Steed is shot full of holes. Emma sees stars!

6 x 15-minute episodes
based on the television episode
From Venus With Love (1967),
written by Philip Levene

Principal Cast:
Donald Monat as John Steed
Diane Appleby as Emma Peel
Hugh Rouse as The Narrator

Production:
Adapted and directed by Dennis Folbigge
Produced by David Gooden

Transmission on Springbok Radio (7.15-7.30pm):
Episode 1 - Thursday 28th September 1972
Episode 2 - Friday 29th September 1972
Episode 3 - Monday 2nd October 1972
Episode 4 - Tuesday 3rd October 1972
Episode 5 - Wednesday 4th October 1972
Episode 6 - Thursday 5th October 1972
This is a best guess from available data

Optical Problems?
Dr Primble offers laser treatment
of the lethal variety.

PLOTLINE

Members of the British Venusian Society, an organisation set up to observe the planet Venus, are literally and fatally turning white while on watch at night! A phone call from Mother sends Steed and Mrs Peel off to investigate this phenomenon. Mrs Peel makes contact with Bert Smith, an upper-class chimney sweep and member of the society, but before he can give her much information, he is killed by a blinding white flash. Meanwhile, Steed joins the BVS (whose secretary is the aptly named Venus Brown), and is sent for an eye test with the society's optician, Dr Primble. Mrs Peel tracks down another member, Lord Mansford, but he too is killed before she can interview him.

Steed, now a member of the BVS, goes to see Brigadier Whitehead (another member), shortly after Venus Brown has paid the old soldier a visit. However, once again he gets there too late only managing to hear the strange whooshing sound as it precedes a blinding flash. Fortunately, the Brigadier was in the middle of taping his war memoirs and since the recorder was left running it has captured the sound of the lethal ray, providing Steed with another clue. Mrs Peel, pretending to be a journalist, visits the BVS and plays the tape to Venus and Crawford (the society's radio astronomer) hoping that they'll incriminate themselves in the deaths of the other members. However, it becomes apparent that they are not involved, and Venus herself only narrowly escapes being zapped by the "Venusian" ray whilst Mrs Peel is there.

Steed, on planet watching duty at the observatory, only avoids being killed by the ray by using a tailor's dummy to sit in the viewing position by the telescope. Dr Primble arrives soon after the attack and is convinced that it is all part of a Venusian invasion. After another attack, one of Steed's colleagues identifies the effects of the ray as coming from a laser, and that one of its uses is in eye surgery. Mrs Peel gets to Primble's opthalmic practice, but is captured by Primble and his assistant. It seems that he is behind the deaths, using a sports car with a laser gun attached, and is killing off members of the BVS in retaliation for having funds diverted from his medical research and redirected to the society. Steed arrives just in time to stop Mrs Peel being bleached, and destroys Primble's laser knocking Primble out in the process.

GUEST REVIEW

The radio play is the form of performance closest to literature itself. Like literature, the success of a radio drama depends entirely upon the effect of words upon its audience. Unlike the Globe Theatre, it is a cockpit that can easily hold the vasty fields of France, since there is no dissonance between the eye and the imagination. True, the writer's words are abetted by a variety of sounds, not the least of which is the timbre and expressiveness of the actors' voices, but all sounds are merely an echo to the sense in a drama, even in opera.

As a writer, I've always been fond of radio plays. You don't have to worry about the director cutting your dialogue so he can insert a logically stupid but viscerally stunning visual effect in its place (has anyone else noticed how truly awful the writing is in most special effects movies?) If anything, for a radio play, even more words are needed. Since I usually get paid by the word (except for labours of love, of course, like this review), I'm all in favour of that.

One thing is certain: the FX in your head cost the producers considerably less than they do in a visual medium. For this reason, radio drama is a particularly effective solution to dramatising fantasy and science fiction. Long before The Lord of the Rings was produced successfully on celluloid, it had been well presented on radio. So what could be more natural than adapting the Brian Clemens-era Avengers episodes? In a sense, of course, it's problematic, because everybody already knows what the episodes are supposed to look like. On the other hand, I can't claim I see Patrick Macnee when I listen to Donald Monat, although Steed's bowler and brolly are still in evidence. Which brings me (at last) to From Venus With Love. As science fiction, the story is a complete disaster. Real lasers are silent. Real lasers do not dramatically increase ambient heat. Real lasers do not cover everything in their vicinity with white ash. Real lasers do not require the use of a parabolic dish antenna (as in the TV version). Despite all that, From Venus With Love has long been one of my favourite Avengers episodes because of all of the typical Avengerian quirks in the plot.

