Despite the fact that your two books about The Avengers are unofficial publications, were any attempts made to negotiate with copyright holders to include photographic material in them?
I think the importance of photographic material is over-stressed, particularly in books of the type that we have written. There are plenty of beautifully illustrated books on The Avengers that have been published in the past, but rarely have these publications gone into the sort of depth about the series that we have. These are not the sort of books that need photographs. These are books where information, fact and anecdotes, are King. The alternative, of course, is to go down the official route, but this would have involved meetings with the rights holder, and we would have been required to follow an official line, lost our editorial control, or would not have been permitted to write the book at all. It was not an option for us as it would have meant we would have lost control over what we wanted to write simply so we could include a few photographs and be endorsed by the rights holders.
Although, right from the first day of planning, we knew that we would not be able to include photographs, we did remember some comments from readers of The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes, that photographs would have been nice. Therefore, while we knew that we would not be permitted to include any photos, we decided to engage an artist to produce illustrations (which are not copyright to the Avengers rights holder) so that the book would have a visual element.
I am delighted with the illustrations in the new book. What were your considerations when selecting an artist?
This may be a disappointing answer, but I only ever considered one artist for the book, the one who ended up doing the illustrations, Shaqui Le Vesconte. Shaqui is a friend, and I am familiar with the standard and variety of his work, which is always very impressive. There was no-one else considered for the job. When we were discussing the style, he experimented with a few different approaches, but we eventually decided upon an old-fashioned line-art style which we all felt was appropriate for the era that the book concentrates on. Shaqui is now a part of the team and will illustrate our subsequent books. He’s too good to let go!!!
It is interesting to consider that Steedumbrella website has not until now included a section comprising interviews with people either involved in The Avengers or who contribute to its appreciation. When it opened in 2009, Steedumbrella was just a copy of the Russian-language pages of The Avengers on Wikipedia. After looking at the resource The Avengers Forever, it soon became clear how Steedumbrella could develop and in what its areas of emphasis should be. The scheme of development was worked on for the next few years, but the possibility of including interviews was not even considered.
The idea for this interview section came suddenly in September 2014, when Alan Hayes did an interview for The Nice Rooms website. After I read it, I thought it would be nice to do something similar, but with a detailed look at the book that Alan had just written with Richard McGinlay. I suggested this idea to Alan, and together we came to the conclusion that it would be good to do an interview about it which was directly aimed at fans of the series. That is, we have assumed a good knowledge of the series and therefore aim the questions at getting to the heart of the writing of the partnership’s two Avengers books published to date. We have worked on the interview for a week and it is now ready to present it to the public.
Alan Hayes, co-author of two books about The Avengers, webmaster of site The Avengers Declassified, first came to the attention of fans of the series in 1999, when he opened Second Sight, an Avengers image archive, where he presentated many rare photos from the series including more than 60 from lost Series 1 episodes. Previously, since 1980, he had been involved mainly in fan activity related to Doctor Who, first as a fanzine editor, then as editor and presenter of the audiozine Sonic Waves.
Since 2000, Alan has expanded his portfolio of Avengers websites, beginning with a unique project based on the then-forgotten South African Avengers radio series (which, thanks to him, everyone has now heard of!), and ending with his most recent venture, the ambitious Avengers Declassified website, which has now been operating for 5 years. He has also been involved in Avengers projects professionally, producing DVD extras for Optimum Releasing / StudioCanal, and privately, working with his colleagues at TheAvengers.TV on the development of their International Forum (now closed) and websites including The Avengers Forever, which for a while he ran in a caretaker capacity.
Alan, your new book – With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes – was recently released, and takes an in-depth look at the beginning of The Avengers from a production perspective. Since you’ve already written one book about the first year of the series – The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes – where does your interest in Dr. David Keel come from?
It all dates back to 2009, coincidentally the year I opened my website The Avengers Declassified. The site made an immediate impact, and as a result I was asked to help produce special programmes for the British DVD reissues of The Avengers in 2009 and 2010. The discovery by Jaz Wiseman of off-screen Tele-Snaps of 14 Series 1 episodes in the collection of original producer Leonard White led to me being asked to produce a series of 14 short reconstructions for the DVDs.
After we had made these programmes, the narration scripts we had written were reworked by myself and Richard McGinlay for The Avengers Declassified. We then performed additional research and revisited them again into our first book, The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes in 2013. We had initially wanted to include all the behind-the-scenes information that we could, to make the book even better, but we quickly realised that the amount of information we had on both the stories and the production side were too numerous to fit into one book without compromising on detail, so we split our one book on Series 1 into two – the first would about what people in 1961 would have seen on their television screens (the content of the stories) and that became The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes, while the second, which we called With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes, would focus on the behind-the-scenes story, including how the series was created. This second book has just been published.
As for what keeps bringing us back to Series 1... well, to be honest, it’s become something of an obsession for us! The fact that we can’t see these episodes (with a couple of merciful exceptions) has led Richard and me to take it upon ourselves to make this lost year far less mysterious than it has been before. The first book brings the stories to life, the second tells the story of how they were made, who made them, how the episodes were received and how they signalled the way to the future of the series.
