Once the production had been moved to Sonovision, Gooden, who had received a large number of Avengers television scripts from EMI, engaged experienced British actor Tony Jay to adapt them for radio. Jay, an actor, writer and director on a multitude of South African radio productions, would later come to international acclaim for his work in America as an actor and commercial voice artiste. His brief on The Avengers was wide-ranging - in addition to his scripting duties, Jay was also in charge of casting and would go on to direct the productions.

"My association with the wonderful Dave Gooden was very close," said Jay, when interviewed in 2001 for Avengers on the Radio (an earlier website run by "the makers of The Avengers Declassified"), "and I produced and acted in innumerable series and one-off plays at Sonovision over a period of about six years, during which time I had virtually carte-blanche as to how I wished to proceed and whom I wished to cast."

The situation with The Avengers was no different. Tony Jay's first job was to cast the role of Steed but his first choice, the legendary South African actor-entertainer, Rex Garner, proved unavailable. In his place, and "with the late Dave Gooden's approval, I cast Donald Monat immediately as Steed... [He] did very well in the role, as did Diane Appleby as Emma Peel," said Tony Jay in that 2001 interview. Rex Garner would go on to appear in the series in guest roles from time to time, demonstrating that his unavailability was not due to a dislike of the series, though he may have wished not to become tied to a single, long-running role.

Hard though it may be to believe today, when movies and television shows can be in development for months and years before being realised, a programme commissioned for South African radio could go from idea to broadcast in a matter of weeks. Consequently, after being given the go-ahead to produce their new series, Sonovision, and Tony Jay in particular, found themselves with little time to spend in pre-production before the delivery of the first serial to Springbok Radio for broadcast.

"The time-frame for pre-broadcast development was not long at all, that being the normal routine in South Africa in those days," Jay recalled, and The Avengers was no exception. "I had about two weeks to prepare the first two serials each comprising five fifteen-minute scripts prior to recording and broadcast. That was nothing unusual, as most radio jobs were facilitated at lightning speed. Subsequent scripts were usually prepared only one or two weeks ahead, as I had to spend much time sorting through the pile of available TV scripts in order to decide which ones were less 'visual' than others."

Early on, Jay decided that some of the content would inevitably need to be replaced with fresh material, more suitable for radio. In some instances, the problems posed by adapting scripts written for television into sound-only productions could be solved by a simple and expedient innovation: "I soon realised that I would need a narrator, which the late Hugh Rouse did marvellously well. But I wanted a narrator with a point of view and more than a touch of irony, a kind of interested, but sceptical observer, and those interpolations were created by myself, adding a very attractive twist to the programme."

Narrators have been used in radio programmes since the medium's inception, often with mediocre results. It is to Tony Jay's credit that the narrator character he devised exists at the very centre of the piece, giving the series an off-beat style and humour that is entirely its own, but which seems to fit into the Avengers format seamlessly. Jay's deft scripting and Hugh Rouse's assured delivery are among the many factors which mark out the Sonovision radio series as a very individual take on The Avengers.

Recording The Avengers

If the turnaround was frenetic for the script writer, it was no less so for the performers, as Donald Monat recalled when interviewed for Avengers on the Radio in 2000: "The principal and most successful radio actors became very skilled - and so did the technicians, which was essential as rehearsal time was minimal. A major, ninety-minute play-of-the-week had to be rehearsed and recorded in one day - and serials like The Avengers were recorded at sight, with no rehearsal or read-through, five or six episodes in one afternoon. Normally, you didn't even get the scripts in advance. The first time you saw them was when you walked into the studio for the recording. All live effects - such as footsteps, doors opening, drinks being poured, etc - were done by the actors and all recorded effects and music were normally incorporated as we recorded so that there was very little editing or post-production to be done."

The company of players that made The Avengers would usually number no more than eight for a serial, mainly to save on costs. As a serial might have twenty character parts in it, this meant that actors would often have to play two or three roles. For this reason, full casts were rarely announced in either The Avengers or other Springbok Radio productions. Donald Monat notes that "this wouldn't have sounded too good... In fact, it was extremely rare for even the leads to get credited (in anything under half an hour in length)." (In the case of The Avengers, the two lead actors and the adaptor/director and producer received an on-air credit once a week, at the end of each Friday night episode.) Over the full length of the series, the majority of the pool of actors who worked regularly for Sonovision would have appeared in The Avengers at some point.

