Sunday, June 9, 2013

A New Book For Fans of The Avengers: The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes: The Lost Stories of The Avengers Series 1

Over the last few years, a revolution in publishing has come to light. People who have important things they want to write about have taken it on their own to publish their own work. What this gives us, the reader, is an opportunity to get exposure to concepts and topics that may have been too niche for a mainstream publisher to touch but perfect for people who want to publish their own work who knows there is an audience to read it.

A great example of this is a new book written by Richard McGinlay, Alan Hayes and Alys Hayes titled The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes: The Lost Stories of The Avengers Series 1. It is hard to imagine that anything connected with The Avengers would have information that is hard to come by but that is exactly what happened with Series 1. I know for myself, when I first saw and got into The Avengers, I had only seen the Emma Peel episodes and hardly imagined that the series had been going on so long before the episodes I had seen. In fact, The Avengers I had seen was very different to how the series started. The premise of the series began with Dr. Keel whose fiancĂ©e is killed outside his practice in connection with a package of heroin delivered to his practice by mistake. It is after this horrible event that Keel is contacted by a stranger named Steed who wants Keel to work with him to track down this drug gang. It is a gritty and very real type of series.  This all sounds very good but most of this first series is missing and that is where this book comes in nicely to fill the gaps.
For Series 1 of The Avengers, there is either a fair amount of information about the plots of the episodes or very little to none. The work that Richard, Alan and Alys have done for this book was doing the research to bring us detailed synopses of all the Series 1 episodes. This book is a labor of love by these three fans of The Avengers. It is published by Hidden Tiger and I have another book they offer, The Tales of the Moonstone Inn, written in the 1920s and 30s, which is quite good. Series 1 of The Avengers has always been an enigma to me. This is a book I cannot wait to sink my teeth into as I see this as essential reading if you are a fan of The Avengers.

Below is an interview with authors to get a better idea of what went into making The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes: The Lost Stories of The Avengers Series 1:

How did you end up writing this book?
ALYS HAYES: It all dates back to 2009, when Alan and I were asked to become involved in the planning and production of special features for Optimum Releasing's new Avengers DVD range. Alan was approached as he runs The Avengers Declassified website, and he asked me if I'd like to be involved too. I've been a fan of the series for over thirty years, so it was great to be able to give something back, and repay The Avengers for all the enjoyment that it has given me.

ALAN HAYES: We started in a small way, suggesting archive extras, such as the surviving Police Surgeon episode and Diana Rigg's Armchair Theatre play, The Hothouse. We also produced a brief reconstruction of the missing second and third acts of the opening episode, Hot Snow, to follow on from the recovered first part. Jaz Wiseman, the co-ordinator of the special features project, soon told us that the original Avengers producer, Leonard White, had come forward with a scrapbook full of off-screen 'Tele-Snaps' from fourteen Series 1 episodes. Excited at this momentous find, we agreed between the three of us that short reconstructions of the missing stories would be made. Over the next year, we produced fourteen of these programmes, using these Tele-Snaps and, where they existed, production photographs taken during rehearsals.
ALYS HAYES: With no soundtracks to synchronise with the stills, we wrote narrations for these programmes, based initially on scripts that had been preserved. These were made available to us from several sources, including from the archive of Dave Rogers, who I knew from the early days of Avengers fandom. Later, we had to be a great deal more creative!

ALAN HAYES: Indeed we did, and it was Alys who wrote the narrations for the episodes that were most awkward to research. We didn't have access to scripts for eight of the episodes to be reconstructed, just Dave Rogers' synopses in books like The Complete Avengers. Marrying these up to the newly-found Tele-Snaps was quite a task, but Alys did a sterling job. Of course, as we were writing these scripts, I took the opportunity to add them to The Avengers Declassified as in-depth story breakdowns. I'm not one to waste good content!
RICHARD McGINLAY: And this is where I came in. For me, it all came about because of the reconstructions that Alan and Alys put together. I enjoyed watching them, but that still left ten missing episodes that could not be reconstructed due to a lack of images. I wanted to know about them too! One of the ten (The Radioactive Man) was summarised on Alan's Avengers Declassified site, but all the other summaries on there were based upon the reconstructed episodes. I knew that some Series 1 scripts existed, having read as such on the credits for the reconstructions themselves and on Declassified. However, apart from a handful of scripts on the Series 1 DVD, I couldn't see that they had been made available anywhere. I contacted Alan via his website, and before I knew it, I was writing for Declassified! I was so enthused by reading the scripts that I offered to write up summaries of them to fill in the gaps on the website. Around the time that this was completed, Alan suggested going back over his and Alys' summaries to see if I had anything to add, with a view to bringing the whole lot together in book form.

