The Avengers Return by Walter Rowan, Managing Director, Cornerstone Communications.
The Avengers television show was the first trading card title Cornerstone produced and it is The Avengers that put the company on the map. While The Avengers television series was produced in England by ATV from 1962 to 1969, only the seasons from 1965 to 1969 were shown in the U.S.. The set featured images from most of the seasons, focussing on the characters John Steed (Patrick Macnee), Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) and Tara King (Linda Thorson).
To date we have produced a total of three Avengers trading card sets. The first, simply called The Avengers, was released in January 1993 and consisted of 81 cards. All the photos were black and white and backs are just a simple two color design (blue and red over white paper). The second set, The Avengers in Color, was released in July 1993. That set consisted of 99 cards and in addition to color photos for the fronts, we included additional black and white photos on the backs. Neither the first nor the second Avengers card set included chase cards, though this changed with the release of The Avengers Return.
Negotiations began back in August 1991 with Weintraub Ltd. of London, England, who owned the rights to The Avengers. The Avengers had changed hands numerous times over the years, originating at Allied Television, who originally produced the show. During negotiations for the trading card license, ownership changed hands no less than three times, going from Weintraub to Movie Acquisition Corporation and finally settling with Lumiere Pictures, Ltd.
Avengers expert Dave Rogers was instrumental in helping us to acquire the trading card license. Dave acted on our behalf to smooth negotiations and arrange for the photo clearances of the principal actors (Pat Macnee, Linda Thorson and Diana Rigg). Many of the photos from the first two sets came from Dave's personal collection and he even wrote most of the text for the first two sets.
In March 1993, Cornerstone's Creative Director, John Blocher, and I flew to London to choose photos for the Avengers in Color set (we were to return in February 1995 for photos for the new Avengers Return set). The Avengers photo archives are located at Pinewood Studios, in the countryside just north-east of London, where we were treated to first class service by chief stills librarian John Herron.
Hundreds of films have been produced over the years at Great Britain's Pinewood Studios. Mr. Herron took us on a private tour of the studio grounds where we dined on the location set where the opening scenes to the James Bond film From Russia with Love were filmed. Later we walked by what had been Main Street, Gotham City, in the first of the recent Batman movies. In production at the time was Son of Pink Panther (it later bombed at the box-office!).
At the stills library, we wandered through a maze of storage shelves loaded with master prints owned by Lumiere Pictures: The Man Who Fell To Earth, Murphy's War and more. We came upon a section deep in the inner sanctum marked "Avengers" where the original publicity stills lay waiting. It was fascinating to pore through old envelopes containing negatives from the television series. Unfortunately, most of the official photos have disappeared over the years. Photos were borrowed and never returned and there had been the occasional pilfering by various parties. Often there would be a great treasure of photos from one episode, then perhaps none for the following episode. That made it impossible for us to represent each episode, although that was our original goal. Ultimately we were fortunate to find enough photos that had not been widely published before.
When choosing appropriate photos for a card set a number of factors must be considered: Is the image covered by the license? Are the people who appear in the photo cleared under license? Is the photo damaged irreparably? Will the photo frame within the proportional limitations of a trading card? Because of these special requirements, otherwise terrific photos could not be used.
Later, back in Cornerstone's Tucson offices, John began the card layout and design. Many computer hours were spent correcting flaws in the aging and in some cases abused photos. Most of the pictures retrieved from England had some kind of problem so the photos were scanned into our computers and scratches and blemishes digitally eliminated and colors corrected (and in some cases even tummy sizes were trimmed!). Otherwise unusable photos were restored to near pristine quality.
Many have asked why we do not feature Honor Blackman or Ian Hendry, both of whom starred in the earlier seasons of The Avengers. Honor Blackman's management insisted we pay a substantial fee, similar to the amount we paid for the rights to the entire Avengers license! None of the Blackman episodes were ever seen in the States until the A&E cable network picked-up the series in 1992. Unfortunately, when the network started airing the Blackman episodes, the ratings plummeted and the show was relegated to the 4:00 a.m. slot on Saturday mornings. The American audience had never been exposed to the pre-Rigg episodes and therefore the older shows held no nostalgic interest, so we felt that Blackman's presence would not be missed (apologies to our British readers who know the earlier episodes well, but our customers are primarily American).
As for Ian Hendry (who played Steed's partner, Doctor David Keel, in the first season), photo clearances were not the problem. Of the photos that we had to choose from in the official archives, there were perhaps as few as five featuring Hendry, and those were mostly from just a single episode. We did however manage to include one picture of Hendry in the first Avengers set (card #26). In the early days of the show, there was apparently not the foresight to document the production of the show. We encountered the same problem when tracking down pictures from the early seasons of Doctor Who.
Many have asked us why we have not included any scenes from The New Avengers. We cannot do so because The New Avengers (produced in 1976) is not covered by our trading card license; the rights to that series are held by a different company. We have considered licensing The New Avengers, but the show has lost a lot of its original glamour (plus there was no Diana Rigg). Admittedly, Joanna Lumley, who played the female partner, has recently seen a resurgence in her career as co-star of the British comedy series Absolutely Fabulous. Perhaps if there is enough interest...
The terrific response to The Avengers cards had surprised and delighted us. We have received so many complimentary letters from collectors and one of our biggest fans is John Steed himself, Patrick Macnee! Pat was kind enough to autograph specially printed cards for The Avengers Return set and, in return, all that he asked for was a few boxes of cards. All of his correspondence with Cornerstone has been filled with bubbling enthusiasm and his personality is as gentlemanly as his character Steed in the television series.
Written by Walter Rowan.
This article previously appeared in Cornerstone Communications' Inside Trader Number One, Fall 1995.
All contents of this article are copyright 1995, Cornerstone Communications, Inc and are kindly used with permission.
back to Trading Cards section