a ‘plot’ man.

“Yes,” he says, “I suppose I am a plot man. Of late, I’ve tried to be more, but I am a plot man. I think that’s fair. I’ve never pretended I’m a brilliant writer, but I can think up 400 plots today, if you want them, and some will be quite new.”

So is it an innate skill?

“I think it must be, yes. Or it may be that I’ve seen so many plots I understand them so well… I understand that, if you change one brick, you’ve got a different plot.”

Another trait that often surfaces in Clemens’ work is a quirky humour.

“You see,” he says, “humour is enduring. It’s like Dickens. Nothing could be more dated than Dickens – he’s talking about social injustices that have gone 50, 60, maybe 100 years ago. But, because he’s funny and he’s warm, we still relate to him. I think modern writing and modern concepts… People are resisting being funny or warm as if making people laugh or cry weakens them. I think that’s ridiculous. It’s just as dogmatic as certaiun MGM products of the 1950s which portrayed the American way of life as it wasn’t.

“Now we’ve got another way of life (on screen) which isn’t really like that either. It’s only showing one half of the truth. I don’t believe people can survive in our society without crying or laughing. You couldn’t. How could you exist in some of those coal mining places up North or in Wales if you didn’t have that asset of being able to release the optimism within you? I think it’s terribly important.

“Over the last six or seven years on television we’ve had a lot of programmes showing that people who lived between 1910 and 1950 had a terrible time. My father and mother grew up in the East End of London just beyond the turn of the century. My father’s written about it and told me about it and I’d rather be there then than here now. I run two cars and have a good life, but his life was richer.

“He was an engineer, but he lived in a real slummy area and all his memories are rich – even the bad memories are rich. My memories are bland compared with his. I didn’t suffer and struggle at my age as he did at the same age. At the end of the First World War, my father walked something like 22 miles a day just looking for work. He didn’t like it at the time but, along the way, he met all sorts of interesting people.

“At least he knew he was alive. Sometimes I think you have to have a little bit of suffering to me made aware that you’re alive. I think the antithesis of that is California, where they’re all very much alive but many of them might as well be embalmed.”

TO BE CONTINUED… HERE

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“The Avengers” the TV show that made boots kinky – writer Brian Clemens

Not The Avengersthe US superheroes in the current Marvel big-screen movie franchise. I mean the cult 1960s British TV series The Avengers.

This month 23 years ago – on 31st October 1979 – I interviewed writer Brian Clemens, the man behind British TV successes The Avengers and The Professionals. The result of this chat appeared in issues 29 and 30 of the magazine Starburst which was published, at that time, by Marvel Comics.

This is the first half of the first part of that interview…

__________________________________________________________

Brian Clemens, a great British television writer and descendent of Mark Twain

Brian Clemens was born in Croydon in 1931. He started writing at the age of five when he produced a slim volume called Brocky and The Black Adder about a badger and a snake. When he was ten, his father asked him what he wanted to be. He said he didn’t want to be an engine driver like everyone else: he wanted to be a writer.

The next year, his father bought him a typewriter and young Brian’s first paid story appeared in The Hospital Saturday Fund Magazine the year after that; his fee was one guinea. He was twelve. All his uncles were mechanically-minded but one in particular used to bring him books – everything from engineering manuals to Tolstoy.

During the War, young Brian was evacuated to Hitchin, Hertfordshire, and didn’t go to school due to a bureaucratic foul-up. The authorities in Croydon thought he was being educated in Hitchin and the people in Hitchin thought he was being educated in Croydon.

“I didn’t go to school for very long,” he says. “My education was simply reading a lot of books and going to the cinema.”

Work started at fourteen.

He wanted to be a journalist but couldn’t get a job because he had no academic qualifications. Eventually, he became a messenger boy for an advertising agency in Fleet Street and worked his way up to become a packer. Then he did two years National Service in the Army: an experience which, he told me, matured him and gave him a useful background in weaponry.

“I’d never shot a gun before,” he says, “but I found I was a natural shot. So they made me a training instructor and I spent two years training people how to kill other people. It’s been useful to me in my writing because, in the course of that, I went to the Army Smallarms School where you get the chance to fire everything. I’ve fired flintlock rifles and flamethrowers and Thompson sub-machineguns and everything.”

On leaving the Army, he was offered a job as a private eye with John Smart’s Detective Agency in London.

“But,” he says, “it would have meant going to Leeds for three months to train – why Leeds, I’ve never found out. I was just coming out of the Army, having been away from home, and I didn’t really fancy going to Leeds so I didn’t take the job. Otherwise I suppose, by now, I’d have a hat like Humphrey Bogart.”

He ended up working as a copywriter at the J Walter Thompson advertising agency and then he had a lucky (but complicated) break. One of the JWT girls happened to play bridge one night with someone who was looking for a writer for somebody else’s film company. She suggested Brian Clemens.

As a result, he started writing for the legendary Danziger Brothers, churning out scripts for cheap second features.