The only ever-present performers in the series aside from Donald Monat were Diane Appleby, cast as Steed's indispensable partner Emma Peel, and the narrator, Hugh Rouse, a familiar voice on Springbok Radio through his news broadcasts which he had been delivering since 1950.

The single semi-regular character, Mother, played in most instances by Colin Fish, appeared mainly in serials based on scripts from the final television series of The Avengers, in which the character featured as Steed's department head. However, Dennis Folbigge, who would eventually take over as writer from Tony Jay, liked the character so much that he introduced him into adaptations of earlier episodes that had not originally featured the character.

The other players, who would only appear sporadically on the show, are somewhat shrouded in mystery. However, more than a little belatedly, we can now reveal at least some of the unsung 'back row' heroes of The Avengers: Clive Belman, June Dixon, Rex Garner, Michael Mayer, Don McCorkindale, Bruce Millar, Hal Orlandini, and Shelagh Holliday (many more are listed in the Biographies).

In the Control Room

Recording studios are pretty much the same the world over, and Sonovision was no exception. In one part of the studio, the actors would have performed their lines into the microphones, while in the other - a small sound-proofed control room - the technical side of the recording session would have been overseen by the production staff.

At Sonovision, there were generally three people in the Control Room: a director, a producer and a controller. These roles often varied considerably from organisation to organisation - for instance, in some Johannesburg production houses, the roles of director and producer were amalgamated and were carried out by a single person. For this reason, it is sensible to explain what these jobs entailed at Sonovision.

The director - initially Tony Jay, and later Dennis Folbigge - was responsible for directing the artistic side of the production. His brief would have included the oversight of sound effects and music to be included in the programme, and liaison with, and direction of, the actors. The latter task would be achieved visually, through the control room window, and via 'talkback', where he could communicate directly with performers via their headphones.

The producer's role in South African radio was essentially administrative and organisational. Many producers approached productions in different ways. David Gooden, producer of The Avengers, for instance, coming from a technical background, would, aside from his organisational tasks, also regularly supervise the sound engineering side of the production.

The controller - or sound engineer - sat at the mixing desk, adjusting the levels of the various channels in the mix. Paul Wright was often the controller on The Avengers, but there were others who filled this role throughout the duration of the series.

One of the major operations within the control room would be the playing in of any recorded sound effects and incidental or theme music. These would generally be fed into the mixing console from vinyl disc and be combined with the microphone sources from the actors' area. Where particular cues were to be used regularly, such as the theme to The Avengers, which would be used for every episode, they would often be transferred to reel-to-reel quarter-inch tape to avoid excessive wear to the original discs. Much of the incidental music used for The Avengers would have been from 'library' collections of stock music. Copyright clearances on tracks from library discs were relatively inexpensive, and each producer would normally have his or her favourite libraries of theme and background music. Among the music for The Avengers, the Laurie Johnson pieces, such as the series theme and the Synthesis excerpt would have been licensed separately by EMI.

The Control Room would also be the setting for post-production work, if any was needed. While programmes were recorded, where possible, without breaks, inevitably actors would occasionally "fluff" their lines, or a technical problem might arise. These tended to be removed by rewinding the tape to a point prior to the fluff and 'picking up' at a point on the tape where an edit would be imperceptible. Often there would be some minor mistakes that would have to be taken out afterwards. Cuts, in those days, were nearly always made by physically cutting and splicing the tape. If there were too many splices in a tape - more than, say, four or five - the tape would be dubbed in its entirety on to a fresh tape. This was to guard against a splice coming apart while a programme was being broadcast.

Post production would also be performed on recordings to make them run to time, and occasionally to tighten up gaps between actors' lines or sound effects for dramatic effect.

by Alan Hayes with thanks to Donald Monat, Frans Erasmus and Tony Jay

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