Tag Archives: James Bond

Missing blogs, John Gielgud’s gay porn, James Bond’s toilet and Tony Hancock

John fleming - shocked look

Typical reaction to WordPress’ efficiency

My daily blog has not appeared for a couple of days because WordPress, which hosts it, had some technical problem which meant it was impossible for me to save or post anything. And, even if you pay them, they do not provide Support – you have to post on user forums with no guarantee of any response from anyone.

Giving them grief on Twitter seemed to have some slight effect – eventually. To a partial extent. I got this message:

Let us know if we can help with anything! Here’s how to export your content and take it with you.

I replied:

It might have been useful if WordPress could have sorted out the technical problem which means I cannot post any blogs. I might have thought WordPress would be more concerned with their software not working rather than helping people to leave.

After WordPress getting more Twitter and Reddit grief orchestrated by this blog’s South Coast correspondent, Sandra Smith, I got some reaction from a WordPress ‘staff’ member (whom you apparently can’t contact normally) – which was minimal and apparently transient, as I have heard no more from him.

But, about three hours later, when I tried again, the problem had disappeared. I had changed and done nothing. So I can only assume WordPress corrected the fault and never bothered to tell me.

As Facebook Friend Alias Robert Cummins succinctly put it: WordPress is amazingly shit, in all sorts of tiresome and complex ways, which I’d really rather not go into this late in the evening.

That is his real name, by the way – the one he was given at birth – Alias Robert Cummins. It is a bizarre story and one probably worth a blog at some point.

Anyway, the problem was eventually solved (I hope it has been, anyway) with the help not just of Sandra Smith but also the excellent cyber-guy and indefatigable Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show person Stephen O’Donnell.

John Ward toilet accessory with gun, silencer and loo roll

John Ward’s toilet accessory has a gun, silencer and loo roll

In the two days of missing blogs and navel-gazing, the world still turned, with John Ward, designer of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards getting some publicity in Lincolnshire of all places because today the James Bond film SPECTRE is released and, a couple of years ago, John designed a combined gun-rack and toilet paper holder.

He used to own a gun licence himself: something that never made me sleep easy in bed.

When no new blogs were being posted the last couple of days, the old one getting most hits was last Wednesday’s blog, about David McGillivray’s new short film of a previously un-produced gay porn script Trouser Bar written in 1976 by Sir John Gielgud.

David Mcgillivray (left) during the filming with Nigel Havers

David McGillivray (left) during the filming with Nigel Havers

The film (still in post-production) includes performances by Julian Clary, Barry Cryer and Nigel Havers. One blog reader user-named ‘Ludoicah’ commented:

I’d say with a cast that includes Nigel Havers and Barry Cryer that there is zero chance of this being any sort of a porn film, gay or otherwise, and it is probably, at most, a mildly risqué sketch.

To which David McGillivray replied:

Incorrect. It’s utter filth, liable to deprave and corrupt. I was blindfolded while I was producing it.

Sir John Gielgud’s script was inspired, it seems, by his love of men in tight trousers, particularly trousers made from corduroy.

Last Thursday, the day after my blog on the film appeared, the following was posted (with photo) on Trouser Bar’s Facebook page:

Trouser Bar still - corduroy trousers

Trouser Bar still – corduroy trousers un-creamed by Sir John

I’ve just seen the rough cut. Sir John would have creamed his corduroy jeans at this close-up.

It also quoted Sir John’s letter to Paul Anstee of 19th October, 1958:

“The students at the schools and universities [in Pennsylvania] are a wonderful audience, and a good deal of needle cord manch is worn (very badly cut, and usually only partly zipped!) so my eyes occasionally wander.”

Also posted on the Trouser Bar Facebook page was this quote from a Galton and Simpson comedy script for Hancock’s Half Hour in 1958:

Sid: “Hilary St Clair.” 

Tony: “Hilary St Clair? I bet he’s all corduroys and blow waves”

with the comment:

Even in the 1950s it seems that corduroy was associated with homosexuality.

All this, plus a photo on my blog of Sir John Gielgud with Sir Ralph Richardson in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, made Anna Smith – this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent – ask::

I wonder what kind of porn Ralph Richardson wrote?

and to mention:

Tony Hancock. Is this the face of a 1950s criminal?

Comedian Tony Hancock – Is this the face of a 1950s criminal?

