Click here to return to the main site.

Book Review

Book Cover

The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes - The Lost Stories of The Avengers Series 1


Authors: Richard McGinlay, Alan Hayes and Alys Hayes

Publisher: Hidden Tiger
RRP: £19.99 (hardback), £14.99 (paperback)
Release Date: 06 June 2013

In the mid-Sixties, The Avengers proved itself to be a cultural phenomenon. Despite its quintessential Englishness, it transcended international barriers, and established itself as British television’s most successful export of the day. Today, it remains hugely popular, perhaps because of the schizophrenic nature of the show as it developed; it was a series of many colours, with something for everyone. But the earliest episodes of the show have, since their 1961 broadcast, disappeared from view, the vast majority of the recordings lost forever. The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes lifts the lid on that first year, and retells the stories in extended synopsis form, covering 24 episodes, in greater depth than ever before. The book also boasts a detailed introduction, which explores how these much sought after programmes came to be lost, and a detailed retelling of an alternative, untransmitted version of the episode Double Danger...

What a month June 2013 has been for missing episodes of Sixties TV, and for The Avengers in particular. The loudest noise has been that generated by the rumoured recovery of about 90 previously lost episodes of Doctor Who, though frankly I’ll believe it when I see them - or at least read about them in Doctor Who Magazine. Meanwhile, an episode of Hugh and I Spy, a six-part sequel to Hugh and I, has been returned. Towards the end of the month, Big Finish announced that it would be producing full-cast audio re-creations of 12 missing Avengers episodes, though we’ll have to wait until January 2014 until we can hear any of them. And a few weeks earlier saw the publication of The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes, which presents plot summaries of all 24 lost Avengers stories.

These summaries vary somewhat in length, especially during the first half of the book. This is largely because varying amounts of paperwork and imagery have survived for these episodes. As the book’s introduction and the individual chapter openers explain, scripts exist for fifteen of the missing episodes - but that still leaves nine episodes for which the only story information in existence is previously published synopses. Therefore, we get only about a page and a half each of summaries for the episodes Nightmare (for which only synopses exist), Crescent Moon (ditto), Diamond Cut Diamond (based on synopses and one measly photograph) and Hunt the Man Down (based on synopses and 37 photographs), and just over two pages on Death on the Slipway (based on synopses and 88 photographs). Even these have been expanded considerably, though, as the accompanying footnotes explain. Nightmare, for example, contains information from Patrick Macnee’s autobiography Blind in One Ear, while Crescent Moon gleans a small detail from a newspaper report. Wherever images exist for these script-less stories, they have been used to extrapolate additional plot details. As a result, towards the end of the book, thanks to the larger number of surviving images for each episode, the summaries of script-less episodes such as The Far Distant Dead, The Deadly Air and Dragonsfield begin to rival the script-based summaries for length and detail.

In case all this talk of images gives you the wrong impression, I should point out that, apart from the cover, this is a text-only book, as is common with unofficial and unauthorised publications such as this. Similarly, we do not get to read the full scripts, though the well-chosen dialogue extracts from them give a detailed insight into the tone and characterisation of these stories. (If you want to see more of these materials, most of the images and a couple of the scripts are included in the DVD box set The Avengers: The Complete Series 2 + Surviving Episodes from Series 1.)

Series 1 of The Avengers has long had a reputation for being dull, far from the flamboyant and sexy show it would eventually become when John Steed was accompanied by sassy female sidekicks like Cathy Gale and Emma Peel - though these assumptions have already been challenged by the release of the surviving episodes The Frighteners and especially Girl on the Trapeze (the most recently recovered episode) on DVD. Reading this book, I was surprised by the amount of witty banter in episodes such as Square Root of Evil (“Would you like the doctor to give you a certificate?” “I’d like the doctor to give me a double Scotch...”) and Dead of Winter (“The Nazis never played rugger...” “Which, of course, is why they lost”), the eccentricity of characters such as Bernard Bourg in One for the Mortuary (“You will not find this girl here, M’sieur... only animals. Dear departed pets preserved in the most delicate fashion...”) and Meyer in Toy Trap (“That’s what I like, darling - enthusiasm. I like my staff to enjoy their work”), and the science fiction flavour of several later episodes, in particular Dragonsfield. There are even female sidekicks in evidence - Carol Wilson in Ashes of Roses, Beth Wilkinson in Dance with Death and Dr Sandoval in The Far Distant Dead.

It’s hard to pick a favourite episode, though I think it might be One for the Mortuary, written by one Brian Clemens, who went on to produce later seasons of the show.

As I close this book, with just under 300 pages of densely packed type, I feel as though I really have experienced the lost stories of The Avengers Series 1.


Chris Clarkson