Written by Brian Clemens, based on a story by Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner

PLOTLINE

Steed, Gambit, and Carruthers are called in to investigate when three airplane passengers and the pilot are killed during flight, the flesh stripped from their bones. Steed meets Suzy Stride while investigating one of the victims, her colleague, Miller. Miller was working undercover to unmask an arms dealer, and had heard rumours of a military coup. They also discover that Pelham, another victim, used to run a flea circus until he quit to train troops. Finally, they visit a hospital, where a mad man babbles on about troops, arms shipments, and the imminent attack of an invisible army.

Gambit and Carruthers visit the home of another victim, Brigadier Brewster, and interrupt an attempt to destroy his papers. They also interview the dead pilot's brother, who lets slip that the pilot served as a mercenary with a certain General Cavalo.

Carruthers uncovers a plan for a strange, three-hand grip gun, tiny versions of which were found on the body of the mad man at the hospital. Steed tracks down the miniaturist who built the guns, and discovers that he delivered them to a disused army base.

Gambit and Carruthers recognise the man from Brewster's as one of Cavalo's ex-cohorts, and learn that Cavalo is presumed dead after a run-in with South American army ants, the Soldad.

Steed also makes the ant connection, and follows Suzy to the army base. Both are captured. Cavalo, very much alive, reveals his plan to take over the world using his well-trained ant army. Steed and Suzy escape, and together with the recently-arrived Gambit and Carruthers, fill Cavalo's base with oil and light it up, destroying him and his army in one fell swoop.

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PROJECT INFORMATION
Project Type: Prospective Television Movie
and Series Pilot
Date:
January 1981
Surviving Materials:
Script
Status: Unproduced
CHARACTERS
John Steed
Mike Gambit

Patrick Macnee
Gareth Hunt

Carruthers
Suzy Stride
Professor Rambling
Major Pitt
General Cavalo
Carla
Colonel Vance
Sergeant Roden
Pilot
Control Man
Aide
Air Passengers
Airfield Emergency Team
Helmut
Walter
George
Doctor Apple
Spline
Jones
Waiter
Nurse
Kane
Poole
Ferret
Hart
Bernard Igg
Theorum Museum Curator
Laboratory Technicians
Tough Guard
First Guard
Second Guard
The Army of Ants
 
 
 
 
MINISTRY VERDICT

The first question that no doubt comes to mind about The First Avengers Movie is, "Is it Avengerish?" And the answer is, to a large degree, "yes". The trademark Avengers strangeness is alive and well. There's also the requisite supply of eccentrics: an extraordinarily tall miniaturist by the name of Bernard Igg (or "B. Igg" as it reads on his door, leading to his being repeatedly misidentified as "Mr Bigg"!); a hypochondriac determined to avoid infection by living in a tethered hot air balloon; and a flea circus trainer who keeps his the members of his act at bay with whip-wielding skills that would put a lion-tamer to shame. That said, there's a fair amount of recycling going on as well, both in terms of plot points, dialogue and character names. However, the most problematic aspect of the script is, oddly enough, the Avengers themselves. First off, there are four of them, one up from The New Avengers' threesome. If three was company, four is definitely a crowd, and my reservations regarding how four characters of equal status could all successfully share screentime, and play a significant role in the plot, proved to be well-founded. The recycled plot points can be forgiven, but there's a real sense of diminishing returns, as though the freshness of the series is fading away in favour of trying to recapture past glories. The Avengers was always about moving forward, about reinventing itself with each new incarnation. Even though it had a natural life cycle oscillating from gritty spy drama to far-flung fantasy, and back again it always approached older concepts from a new angle. In this case, the script isn't just looking back fondly on what came before it's trying to bring it back, in place of developing its own identity. Maybe Brian Clemens had simply been associated with the show for too long, and it needed a pair of fresh eyes. Or maybe the Avengers formula only had so much life left in it before the rot started to set in. Either way, it's probably for the best that this script never made it to the screen. For the most part, we've seen it all before. 

