Farewell to Brian Clemens (1931-2015)

ProfessionalsNews has belatedly reached Fedora of the passing of Brian Clemens, the creative force behind such classic British TV shows as The Avengers, its 1970s sequel The New Avengers, the anthology drama Thriller and The Professionals. Equally at home with mysteries, science fiction, war dramas, horror and fantasy (as well as the occasional comedy), Brian Horace Clemens OBE (30 July 1931–10 January 2015) was a purveyor of polished, subtly subversive yet unpretentious entertainment. His career stretched over five decades, from the 1954 BBC TV play ‘Valid for One Journey Only’ to US TV mystery dramas like McBride and Jane Doe. But he did a lot more besides …

Clemens (distantly related to Samuel Clemens – aka Mark Twain) was a consummate professional, able to churn out a script at short order for movies, TV or the stage. He mainly produced thrillers, suspense yarns in the Hitchcock mould, but he also had a great affinity for less prosaic, more fantastical material. On TV this manifested itself most overtly in the sublime English eccentricity of The Avengers but was evident in many of his film projects too.

Avengers

Clemens got his real start working for the Danziger Brother, the American owners of Elstree Studios who churned out dozens of low-budget movies and TV show in the 50s and 60s.  Two of the most ingenious of his early credits were in 1960 with a fine version of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart which managed to be one of best adaptations of the great author’s work on a pretty tight schedule; and An Honourable Murder, a modernised telling of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. He also showed himself adept at a clever genre-bending horror for Hammer studios Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde, for whom he also directed the woefully underrated supernatural swashbuckler, Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter. He also wrote the the script for the Ray Harryhausen extravaganza The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and the original, somewhat darker draft for that Disney horror maudit, The Watcher in the Woods, which spent years in post-production as producers just couldn’t decide if it was going to be an excursion into the paranormal or outright science fiction.

Selected mystery credits:

  • Operation Murder (1957)
  • Danger Man (aka Secret Agent) (1960-61) – TV series
  • The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
  • An Honourable Murder (1960)
  • The Pursuers (1961)
  • The Court Martial of Major Keller (1961)
  • Fate Takes a Hand (1962)
  • The Avengers (1961-69) – TV series
  • Station Six-Sahara (1963)
  • The Champions (1968-69) – TV series
  • And Soon the Darkness (1970)
  • The Persuaders (1970-71) – TV series
  • Blind Terror (1971)
  • Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)
  • Thriller (1973-76) – TV series
  • The New Avengers (1976-77) – TV series
  • The Professionals (1978-83) – TV series
  • Remington Steele (1984) – TV series
  • Father Dowling Investigates (1990-91) – TV series
  • Perry Mason (1991-92) – TV series
  • Bugs (1995-99) – TV series

After The Avengers ended, Clemens returned to the mystery and suspense formulas that had served him so well during his apprenticeship under the Danzigers, taking a concept and squeezing every last bit of drama out of it. These includes And Soon the Darkness (1970) and Blind Terror (1971), in which heroines are isolated by mystery villains and have to extricate from murderous situations, which led to the anthology series Thriller (1973-76), made up of 43 feature-length mysteries that varied from espionage, horror, psychological suspense and even traditional whodunits.

Despite dozens of movie credits, his TV work is what he is best known for – there are many sites devoted to the sophisticated spy spoof The Avengers (see most notable The Avengers Declassified) and the tougher action-adventure show, The Professionals (see the Authorised Guide) though his 1970s Thriller anthology, for which he wrote nearly every single script, to me remains particularly noteworthy and you should check out the definitive website here: http://thriller.shorturl.com/. Clemens created and produced the show and also wrote 38 of the episodes and provided the detailed storylines for the remainder. As the series was shot on tape rather than film it is seen less often today, but is easy to find on DVD (and online) and is well worth getting hold of, though beware of the horrible US syndication version which  he had nothing to do with and which were padded out with additional material shot by other hands.

I plan to review several Clemens thrillers over the next couple of months – he is gone but not forgotten, with a legacy of over three hundred movies and TV episodes, providing hours of terrific screen entertainment. He also wrote over a dozen stage plays, including one of the better Sherlockian pastiches, Holmes and the Ripper, which was recently produced on audio by Big Finish, which production I hope to review for Fedora soon.

The official Clemens website can be found here.

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18 Responses to Farewell to Brian Clemens (1931-2015)

  1. Colin says:

    One of the greatest writers ever to grace British TV and film.

    • I hadn’t realised he’d gone until I got back to the UK – rather glad I bought the local edition of Captain Kronos while in Australia as he appears in both audio commentaries and a featurette too.

  2. Farewell, indeed, Sergio, and an excellent tribute! He will be missed.

  3. tracybham says:

    I was so busy sending this link to my husband and checking out the link to his website that I nearly forgot to comment.

    This is a lovely post, Sergio, and very interesting information here.

  4. Bradstreet says:

    I do think that he was one of the great TV writers, but because he wrote in the thriller/adventure genre he tended to be treated in a rather patronising manner by the powers that be. After the finish of THE PROFESSIONALS British TV moved into an era that largely forsook action/adventure (when he helped Stephen Gallagher with BUGS they discovered that hardly any of the current crop of writers could do that sort of show). I’ve seen a lot of TV, and whenever his name appeared at the beginning of an episode, I knew that I was going to enjoy it. Giving people enjoyment is quite a legacy, and he left a lot of excellent work behind.

    • Thanks for that – couldn’t agree more – Bugs really was the last of his kind of show I suppose, though I like to think he would have had no trouble writing great episodes of shows like Death in Paradise for instance.

  5. Sergio, thanks for the fine tribute to Brian Clemens. I did not know about him. “Perry Mason” is the only TV show I have seen though I wouldn’t have known about Clemens’ creative role in the series.

  6. Bradstreet says:

    I suspect that we’ve moved into an era that is more in tune with ‘non-realistic’ shows like DEATH IN PARADISE or MIDSOMER MURDERS. The generation now in charge of TV probably grew up in the early to mid 70s, when shows like THE AVENGERS, THE CHAMPIONS and so on, were still being repeated, and THE NEW AVENGERS and THRILLER were shown for the first time. It’s a shame that he never got the chance to contribute to any of these new shows.

  7. Piero says:

    The professionals CI5 was a very popular series in Italy in 90s. I remember very well it.
    How are you, Sergio?
    Do you come to read my newest article on Blog Mondadori, about La mosca dorata (The Gilded Fly) di Edmund Crispin:

    http://blog.librimondadori.it/blogs/ilgiallomondadori/2015/02/13/the-gilded-fly-analisi-di-un-esordio-fortunato

    Piero

  8. Pingback: Blind Terror (1971) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film | Tipping My Fedora

  9. Pingback: And Soon the Darkness (1970) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Movie | Tipping My Fedora

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