How can you not love Bertram Fortescue Winthrop-Smythe, the blue-blooded chimney sweep? (Note: Bert in the radio version is considerably less Bertie Wooster-like than in the TV version, but still an upstanding exemplar of the eccentric gentry.) How can you not adore Brigadier Whitehead fearlessly galloping between gramophones in performing his own radio play adaptation of his memoirs? How can you fail to be delighted with Primble's eye chart, portraying, as it does, images of different hats in place of the far more prosaic alphabet (or those boring 'E's pointed in different cardinal directions from my long ago youth)? And of course, there is the arch humour of the title itself, a gentle nudge in James Bond's ribs.

One wishes to report that in this episode, in which the sonic has an importance far beyond that in any other Avengers episode, the radio play has triumphed. One wishes to report that comparison with the TV original is superfluous. Alas, one cannot honestly report these things. The radio version is not without its disappointments. Venus Brown was an attractive (if somewhat distracted) wide-eyed and youngish brunette in the TV version. On the radio, she is a twenty-something blonde bombshell, whose exaggerated come-hither vocalisations sound like they are being uttered by a forty-something torch singer. The slapstick climax of the TV version, which was filled with visual gags, could not be adapted successfully for the radio, making for a too-abrupt denouement.

But what of the all-important sound effects? Such effects are produced in radically different ways in the two media. Filmed television adds sound effects in post production, i.e., after the film is 'in the can', as we say in Hollyweird. This is done by 'Foley men' (presumably named after the originator of the technique). When you see a cinematic burglar step on broken glass and hear the crunch of his boot further fracturing the fallen fragments, the odds are overwhelming that it was added by a Foley man long after the actors had moved on to their next projects. Radio plays, on the other hand, stick much closer to their live broadcast roots. Sound effects are performed by various means, frequently by the actors themselves, as the scripts are being read into the microphones.

In the case of From Venus With Love, the critical sound effect is that of the high-powered laser. On TV, this effect was produced by combining several sounds, including a recording of a bullet ricochet being played backwards and an electrical discharge against a charged plate. In the radio version, the sound was obviously mostly electronically generated - coming off like some gizmo on the bridge of the Sixties-vintage incarnation of the Starship Enterprise. It has far less impact.

But all is not lost. There is a charming new scene at the beginning, where Emma and Steed are dining in a rooftop garden, and Appleby's and Monat's performances throughout are completely engaging. The droll humour of the narrator is on a par with other episodes. And the tag sequence suggests an amusing alternative to Cold Water Omo.

James Lincoln Warren

DIFFERENCES COMPARED TO THE TELEVISION EPISODE

Name Changes: None.

Character Changes: Mother is mentioned in this, as in some other radio adaptations of the Mrs Peel adventures, but does not actually appear. In this serial, Steed receives a telephone call in the rooftop garden, ordering him to investigate Cosgrove's death, but we do not actually hear Mother's voice.

Dr Primble comes across as being a much older man in the radio version.

Storyline Changes: As the radio serial opens, Steed and Emma are enjoying a rendezvous in a rooftop garden.

Bloopers: In Episode Four, narrator Hugh Rouse at one point refers to Dr Primble as "Primple".

In Episode Five, Venus holds "the earpiece of the phone next to the speaker" (of a tape recorder). As any self-respecting old-time radio enthusiast will tell you, you should hold the microphone (or in this case, the mouthpiece) to the speaker...

Brigadier Whitehead is referred to as Major Whitehead in Episode 2, but reverts to his correct rank when his character appears in Episode 4.

PRODUCTION NOTES

Interesting pronunciations of 'laser' in this serial. All the characters bar Dr.Primble talk of 'lacers'. Primble, of course, should know his stuff, and clearly does!

This serial is known to have been the next one broadcast after Stop Me If You've Heard This.

Alys Hayes

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