If you read anything about the early history of The Avengers you’re going to come across references to a series called Police Surgeon. In fact some people are under the impression that Police Surgeon was a kind of ancestral incarnation of The Avengers, with Ian Hendry playing the same character. This is not the case, but there is a link between the two series, albeit a tenuous one.
Police Surgeon was a half-hour drama made by Britain’s ABC Television in 1960 with Ian Hendry playing a London police surgeon, Dr Geoffrey Brent. It was moderately well received but was cancelled after 13 episodes, apparently due to contractual problems. The series had been based on the experiences of a real-life police surgeon. The producers had made what they considered to be a very generous deal with the surgeon only to have him start threatening legal action, which may have been part of the reason the series was cancelled.
Either way ABC now found themselves with the very promising up-and-coming Ian Hendry but no series for him to star in. ABC’s Director of Drama, Sydney Newman, ordered Police Surgeon’s producer Leonard White to come up with a new series to utilise Hendry’s talents. Within a few weeks a new crime series had started to take shape. It would be an hour-long series and would be called The Avengers. Ian Hendry would again play a doctor, in this case Dr David Keel. Keel would be a kind of freelance crime-fighter and he would have a sidekick, a fellow named John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee.
But back to Police Surgeon. The series had been devised by Julian Bond who would be the main writer and also the producer. After the first few episodes it became obvious than Bond was not producer material and Leonard White took over.
Bond’s idea had been for a socially conscious crime series, the sort of worthy but rather dreary sort of thing that was all the rage with British television producers at the time. Dr Brent would be a bleeding heart police surgeon who would deal with social outcasts and the other assorted misfits who needed saving by people like Dr Brent.
It’s difficult to make judgments on how the idea actually panned out since only one episode survives. That episode, Easy Money, sees Dr Brent trying to straighten out a juvenile delinquent played by an absurdly young Michael Crawford.
Easy Money is actually by no means entirely bad. The juvenile delinquent in question is about to be charged with a robbery and since he already has a record he’s in a fair amount of trouble. Dr Brent tries to persuade him that taking responsibility for your life is a better plan that trying to be a swaggering tough guy.
When Optimum released the first of their Avengers boxed sets, comprising the surviving episodes of season one plus the whole of season two they decided to throw in the one surviving episode of Police Surgeon as a bonus. It’s not exactly in pristine condition but it’s watchable and it is an interesting opportunity to see a very young Ian Hendry. Hendry is pretty good, coming across as caring without being naïve or irritatingly sentimental.
Police Surgeon might not be great television but it is an interesting curiosity.
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