...Indeed there were, if not rules exactly, then certainly conventions to which a writer was expected to adhere in the action adventure series of the 1960s, many of them derived – as with that stricture on the carrying of knives – from the literary heritage, and many passed on to future generations.
It was axiomatic, for example, that a hero can take any number of blows to his face and still get up to fight back, but will be rendered instantly unconscious by a single strike to the back of the head, and that, even after a night or two of informal imprisonment, he will still look crisp and clean-shaven in a suit and tie. Similarly a man who is shot will suffer either a minor flesh wound or death; there is no other possibility between these extremes, though death will sometimes be sufficiently delayed for one last message to be gasped out, or for the victim to fire one final shot from his own gun.
Heroines, on the other hand, tend to be kidnapped rather than shot, though curiously – given that much of the show promotes their sexual attractiveness – they are never raped or sexually molested. (There is an exception in the Doctor Who story ‘The Keys of Marinus’, in which Barbara is clearly being threatened with sexual assault, but mostly Nation’s scripts for that series obey much the same conventions.)
Even the physical accoutrements were reasonably predictable. This is a tradition awash with miniature cameras and radio transmitters, with Swiss bank accounts and wall-safes, with knockout gas and secret weapons. It’s a world in which hotel bedrooms can invariably be accessed from the room next door via a narrow, high ledge, and in which any room entered at night will probably contain uninvited guests, to be revealed when the light is switched on.
Equally dangerous are big houses in the country, the rooms of which can usually be locked from the outside. Brainwashing is a constant danger, and plastic surgery can give a man an entirely new face (the same is presumably true of women, but no one has ever tried). Perhaps, given the restrictions, it is not entirely surprising that there was some repetition of plot.
To these conventions, ITC added a few of its own, most significantly the insistence that language should be made appropriate for export sales to America: cars ran on gas, pedestrians were to be found on sidewalks and references to money tended to be in dollars.
This was not a practice shared by The Avengers, produced by the rival television company ABC. ‘We always called a lift a lift, and not an elevator,’ noted associate producer Brian Clemens. ‘What we did was give them a picture of England that they all imagine it’s like. England is all people in bowler hats, or it’s all covered in fog. We never bent down to make it easier for them to understand.’ He did, though, point out a number of other limitations in the series: ‘There are a number of things we can’t do. We don’t kill women, though we may brutalise them. We do kill men, but we don’t have any blood effects, so that it must be quite apparent that when the scene is over the actor just gets up and walks away.’
published by Aurum Press
© Alwyn W Turner 2011