Thursday, 14 May 2015

Memories of Brian Clemens

When I was growing up, I became aware that the name Brian Clemens often appeared on credits of TV shows that I enjoyed. The Avengers was a special favourite. I never met him, and he died in January aged 83. Recently, I was contacted by his sons about a new Clemens project, and to explain more, let me hand over to Sam Clemens, who offered to give me some personal insights into his father's life and work:

"Living with Brian Clemens was always an adventure and an education. He had an incredible encyclopedic memory and was quick to educate and provoke if necessary. He loved to read and felt that reading is what spurred on a huge amount of his creativity. His favorite writer was Charles Dickens and favorite book ‘Diary Of A Nobody’. He read diagonally, so as to speed read. I remember he read ‘Hannibal’ in a morning! When he was a boy, his uncle Horace would bring him books to read, ranging from fiction, encyclopedias, to instruction manuals on cameras or the latest technology. Growing up listening to the radio and being a boy during the war, he always said kept his imagination rife. Many times he would say he loved the war period, as it was so exciting for a young boy to find bullet casings, bits of shrapnel or to walk through ruins and smoke fuelled aftermaths. At the age of 10 his father Bertie bought him his first typewriter, the rest as they say is history.

When asked about the discipline of writing, Dad would always say ‘Arse to chair, pen to paper!’ a motto drilled into him by ‘The Danziger Brothers’ early on in his career. He always maintained it stood him in good stead because after writing for them, he thought everything else was fairly easy. This is because the Danziger’s bought old sets from other movies and would make small B pictures to run alongside the bigger films. The sets very often being the catalyst for the stories themselves. Having to write a film with a submarine, a Victorian street and a pyramid and be able to have half an hour cut out for a TV version and still make sense was a master class in writing and an end to procrastination. Deadlines were set and met. Dad always said it was like being in a theatre repertory company for writers.

His happiest time was on ‘The Avengers’ as he could create almost anything he wanted; also he was able to work with all of his close friends. Raymond Austin, Laurie Johnson, Patrick Macnee, Bob Fuest, Albert Fennell, Sidney Hayers, James Hill, Richard Harris, Terry Nation, John Hough, Johnny Goodman, Bob Jones, Ivy Baker, June Randall, the list goes on…

Dad’s writing style was very often bizarre and wonderful. Although he wrote fantasy, he was not that fond of the genre, preferring a good thriller. He was never afraid of ghosts but of who was lurking upstairs or around the corner. Reality scared him. He was a nightmare to watch films with, as he would always guess the ending. I remember he guessed the twist in ‘The Crying Game’ in the trailer! He loved a good story and a great plot but what was most important were the characters. I think the image of ‘Mother’ in ‘The Avengers’ sitting in the middle of a swimming pool, in a suit with a telephone sums him up. His characters could be devilishly surreal or completely grounded in reality depending on what world he was writing for.  My opinion of Dad is that he was a master of being able to adapt to whomever he was working with and whatever he was working on. A nice piece of advice he offered writers in the last few years of his life was that you should always stop knowing what the next ten pages are going to be the next day. That way when you begin the next day you can continue without staring at the blank page.

The other love and inspiration were movies. You could never come to our house without either being shown or talking about movies. Again, he had an encyclopedic knowledge of them and unknowingly gave George and myself an education in film. He would watch Harold Lloyd, Laurel & Hardy, The Terminator, The Cruel Sea, Star Wars, again the list was endless and very varied indeed. He really had great affection for central European films, French, Spanish, Italian, and Hungarian etc. He would find films we had never heard of and they would end up being household favorites. ‘The Page Turner’, ‘The Castle’, ‘Les Diaboliques’, ‘The Wages Of Fear’, ‘Rififi’.

We were lucky enough in the last few years of his life to work on a script together called ‘The Still’. A supernatural horror film, which we are developing right now. It was a privilege to work together and he was always very supportive of our decisions. He never pressured us into following him into his business. I trained as an actor at The Drama Centre London and have been working since I graduated in 2001. In fact, I am playing Sherlock Holmes in his stage play of ‘Holmes & The Ripper Murders’ for Talking Scarlet Productions over the summer. George trained as an editor and has been working since 2004. We fell into making films together and it felt like all our training up till then was to be producing and directing together. We have made three short films and one teaser trailer (The Still) together. Our last short ‘Dress Rehearsal’ is currently being entered into film festivals all over the world, which Dad was Executive Producer. Our latest short is entitled ‘Surgery’ and was Dad’s very last idea. We were discussing it together the day before he died. We wanted to make this for us but also as a tribute to our father. We are running a crowdfunding campaign because we need to raise £4K for the postproduction of the film. The film stars Nicholas Ball (Hazell), Jamie Lee (Cold Mountain, Lassie, Shackelton) and Lara Lemon (A Prelude To Fear). It is darker than Dad’s previous material but again, his adaptive nature allowed him to think this little horror nasty up.

George and I have plenty of Dad’s unproduced scripts to pursue in the future and we intend to do so. Look out for his WW2 picture ‘The Long Road West’, a script he maintained was his finest, as we agree too.  Brian Clemens fans, there is still plenty more of Brian to come. Watch this space…..


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Thanks Martin - lovely to read Sam's ,memories of his father and I hope he manage to pull it off and get the scripts into production - I love Clemens' work.

Anonymous said...

What a great entry! I, too, grew up looking for Brian Clements' name on the credits, knowing what I would see would be tight, clever, thought provoking and often have a great twist to add to the great dialogue. His work on the Avengers was trail blazing, and his attitude to work is very similar to that of my late and much lamented honorary dad Peter O'Donnell, whose maxim was much the same...the one about the amateur being the person who writes what he wants to write when he wants to write it, while the professional is the person who writes what he doesn't particularly want to write and turns it in before the deadline so he can start on the next thing. Peter was always proud to describe himself as a hack writer, and I am sure, with the same mindset, Brian was the same. Good luck, lads! Keep his name up there in lights, where it deserves to be! Liz Gilbey

Martin Edwards said...

Sergio, Liz, thank you both

Samuel Clemens said...

Thank you Martin for allowing me to write this about our father. We intend to keep his name up in lights. Sam Clemens