1961 The Forgotten Year...

The opening series of The Avengers has long been a misty, oft-overlooked adjunct to the much-loved adventures that Steed enjoyed with Emma Peel, Tara King, Purdey, Gambit and Cathy Gale. There is of course a perfectly good reason for this: only one episode of Series 1 (The Frighteners) remained in existence for many years and it was only when Girl on the Trapeze and the first act of Hot Snow were recovered from the UCLA archives in 2001 that something of a buzz began building around this almost mythical, lost era of The Avengers.

The situation probably wasn't helped by the fact that the more vocal of those who worked on the series would regularly dismiss the first year's episodes as "rubbish" and to a certain extent, this dubious accolade stuck. The Frighteners is a decent and entertaining thriller, but was it a flash in the pan? Was it preserved because it was the best of the bunch? When Girl on the Trapeze and Hot Snow became available, it started to dawn on Avengers fans that the age-old perception fed by people like Brian Clemens could in fact be very wide of the mark both programmes are superb examples of television drama and certainly comparable in quality to anything hailing from The Avengers videotape era.

 A Remarkable Find...

Despite a heightened interest, there was a dearth of material available to Avengers fans which might shed light upon the remaining missing episodes (which amounted to 23 full episodes and two thirds of Hot Snow). Scripts were hard to come by; photographic materials were much sought after; detail in guide books were always pretty scant. This all changed when StudioCanal called in Jaz Wiseman to co-ordinate and content manage their new releases of The Avengers starting in 2009. As part of his work on the first volume, Jaz contacted and interviewed Leonard White, who had produced the first series. During a visit to Leonard's home, Jaz was rather taken aback when Leonard handed him a set of scrapbooks that he had compiled during his time on The Avengers. These contained off-screen photographs from the last fourteen episodes of Series 1 (from One for the Mortuary onwards). Arranged in strips of four 'contact sheet' style images, these 'Tele-Snaps' were produced by John Cura (1902-1969), a photographer who offered television companies, actors and production staff this unique way to keep a visual record of their work.

John Cura (born Alberto Giovanni Cura), a name that has been on the lips of telefantasy fans for many years as he photographed many now missing Doctor Who stories, ran his business (called Tele-Snaps) from his home in Clapham, South West London. Using a camera he had constructed himself specifically to take photographs from television transmissions, Cura snapped away unaware that his work would one day be a vitally important element of research into lost television. By 1964, Cura was on an annual contract from the BBC to photograph all drama output from the channel for which he was paid 1300 per annum.

With regards The Avengers, John Cura was commissioned directly by producer Leonard White to photograph the series for his records. White's scrapbooks document the series on an episode-by-episode basis and the Tele-Snaps form a significant part of that record. The reason the photographs start up with One for the Mortuary rather than at an earlier point in the series is because White had only at this point become aware of Cura's service. However, due to the ATV London region (where Cura was based) picking up The Avengers some ten weeks after Hot Snow aired in the Midlands and North of the United Kingdom (missing out ten episodes), there were only three additional episodes that could possibly have been tele-snapped: Hot Snow, Brought to Book and Dance with Death plus of course White's earlier series, Police Surgeon. Cura continued making photographic Tele-Snaps of The Avengers for Leonard White until the latter left the producership, fourteen episodes into the production of Series 2.

Leonard White had not been aware that his scrapbooks would be of such interest and has enthusiastically permitted the Series 1 scrapbook to be reproduced in book form as part of the Series 1+2 DVD set. He has also kindly made available the Tele-Snaps and the caption cards that he has kept from his time on the series and these have all been utilised in an exciting project: The Avengers Reconstructed.

 I Wanna Tell You A Story...

Jaz Wiseman and I struck upon the idea that it may be possible to reconstruct the tele-snapped episodes for inclusion on the StudioCanal range. I was fully aware of the reconstructions produced for Doctor Who episodes and indeed had even helped out on the ones from Joint Venture and Change of Identity, and was well aware that they had an advantage that The Avengers didn't: off-air audio recordings exist for all missing Doctor Who episodes. There is reputedly one surviving soundtrack for the missing episodes of The Avengers for Tunnel of Fear and that was sadly not made available to us. Therefore, we had to come up with a way of telling the stories without a backbone of audio to lay the images against.

After some discussion of text captions backed with atmospheric music (a thought triggered by the reconstruction of missing A for Andromeda episodes also available on DVD), we decided on the age-old ploy of having a reader a narrator. It seemed a good approach and hopefully we got it right for the audience. Over the fourteen reconstructions produced, we've tried to keep it interesting by featuring a variety of different voices, starting off with undoubtedly the best and most appropriate, Leonard White the man who not only produced the episodes in the first place but whose Tele-Snaps made the whole venture possible. Subsequent narrators have been David G. Hamilton, Nick Goodman and... well... myself (things got a bit too close to deadline on the final batch!).

