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Clemens, Brian (1931-)

Writer, Producer

Main image of Clemens, Brian (1931-)

The remarkably prolific television career of Brian Clemens is almost the history of the action-adventure genre of British television. His scripts have enlivened almost every action-drama series seen on television over the last 50 years.

Following National Service at Aldershot he worked his way up from messenger boy to copywriter at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. It was while he was a copywriter that he submitted a play to the BBC - Valid for Single Journey Only (tx. 1955) - that brought him to the attention of independent producers the Danziger brothers.

From the mid-1950s onwards, Clemens became a staff writer for the Danzigers, a small, low budget production outfit that made assembly-line 'B' movies and half-hour television episodes. He turned out dozens of quickie scripts for the adventures of Mark Saber (ITV, 1957-59; aka Saber of London), Man from Interpol (ITV, 1960-61) and Richard the Lionheart (ITV, 1961-65) series.

The similar though often roistering White Hunter (ITV, 1958-60), H.G. Wells' Invisible Man (ITV, 1958-59) and Sir Francis Drake (ITV, 1961-62) continued the action-dramas. Of particular note from this period, however, was ITC's terse secret agent thriller Danger Man (ITV, 1960-61; 1964-67), starring Patrick McGoohan.

The Danzigers' quickies were a useful training ground for the later, more sophisticated ITC series. This blending of script craft served as a primer for Clemens' period with The Avengers (ITV, 1961-69).

In retrospect, The Avengers is a paean to the mid-1960s and the age of the ephemeral. As the predominant writing force behind the series (as well as script editor and associate producer), Clemens fashioned the television model of op-art and pop fiction in the world of espionage, while managing to tread a fine line between not taking the genre too seriously and not being too much of a send-up. Clemens' Avengers was consistently enjoyable in an undemanding way.

Clemens brought this spirit of burlesque to his other series - most notably with Adam Adamant Lives! (BBC, 1966-67), but also with The Baron (ITV, 1966-67), The Persuaders (ITV, 1971-72), The Protectors (ITV, 1972-74), and The Adventurer (ITV, 1972-74) - resoundingly poking fun both at the genre they were imitating and the sources of their inspiration.

In a curious change of pace, he created the domestic sitcom series My Wife Next Door (BBC, 1972), a rather formulaic prime-time amusement about a divorced young couple who buy cottages in the country and find themselves unwitting neighbours. Too busy to work on the scripts himself, Clemens brought in sitcom writer Richard Waring to finalise his storylines. The series won a BAFTA award.

Back in his stride, Clemens developed a genuinely macabre atmosphere for his 1973-76 twist-in-the-tale anthology Thriller (ITV; Menace in the US) utilising multiple variations on the Grand Guignol tricks of Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot (director of Les Diaboliques, France, 1955).

When in 1975 the idea for a revival of The Avengers was proposed, Clemens was delighted. Unfortunately, The New Avengers (ITV, 1976-77), a French/Canadian/British co-production, proved to be something of a disappointment. Whether it was through the complex international structure, the unfamiliar foreign location work, or simply that the escapist era of Steed and company had passed, the series was a lacklustre affair and was played off via individual ITV regions rather than as a networked presentation.

Undeterred, Clemens' company, Avengers Mark One Productions (with partners Albert Fennell and Laurie Johnson), went on to create the popular anti-terrorist unit actioner The Professionals (ITV, 1977-83).

By the early 1980s Clemens was drawn increasingly toward working for American television (which he admits he prefers over the British industry). He was asked, on two separate occasions, to create American versions of The Avengers: The Avengers U.S.A. for producer Quinn Martin, and The Avengers International for Taft Entertainment. Neither version materialised.

His teleplays for the American series Darkroom (ABC-TV, 1981-82), Remington Steele (NBC, 1982-87), and Max Monroe: Loose Cannon (CBS, 1990) reflected his customary efficiency in the mystery genre.

In-between time, he also worked on the BBC's Bergerac (1981-91) as well as the anthologies Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (ITV, 1984-86) and Worlds Beyond (ITV, 1984-89). Edging out from this period is Clemens' briskly paced three-part adaptation of Gavin Lyall's espionage thriller The Secret Servant (BBC, 1984).

Back in the U.S., he worked on The Father Dowling Mysteries (NBC, 1989; ABC-TV, 1990-91), as executive script consultant, and provided three screenplays for the feature-length revival series of Raymond Burr's Perry Mason (CBS, 1985-95). More recently, the Dick Van Dyke mystery series Diagnosis: Murder (CBS, 1992-2001) helped sustain Clemens' small-screen genius.

Tise Vahimagi

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

Hammer's sex-change update of the famous Stevenson story

Thumbnail image of Adam Adamant Lives! (1966-67)Adam Adamant Lives! (1966-67)

Very 'swinging' 60s swashbuckler starring the dashing Gerald Harper

Thumbnail image of Avengers, The (1961-69)Avengers, The (1961-69)

Ultra-stylish '60s spy drama that all but invented cult TV

Thumbnail image of Bergerac (1981-91)Bergerac (1981-91)

Long-running detective series set on the island tax haven of Jersey

Thumbnail image of Danger Man (1960-67)Danger Man (1960-67)

TV spy thriller series with Patrick McGoohan as agent John Drake

Thumbnail image of Persuaders!, The (1971-72)Persuaders!, The (1971-72)

Adventure series about a US millionaire and an English lord

Thumbnail image of Thriller (1973-76)Thriller (1973-76)

Popular anthology of suspenseful tales

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Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Danzigers, TheDanzigers, The

Producers, Executives