Obituary: Brian Clemens, OBE, drama script writer

BRIAN Clemens was the writer and producer of some of television’s most thrilling dramas.

Brian Clemens, OBE, drama script writer. Picture: Getty

Brian Clemens, OBE, drama script writer.

Born: 30 July, 1931, in Croydon.

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Died: 10 January, 2015, in Bedfordshire, aged 83.

His work was recognised on both sides of the Atlantic and his scripts included such favourites as The Avengers, The Persuaders, the second series of Perry Mason and The Professionals. The two most successful were, undoubtedly, The Avengers and The Professionals – and both are now cult shows.

Clemens was able to combine derring-do escapades with an easygoing – almost camp – humour that gave his scripts a devil-may-care approach.

Clemens also had a shrewd eye about casting. Originally ITV cast Ian Hendry as the suave John Steed in The Avengers. With canny foresight Clemens thought that would make the series a substandard No Hiding Place. Instead, Patrick Macnee, full of insouciant charm, with his steel-rimmed bowler hat and rolled up umbrella, was cast. The programme was an immediate hit.

It ran throughout the 1960s and made stars of Macnee, the glamorous Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg. The last Avengers’ girl, Linda Thorson, was not so successful.

She lacked the vitality of the other two – Clemens said she had “no acid Chelsea sense of humour”. But Blackman and Rigg, in swept back hair, leather catsuits and stilettos, made a mighty impact on UK manhood.

Brian Horace Clemens’s father gave him a typewriter when he was ten: “As a result,” Clemens joked, “I was the fastest two-finger typist in the land.”

After national service as an army weapons training instructor at Aldershot he became a messenger boy in Fleet Street. He submitted a play to the BBC, and was invited in for a chat. He wrote a play about two men in a railway carriage which the corporation accepted: Valid for Single Journey Only (1955).

An independent American production company, Danziger Brothers, based in London took Clemens on to write B-movies which were of varying quality the work gave Clemens an experience of writing.

His break-through came in 1960 when he wrote the pilot for the swashbuckling secret agent thriller Danger Man starring Patrick McGoohan. The pilot episode, “View from the Villa”, was set in Italy, but money was short so it was shot in Portmeirion in north Wales.

In 1960 Clemens wrote the original pilot episode for The Avengers and acted as the associate producer and main scriptwriter for the series from 1961–1969.

Clemens was rightly credited with making The Avengers the entertaining show that it became. It was quintessentially English and the heroes could be easily identified. Clemens admitted that “Steed is a Scarlet Pimpernel character” and Blackman and Rigg “were every man’s idea of a woman”.

Clemens then created a light-hearted vehicle for Tony Curtis and Roger Moore, The Persuaders, and in 1972 he co-wrote the situation comedy My Wife Next Door with John Alderton and the Scottish actress Hannah Gordon.

In 1976 he launched, amidst much publicity, The New Avengers. He personally auditioned hundreds of actresses for Purdey, Steed’s new high-flying sidekick.

Again, Clemens showed a canny understanding of what was needed and cast Joanna Lumley. Alongside her was the debonair Gareth Hunt: laid back, handsome and with a glint in the eye.

The series never quite took off but it sold well abroad and there was a second series.

In 1977 he created an all-together more aggressive and rougher series – The Professionals – with hunky Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins working under the eagle eye of Gordon Jackson’s Cowley. The stories were fast and furious with shootings, car chases and violent punch-ups. It proved very popular.

Clemens had always been fascinated by American drama on television so in the 1980s he often worked there. He was asked, but refused, to write an American version of The Avengers. He did write Remington Steele (starring Pierce Brosnan) and was a script consultant on popular series such as The Father Dowling Mysteries, Raymond Burr’s revived Perry Mason and the Dick Van Dyke mystery series Diagnosis: Murder.

Clemens never lost contact with UK television and contributed scripts for a variety of dramas – most notably the BBC’s adaptation of Gavin Lyall’s espionage thriller The Secret Servant with Charles Dance. In 1991 Clemens wrote the background for Highlander 11 starring Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert.

Clemens had the knack of bringing scripts alive with a fine sense of fantasy and old-world charm. His scripts were not simply spy stories or tales of hard-nosed cops after the baddies – Clemens wrote fast-moving scenes with dialogue that was essential and thrilling. The fact, he then had glamorous females in lead roles added a definite frisson to a spectacular cocktail.

Clemens, who was made an OBE in 2010, is survived by his second wife, Janet, and their two sons.