Once we'd decided on narration, we had to write them! This proved quite a task, working from scripts, synopses and using internet sources like Piers Johnson's excellent Mrs Peel... We're Needed! website, which helped us immensely in identifying actors and characters Piers' research in this area was a valuable resource. We hadn't really let on to Jaz that Alys and I had never actually produced any video programmes for DVD before, but he seemed confident in our abilities and we got on with it. To begin with, we overwrote somewhat, but nothing is wasted the long versions of the narration scripts ended up here at the site as The Stories in Depth! We then cut them down to more appropriate lengths and Alys quickly adapted her writing style and wrote to length on subsequent projects, whereas I never quite got the hang of it. My chatty writing style almost always brought the narration script first drafts in at twice the length we wanted!

 Further Acts of Kindness...

Obviously, something else had happened by this stage to allow us to write at those kind of lengths. Alys and I had purchased a handful of Series 1 scripts Brought to Book, Double Danger and A Change of Bait and the latter two became the first reconstructions to be made. The reconstruction of Brought to Book remains sadly unmade as very few images survive from the story not conducive to making a dynamic and authentic programme! Subsequently, thanks to the generosity of fellow Avengers enthusiasts Dave Rogers and Dave Matthews, access was granted to a whole slew of scripts from other first series stories.

Even after this exciting development, there were still a number of episodes where Tele-Snaps were in existence, but we had no script. In order that we could make as full use as possible of the newly-discovered Tele-Snaps, I struck upon the idea of a second strand of reconstructions the Mission Brief style. These would run for between five and ten minutes rather than the standard fifteen that we'd arrived at for the initial productions. It would also allow us to make programmes for episodes where Tele-Snaps were the only existing imagery, as we had been adding images from production shots, to augment what was available in the off-screen stills. On average, there are around eighty Tele-Snaps from each episode and inevitably, there will be important scenes or shots missed and these are often represented in the photographic stills taken in the studio in rehearsals or on location. The Mission Brief idea meant that we could reconstruct any episode as long as we had images that would cover the duration of the episode and enough story information from existing synopses and other sources.

We ended up having a three point checklist (see below for a graphic illustration). If an episode had (1) a script, (2) Tele-Snaps and (3) production photographs surviving, then it would get a 'full' reconstruction. If it had one or two of those elements surviving, it would become a Mission Brief project. Of the fourteen programmes we made, only five episodes hit all three criteria Double Danger, Toy Trap, Kill the King, A Change of Bait and Dead of Winter. The survival rate of Series 1 materials is patchy at best, although thankfully nowhere near as bad as the survival rate of the episodes themselves!

 Putting The Pieces Back Together...

Once the scripts were written, all the images had to be processed. Early on, we made the decision to add a blame vignette frame around them all, as all the Tele-Snaps have rounded corners. We didn't want the outer frame to keep changing with each shot. All the images Tele-Snaps and production shots have needed a significant amount of cleaning before they could be used. The Tele-Snaps in particular have a significant amount of age-related damage and Adobe Photoshop came in very useful at this stage! I can't deny that even after hours of work, they still don't look perfect and are often indistinct, and this is why in some instances, production shots were used out of preference.

Finally, to make the quality leap between low-resolution Tele-Snaps and high-resolution production photographs less jarring, we made the decision to soften the latter images somewhat and processed all images (including the Tele-Snaps) with a light monochromatic Gaussian noise filter which fitted perfectly with our vision of Series 1 being The Avengers equivalent of film noir!

We have edited the programmes in Sony Vegas Movie Studio, an excellent video editor at the affordable end of the market. It has to be said that this was the easiest bit of the whole process. The only problems we encountered were of the type where we'd suddenly realise that we'd written something only to find that we didn't have enough images to illustrate it. Sometimes we have had to be creative and consequently, there are some shots which are not entirely authentic.

We decided early on that telling the story was god and that if we had to rustle up something to do that, then so be it. This has meant that Steed is holding on to Alys' umbrella in the final slide of the reconstructed Double Danger, and my hands and even one of the narrators are now a part of on-screen Avengers lore!

 It's Never Over Till It's Over...

Fourteen reconstructions have been produced and released on DVD by StudioCanal in Great Britain and Germany. It was certainly a massive thrill to walk into HMV on the high street, pick an Avengers DVD set off the display rack and know that it contained our work so I think it's time for a round of thanks. Make no mistake about it, the reconstructions are a group effort and a lot of people have contributed significantly aside from myself and Alys, huge thanks are due to Leonard White for making it all possible and for setting the tone of the narrations so marvellously; to our subsequent narrators who came on board when Leonard was unable to continue our good friends David G. Hamilton and Nick Goodman; to Dave Rogers and Dave Matthews for so kindly and generously providing the raw materials with which to work; to Piers Johnson for all his hard and vital work at Mrs Peel... We're Needed!; to Andy Marriott for his sterling, patient and skilled work on a very special project; to Stephen Watts, Aly Goodman and Gareth Humphreys who all kindly helped out when asked; to Jaz Wiseman for being the most trusting, encouraging, enthusiastic and gracious producer we could have hoped to work with; and finally to StudioCanal for believing in The Avengers Reconstructed as a continuing project of value to their range and for being committed to making their DVD release of The Avengers the best it could possibly be.