I bought a Tony Hancock album last week at a junk shop. A woman wondered to me whether he was a criminal.

“He wasn’t a criminal,” I said, a bit annoyed. ”He was a comedian!”

“He looks like a criminal,” the woman countered, doubting my certainty.

“It was the 1950s,” I said, exasperated. “Everyone looked like a criminal back then.”

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Terry Wogan, James Bond, Superman and The Short Man With Long Socks

Terry Wogan and Jo Burke

Terry Wogan and performer Jo Burke at yesterday’s launch

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the book launch for Terry Wogan’s first novel Those Were the Days.

In passing, he mentioned that, at one point, he had been considered for the part of James Bond. But producer Cubby Broccoli thought his ears were too big and chose Roger Moore instead.

I took this as a joke, but one never can tell.

Terry Wogan novel

Terry Wogan’s first novel – autobiographical?

I seem to remember that movie producers the Salkinds seriously considered the younger Salkind’s wife’s dentist for the role of Superman and screen-tested him at least twice.

Yesterday evening, I went to see the Comedy International Showcase at the Pleasance in Islington. Full of interesting acts and not just on stage.

In the audience, I bumped into The Short Man With Long Socks, who had come specifically to see the always excellent Men in Coats. I half expected to find a whole row of clothes-related acts.

Men in Coats

Men in Coats were seen by The Short Man With Long Socks

I have never seen The Short Man With Long Socks perform – few people in the UK have. I have only heard of his act by repute from the late Malcolm Hardee and Martin Soan (both non-clothes-related acts) who talked about him in an October 2013 blog.

“Are you doing any London shows at some point?” I asked The Short Man With Long Socks.

“Well,” he said. “I… Well…”

Short Man with Long Socks

This appeared in my cyber In-Box this morning

“Could you send me a picture of you performing?” I asked.

“Well,” he said. “Well…”

“Here’s my e-mail,” I said.

“Well…” he said.

I thought: Well, I’ll never hear from him again… and don’t try talking to mime acts.

But, this morning, I got an e-mail picture of a sock.

Well, it’s a start.

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Serious comedy – Why this blog was mentioned in an academic bibliography

A serious publisher is desperate for comedy

A serious publisher is desperate for comedy

It is a cliché that comedy is getting to be a serious business. But that won’t stop me writing it again.

This morning, I got an e-mail from Brunel University’s Centre For Comedy Studies Research saying  that Palgrave Macmillan publishers are actively looking for academic comedy books. By coincidence, yesterday afternoon, I had a chat with Italian comedian Giacinto Palmieri.

He is in the first year of a three-year PhD research project for the University of Surrey at Guildford. It is on the self-translation of stand-up comedy – comedians who translate and adapt their own material from one language to another – and he had sent me a short section he had written which was centred on a blog I wrote in December about going with comedy critic Kate Copstick to the fortnightly Italian-language London comedy show Laboratorio di Cabaret – Il Puma Londinese.

“We must meet up and do a blog about it,” I told Giacinto. “It will seem like I am increasingly prestigious because my blog is in someone’s bibliography. Also, it’s the perfect academic thing – where you are studying the act of studying.”

“Well,” said Giacinto, “your blog entry was partially about the experience of watching my set. So I wrote about your blog’s reaction as part of my research and now we are discussing, for another of your blogs, my act of writing about your blog. I love circularity.”

Giacinto and I chatted at King’s Cross

Giacinto & I chatted at King’s Cross station. I don’t know why.

“I think,” I said, “when this conversation becomes part of a new blog, you should write about that too in your research.”

“I will,” said Giacinto. “It will be like Escher. Mirrors inside mirrors inside mirrors.”

“And,” I suggested, “when you write some more research about this new blog, I can write another blog about that… Anyway… Why did you decide Copstick and I were worthy of inclusion in your academic research?”

“Because you were observing bi-lingual comedy and that gave me the idea of observing you observing it and analysing your perspectives and expectations.

“Copstick said of me: In Italian, it’s like someone has lit a fire under him. In English, he is black and white; in Italian, he is in colour.

“Of course there is something objective there; I am not saying it is all a projection of expectations. But comedy is not just a performance. It is always an interaction: a projection of something meeting an expectation of something. It’s a dialogue. Why is she experiencing me as more in colour? Is it because I am performing differently? Or her expectations are different? Or because she likes Italy? It is probably a mixture of all these things.

