Brian Clemens is dead. I only just spotted that on the BBC News website. To be fair, a lot of people won’t even know who he was. Why would they?
When you think about a TV series you enjoy, it’s easy to remember the stars, or recall the brilliant action sequences, the stunts and the special effects. We’ve even got caught up in the dialogue. One of the key ingredients of The Professionals was the banter between Bodie and Doyle. It felt natural, so much so that the actors often took credit for it. Not just the easy manner in which they spoke, but the words themselves.
The reality, though, is that – however good the acting was – they wouldn’t have had anything to work with if it wasn’t for writers who put together the storylines and provided the dialogue.
That point aside, as I’ve matured, I’ve realised how important men like Brian Clemens were. Without their creativity, we wouldn’t have had (in Clemens case), TV shows like The Avengers and The Professionals. Perhaps a little dated now, but they certainly captured the imaginations of those of us around to witness their heydays. Of course, he had other successes as well, regularly writing for other major TV series in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, as well as being involved in film and theatre. But, for me, that period was a particularly creative time. And he was among those whose writing could have me on the edge of my seat.
I was a child when I first encountered the Cybernauts (not to be confused with Doctor Who’s Cybermen, who came along later). I was transfixed by their steady pace, unchanging regardless of how fast or slow their prey was moving, underlining the conviction that their victim’s fate was sealed. Without showing any gore, they were simply terrifying.
Not that we should dwell on what turned out to be only a couple of episodes from the 150+ total. But they do represent one of Clemens’s great characteristics. The Avengers started out as a show about crime-fighting borne from a need to avenge someone’s murder. By the time the series ended, elements of sci-fi and fantasy had been played with as well as a lot of humour. Not one to be pigeon-holed, our Brian, which really appeals to me.
And let’s not forget one of my favourite parts of any TV programme – at least where we’ve got adventure, action, crime, mystery, horror or suspense (are there any other kinds?) – the pre-title sequence. The key word in my list just now was suspense. For a pre-title sequence to work, it had to finish at just the right moment, leaving the viewer desperate to know why something just happened, or what happened next. And that’s down to the writing, isn’t it? Okay, the director can decide how long he wants to leave a camera lingering, but they’re still going to be guided by the writing. The Avengers did it brilliantly, as did The Professionals.
That sense of drama was prevalent in many TV series of that period – The Saint, Randall and Hopkirk (deceased), Department S (oh, yes, I know the really random stuff…). And Brian Clemens was one of the leading writers of that time, setting standards that we should all aspire to now. Yes, some of it was OTT and it’s true that some production values wouldn’t pass muster nowadays (have you watched an episode of Jason King recently?), but for escapism and sheer entertainment, they offered great value.
More importantly, in those early days of TV they set new standards, bringing new ideas to the screen and triggering imaginations all over – mine certainly. So we owe Brian and his fellow writers a lot. They must’ve had a lot of fun – and they took us along for the ride. For that, I’ll always be grateful.