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THE FIRST AVENGERS MOVIE DECLASSIFIED

  • Production Brief... The First Avengers Movie is one of several Avengers revivals/reinventions mooted over the years (keeping company with the likes of The Avenging Angel, Avengers International, the mid-nineties Purdey/Gambit reunion movie, and the proposed Cathy Gale film) that sparked a brief blip of publicity before sinking without a trace and never making it to the screen (as opposed to Escapade, which, against all odds, actually managed to produce a pilot before dropping into oblivion). This particular revival made it as far as the script stage. It was written by Brian Clemens, and was based upon a story that he and his regular The New Avengers collaborator Dennis Spooner had outlined.

  • The First Avengers Movie was devised as the pilot for a putative relaunch of The New Avengers which had first been noted as a possibility on 2nd September 1979 by journalist Tony Purnell in the Sunday People newspaper. He reported that the CBS television network in the United States was interested in co-financing a further 26-part series to the tune of $140,000 per episode, and that London Weekend Television (then enjoying success with The Professionals, another production of the Clemens-Fennell-Johnson team) would also contribute. Despite the financial support on offer, Albert Fennell budgeted the production as still requiring an additional 25,000 per episode before it could go into production.

  • Both Patrick Macnee and Gareth Hunt were approached and agreed to be involved in the pilot television movie and the series, should it have followed. Initial reports suggested that Joanna Lumley may also have been asked to be involved, but her character does not appear in the final script, so it must be presumed that she turned down the opportunity for reasons of unavailablity (she was contracted to ATV for Sapphire and Steel at the time) or out of preference not to be involved.

  • The only other performer linked to a part was John Cleese, famous as a member of the Monty Python team and for his work in television and film. Clemens and Spooner had him in mind for the part of George, the man who lives in a balloon so that he is out of reach of the "invisible enemy".

  • The script of The First Avengers Movie which survives is dated January 1981, and does not feature Purdey. Judging by the dates of mentions in the press, it is reasonable to presume that, 17 months after it had first been publicised in public, the script had been through several rewrites, one of which saw Purdey's services dispensed with.

  • This TV movie was planned to fill a two-hour timeslot on the CBS network, meaning it would have had an actual running time of between 90 and 100 minutes, to allow for commercial breaks.

  • The 1981 script appears to have been devised as the first of a series of TV movies featuring John Steed, Mike Gambit, Carruthers and Suzy. Talking to Avengers author John Peel, Dennis Spooner confessed that "We called it The First Avengers Movie in the hope that it would then lead to a second movie, and so forth," but in common with many television and film projects, it ran out of steam and got no further.


  • Character Profiles... Steed: The son of Joshua and Araminta Steed is driving a vintage Bentley once more (whether it's meant to be the Peel era original or a new one is unknown). His military service comes to the fore several times: he was in the Battle of the Ardennes and served in the Guards. He still uses a steel-rimmed bowler, but his umbrella is now augmented by a .303 calibre soft-nosed barrel.

    Gambit: He's swapped his XJS for an open top Morgan, but the mercenary biography survives intact. He reveals he was in the last detail out of Angola, and has extensive knowledge of the Matto Grosso Massacre in South America. He also served with a man named Ferret in St. Paulo.

    Carruthers: Full name Carruthers Carruthers Carruthers, she is the daughter of two trapeze artists, and the family formed "The Incredible Carruthers" trapeze team for a circus. She wears a necklace with photos of both parents. She lives in a flat a few stories up (and swings down the fire escape to make a dramatic exit). An official agent, she works with Steed and Gambit, though she's fairly new to the business. Her combat skills rely heavily on her past as a trapeze artist (she can juggle, too), but she got a 3-minus in knife fighting.