(From left) Marouen Mraihi., Giada Garofalo, Giacinto Palmieri, Romina Puma, Alex Martini after last night’s show

(From left) Marouen Mraihi., Giada Garofalo, Giacinto Palmieri, Romina Puma, Alex Martini after a Puma show

“All of us regulars at the Puma Londinese are sort-of developing our material in parallel in both languages. Some routines are born in English and translated into Italian. Some the other way round. Some stay in one language and are never translated.”

“So,” I asked, “have you done some of your English material in Italy?”

“Yes, but only in English. I want to do it in Italian now, because it’s interesting for my research. But, of course, comedy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. So, if I do material in Italian in Italy, I’m also dealing with different expectations and different types of audiences, different types of comedy clubs. That bit scares me the most, because I don’t really know the comedy scene in Italy.”

I said: “You told me sometime that Italy didn’t have a tradition of stand-up, gag-telling comedy… that the tradition was character comedy…”

“and sketch comedy,” added Giacinto. “Yes. Stand-up comedy is emerging now as some sort of alternative.”

“Why research this idea of translating comedy?” I asked.

Giacinto Palmieri costumed

Giacinto in a previous Edinburgh incarnation as Pagliacci

“First of all to describe the phenomenon,” explained Giacinto. “It is a subject that has never been studied: I found a gap in the scientific literature and it’s a gap I can fill because I have direct experience of it and I can observe other comedians doing the same.”

“No-one has ever done this research before?” I asked.

“Not as an oral form. There has been research about sub-titles and dubbing but none, as far as I know, about adapting stand-up comedy from one type of oral form to another. The Guardian recently published an interview with Eddie Izzard, but I don’t think the phenomenon has been studied academically.”

“Even dubbing is bizarre,” I said. “I always wonder what happens with the James Bond films, which are full of English language puns. There’s a bit in Diamonds Are Forever where a girl says her name is Plenty O’Toole and Bond says: Named after your father, perhaps? Now that must be impossible to translate because it revolves round O’Toole being a surname. I mean, in Goldfinger, presumably Pussy Galore must have had no double-meaning outside English. What was it in the Italian version?”

“I think it is kept as Pussy Galore,” said Giacinto. “In Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, the character is called Alotta Fagina.”

“But translating puns in Bond films must be impossible,” I said.

“You look for a way to replicate the same kind of wordplay,” explained Giacinto. “In a way, puns are the easiest jokes to translate, because you don’t have to keep the meaning, you just create a new pun in the other language.”

“So,” I said, “it doesn’t matter what the joke is, provided there is a line which provokes a laugh at the same point in the action?”

Giacinto at the Christmas Puma show

Giacinto at the Christmas Puma show

“Yes,” said Giacinto. “Some are so brilliant in Italian, you wonder what the original was. In Young Frankenstein, there is a brilliant pun in Italian but I have no idea what the original was. A lot of things are lost in translation, but a lot of things are also found in translation. Translation is a creative activity and if it is done by creative people – by comedians and so on – it is a great chance to express new comedy ideas.”

“Have you delved into this before?” I asked.

“A few years ago, the comedian Becca Gibson organised a literary festival in Earl’s Court and invited Delia Chiaro from the University of Bologna, one of the biggest experts on the translation of humour. Becca booked me to do stand-up comedy during the event, because she knew a lot of my material was based on language. As a result, Delia invited me to do the same during a conference about translation at the University of Bologna. So I discovered there were these two fields – Humour Studies on one hand and Translation Studies on the other which, of course, overlap in Humour Translation. And I realised, if I researched the way comics translate their own material, it could be a way to bring together all these threads of interest.”

“It’s the ideal research for a stand-up comic,” I suggested. “You can write about yourself.”

Giacinto’s image for his Leicester show

Giacinto’s image for his Leicester Comedy Festival show

“Yes,” agreed Giacinto, “I am doing research which is partly about me doing comedy, but I can also do stand-up comedy routines about me doing research about me doing comedy. I am performing my Ride of The Wagnerian show at the Leicester Comedy Festival this Saturday. I am probably skipping this year’s Edinburgh Fringe because I will be too busy with my research. But I am planning to do a show at the Fringe in 2016 about my research. My plan is to call it Giacinto Palmieri needs a PhD For It.