What were the main sources you used in writing this book?
We have used a variety of information sources in our research for this book. These range from ABC Television production documentation, including internal correspondence between the producer Leonard White and his staff, scripts, newspaper archives, libraries, the wonderful BFI Special Collections library, the Soho Museum and its helpful staff, television listings magazines, private collections, earlier reference works about The Avengers and other ABC series, plus previously published interviews. We have also spoken to a number of people who were involved in the production.
I know that while working on the With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes, you and Richard have uncovered new information. Did any of these discoveries affect your original plan of how the book was structured?
When you start off writing a book, or working on any project, you have to be flexible – but organised – in your approach. We started with strong ideas of how the book would be structured, but knew that through the process it would be reorganised and fine-tuned. As we adopted an episode guide approach, any new information about the episodes themselves already had a home, and we structured our opening and closing essays in such a way – in sections – that it was relatively easy to add further or additional information after the basic text was written. This happened on several occasions – the book was a living thing, growing and changing often through the process.
Probably the biggest decision we took during the writing process was to add a series of appendices at the end, to cover things that couldn’t otherwise be dealt with easily within the natural flow of the book, for instance lengthy chapters about the unmade episodes The White Rook and Fifi and the Scorpion, a look at the novel Too Many Targets and the comic-strip adventure The Drug Pedlar, and merchandise related to the Keel and Steed era. These bonus chapters ended up accounting for 60 pages of the book.
Which were the most difficult topics to collect information about?
The most difficult topic is undoubtedly the content of the episodes of the nine programmes for which scripts do not exist. While the narratives are more the province of our first book, The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes, the lack of scripts does leave the occasional unanswered question. The problem with The Avengers is that its ownership has changed on several occasions since it was made and while for the most part the most important part of its legacy – the programmes themselves – have been preserved, the sort of information that provides a paper trail of production decisions is mostly lost. The challenge is to take what does survive and piece together the story from it. We are lucky with Series 1 in that there is a significant amount of internal correspondence that survives, and this really helps to build a vivid picture of what happened behind the scenes, but there will always be missing pieces, and that’s where the difficulty comes in. It has caused us to seek other sources or to ask people involved to fill the gaps in information.
The opinions of the people involved in the series often contrast with each other. Has it been difficult to arrive at conclusions when there have been disagreements between different people about particular incidents?
This is certainly true of The Avengers, even down to the question of who created the series or who came up with it name! In most cases, we have been lucky in that official printed sources from the time have been able to give us the truth. Where this material is missing, we have had to become detectives to work out the most likely scenario. Sometimes even one person has been quoted on several occasions about the same thing and his or her story has varied over time. In these instances, we mention that the person’s recollection has changed over the years and come to our conclusions based on the timing of the comments and with reference to documentation. But it can be a minefield, not least because we want to present everyone’s view without ending up upsetting one person or another. We have tried to be even-handed in our approach at all times.
This is your second book with Richard McGinlay. How did you come to write together?
Richard has been writing for The Avengers Declassified since the summer of 2012, after he contacted me by email and offered to write a thing or two for the site. Very soon I realised that he was a real asset to Declassified. Within weeks of starting our collaboration on the website, we discussed grand ideas for Avengers books, and initially I think we both thought they were fantasies. Once we had finished work on Series 1 at the site, we returned to the idea of books and started to think about them more seriously. I had already by this time published two or three books under my Hidden Tiger imprint, not Avengers books, but the experience meant that I could publish as well as write. It seemed very natural to write that first book with Richard, and also with my wife Alys (whose input was advisory and of course she had written some of the reconstruction narrations on which this first Avengers book was based).
Do you each focus on a particular part of the writing?
In the case of this book, Richard and I decided on which sections we would each concentrate on, the most important of which of the essays we would each write. We decided that I would write the ‘creation of The Avengers’ essay, and that he would write the ‘departure of Dr Keel’ one. These essays went through a number of revisions as a result of discussions between us, and each of us wrote additional material for the others’ essays. The episode guide pages are really the product of us both – to the point where it is now difficult to recall who wrote what! However, with the many revisions we went through on the whole book, it really does feel as though we do both have joint ownership over the completed work. It doesn’t feel like “this bit’s mine and that bit’s Richard’s”, because the whole writing process has been so collaborative, much as it was with The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes book.
What happens if you have disagreements?
We have had very few disagreements while writing the books, and none of them major. The ones we have had have been over what to put in and what to leave out, and none of those could be described as anything but friendly and for the good of the book. Considering that we’ve been working on either the website or the books for over two years now, it’s remarkable that we have never at any point had a big disagreement over anything. But that’s how it’s been. The partnership is an extremely good one from my point of view (and hopefully from Richard’s too!). Neither of us is precious about what we write, or over-sensitive to constructive criticism or comments from the other. Some people find it very hard to work in tandem with another author when writing books, but this is one of those cases where I think the both of us benefit greatly from the other being on board. It’s been a very easy, positive writing experience and I am sure that we will continue to collaborate on projects for years to come. We both bring out the best in the other and I think it’s fair to say that the end result is greatly improved for there being two of us writing than just the one.