How difficult was it to research information for a series that in the main does not exist?
ALAN: It was never going to be an easy task, but circumstances with the ABC archive, which has changed hands many times over the years, made it exceptionally difficult in some cases. The problem is that it's not just the episodes that are missing. With Doctor Who, the most famous television series with holes in its archive, the episodes are gone, but there are soundtracks, photos, scripts for every episode, and a wealth of production information. With The Avengers, there is minimal production documentation at Pinewood, and we have had to rely on private collectors coming forward with materials. We were very fortunate as our appeal met with a very helpful response, and we are most grateful to our benefactors.

RICHARD: There are some episodes, like Toy Trap, where there's a script, a set of Tele-Snaps and a generous collection of production stills. You can build up a fairly complete picture of such stories. At the other extreme, there are episodes such as Nightmare and Crescent Moon, for which there are no surviving scripts and no photographs, just some rather brief synopses.
ALYS: For some others, the only things that remain are images, for episodes such as The Far Distant Dead and Dragonsfield, and, somehow, these had to be reconstructed for the DVDs. In instances such as these and the ones Richard mentions, we've have had to don our deerstalkers to shed some light on narratives that have become lost in time.

We've all seen the reconstructions on DVD, so what does the book offer us that the reconstructions don't?
ALAN: I must be honest, the reconstructions were, out of necessity, a little rushed. We had a very limited time in which to research a demanding subject, and there are some which we've now realised could have been more accurate to what took place on screen. That's a shame, of course, but with deadlines looming, some things got overlooked with the reconstructions, and we're pleased to say that the episodes which were reconstructed have now been looked at in far greater detail than before.

RICHARD: Also, there are the ten episodes for which no visual reconstructions have ever been made. All of these have been addressed in the book, with many of them having been dealt with in great detail as their scripts exist today.
How much has The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes benefitted from being co-written by three authors?

RICHARD: I think it would have driven a single author around the bend! It's a mentally exhausting process, either distilling the essence of a 50- to 80-page script or extrapolating from more scant sources when there is no script. After the mad rush to complete the reconstructions, Alan and Alys needed a well-earned rest from the missing episodes. Then I came along to help finish the jigsaw they had started! It needed all of us really. We also looked closely at each other's work, which helped with getting the details right. Sometimes one of us would notice something that the others had not. Any theories that we came up with to fill logical gaps had to convince all three of us. We acted as checks and balances for each other, questioning and revising our detective work at every stage.
Do you think that with it being mostly lost, Series 1 of The Avengers fires the interest in a way it might not if it existed complete?

ALAN: I think that there's a certain buzz that surrounds the missing episodes of any series. There's the thought that we're missing something classic that should never have been destroyed, when in reality the actual episodes were maybe pedestrian. However, I think we're all agreed that while it may at times not have been The Avengers fully formed, certainly not as we have come to know and love it, it nonetheless appears to have had something special about it. The scripts are engaging and varied, and from the surviving episodes, Ian Hendry and Patrick Macnee made a fine team, even if their characters didn't always see eye to eye, presaging the often spiky relationship between Steed and Mrs Gale. Would Series 1 inspire as much interest if the episodes survived? That's a difficult one, but I'd like to see some more episodes turn up so we could find out!
RICHARD: It definitely fires my interest, but then I suppose I have something of an obsession about missing episodes! I'd been a casual fan of The Avengers since Channel 4 repeated the Emma Peel and Tara King episodes back in the 1980s. When I heard about the Optimum / StudioCanal DVDs, I made tentative plans to buy them some day... but when I heard that there would be Tele-Snaps and reconstructions in there, the need to own them became much more urgent! I was the same with Dark Shadows – far more intrigued by it when I learned that there was a missing episode! I've probably spent more time poring over what can be ascertained about the missing episodes of Doctor Who and The Avengers than I have spent watching many of the surviving ones! That probably sounds a bit sad, but it's an intriguing puzzle for me. I suppose it's part of the human desire to want what you cannot have, to see what's just out of view.