I laughed.

“You see?” said Giacinto, “The show is working already.”

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British comedian Martin Soan forgets two old vaginas but is offered a third

Martin Soan contemplates the vagina offer yesterday

Martin contemplating vagina offer yesterday

The redecoration of the public areas of Fleming Towers continues apace with comedian and prop maker par excellence Martin Soan up ladders painting. (I have a fear of overbalancing induced by a childhood trauma on a rope-and-plank bridge in Scotland when I was around nine.)

Late yesterday afternoon, Martin came downstairs and said:

“I’ve just been asked to play a vagina. This woman’s rung me up and asked me to play a vagina. Which is OK. Alright. I can accept that there’s a vagina in a play. I’m quite open and liberal about it. But then she told me she wants me for the BIG vagina. There is another part in the play for a SMALLER vagina.”

“Who’s playing that?” I asked.

“I’ve got no idea,” said Martin.

“Have you met this woman before?”

“No,” said Martin. “Someone just gave my number to her.”

“Obviously,” I said, “she was asking around for someone who could be a cunt and people suggested you.”

“It must have been Boothby Graffoe or someone like that,” mused Martin. “She did mention it was so-and-so but she was talking fast and… someone has just passed my number on…

“She was reading through the whole play over the phone for about five minutes,” he continued in disbelief. “She said: Hang on a minute! Hang on a minute! I’ll just open the curtains to let some light in the house. I mean, it’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon now and she’s just opening her curtains to let some light in her house.”

“But you have no idea who the small cunt is?” I asked.

“I did suggest Andy Linden,” said Martin. “I’d play the big vagina if Andy Linden was playing the small vagina.”

“Would you be a talking vagina?” I asked.

“I presume so,” said Martin. “There are lines. It’s a play.”

“Vagina lines?” I asked. “What lines?”

“I’ve got no idea,” Martin replied. “She was reading the script to me, but my head was swimming.”

“Where would this play happen?” I asked.

“At The Lost Theatre in Vauxhall,” said Martin. “That’s a good place to do a play if you’re straight, isn’t it? It’s the gay capital of the world.”

“It’s not the Vauxhall Tavern?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin, “but every pub round there…”

“That’s where MI6 is!” I interrupted. “Vauxhall… James Bond can’t be gay!”

“But,” explained Martin. “MI6 is on the other side of the road. They’re separated by the one-way system. They call the bit opposite Gay Village.”

“Do they?” I asked. “I haven’t lived, have I?”

“No, you haven’t,” said Martin.

“Didn’t you build a vagina for someone once?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “I’ve made two vaginas.”

“For…?” I asked.

“I can’t remember,” he said. “One was for a dead-straight stand-up. He wanted an all-singing-and-dancing talking vagina. I used silk. It had hair and eyes that one. It was really scary.

Martin re-installs my pussy at Fleming Towers this morning

Martin re-installs my pussy painting at Fleming Towers today

“And I did another vagina for someone else, but I can’t remember the name.”

“Honestly!” I said. “Your life is so full and complicated that you can’t remember who you made a talking vagina with eyes for?”

“No,” said Martin. “I block all these things from my memory.”

“I suppose that’s possibly wise,” I said.

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Why do people keep criticising macho, talented, not really small Tom Cruise?

Jim Grant aka Lee Child, father of Reacher

Jim Grant aka Lee Child, father of Reacher

Last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to see the new Tom Cruise movie Jack Reacher.

I wanted to see it because the original novel was written by Lee Child, the pen-name of Jim Grant, a quiet, self-contained man I used to work with at Granada TV in Manchester. We were not friends; we just worked in the same department; and we have not kept in touch. But I knew him in a general way.

So I have an interest, but no personal axe to grind.

Jack Reacher was wonderful.

I was not expecting too much of it. Perhaps because of that, I was amazed at how good it was.

Quite a few reviews rightly praised the acting of German film director Werner Herzog who was cast as the terrifyingly icy villain. And some appreciated the always wonderful actor Robert Duvall. But Tom Cruise got little credit. Why?

I may be totally wrong, but I thought he may have partly based his Jack Reacher character’s apparent inner stillness on Jim Grant/Lee Child (who appears very briefly in the background of one scene as a police desk sergeant.)