You have been publishing books for four years. Do you see this as a hobby or a professional interest?
It’s a bit of both. The subjects that Richard and I study are things that we are passionate about, such as, of course, The Avengers, so from that perspective, it’s a hobby. In terms that it brings a little money in, once in a while when the books are published, it is something of a professional venture, but very few people are successful enough to make a comfortable living from writing. This is certainly the case with my publishing! Not including the time developing the material for the website, the new book took six months to write, often with long days and late nights, as Richard and I brought the text to its final polished state. At the same time as writing, I was engaged by a local school to design and edit one 28-page issue of their school newsletter. The 39 hours I spent working on this over a 2 week period paid me more than I can expect to receive in proceeds for the book in six months. So, really, the whole publishing venture must be seen as a passionate hobby rather than something I can honestly say is my profession. This of course does not mean that either Richard or I approach writing in a non-professional way, just that the rewards are more to do with the sense of achievement than being of a financial nature. To see those books on the shelf, and to have people excited by them, complimenting them, or discussing them online, is the greatest reward.
Alan, what is your personal attitude to ebooks? Your first book about The Avengers was released electronically, two months after publication. Is this also planned to occur with your new book?
Where ebooks are concerned, I have two opinions, one personal, one professional. As a reader, I don’t like them. I grew up with a love for reading in an era where part of the experience was the look, feel, even smell of a book. I find reading a book on an e-reader to be a very sterile experience. However, with my publisher’s hat on, I realise that they are a necessity in this modern age, which is why I offer ebooks of all my Hidden Tiger titles (and yes, ebook variants of With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes will be issued).
As I am a designer as well as a writer, I go to great lengths to make the books I write and publish look desirable and well-presented, and that’s one of the reasons our hardcovers and paperbacks get such a good reaction. Unfortunately, ebooks do not allow the designer to control how the book appears and the limitations of the ebook formats (PDF aside) mean that the Avengers fonts that we use for our chapter titles cannot be carried across to the ebook versions. In my personal view, this cheapens the quality of the product, and therefore ebooks will never be a priority for Hidden Tiger, though they are released due to the demand for them. Readers, however, should be aware that to get the full effect of any of our books, they should consider one of the print versions over an ebook edition. Obviously the content itself is the most important part of any book, and that is the same whichever format is purchased.
Were there any ideas for special editions of the latest book?
There were indeed. I considered variant covers, additional content, all sorts of things, but then, in the end, Richard and I decided that we should put all our eggs in one basket, as it were, as special editions simply make the standard edition seem less special in itself. We want to be fair to the people who buy the books on or near the day of publication, and offering special editions is a marketing ploy which exploits people, which is not something we wish to do. We want to give all those good people who support us a great product that is special in itself. Therefore, we dropped the gimmicky ideas and put all we had into the one edition. We think that the book, despite its lack of photographs, is a very lavish affair. We have included artwork illustrations, we have used the series episode-title font for our headings to give it that authentic feel, and we also went the extra mile to include as much content relevant to Series 1 as we could. We think that the final product is highly collectable, particularly in its hardcover edition, and that when people receive the book from the printer they will be very pleased with it.
I wish good luck to the new team: Richard, Alan, and Shaqui.
Do you plan to create a series of books about The Avengers?
Thanks for the good luck wishes!
It all depends on how well this book sells. The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes was always intended as a one-off. There is no great need to have in-depth storylines for other eras of the series, as all episodes after Series 1 can be watched on DVD. However, With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes could indeed be the first in a series. There are behind-the-scenes stories to be told about the other eras – it depends on whether there is a demand for a book about them.
There will be a gap between this book and a possible sequel about Series 2, however, as our next project concerns the series that led to The Avengers – Police Surgeon. This book is already at an advanced stage and should be released in early 2015.
I understand Police Surgeon is part of some sort of trilogy?
Yes, the next book is already being researched and written and is about the series that came before The Avengers. This Police Surgeon book will be called Dr. Hendry’s Casebook (a title which is a play on the title of an old British television series, Dr. Finlay’s Casebook). It is indeed the final book in a trilogy, only we didn’t know it was a trilogy when we started! It has the unofficial tag ‘The Ian Hendry Trilogy’ because all three of our books – Strange Case, With Umbrella and Dr Hendry’s Casebook – are about series starring Ian Hendry. It was only when we came to start writing the third book that we thought that people must think we are as much Ian Hendry fans as we are Avengers fans! We weren’t necessarily so when we started, but our discovery of his work has led us to become very much fans of his work. He has been somewhat forgotten until recently in Avengers fandom and also in the wider fandom of film appreciation, so in many ways, we view these three books as a way to put Ian Hendry back on the map, to show him as the phenomenal actor that he was. One of the best of his generation.
Thank you very much for your answers, Alan, as always it was a pleasure to talk to you. I look forward to your next book, because your collaborations with Richard are a real treat for fans of The Avengers and people who are interested in the history of classic British TV series.
Thank you, Denis. You are a gentleman! It’s always a pleasure helping out you and Steedumbrella, and it’s a delight to talk to fans all over the world at one of the best Avengers sites out there! Best wishes to you and all your visitors!