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Brian Clemens: A 'professional'
Brian Clemens
Brian Clemens now lives in Bedfordshire

Playwright, screenwriter and producer Brian Clemens' distinguished career has taken him on an eclectic journey.

He was a Weapons Training Instructor during his National Service, before becoming a messenger boy / copywriter.

But, it is as a writer and producer that he is best known, especially for some of the most popular TV series between the early 60s and 90s.

These include 'The Avengers', 'The Persuaders', 'Perry Mason', 'Bergerac' and of course 'The Professionals'.

He has worked extensively on both sides of the Atlantic and, still producing scripts, he now works in the countryside idyll which is his home, just outside Ampthill in Bedfordshire.

Voracious reader

Although Brian has written some 14 stage plays, he is probably best-known for his TV and film writing and says he always wanted to be a writer.

"When I was about 10 my father said 'what do you want to be when you grow up' and I said 'a writer'. He was very supportive in that he bought me an old typewriter. Consequently, by the time I was about 12 I was the fastest two fingered typist in the world and still am!"

He initially wanted to be a journalist and after National Service he started out as a messenger boy in Fleet Street but feels that a lack of schooling prevented this, even though he was a voracious reader and literate.

His big writing break came when he wrote a silent play called Murder Anonymous and sent it to the BBC. They said that while it was clear he could write, the play would take 50 cameras to shoot. So they invited him to lunch and to see the studios to see what could be done.

"I went" he said, "and immediately perceived that just like today, they've got no money! So I went away and wrote a play about two men in a railway carriage and they made it"

Unusual demands

Brian was then headhunted by the American Danziger Brothers who made lots of product but very cheaply. He said that this was the best training in the world for him because they used to make such unusual demands.

"Before they built their own studios they would go from studio to studio just occupying the space and the facilities," he explained.

"If they went to MGM they might find that they'd just finished a French Chateau film there, then down in the next stage they'd find a submarine or something like that. So they'd come to me and say 'we want a movie, 80 minutes long and it must have the Old Bailey, a French Chateau and a submarine in it'! So I used to write that to order!

"[It meant] I really evolved as a film writer whereas with most people it's the other way around. Even in the past, you worked in television and hopefully broke into movies - well I broke into movies early. [and that makes it easier to move into TV.]

Patrick McNee as John Steed & Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in ITVs hit cult TV show The Avengers
Patrick McNee as John Steed & Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in The Avengers

Creative force

And then of course, along came The Avengers.

Brian is often described as the creative force behind this show but he said that it didn't come from him originally.

There was a series called Police Doctor which wasn't very successful, but the character in it, David Keel played by Ian Hendrie was good, so it was decided to move him into another series.

They moved him into The Avengers which was to be about two people fighting crime [and avenging people].

"That was the brief" said Brian, "I took that brief and made it into the pilot episode.

"I wasn't employed by them all the time but I came in and did various scripts" he added.

"I became very familiar with it and a driving force on where The Avengers was going. Then they put it on film. The producers said they wanted somebody who knows film and knows The Avengers and I was uniquely qualified.

"Now, this is where I will say I created The Avengers" he continued.

"I created the filmed Avengers. The Emma Peel Avengers onwards, because that was a completely different beast to the videotaped ones. I will accept that as my creation and it became a long step away from what I did before and a huge success."

Guiding force

Brian said that he never wrote down ground rules for what each character thought, he just knew what to do!

"I instinctively knew what was right and what was wrong for The Avengers" he said.

"We had a very twisted, strange attitude. We'd take stories like High Noon and do them Avengers style so it became a completely different beast.

"We would invert the cliché and Sherlock Holmes is a very good example of the way that I was thinking. There's a chalk-marked outline of a body which we've all seen before, then a man comes in who is shot and falls exactly into the chalk line. That's the Avengers way of doing things!"

One of Brian's other huge successes was The Professionals which came about after he said that they ought to do something that was absolutely not The Avengers.

"I came up with two ideas," he said.

"One was about undercover cops and one was The Professionals. [Brian Tesler at LWT] liked it and said write me a script and if I like it we'll make 13. That's unheard of today. If we did [the US series] 24 we'd have to call it 3!

"So I wrote it, he liked it, we made it and we were commissioned for 13 which then escalated and eventually we did 57 I think.

"The funny thing was it took off with the viewers but not the critics" he added.

"They kept comparing it with The Sweeney, but the funny thing is now, in retrospect, they re-run The Professionals much more than The Sweeney!"

Successful work

With years of successful work behind him, Brian's advice for aspiring writers is simple. You just have to do it!

"People say to me 'I want to write'" he revealed, "and I always say, 'well, why are you talking to me? Why aren't you at home writing?' That's what you do.

"The Danzigers taught me so many things. One thing they said was 'there's no mystique to writing, it's just 'arse to chair, and pen to paper' and I've never forgotten that."

Brian is still writing, he says he never runs out of ideas and admitted at the time of the interview that he had about eight running round his head at that time.

However, he does feel that the TV and film industry has changed beyond recognition over the years and not always for the better.

One thing that hasn't changed though, is that he has forgone modern technology and still uses his trusty typewriter!

"Modern technology has got Gremlins and they always come out when you least want them," he said.

"Plus there's the fact that I like the sound.

"When I worked and lived in Hollywood it was very difficult to find a manual typewriter so most of the time I worked on a word processor.

"But I hate the sound of it because writing by definition is a solitary task and the sound of the [typewriter] keys is comforting. Sometimes when I was working on word processors in a very quiet office I'd stop, and think perhaps the world has ended and nobody has told me!"

And that sounds like the start of another Clemens series!





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