    Suzy: CIA operative Suzanne Amelia Stride, about 38, was born in Philadelphia. Her mother was French, and her father was a fourth-generation American. She was educated at Vassar, and was widowed four years before the events of the script. She carries a gun, and also has some hand-to-hand combat skills. Very good at snooker, despite having never played before. Her CIA superior is normally Lipsky, but as he is on vacation, she instead reports to a man named Hart.


  • Trivia... Many aspects of the script owe something to what has come before in Avengerland:

    • The way that the attacks by the ants are portrayed with the ants unseen, and the camera closing in on their victims as they are pursued/attacked is reminiscent of the cat attacks in The Hidden Tiger, and the bird attacks in Cat Amongst the Pigeons.

    • General Cavalo's attack by the Soldad has left him with a paralysed arm and leg, an eyepatch, and a wax mask covering half his face. The mask in particular calls to mind Felix Kane from The Last of the Cybernauts..??, who also wore a mask to conceal his burnt and scarred face.

    • Gambit summons Carruthers for duty by calling, "Carruthers! We're needed!" into her flat's intercom, clearly a reference to Series 5's "Mrs Peel, we're needed" scenes, in which Steed would inform Emma that they had an assignment.

    • Gambit and Carruthers echo a similar exchange between Gambit and Purdey in K is for Kill. When Carruthers saves Gambit by kicking his opponent out of a window, his response is, "Thanks, but I think we would have preferred him alive," to which Carruthers retorts, "Conflict of interest. I wanted you alive." The exchange in K is for Kill is the reversal of this, following Gambit's killing of a Russian solider who was about to shoot Purdey. "Gambit, we wanted him alive," chastises Purdey. "Conflict of interest. I wanted you alive," is Gambit's reply. Also, in the script, Gambit follows this exchange by saying "Steed isn't going to like this," which was Purdey and Gambit's oft-used refrain in Forward Base, when their investigations took unsatisfactory turns.

    • Like Emma before her, Suzy is not only a widow, but she argues that Steed ought to get himself a more modern car than the Bentley, much the way Emma did on the trip out to Brandon Storey's house in Too Many Christmas Trees.

    • Helmut is found lying dead under a running shower, much the way Winters' corpse is left in The Correct Way to Kill.

    • Vance dies by having his head sealed in cement, not unlike Elrick in The Bird Who Knew Too Much, or Bernhard in The Quick-Quick Slow Death.

    • Ferret is blind as a result of a failed attempt on his life, and lives in darkened quarters, much like those of the blinded Tompkins in Cat Amongst the Pigeons.

    • Steed, Gambit, and Carruthers bathe, fully clothed, in the insect repellent, reminiscent of the method of applying the invisibility potion in Get-A-Way.

    • Steed recycles the line, "This umbrella is loaded" to Cavalo, which had last been used against Turner in Cat Amongst the Pigeons.

    • Steed's line just before he lights up the fuel that will destroy the ant army is borrowed, with a few modifications, from the final lines of the first draft of The Last of the Cybernauts..?? script: instead of "Not with a bang but with a whimper," it's "Not with a bang. Or a whimper. But a match."


  • And Finally... Brian Clemens' penchant for recycling character names comes to the fore in The First Avengers Movie. "Suzy" was the name of Annette Andre's character in House of Cards. "Miller", here the name of the missing CIA operative, was "Mad" Jack's surname in Dirtier by the Dozen. Vance, here one of Cavalo's officers, is a name Clemens had utilised right at the beginning of The Avengers Ronnie Vance was a gang leader in his first script for the series, Brought to Book. Also, "Carruthers" was Steed's preferred alias when contacting the police in Series 2 (he used it in both The Big Thinker and Killer Whale). Finally, not only does Cavalo resemble Kane, but another character in the script is actually called Kane, though he bears no resemblance to his namesake in The Last of the Cybernauts..??.

Plotline by J. Ferguson Ministry Verdict by J. Ferguson

Declassified by J. Ferguson and Alan Hayes

With thanks to Dave Matthews and Dave Rogers

 

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