Writer and producer of popular TV shows such as The Avengers, The Professionals and The Persuaders!
Monday 12 January 2015
The writer and producer Brian Clemens, who has died aged 83, was responsible for hundreds of hours of escapist television entertainment, including such enduringly popular programmes as The Avengers and The Professionals.
Even though he did not create The Avengers, Clemens was involved in the show from its first episode, in 1961, which he co-wrote. The series was originally conceived as a straightforward action-adventure vehicle for Ian Hendry, whose character, David Keel, was assisted by the mysterious John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee. When Hendry left after a year, an increasingly debonair Macnee was paired with Honor Blackman as the leather-clad Cathy Gale and a more offbeat tone emerged. After this successful transformation, and in order to be sold to America, the series began to be made on film, with Clemens becoming associate producer thanks to his experience in the medium. This caused some resentment among his colleagues, and, despite casting Diana Rigg as Emma Peel and turning the series into a global brand, Clemens was eventually fired.
He felt he could have written Rigg’s part more effectively, but the role made her a star and, thanks to him, the show’s mix of action and adventure was augmented with a witty, knowing tone. It also had a unique visual template, fusing an old-fashioned, mythical but recognisable Britain with the progressive fashions and ideas of the 1960s.
The show struggled without Clemens and he was quickly reinstated, continuing to oversee the show (now with Linda Thorson playing a new character, Tara King, in Rigg’s place) until it ended in 1969. He also worked on other glossy, action-packed and glamorous escapist fare, such as The Baron (1966-67), The Persuaders! (1971) and The Protectors (1972-73).
Having formed his own production company with a fellow Avengers producer, Albert Fennell, and the composer Laurie Johnson, in 1976 he launched The New Avengers. This British-French- Canadian co-production ran for two series, but never quite reached the critical or popular heights of its predecessor. Nevertheless, worldwide sales were healthy and it helped to establish Joanna Lumley (as the high-kicking agent Purdey) in the national consciousness.
Clemens had a gift for channelling the zeitgeist, and when he sensed the public’s desire for grittier fare, he conceived The Professionals (1977-83). Martin Shaw played the ex-policeman Doyle and Lewis Collins a former SAS soldier, Bodie, working under Gordon Jackson’s no-nonsense Cowley. They represented the government department CI5, created to deal with threats the conventional forces would struggle to tackle.
Though the series was hugely popular and ran for five series, it has often been charged with political incorrectness (women are leered at, for example, and black characters are often pimps and criminals). Clemens did not aspire to political depth and simply used what he saw as the prevailing attitudes of the time to tell entertaining stories. Later, he was executive producer on a short-lived 1999 relaunch entitled C15: The New Professionals, with a new cast including Edward Woodward.
He was born in Croydon, Surrey, the son of Susanna (nee O’Grady) and Albert, the latter an engineer who also worked in the music halls. Clemens left school at 14 and, after national service with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, worked his way up from messenger boy to copywriter at an advertising firm, writing in his spare time. His script Valid For Single Journey Only was accepted by the BBC in 1955 but he really learned his screenwriting trade when he joined the production company Danzigers, literally writing to order. With tight deadlines and plots often based on the availability of existing sets, props or location, he churned out scripts for B films and TV series with a fast turnover that had to be both thrilling and economical (“I started to think as a producer very early on,” he said). So prolific was he during this time that he used the pseudonym Tony O’Grady when writing for other companies on series such as Dial 999 (1959) and HG Wells’s Invisible Man (1959).
His gift for juggling the practical as well as the creative side of scriptwriting was honed during a stint as unofficial story editor in 1960-61 for early episodes of the Patrick McGoohan spy show Danger Man. Although he spent much of the early 60s with commercial companies, he did find time for a brief stint scripting episodes of the BBC’s Adam Adamant Lives! in 1966. He created the Bafta-winning comedy My Wife Next Door (1972) and the popular anthology series Thriller (1973-76). In later years, he continued to be prolific on both sides of the Atlantic. He wrote for Bergerac (1983), Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (1984) and The Secret Servant (1984), and created Bugs (1995-99) in the UK. In the US, his credits included The Father Dowling Mysteries (1990-91) and Perry Mason (1991-92).
Although Clemens flourished on television, his hero was a master of the cinema, Alfred Hitchcock. His own forays on to the big screen included screenplays for Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) and The Watcher in the Woods (1980), and a sole directorial credit, for the witty and swashbuckling cult Hammer film Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974), which he also wrote.
He was appointed OBE in 2010, the same year that the British Film Institute featured a retrospective of his work: he was visibly shocked and moved by the standing ovation he received.
He is survived by his second wife, Janet, whom he married in 1979, and their sons, Samuel and George.
• Brian Horace Clemens, screenwriter and producer, born 30 July 1931; died 10 January 2015