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Chris Bentley

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Chris Bentley

Message  Invité le Sam 13 Sep 2008 - 19:21

Chris Bentley, l'auteur de The Avengers on Location, a répondu à de nombreuses questions concernant son livre et la série.

Dear Denis,

Sorry I have taken so long to complete your interview: I had got half way through when something else landed on my desk which demanded my immediate attention, and then we had the Treasure Hunt. Hopefully my responses to your questions (below) will be satisfactory.

I received some good news about the book at the weekend which I'd like to share with you: the first print run has now sold out, so my publishers will be arranging a second print run very shortly. Although this doesn't mean that I can update the book with any of the new discoveries that have been made since last year, it *does* mean that I can correct that mistake about Le Caveau *du* Palais which you have been kind enough to point out.

Kind regards,
Chris Bentley



When and how did you discover The Avengers ?

My introduction to 'The Avengers' was really 'The New Avengers'. The original series passed me by as I was too young for it when the episodes were first screened, although I was vaguely aware of it because of the strip in 'TV Comic'. When 'The New Avengers' started on British television in 1976, I was in my early teens and much keener on espionage action-adventure than I had been as a youngster. 'The New Avengers' tapped into that straight away, but I found it more attractive than other programmes because of its occasional use of science-fiction elements, such as the Cybernauts and the giant rat.

During that period, the older sister of a friend of mine suggested that I should see some episodes of the original series - which was, in her opinion, far superior. She owned what must have been one of the earliest home videocassette recorders (I think it was a Philips VCR player with those square cassettes) and she had several episodes of 'The Avengers' on half-inch tape. The episode she showed me was 'Escape in Time' so that was the first episode of 'The Avengers' I ever saw. I'm sure that she thought that I would like it because of the time travel plotline, but it actually put me off because I found the theatricality of the Mackidockie Court sequences too campy and unrealistic.

I didn't see another episode of 'The Avengers' until the Channel 4 screenings began in 1982. By then I was an art student at college, 'The Avengers' had become a cult thing, and my friends and I would rush back from pubs and parties to catch it on a Saturday night. That was my first proper exposure to the original series and I've loved it ever since.

What are your favourite season and episodes ?

The New Avengers' is still the part of the Avengers as a whole that I favour most, the first season slightly more than the second. My favourite episodes would have to be 'Dead Men Are Dangerous', 'The Eagle's Nest', 'Three Handed Game' and 'Sleeper'.

Of the original series, although I love the Emma Peel episodes, I am more partial to the Tara King season, probably because the 'feel' of those episodes is more in the style of 'The New Avengers'. The earliest ones are quite poor, but once Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell were reinstated things picked up again. I think the show really took off with the introduction of Terry Nation as script editor and his tenure produced a pretty consistent run which includes what are, for me, many of the series' best ever episodes. I particularly like 'Noon Doomsday', 'They Keep Killing Steed', 'The Morning After' and 'Take Me to Your Leader'.

Why did you decide to write a book on The Avengers ?

The main reason was that I had been feeling for some time that there was room on the Avengers bookshelf for a decent volume about the location photography - something that would work as a companion for anyone interested in visiting the sites used for location filming on the series, but which would be just as interesting and informative for viewers who simply want to know more about the places they have seen on screen.

A number of other books, magazine articles and websites have provided straight-forward lists of the locations, but I was more interested in the history and architecture of those places: how, when and why they were built, who designed and constructed them, who lived or worked there, what was their function when the Avengers crew were there, and what are those places like now? That was an aspect of 'The Avengers' and 'The New Avengers' that had never been written about before, so I felt that combining the architectural history with the series' production history and details of how readers could easily find the places for themselves (as well as including a collection of previously unpublished production photos of the location filming) might be something that other fans would find interesting and useful.

By a happy coincidence, focusing on the location filming also gave the book a legitimate reason to place more emphasis on the Tara King season and 'The New Avengers', since both featured a much greater proportion of location filming than the earlier episodes had done. I've always been rather disappointed that those parts of 'The Avengers' that I'm particularly keen on have tended to be glossed over in most of the other books on the series. That isn't intended to be a criticism of those other books because I appreciate that the popularity of 'The Avengers' is predominantly focused (and founded) on the Emma Peel and Cathy Gale seasons, so for anyone writing about the general history of the programme, those earlier episodes are always going to take precedence. But for anyone who prefers the later incarnations of 'The Avengers', as I do, it can be a bit depressing to constantly find those episodes treated almost as an afterthought. The Emma Peel episodes are fabulous and fully deserving of any praise lavished upon them, but it wasn't the end of the story when Diana Rigg left the series. Hopefully 'The Avengers on Location' helps to redress that imbalance in a way that feels entirely natural to readers.

Have you visited the more than 500 locations cited in your book ? Which one do you prefer ?

I can't say that I've personally visited every single location in the book - that would be a mammoth undertaking for even the keenest Avengers fan - but I think I must have visited (and revisited) well over three-quarters of them over the last twenty years. It really would be impossible for me to single out one particular location that I like more than any other. Eilean Donan Castle on the west coast of Scotland is a definite favourite but I also love Knebworth House, Aldenham House, Shenley Hall and the villages of Aldbury and Letchmore Heath, all in Hertfordshire.

