A Letter From Patrick
How We Rescued “The Avengers” From The Pirates
An Adventure Story by Patrick Macnee
Thirty five years ago, I started work as an actor on a television series called “The Avengers.” Ten years later, I finished working on “The Avengers” — as an actor!
This story covers the twenty-five years since then. These 25 years have seen the most rapid advance in technology since commercial television started, in Great Britain, in1955.
Our actor’s union, British Actors Equity, has always kept pace with these advances and protected its members by tracking down monies owed to them, all over the world, from successful multiple showings on cable, satellite, network and syndicated television, and paying them what we call “residuals.”
But they have not been able to keep track of “The Pirates,” which, for over 20 years, been insidiously cutting their way into these residuals! And pocketing them, for themselves!
Throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s in the United States, I noticed that the newly-opened video stores, which had started up in every mall in every city, all over the country, were selling movies of all types, ancient and modern. They also had TV sections. In the middle of these sections were displayed countless brightly-packaged video cassettes of “The Avengers!”
It turned out that they had been copied straight from the network TV showings. These episodes were torn, scratched, shortened and generally abused — after years of being slotted in between reams of commercial breaks. They were then duplicated and mass-produced into thousands of cassettes — and were being illegally sold in video stores nationwide.
Naturally, our union could not keep track of these massive illegal sales, and so, our members were being deprived of their residuals – by “Pirates”!
In 1990, two things happened. Firstly, my accountant decided to take a closer look at my financial involvement in “The Avengers.” My involvement was minimal — 2 1/2 % of the net profits. But I was not receiving it!
Since 1969, when “The Avengers” ceased production, seven different companies had owned the series — or rather, they shared a library of all British movies made between 1935-1982! — a “Golden Property.”
This “Golden Property” was being constantly shuttled between all these owners — in much the same way as corporations shift grain, combustibles, livestock and plastic flooring. Along the way, two of the corporations went bankrupt, and one of the owners went to prison — where he still is!
Throughout all this time, “The Pirates” were reaping in thousands of illegal dollars from video stores all over the United States.
Secondly, in 1990, A&E Network decided to show “The Avengers” on a twice daily basis, Unfortunately, the prints they used (leased from one of these near-bankrupt companies) were in shocking condition — no better than the “Pirates” versions — sound, picture, length, quality — all terrible!
Howard Rosenberg, the distinguished TV columnist of The Los Angeles Times, wrote a column in the “Jeers” section of TV Guide, lambasting the twice-daily monstrosity. He reminded viewers that, as he remembered, the show had been of high quality, in every way — even nominated (in ’67 and ’68 for a prestigious Emmy Award!
Finally, the combination of the “Pirated” versions in the video stores and the shocking condition of the twice-daily network showings, penetrated my thick skull! I had to do something about it!
By this time, the “Golden Property,” the Library of British movies, was into its fifth owner, Lumiere Pictures of France. With the help of the self-appointed “guru” and custodian of “The Avengers” — Dave Rogers — they “found” the original negatives, which had been secreted in a vault, at Elstree Studios (outside London) for many years.
They, at considerable expense and with the benefit of up-to-date technology, completely digitally restored every episode of “The Avengers.” Length, picture, sound and overall quality were all vastly improved.
Then, they took the big plunge and boarded “The Jolly Roger” — the “Pirates” Galleon — and drove them, man and boy, to the end of the plank!!
They took them to court, in the United States, and prosecuted them for illegal distribution of copyrighted material. “The Avengers” finally started to live up to its name.
But the “Pirates” banded together, large and small, and fought long and hard to support their case. They had been making so much money, over so many years, they had come to believe they owned them. At one point they even had the audacity to say “The Avengers” was in the public domain!!
But, after three long years, judgment was given in our favour and against the “Pirates.” We made them walk the plank and pushed them into the ocean!
They had to pay us heavy damages and our legal copyright was re-established.
Now, all the illegal “Pirated” video cassettes have been completely cleared from the video stores all over the United States. “The Avengers” finally lived up to their name — with a vengeance.
In 1997, the “Golden Property” — the whole British movie library – including “The Avengers” was sold to Canal Plus, the major French company and part of Vivendi (which now owns Universal Studios).
After an agreement was reached with British Actor’s Equity, Canal Plus is marketing, (through A&E Network in the United States) and all over the world — the beautiful, brand-new, digitally restored cassettes — in pristine condition and of fine quality.
I feel privileged to have helped preserve this classic British TV series.