Big Finish Productions have something of a reputation for bringing long-departed TV series back from the dead, and giving them a second coming on audio. After starting with Doctor Who in that awful interregnum when it was off air between 1989 and 2005, they’ve since resurrected genre programmes such as Star Cops, The Prisoner, Space: 1999, The Avengers, Blake’s 7 and Dark Shadows, to name but a few.
It’s rather apt then, that they should’ve chosen to revive a character who himself got another lease of life when he was on the telly over 50 years ago: one Adam Llewellyn De Vere Adamant, titular star of Adam Adamant Lives! It’s perhaps one of the more relatively obscure, lesser-known properties they’ve taken on, but Big Finish knows how to give people what they want, and they responded to a clear demand for his return from fans of the series.
The original show – which ran for two series from 1966 to 1967 on BBC One – was the brainchild of Sydney Newman, creator of Doctor Who. At the time, ITV’s action series The Avengers was a hot property, so it was natural that Auntie Beeb would want to look for its own rival. There was also an opportunity to address criticisms from Mary Whitehouse about a perceived decline in standards of morality on television at the time, by focusing upon a hero from a bygone era whose strict moral code would contrast sharply with the decade of free love.
Newman’s initial plan was to use literary character Sexton Blake, having him brought into the present day in Sexton Blake Lives! However, the BBC were refused the rights to use him, but the idea was just too good to let go, so they decided to create their own original hero instead. It could have ended up with “Cornelius Chance”, “Rupert De’Ath”, “Dick Daring”, “Dexter Noble”, “Aurelian Winton”, “Magnus Hawke” or “Darius Crud” being the protagonist, as all these names were considered, and then quickly discarded.
However, Newman picked “Adam Adamant”, the surname being chosen to reflect Adamantine, which – being a hard, unbreakable substance – was felt to represent the resolve and personality of the show’s hero. The premise had Adam Adamant – Edwardian gentleman adventurer and hero of the British Empire – be lured into a trap by arch-nemesis The Face, who freezes him in a solid block of ice, only to be inadvertently revived some 60+ years later, finding himself a man out of time.
Following his awakening, Adam – played by Gerald Harper – was accompanied in his brand new life by Georgina Jones (Juliet Harmer) – for whom he had been a childhood hero – and William E. Simms (Jack May, known as the voice of Igor in Count Duckula, and the maître d’ at the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), who became his faithful manservant, helping him to adjust to his new life, while also still engaging in feats of heroism and derring-do.
The series was produced by Verity Lambert (who launched Doctor Who for Newman, and went on to spearhead such shows as Minder, Widows, Jonathan Creek and Eldorado), and the directors had included a young Ridley Scott (who’d started at the BBC as a designer, and nearly got to come up with the look of the Daleks). Sadly, it wasn’t to be a lasting success, and seemed destined to remain a dim and distant memory (although it’s been cited as partial inspiration for Austin Powers, who was similarly frozen in time).
READ MORE: First Love – Review
Thankfully, Big Finish are old hands at breathing new life into old properties, and through them Adam Adamant lives once again. The creative force behind this new iteration is Guy Adams (who also pulls double duty by playing Simms), a writer/actor/comedian triple threat, who’s not only been responsible for producing multiple original novels, but also happens to have had more than ample experience when it comes to working with Big Finish.
Adams hasn’t so much reinvented the wheel here, but more refined it, by keeping enough of the original series’ central concept and charm, while at the same time giving it enough of a new spin to stop it being a mere carbon copy. Unlike the TV version’s opener – ‘A Vintage Year For Scoundrels’ – we don’t get to see (or, to be strictly accurate, hear) Adam’s origin for ourselves; here, we get to experience him coping with the traumatic aftermath of his apparent revivification in the 1960s.
I say ‘apparent’, as there are enough seeds of doubt sown to make the listener question whether Adam is all he seems, or claims to be. For one thing, Adam (Blake Ritson) has a constant inner dialogue with part of his psyche which has taken on the persona of his personal Moriarty, The Face (also played by Ritson). While ostensibly a personification of his own self-doubt, you start to wonder whether Adam is actually mentally ill, and has retreated into the persona of the actual Adam Adamant, adopting it while in some sort of fugue state.
The first story – ‘What Is This Place?’ – sees Adam slowly getting to grips with his predicament, crossing paths with Georgina Jones (Milly Thomas), whose friends end up in a gay blackmail plot. Bearing in mind homosexuality wasn’t actually decriminalised in the UK until the year that Adam Adamant Lives! ended on TV, it’s interesting to see a story of this sort told now as a period piece which couldn’t have been played out on the nation’s screen at the time. So much for the so-called Permissive Society.
Next up is ‘Death Has A Thousand Faces’ – a new take on the TV show’s second episode – which takes us firmly into Avengers-esque territory, as Adam and Georgina look into the curious case of a sugar-coated corpse which appears to have fallen from an express train from Blackpool to London. We also get to meet Simms (Guy Adams), in a tale which is a fun, frothy romp filled with lashings of melodrama, and is perhaps the main highlight of the three instalments in the set.
With the final episode – ‘Georgina Jones Dies!’ – it seems that Adam’s brand new partnership has met a premature end, with the Police reporting Miss Jones’ untimely demise – and Adam appears to be the prime suspect. It’s sold to us in a very plausible way that the finger of suspicion points at Adam, particularly in light of his ongoing inner dialogue with The Face hinting at mental instability, and you’re made to wonder if he really did do it. The only criticism is that this might have been best left to the forthcoming second volume, as we’ve barely had enough time to become fond of Georgina before apparently mourning her loss.
Whether or not you’re an aficionado of classic Telefantasy series, you should treat yourself by getting Adam Adamant Lives! Volume 1: A Vintage Year For Scoundrels. For fans of the original show, it’s faithful enough to what they know and love, even down to a thrillingly faithful recreation of the bombastic Kathy Kirby theme tune; for everybody else, it’s a wonderfully retrostalgic blast of cult Swinging Sixties action, given a fresh new twist for the Roaring Twenties and beyond.
Leave this man alone, implores the lyrics of the theme tune at one point – if you do, it’ll be a terrible mistake, as you’ll be missing out on a real treat.