Over the years, some production team members have dismissed Series 1 as "rubbish". Would you agree with their opinion?
RICHARD: Perhaps it was a misguided attempt to make people feel better about the lost episodes, in a "don't worry, you're not missing much" kind of way, but actually it does Series 1 a great disservice. I think there is a fairly commonly held belief that Series 1 isn't "proper" Avengers, because it's Steed and this other bloke, Dr Keel, rather than Steed flirting with a female partner, and that it's not as light-hearted as in later years. That's like dismissing the William Hartnell era of Doctor Who because many of his stories didn't have monsters in them, or saying that early episodes of Blake's 7 don't count because they don't feature Servalan or Orac. The Avengers was a very different beast by the time that it switched from videotape to film with the Emma Peel era, but Series 1 is not far removed from the earliest Cathy Gale episodes. The show was adapting and evolving all through its time on air, in terms of storytelling and production technique – and that evolution starts right here! There are some quite gritty storylines to begin with, involving drug dealing and prostitution for example, and even some subjects that might on the surface seem mundane, such as counterfeiting and insurance fraud, but there is always a sense of wit and there is usually some sex appeal too. Actually, I was surprised by the amount of humour I found in the scripts, and that's something we have tried to bring out in the book. By the end of Series 1, the show is definitely on course for its future, with characteristically eccentric settings like a zoo, a taxidermist's shop and a funfair, and science fiction elements also come to the fore, especially with the hi-tech laboratories and mad scientists of The Deadly Air, Dragonsfield and Dead of Winter.

What were the high and low points you faced whilst writing this book?
RICHARD: It was hard at times getting our heads around the plots to those episodes for which no scripts survive but lots of images do – in particular Tunnel of Fear, The Far Distant Dead and Dragonsfield. We would end up staring at photographs of various characters doing various things, wondering: what is going on in this scene? Who is this Caron character in The Far Distant Dead? What's happening to Steed in the isolation chamber in Dragonsfield? Those were the low points. The high points were working those difficult bits out to our mutual satisfaction – oh, and finishing the book!

ALAN: I'm not one to dwell on low points, not that I can really recall any from the time we worked on this book. Thinking about it, the big disappointment is that, for all the time we spent sifting through information and sources regarding the episodes, we knew that this was probably as close to the episodes as we would ever get. They're not going to turn up, displayed in the window of a local charity shop or be found in a Mormon chapel in Clapham, and that's sad. As for the high point, well for me it was the collaborative process. It was a pleasure to work with Richard and Alys, both tireless, dedicated, inspired and supportive. 
Do you plan to write any further Avengers books, to follow on from The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes?

ALAN: Definitely, though they will be very different animals to this one. There is, after all, no great call for a book detailing the storylines in depth of subsequent series as they can all be watched on DVD, so we'll be changing tack. But we haven't finished with Series 1 just yet. There's another book to come on that subject, but that's something we'll be able to reveal more about in the coming months. We can tell you, however, that it'll be called Ashes of Roses.
Without giving too much away, what can we look out for in subsequent volumes?

RICHARD: Lots of production information! For Series 1, we were originally going to put the story summaries into the same book as detailed behind-the-scenes episode guides, covering casting, studio recording, location filming, trivia, all that kind of thing. However, it quickly became clear that we had far too much material to fit into one book. So the next book will also be about Series 1, but the production side rather than plot summaries. Then we will move on Series 2 and beyond with further behind-the-scenes episode guides.
Finally, what do you hope to achieve with the publication of this book?

ALYS: Well, to begin with, we hope that it raises awareness of Series 1, and helps fans of The Avengers to understand in greater depth the content of those early stories. Obviously, it would be nice to think that it might inspire people to take an interest in the hunt for missing material, not just of The Avengers, and return items to the appropriate bodies. Our television past has been decimated and we like to think that while this book cannot replace those Avengers episodes that are missing, it brings their narratives back to life after more than fifty years.
The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes - The Lost Stories of The Avengers is available in hardcover and paperback from Hidden Tiger.

I have to admit that I share Richard’s view that any series that has missing episodes intrigues me. I don’t know how much of a Doctor Who fan I would be if there weren’t any missing episodes of the series. I hope this gives a tantalizing look into this book, I know I can’t wait. Now I just need for the book to arrive!

If interested, here is another article I did on The Avengers last year. Click here to check it out.

This week I will post a review of something I never thought I would see. A full colour Mind of Evil on DVD!
Have a great week!

No comments: