Steed goes off the rails. Emma finds her station in life.

6 x 15-minute episodes
based on the television episode
A Funny Thing Happened
on the Way to the Station
(1967),
written by Brian Sheriff
(see Production Notes)

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 – Wednesday
Episode 2 – Thursday
Episode 3 – Friday
Episode 4 – Monday
Episode 5 – Tuesday
Episode 6 – Wednesday

Tickets Please!
All aboard for Norborough Junction.

PLOTLINE

After getting a message from a senior agent, Mark Lucas, Steed and Emma arrange to meet him at Norborough railway station. However, when the train arrives there is no sign of Lucas, so Mrs Peel and Steed board the train. They don't find the missing agent, but do find his briefcase – confirming that he was onboard at some point. One of the passengers, a bridegroom, follows Steed and Emma to Steed's flat and tries to shoot Steed – but gets shot himself.

A train ticket on the body, to Chase Halt, leads the pair to an abandoned station close to Norborough. They find Lucas' body and evidence that he was duped into thinking that Chase Halt was in fact Norborough station. Notes from his briefcase lead Steed to think that Lucas was onto a plot to kill a VIP, and Emma notices that a man named Salt (who features in some photos of Lucas') was on the train. Salt works for Admiral Cartney in a Whitehall department which arranges secure transport for VIPs, so some false information is fed to Salt to see if he is involved.

Salt does indeed take the bait, and boards the 8.10pm train for Liverpool. Steed follows to observe him. However, Steed is recognised and captured – then held prisoner in the galley carriage, which has been converted into a mobile headquarters. It transpires that Salt, the train ticket collector and a couple posing as bride and groom are all cohorts in a plot to kill the Prime Minister, by use of a bomb on a particular train carriage. The carriage will be attached to the PM's train, then the villains will set off the explosion using a radio signal from their train.

Mrs Peel, with the assistance of Crewe (a train spotter who lives at Chase Halt), manages to board the train. She is spotted but defeats her attackers, and manages to help Steed stop the ticket collector from setting off the bomb. The plan is foiled and the Avengers are victorious again, and drive off, by road, in stereotypical British weather!

GUEST REVIEW

Many of us fans who have literally devoured every available Avengers episode and become so acquainted with the show, its characters and stars, have remained a bit sceptical about its different follow-ups. A short-lived stage version and a disappointing motion picture seemed to reinforce our views, proving that The Avengers has been rather unwelcoming to formats other than television's. However, those who have had the chance to dig for hidden treasures, found the possible exception to the rule. Sonovision's radio adaptation of The Avengers that aired in South Africa thirty years ago is a refreshing experience that might well change our minds and consign our memories of the ill-fated movie to oblivion. Not only that - this intriguing version of The Avengers makes a lot of sense, especially the Emma Peel episodes adapted, because they comply almost entirely with the original scripts and music score. In other words, this is a bona fide recreation of the TV show, with no further alterations other than those essential for a radio adaptation. And that's where the magic lies: this is pure radio theatre!

Does anyone remember what radio theatre really was? Sadly, I'm hardly aware of it. Its golden era took place way back between the 1930s and 60s. However, when TV transmissions gradually began around the world, radio plays faded away. I recall catching the last of them towards the mid Seventies, when I was still a teenager. I never forgot the sense of adventure that swept me away then while listening to those few plays. Being so familiar with television, I was surprised that theatre could also be played on the radio. That was amazing since the audience had to rely solely on what they could hear. From the actors' voices to the succession of sound effects - wind blowing, cars speeding, doors slamming and the like - one had to figure the whole play out by stimulating one's imagination. You had to work to see in your mind what you could only in fact hear. Sometimes, such was the involvement one had in the play, that it was hard to admit that one was being "taken in" by only a few actors gathered around a microphone, and someone behind playing hundreds of different sound tapes or merely making noises withthe most unexpected devices! That was magic, sheer magic!

Now, three decades later, one hears a gravely pronounced "The wind was cold and bitter..." as a blustery breeze engulfs our room leading us to a startling time tunnel... And the magic springs up again.

True to the script of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Station (with only minor changes, except for the tag scene) and supported by a lively narration, superior performances and an appropriate music score that at times resembles Johnny Dankworth's zippy jazz tunes, Train of Events is a delightful piece to enjoy throughout.