So where to now for the reconstructions as a continuing project? Well, take a look at the list below if you can provide materials where they are missing, then we can perhaps get nearer to a complete reconstruction of The Avengers first year. Please drop me a line at declassified@virginmedia.com.

 Reconstruction Checklist

No. Episode / Working Title Scripts (i) Tele-Snaps (ii) Production Photos (iii) Reconstruction & Narrator Studio Canal DVD
1 Hot Snow
(aka
The Avengers, Episode 1)
Draft & Camera No
Tele-Snaps
produced
3 Special Edition Special Features Disc
David G. Hamilton
2 Brought to Book Rehearsal
& Camera
 
5 (iv)
3 Square Root of Evil Camera 12 (v)
4 Nightmare
5 Crescent Moon
(aka Kidnapping by Consent)
6 Girl on the Trapeze
(aka The Man on the Trapeze)
Camera Episode Survives
7 Diamond Cut Diamond 1
8 The Radioactive Man Camera
9 Ashes of Roses Camera 1
10 Hunt the Man Down 37 from location shoot
11 Please Don't Feed the Animals Camera
12 Dance with Death Camera (iv)
13 One for the Mortuary Rehearsal (vi) 76 1 Mission Brief Series 5
Disc 5
Nick Goodman
14 The Springers Camera 81 (iv) Mission Brief Series 6
Disc 6
Alan Hayes
15 The Frighteners Dialogue 79 Episode Survives
16 The Yellow Needle Camera 80 Mission Brief Series 6
Disc 6
Alan Hayes
17 Death on the Slipway 87 2 Mission Brief Series 5
Disc 5
Nick Goodman
18 Double Danger
(aka
Confession from a Dead Man)
Rehearsal &
Camera
78 52 Expanded Recon Series 3
Disc 4
Leonard White
19 Toy Trap Camera 81 138 Expanded Recon Special Features Disc
David G. Hamilton
20 Tunnel of Fear 75 67 Mission Brief Series 5
Disc 6
Nick Goodman
21 The Far Distant Dead 76 57 Mission Brief Series 6
Disc 9
Alan Hayes
22 Kill the King Camera 70 303 Expanded Recon Series 4
Disc 4
David G. Hamilton
23 The Deadly Air 76 110
inc 12 as contact sheet images
Mission Brief Series 6
Disc 9
Alan Hayes
24 A Change of Bait Camera 78 78 Expanded Recon Series 3
Disc 5
Leonard White
25 Dragonsfield 79 149 Mission Brief Series 5
Disc 6
Nick Goodman
26 Dead of Winter
(aka The Un-Dead)
Rehearsal 79 116
all on contact sheets
Expanded Recon Series 4
Disc 5
David G. Hamilton
  Photographs on location from unknown episodes   46  

Notes:
(i) If you have a script variant not listed here, we would be grateful to hear from you.
Contact:
declassified@virginmedia.com

(ii) John Cura was engaged to take Tele-Snaps from One for the Mortuary onwards. Prior to that, it would only have been possible for him to have taken snaps of Hot Snow, Brought to Book and Dance with Death as he was based in the ATV London region. Tele-Snap totals do not include opening and closing credit snaps.

(iii) If you have Series 1 images that are not in the photo galleries on StudioCanal's Series 1+2 Avengers DVD set, please get in touch.
Contact:
declassified@virginmedia.com

(iv) Although there are photographs commonly associated with these episodes, they would appear not to be from the episodes in question, but from generic publicity shoots, some of which were utilised for the Series 1 title sequence.

(v) Although 12 photographs survive from Square Root of Evil, they comprise shots of empty sets and publicity portraits of Ingrid Hafner and, as such, they are not of particular use in making a reconstruction.

(vi) Discovered after reconstruction produced.

Written by Alan Hayes
Information concerning John Cura sourced with grateful thanks from
Richard Bignell's feature in Nothing at the End of the Lane magazine

With thanks to Leonard White, Jaz Wiseman, Richard Bignell, Alys Hayes, Dave Rogers, Dave Matthews, David G. Hamilton,
Nick and Aly Goodman, Piers Johnson, Andy Marriott, Stephen Watts, Gareth Humphreys, Richard McGinlay
and StudioCanal for their kind assistance

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