Click here to return to the main site.

Book Review

Book Cover

With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes - An Unauthorised Guide to the Avengers Series 1


Authors: Richard McGinlay and Alan Hayes
Publisher: Hidden Tiger
RRP: £24.99 (hardback), £19.99 (paperback)
ISBN: 978 1 326 00016 5
Publication Date: 09 September 2014

When ABC Television’s Police Surgeon was abruptly cancelled, the show’s producers were suddenly left with a star actor – Ian Hendry – but no TV programme for him to appear in. With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes tells the behind-the-scenes story of the series that was devised for him – The Avengers – from its earliest stages as an untitled project all the way through to the end of its first year, when outside influences brought it to an unexpected close. Richard McGinlay and Alan Hayes relate that story through comprehensive essays and chapters that detail the production, transmission and reception of each episode, while also discussing the talented personnel involved. The book also boasts a foreword by Neil Hendry, who runs his uncle Ian Hendry’s official website; lavish black-and-white illustrations by artist Shaqui Le Vesconte; and 60 pages of appendices that deal in depth with the unproduced episodes of Series 1, Keel and Steed’s further adventures, and much more...

This is not the first Avengers book from Richard McGinlay and Alan Hayes. It’s not even their first book about Series 1 of The Avengers – that was last year’s The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes (with Alys Hayes), which retold the storylines of the 24 lost episodes from that season. After that 300-page volume, you might wonder what else there is to say on the matter...

Quite a lot, as it happens. Whereas The Strange Case… focused on the plotlines, With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes is a behind-the-scenes look. Despite the lack of surviving episodes, Series 1 is surprisingly well represented in terms of production information, as this book makes clear. It quotes producer Leonard White’s guidelines for writers of the show, inter-office memos, scripts, props lists, budget sheets, contracts and, on a few occasions, such minutiae as dressing-room allocations and call sheets. Listings for each of the 26 episodes contain – in addition to all the cast and crew credits, recording and transmission dates you might expect – the following subsections:

• Incident Report… This is a brief description of the plot. Of course, not as much detail is given as that provided in The Strange Case…, just enough to remind readers who are already familiar with the plots that the episode in question is, for example, “the one with the zoo”, but without ruining the story for anyone who might be planning to listen to the Big Finish adaptation some time soon.

• Production Brief… Covers pre-production discussions, rehearsals, studio recordings and transmissions. Difficulties such as mislaid props, on-set hazards, a slow uptake across the ITV network, and episodes under-running and over-running are not overlooked. But perhaps the most eyebrow-raising revelations concern a knife-wielding director and an episode that sparked a Home Office investigation.

• Field Report… Describes any location filming that is known to have taken place.

• Personnel File… Biographical information about notable cast and crew members. If this book has a weakness, it is that sometimes these entries are a bit over-long. Maybe it’s just me, but I want to get on with reading about The Avengers, rather than about the contributors’ CVs of other work. Even so, there are many fascinating nuggets of information in here, such as the eccentric attire of story editor (later producer) John Bryce, an ill-fated affair between Carol White and Ian Hendry, the secret identity of writer Berkely Mather, the ladies who could have been Avengers girls, and the story of how Callan creator James Mitchell was enticed into writing for television.

• Matters Arising… Miscellaneous points of interest, such as interesting items of trivia, links between stories, and other considerations.

• Mentioned in Dispatches… Press coverage. The press were not always kind to the show, and this section contains some scathing reviews of episodes such as Hot Snow and Double Danger, but gradually they warmed to the show, as this section documents.

• Collateral Damage… Bloopers such as fluffed lines, missed cues, cameras bumping into sets and script inconsistencies.

• Verdict… A concluding, critical assessment of each episode.

However, there is more to this book than just coverage of the 26 episodes of Series 1, which accounts for a little over 200 of this volume’s 380 pages. The episode guide is bookended by 70 pages of in-depth essays, which cover the circumstances that led to the creation of The Avengers in the first place and the factors that forced a change of direction between Series 1 and 2. You can learn about the transition from Police Surgeon’s Dr Geoffrey Brent to The Avengers’ Dr David Keel – which isn’t as clear-cut as you might think – the early character development of John Steed, a severe script shortage, the devastating effect of an actors’ strike and the reasons why Ian Hendry left the show. Much has been said and written about The Avengers over the years and some of the stories told have contradicted each other. The authors help us to get to the bottom of things by clearly citing their sources and by acknowledging and assessing the discrepancies – such as three different accounts, all from Patrick Macnee, about how much he was paid when he was hired to play John Steed.

There are also 60 pages of appendices, which include a timeline of key dates and a guide to merchandise connected to Series 1. The appendices also provide episode guides for two unmade storylines – The White Rook and Fifi and the Scorpion – and Keel and Steed’s appearances in a 1962 comic-strip called The Drug Pedlar and the 1990 novel Too Many Targets. These contain detailed summaries of the plots and behind-the-scenes facts that are every bit as intriguing as the previous sections of the book.

Perhaps Steed himself puts it best in the quote from Please Don’t Feed the Animals that appears on page 5: “This is a very interesting book… Remarkably comprehensive. All sorts of snippets of information.” I couldn’t agree more!


Chris Clarkson

Buy this item online

Each of the store links below opens in a new window, allowing you to compare the price of this product from various online stores.

Kindle edition
Kindle edition