The atmosphere of trains and stations is splendidly generated right from the outset. Even though we clearly appreciate steam trains "rolling" on radio - as opposed to the electric trains of the TV version - the Doppler effect is well handled, creating the feeling of passing trains quite to perfection. Also the phone calls, Emma listening to Steed's umbrella and the relatively hard to reproduce on radio "Diddly-dah, diddly-dum" or the "D-U-R-B-R-I-D-G-E" thingy are clearly made out without any trouble.

The roles of Crewe and the Admiral, in particular, drew my attention. The former succeeds in portraying an old nutcase in very much the same vein as John Laurie's character of the TV play. The Admiral's part, however, is developed a bit more into an equally old oddball. For some reason, he occasionally reminds me of other Avengerish characters - though not that eccentric - such as Maj.-Gen. Goddard of What The Butler Saw, Hopkirk of Honey For The Prince or Jordan (again Ron Moody) of The Bird Who Knew Too Much. To me, this Admiral sounds much funnier than that of the TV version.

Even the trademark Steed-Emma banter hasn't vanished on radio. Apart from the lines coming from the original script, there are some quite enjoyable additions. Perhaps the best is the first scene together, which incidentally was never shown on television. Steed is playing with a train set he acquired for his "retarded" nephew Willy, since the boy needed "something to concentrate on." However, soon after, the trains crash suddenly. "You didn't move the points, Steed," Mrs Peel chuckles, as if suggesting he failed to concentrate enough on the toy, whereupon Steed concludes he should get "something a little more simple." No doubt, this could have been a much more amusing teaser than the one Clemens created for the TV play, though the "retarded" angle is questionable in this day and age.

I'm bound to say both Diane Appleby and Donald Monat give strong, fine performances. Neither sought to emulate their counterparts, Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee, and I'm not sure I would have approved that. Both deliver a free interpretation of our heroes, with different voices, mannerisms and even British intonations, the latter being somewhat dissimilar compared with the classic Pat Macnee's or Di Rigg's "Queen's English" we grew so accustomed to hearing. Mr Monat has been so very kind to explain to me recently that the plain modulations they spoke with were in agreement to the standard followed by many British-born performers working abroad. A "more internationally neutral tone" was the general trend to "subdue any 'very British' or old-style BBC intonations." Very interesting remark.

Only the tag scene is completely different in relation to that we all know from the TV version. Whether it was deliberate or not is hard to pin down, but knowing that Sonovision frequently received draft copies of the TV scripts, such a change might be fully justified. In the radio version, we have a tag in the style of the Peel monochrome TV season that in no way detracts from the overall storyline.

If radio is a tricky vehicle for plays, then a good part of their success relies on talent and effort. The fact that one gets into a play previously seen on television a dozen of times, and even so enjoys it as if seeing it afresh in the mind, is indicative that some kind of magic occurred during the process. Only talent and effort can achieve that. Listening to these impeccable Sonovision productions, one becomes aware of these talents and the dedication of all involved, concluding that the magnetism of radio theatre still stands, after so many years. And I'm delighted to revive that wonderful charisma, arm in arm with The Avengers.

Susana B. Grassino

DIFFERENCES COMPARED TO THE TELEVISION EPISODE

Name Changes: None.

Character Changes: None.

Storyline Changes: At the start of the radio adaptation, Steed is playing with a train set that he has bought for his retarded nephew, whereas in the TV show the train set only features in the "Mrs Peel – we're needed" intro (with no dialogue).

In the final episode, Steed is handcuffed by one hand to a steel chair in the galley, which he uses to knock out one of the terrorist gang. The TV adaptation has Steed handcuffed by both hands to an overhead steam pipe, which he pulls open, flooding the galley with steam.

The final variation is the most major. The tag scene in the television version, where Steed and Emma receive an official visit from the Prime Minister, that they ultimately decide to ignore (because they don't like long boring speeches, and they didn't vote for him anyway!), is excised in favour of a completely different scene. In the radio adaptation, Steed and Mrs Peel are driving home in wet weather and complain about reckless drivers. They laugh when they see a poster by the railway sidings proclaiming that "it's safer by rail".

PRODUCTION NOTES

The original television script – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station – was credited to Brian Sheriff, a pseudonym. The original story by Roger Marshall, entitled Overkill, was substantially re-written by Brian Clemens. The thinking behind the nom de plume is obvious.

This serial is known to have been the next one broadcast after Too Many Olés.

Alys Hayes

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