Some of the reviews I read before seeing the film were rather lukewarm, rather grudging. Most seemed to carp on about how Tom Cruise does not look like the 6’5″ Jack Reacher of the novels.

Well, tough shit.

Sean Connery looked nothing like the English James Bond in the original Ian Fleming novels. Indeed, the Bond movies’ plots have almost nothing to do with the novels from which they nick their titles.

I have not read any of Lee Child’s 17 Jack Reacher novels but, if the plot of this first Jack Reacher movie bears any relation to the original book (One Shot) then ‘Lee Child’ writes bloody good books.

My eternally-un-named friend – often a Rom Com movie lover – and I had sat through a DVD of the appalling near-laugh-free zone that is Bridesmaids the previous night. When we came out of the cinema last night after seeing Jack Reacher, she simply said to me: “That was wonderful”. And it was, apart from a single bizarrely miscalculated scene in which Reacher throws away his gun and his advantage to have a macho fistfight… What was that all about?

The rest? Absolutely wonderful.

So why the grudging reviews? And why the constant sniping at Tom Cruise for being small?

It seemed a lot of the carping reviews were obsessed with the fact that, in the books, Jack Reacher is 6’5” and Tom Cruise is famously tiny. It didn’t make any difference to me, a non-reader of the books. He played ‘tough’ very effectively, just as he does in his Mission Impossible movies.

But, in any case, he is not actually small. He is 5’7″. The same height as Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Robert Downey Jnr… Are they small?

Daniel Radcliffe is 5’5″ and Emilio Estevez is 5’4; Jack Black, who played the large Gulliver, is 5’6″. Ben Stiller is 5’8″. Are they candidates for a re-make of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs? I think not.

Perhaps people keep criticising Tom Cruise because he is so successful or perhaps because he is a Scientologist. Who knows? It makes no difference to his acting or movie producing ability.

All I know is that he is a good actor and a good producer.

You don’t get cast by directors Michael Mann or Steven Spielberg or Paul Thomas Anderson just for being a Big Name. You get cast for acting ability. And, in the pre-credit sequence of Mission Impossible III, he gives a virtual masterclass in how to act the whole gamut of emotions.

He also produced the four Mission Impossible films.

The first was awful (employing visual stylist Brian De Palma as director, then filling the movie with scenes of people talking to each other, sometimes over tables in dull rooms)… but Mission Impossible II was very good… Mission Impossible III was an utterly superb piece of film-making… one of my favourite films… and the fourth Mission Impossible was a return to the quality of the second film. Not a bad average.

I just hope Tom Cruise makes at least another sixteen Jack Reacher movies, even if he will be a bit long in the tooth by the end.

Perhaps, like James Bond, they will re-cast occasionally.

But, for the foreseeable future, I am more than happy to watch Tom Cruise be tall and macho and talented.

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How not to become a millionaire by creating an original new product

John Ward told me he had had another crap idea

So near and yet so far from becoming a millionaire…

I got an e-mail this morning from mad inventor John Ward.

He has come up with a new idea – the James Bond personalised bog roll holder with incorporated gun rack. He has created it in a hand-carved cherry wood finish with gilt inlay numerals.

Like many of his ideas, there is the twinkle of a marketable commodity here.

I fondly remember his bicycle for window cleaners – the frame of the bike itself became a ladder.

As TV presenter Chris Tarrant once said: “Brilliant, but not quite all there.”

It was not clear if he meant John’s idea or John himself.

Much like writing a daily blog, John Ward has carved out a niche in an area where it is difficult to, in our American cousins’ phrase, ‘monetise the product’.

I am sure there is a market for personalised, hand-carved toilet roll holders, but where you would start to exploit it is another matter. Certainly, with gun included, there must be a market in certain parts of South East London.

As Chris Tarrant implied, John Ward’s ideas are usually brilliant but not yet quite in the Dyson millionaire-making class.

His mobile church font drew some interest from his local vicar… His musical frying pan (hum along while you fry) got some interest… And his bra-warmer received a lot of press attention.

John Ward with the main Malcolm Hardee Award

Marking time until the millions flow in, he designed and built the three annual and increasingly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards… and he once designed a bullshit-detecting machine for me.

Unfortunately, there was so much of it in the air, the machine could not detect a single specific source.

John Ward still needs that one big breakthrough product or an offer to become prop maker to the stars.

All suggestions gratefully received.

Here is an Australian TV report:

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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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