Danziger film written by Brian Clemens

“The Danzigers were smashing,” he says, “because they used to move from studio to studio and use old sets and props. If they moved to MGM, they might have a submarine, The Old Bailey and a dozen Father Christmas outfits. So they’d say: Write an 80-minute film that incorporates all three. The Danzigers used to ask me to write one half-hour a week and occasionally they’d give me 10-12 days to write an 80-minute B-feature. They paid me a flat sum every week; I didn’t get paid by the script and there were no royalties. But they were very kind to me and the nicest thing was that virtually everything I wrote was made.”

Even then, Clemens was prolific. When he arrived at the Danzigers’ there were three other writers. After about three months, he was the only writer because he could be depended on to turn out something worthwhile every week.

Eventually, his talent led him to ABC Television (later part of Thames Television) who intended to re-vamp their series Police Surgeon, which starred Ian Hendry and co-starred Patrick Macnee. The re-vamped series was called The Avengers because Ian Hendry’s screen fiancée had been killed in Police Surgeon and the Hendry/Macnee characters were out to find her killers and avenge her death.

It was a rather gritty, realistic series and Clemens remembers his first sight of Macnee was when he saw him “slurping in through the door wearing an old raincoat rather like Columbo.”

“There wasn’t really a format for the series,” Clemens remembers. “Everybody tries to take the credit for creating The Avengers, but it was self-generating, really. It was just a doctor (Hendry) and a special agent (Macnee) and was quite terrible – a million miles away from what the series became.

“The first one was all about razor-gangs. It was trying to be ‘real’ – a bit like Edgar Wallace, I suppose. I wrote the first episode and then, I think, two or three more for Ian Hendry.

Honor Blackman in kinky leather

“Then Ian left the series and they were stuck with six scripts for Ian (written by various writers) and they couldn’t afford to commission new scripts. So they brought in Honor Blackman and she played the man’s part.

“It was around that time that Patrick Macnee was looking for something to do with his character, which didn’t do anything on the page. He was really a stereotyped Scotland Yard man. He came in and said Yes guv and No guv and things. So Patrick put on a bowler hat and picked up an umbrella and I think it was him who said to Honor Blackman: Why don’t you wear trousers and boots? I like them. Then it kind of escalated and the writers really caught up with it after Pat and Honor had set it going on a trend. We overtook the trend and made it even more consciously trendy after that.”

The ‘forgotten’ Avenger – Julie Stevens as Venus Smith

The first Avengers series after Ian Hendry left had actually featured two girl assistants each appearing with Patrick MacNee on alternate weeks – Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale and Julie Stevens as Venus Smith.

Publicity described the Julie Stevens character confusingly as a “zany, zippy bargee’s teenage daughter and nightclub singer, who has a penchant for helping Steed in his battle against international crime.” However, after one season, Julie Stevens became pregnant and left the series. (She appeared on the BBC TV children’s series Play School shortly after her son was born and then continued to make occasional appearances on children’s television.)

Honor Blackman remained in The Avengers series, became a star, then joined James Bond as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger. I have always thought The Avengers’ increasingly surrealistic style affected the style of the Bond films, which had started out as straight action films but then veered off into fantasy. Clemens is not sure if he agrees:

“Whether it was The Avengers that affected them or whether it was just the climate and we were reflecting it more accurately or faster than Bond, I don’t know. I wanted to make an Avengers feature film in 1964 and, if we’d done it, we would have made a fortune because we’d have been ahead of Bond.

“It’s really a question of trends: optimism and pessimism. A lot depends on the economic climate. Some of the frothiest things came out of Hollywood during and after the Depression – and I think that’s going to happen again now. Spoofiness has become acceptable.

“If they re-ran The Avengers of the mid-1960s now, I think they’d be an enormous hit in the same way as Monty Python. I remember I used to watch At Last! The 1948 Show! and nobody else used to watch it, but now Monty Python’s big business. The 1948 Show was ahead of its time. The Avengers was always a cult show, not a mass-appeal one; it got ratings, but it was never in the Coronation Street or Sweeney class. It could be now: I think it would appeal enormously to a generation that isn’t really aware of it.”

TO BE CONTINUED… HERE

 

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How thinking up a good TV format can make you a millionaire or screw you with a horrendous court case

Last weekend I posted a blog about Mr Methane phoning me from Manchester Airport on his way home from recording a TV show in Denmark. It turned out he wasn’t on his way home. He is still away on his professional travels – farting around the world, some might call it – but he has given me more details of the Danish show he appeared in.

He was brought on stage as Mr Methane and farted in the face of a man whom he had to make laugh within 60 seconds. Mr Methane tells me:

“The show comes out in Denmark in the autumn and is called My Man Can: the ladies bet on what their man will be able to achieve and he has fuck-all idea what’s going on because he is in a glass cylinder listening to Take That or some other shite music that’s being piped in. It’s a bit like a modern day Mr & Mrs with a slightly different twist so Derek Batey doesn’t see them in court.”

