TV has lost an inspired and hard-working writer of countless beloved shows.
Brian Clemens, linchpin of the cult 60s series The Avengers and co-creator of The Professionals, has died at the age of 83.
Clemens was a prolific writer for television in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, who also worked on many fondly remembered series including The Baron, The Persuaders! and The Protectors.
Croydon-born Clemens left school at 14 and became a copywriter for an advertising agency. While there he had a thriller screenplay accepted by the BBC in 1955, and became a staff writer for film producers the Danziger brothers.
He also wrote for ITC series The Invisible Man and Sir Francis Drake, and penned the pilot episode of Danger Man (1960), which propelled Patrick McGoohan to international stardom.
He became the principal writer for The Avengers (1961–9), which made huge stars of Honor Blackman, Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, and was the show’s associate producer and script editor. Clemens cast Rigg as Emma Peel to replace Blackman’s character, Cathy Gale, in 1965.
The Avengers was enormously influential as a TV programme, as stylish and camp as it was humorous.
Though action-adventure was Clemens’s trademark, he also carved out a niche as a crime and murder-mystery writer, both for television and the stage. One lesser-known but singularly impressive entry on his CV is the ITV anthology series Thriller (1973–6), for which Clemens wrote most, and storyboarded all, of the 38 twist-in-the-tale episodes. It was a Saturday staple that entertained – and terrified – a generation of late-night viewers.
With his Avengers producing partner Albert Fennell he developed The New Avengers (1976–7), which partnered Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt with Macnee, reprising his role as John Steed.
Casting the female lead, Clemens said, “To find Purdey, I investigated about 700 girls. I actually interviewed 200, read scripts with 40, and screen tested 15. I knew Joanna Lumley was the right one. She is good to look at, witty, charming, feminine and elegant but can knock you through a plate-glass window.”
And he created the popular crime-fighting show The Professionals (1977–83), which made stars of Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins and was famous for its fast-paced opening credits.
His work in America included scripts for Remington Steele, the Father Dowling Mysteries and Diagnosis Murder, while among his film screenplays were Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, which helped Tom Baker to be cast as Doctor Who, and Highlander II: the Quickening.
He also wrote for Bugs, which was something of a comeback series for Clemens. Described as an “Avengers for the 90s”, it ran on the BBC for 40 episodes.
Clemens was old-school when it came to producing scripts, favouring the typewriter: “I like the noise because it’s a friendly thing… there’s not much to go wrong with it… I’m used to it… and I can take it anywhere.”
He was made an OBE in 2010 for services to broadcasting and drama.
Speaking to the BBC, one of his sons, George Clemens, said, “He was a true inspiration… The world has lost a really great man who has given so much.”
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