If I were to highlight one place over the others, I suppose I do have a certain fondness for Cumberland Terrace on the eastern side of Regent's Park. I'm very keen on the architecture of John Nash and I think that the terraces and crescents that he designed to surround Regent's Park are some of London's most impressive and beautiful structures. 'You'll Catch Your Death' is definitely a favourite of the earlier Tara King episodes so it was quite gratifying to be able to finally pin down the episode's main location - the offices of Padley, Seaton and Herrick, the ear, nose and throat specialists - on what is unarguably the grandest of Nash's Regent's Park terraces.

Who can be interested in the locations of a forty year old series except 'old' nostalgic fans ?

New nostalgic fans! The great thing that we have noticed with The Avengers Dead Man's Treasure Hunt is that younger generations are still discovering 'The Avengers' and 'The New Avengers' for themselves - either on DVD or on repeat screenings such as those currently running on BBC4 here in the UK - and falling in love with the episodes just like we older folk did all those years ago. Location tourism (not just for 'The Avengers' but for many other television series and films too) is very much on the increase now and younger fans are becoming every bit as interested in visiting these places as those of us who have been doing it for a long time.

Your book is sometimes a travel guide, sometimes a history book; how long did you need to collect so much information ?

That's quite difficult to say really. Some of the material in the book is information that I've been researching on and off over the last ten years as part of my preparation for the location tours that we organise for the Dead Man's Treasure Hunt. But the vast majority was the result of a very intensive six-month period of research that was ongoing throughout the actual writing of the book.

How did you manage to get in touch with John Hough ? Did you have any contact with any other members of the cast or production ?

I first met John about ten or twelve years ago through my work for Gerry Anderson's appreciation society, Fanderson. John directed a number of episodes of Gerry's contemporary live-action series 'The Protectors' and he and Gerry have remained good friends ever since. John was enormously helpful in providing an insight into the work of the location manager (on 'The Avengers' and other Sixties series such as 'The Baron', 'The Champions' and 'The Saint') and how the location filming on those shows was integrated with the schedule for principal photography at the studio.

Gareth Hunt was a lovely bloke, very friendly and very funny. He had clear memories of filming 'The New Avengers' and some wonderfully ripe anecdotes which were far too rude to print. Sadly he died while I was still writing the book so I felt it was appropriate to dedicate it to him once it was finished.

Brian Clemens was a genuine inspiration and very encouraging. We met for the first time when I interviewed him at the 2007 Dead Man's Treasure Hunt and we just seemed to hit it off and strike up a friendship straight away. He also provided a lead which eventually resulted in another location 'find': the fishing village in 'The Eagle's Nest'.

How can you get so many unpublished photos that make the book so entertaining even for no English speaking (reading) fans ?

The folk at the Canal Plus offices at Pinewood Studios were very supportive of the project and threw open the doors of their Avengers vault so we could have a good rummage for exactly the type of behind-the-scenes photos I wanted for the book. Those photos have been sitting in the Canal Plus archive for a number of years but they have probably been overlooked for publication before now because they aren't exactly the kind of 'iconic' images of 'The Avengers' that the publishers of other books requires. For 'The Avengers on Location' my editor and I specifically looked for shots of the location filming, so it was simply the nature of the project that dictated the collection of so many previously unpublished photos under one cover.

Which series do you plan to write on after UFO, Thunderbirds and The Avengers ? Any other books on The Avengers ?

At the moment it's looking very likely that the next few books that I shall be involved with will all be back in Gerry Anderson territory again. However, I would definitely be interested in writing something else about 'The Avengers' if an interesting new angle were to present itself. I do have a few ideas floating around at the back of my mind that may come to fruition at some point, but I suspect that won't be for at least a couple of years or so.

You are one of the organisers of the Dead Man's Treasure Hunt; the 22nd annual event has just taken place - were there any surprises?

We always try to build in a few surprises and I think we managed to pull off a few this year that caught people unawares. After 21 events, it's difficult to find places to visit that we haven't been to before, but this year we toured six locations that we've never visited before, as well as a few others that we haven't visited for a very long time.

This year's hunt was themed around 'The New Avengers', so three of our stops were at St Mary's Church in Harefield (where Irwin Gunner hides out in 'To Catch a Rat'), Oakley Court near Windsor (where the costume party takes place in 'The Midas Touch') and Cantley House in Wokingham (Juventor's temporary HQ in 'Three Handed Game'). The latter two were particularly interesting, I think, because both were derelict when the 'New Avengers' crew filmed there and have since been beautifully renovated as luxury hotels. The staff at both venues were very welcoming and at Cantley we were also able to go inside and see the three rooms which were used for interior filming on 'Three Handed Game'.

As we were celebrating our 20th and 21st anniversaries at the 2006 and 2007 Treasure Hunts, we deliberately focussed those weekends purely around Avengers locations, but traditionally we have also visited locations that were used for filming on the various ITC action series of the 60s and 70s. So we wanted to get back to that a bit this year and that seems to have been a popular decision - particularly with regard to our visit to Bhaktivedanta Manor (formerly Piggot's Manor), the Hare Krishna Temple in Letchmore Heath which was seen in episodes of 'Department S' and 'Randall and Hopkirk Deceased'. Many of our 'tourists' commented on the beauty and serenity of the building and its grounds and it seems to have been very much the highlight of this year's Treasure Hunt tour, despite having not actually appeared in 'The Avengers'. Hopefully we'll be able to come up with some more surprises like that next year.


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