It does sound a bit like that to me too and I also thought Derek Batey created the TV gameshow Mr and Mrs but, in fact, it was created by the legendary Canadian TV quiz show uber-creater Roy Ward Dickson

TV formats are big business. I remember the ATV series Blockbusters hosted by Bob Holness (the request “Give me a pee, Bob” was oft-quoted by fans).

It was based on a US format and, in the UK, was networked on ITV from 1983 to 1993. In one period, I think in the late 1980s, it ran every day around teatime Monday to Friday. From memory (and I may be wrong on details) at that time the format creators were getting £5,000 per show and the show was transmitted for six months every year – I think they transmitted for three months, then had three months off air, then transmitted for another three months and so on.

That is serious money in the late 1980s. To save you the calculation, 26 x 6 x £5,000 = £780,000 per year for a format thought up several years before; and the format was also running on US TV and in several other countries around the world and, for all I know, could still be running in several countries around the world 25 years later.

That is why format ownership and copyright is so important. If you have an idea, it can maintain your millionaire status 25 years down the line. Ripping-off formats is an extraordinary phenomenon. You would think, given the amount of money involved, that there would be some workable law against it, but there isn’t. One factor, of course, is that you cannot copyright an idea; you can only copyright a format and there lies the rub that will probably stop you and me becoming millionaires.

My Man Can, for example, is most definitely not a rip-off of Mr and Mrs. The format of My Man Can is that “four women gamble with the abilities their partners possess – and put the men’s courage and skills to the test. She sits at a gambling table and bets her rivals that her man can accomplish certain tasks. He waits helplessly in a soundproof cubicle, waiting to hear the task his wife has accepted on his behalf. Each of the women is given 100 gambling chips which she uses to bet on her partner’s performance in each round of the game.”

The most definitive horror story I know about formats is the scandalous failure of Hughie Green to get the courts’ protection over the format to his Opportunity Knocks talent show.

Green first started Opportunity Knocks as a radio show in 1949. As a TV series, it ran from 1956 to 1978 and was later revived with Bob Monkhouse and Les Dawson presenting 1987-1990.

Hughie Green invented a thing called “the clap-o-meter” which measured the decibel volume of clapping by the studio audience after an act had performed. But the acts were voted-on by viewers and Green’s several catch-phrases included “Tonight, Opportunity Knocks for…” and “Don’t forget to vote-vote-vote. Cos your vote counts.”

The way I remember the copyright problem is that, one day in the 1980s, Hughie Green got a letter from the Inland Revenue asking why, on his tax return, he had not declared his royalties from the New Zealand version of Opportunity Knocks in 1975 and 1978. This was the first time he knew there was a New Zealand version.

It turned out the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation had transmitted a TV talent show series which not only ran along the same lines as Hughie Green’s show but which was actually titled Opportunity Knocks, had a clap-o-meter to measure audience clapping and used the catchphrases “Tonight, Opportunity Knocks for…” and “Don’t forget to vote-vote-vote. Cos your vote counts.”

Not surprisingly, in 1989, Green sued the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation for copyright infringement. He lost. He appealed. He lost. My memory is that it ultimately reached the House of Lords in London, sitting as the highest court of appeal in the Commonwealth. He lost. Because all the courts decided that a largely unscripted show which was different every week (which is what a talent show is) with “a loose format defined by catchphrases and accessories” (such as the clap-o-meter) was not copyrightable and “there were no formal scripts and no ‘format bible’ to express the unique elements that made up the show”.

In 2005, Simon Fuller sued Simon Cowell claiming that Cowell’s The X-Factor was a rip-off of Fuller’s own Pop Idol. The case was quickly adjourned and settled out of court within a month. Copyright disputes are not something you want to take to court.

Once upon two times, I interviewed separately the former friends Brian Clemens (main creative force behind The Avengers TV series) and Terry Nation (who created the Daleks for Doctor Who). BBC TV had transmitted a series called Survivors 1975-1977 which Terry Nation had created. Or so he said. Brian Clemens claimed he had told Terry Nation the detailed idea for Survivors several years before and Nation had ripped him off. It destroyed their friendship.

As I say, I interviewed both separately.

I can tell you that both of them absolutely, totally believed they were in the right.

Brian Clemens absolutely 100% believed he had told Terry Nation the format and had been intentionally ripped-off.

Terry Nation absolutely 100% believed that Survivors was his idea.

They fought a case in the High Court in London and, eventually, both abandoned the case because of the astronomically-mounting costs. Neither could afford to fight the case.

There’s a lesson in legal systems here.

Basically, even if you are fairly wealthy, you cannot afford to defend your own copyright. If you are fighting as individuals, the legal fees will crucify you. If  you are foolish enough to fight any large company, they have more money to stretch out legal cases longer with better lawyers than you. They will win. In the case of Hughie Green, even if you are rich and famous, you may be no different from a man who is wearing a blindfold and who, when he takes it off, finds someone is farting in his face.

When BBC TV remade Survivors in 2008, it was said to be “not a remake of the original BBC television series” but “loosely based on the novel of the same name that Nation wrote following the first season of the original series.”

Guess why.

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