Event review: Adam Adamant Lives! at the NFT

The NFT

Just for a change, I’m going to review an event (Ooh, Rob went out the house!). Two, in fact.

Yesterday saw a double-header at the NFT, designed to coincide with the release of a couple of DVDs in a week or two. The first saw an airing of the Adam Adamant Lives! episode Allah is Not Always With You, followed by a Q&A with stars Gerald Harper and Juliet Harmer. The second featured the one remaining episode of the original version of A for Andromeda, followed by a Q&A with star Peter Halliday and producer/director Michael Hayes – I’ll deal with that one separately.

So, new thing, new style. Here goes…

Adam Adamant Lives!

Event: Adam Adam Lives! at the NFT

Date: 10th July 2006

Host: Kim Newman

Guests: Gerald Harper, Juliet Harmer

Series summary: Victorian/Edwardian adventurer Adam Adamant is frozen in a block of ice by his arch nemesis The Face. He’s revived in the 1960s where he continues to fight crime using his 19th century skills, impeccable manners and the assistance of swinging 60s chick Georgina Jones.

Episode summary: A waitress at the ‘Fluffies Club’ dies trying to tell Adam Adamant about a plot against the son of a sheikh, who has a bad gambling habit. Adam, together with Georgina Jones undercover as a ‘Fluffy’, must foil the dastardly plot without being led into impropriety.

Event summary: I’d already seen this episode. At least, I thought I had. Turned out, I had absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever. Intriguingly, neither did Gerald Harper or Juliet Harmer, which suggests to me it had all been mocked up using puppets and CGI, just like the moon landing. So I got to watch it as new.

It was pretty standard Adam Adamant Lives!, with a witty script and Harper and Harmer giving stellar performances. Admittedly, just like The Avengers, which it was designed to compete against, all Adam Adamant Lives! episodes are the same, but that episode is still pretty entertaining, fun and surprisingly thought-provoking at times. Adamant reflects at one point, while quietly reading a book (no tele for this man alone), that society has changed for the worse since his day since “Machines have made everything faster and so people have got faster”, leaving people with little time for niceties. It’s hard not to wonder what he’d have made of life now.

It’s also instructive to realise that each episode was shot in a week. That meant Harper had to learn 60 pages of dialogue plus two fight scenes, with just three or four days of rehearsal. Frightening. And his fights were actually a whole lot more convincing that Diana Rigg’s in The Avengers, which just goes to show you that time and money needn’t make things superior.

After the episode, Harmer and Harper, both pretty well preserved and spritely, came on and were able to regale the audience with some reasonably intriguing anecdotes, although I suspect most of them will appear in the DVD’s documentary. Host Kim Newman was on nervous form and it seemed at times like he was struggling for questions and to keep the conversation flowing. But Harper was pretty loquacious, even if most of the series seems to be a blur after all these years, and managed to keep the Q&A flowing along whenever it looked like it would flounder.

While it was a little light on facts and never quite achieved a natural flow, the event was actually pretty entertaining, was a good length – I would have liked more, but you can’t have everything – and the demonstration of the restoration that had been done on the prints for the DVD showed some work that was nothing short of miraculous.

Trivia: It turns out that both Harmer and Jack May, who played Adamant’s man-servant, had been replacements, May getting the job after two episodes had already been filmed with the original actor, who had to give up the part after doing his back in lifting one of the ‘fluffies’ in Allah is Not Always With You. Harmer had been teaching at a primary school when she was called in to replace an actress who was regarded as not swinging enough for the 60s.

Harper meanwhile had signed up to do a Broadway show and after turning down the role of Adamant was practically press-ganged into the part by Sydney Newman, the head of drama at the BBC and inventor of the show (he also invented The Avengers, The Wednesday Play and Doctor Who. What a guy.)

Best anecdotes:

  1. Harper revealing that Alec Guinness had got him a job on the movie Tunes of Glory after he’d failed the audition by getting clips from the movie he was then working on, stringing them together, and then showing them to the producer and casting director – he said he was just passing on the good will that John Gielgud had shown him when he was starting out;
  2. The instructions from stunt man Gnosher Powell to Harper for one episode: “I want you to swing in on a rope through this window, vault over this horse, jump up onto those bars, turn round, spring down over there and then out through there” “Will you do it first?” “Nah, that’s bloody dangerous, that is”

Audience: Not as old as you might think. Suspect that one member of the audience was Dave Rogers, or someone who just knew a little too much about The Avengers. Reasonably well behaved, but some questions a little too anal for comfort.

Use of The Voice: I counted only three uses of The Voice.