Cult TV

Cult TV: Adam Adamant Lives!

Adam Adamant Lives! is a British television series which ran from 1966 to 1967 on the BBC. It stared Gerald Harper as Adam Adamant – an adventurer born in 1867 but revived from hibernation in 1966, the show was a comedy adventure that took a satirical look at life in the 1960’s through the eyes of an Edwardian (Adamant vanished in 1902 when Edward VII had been on the throne just one year).

Adam was  frozen in a block of ice by his nemesis “The Face” and awoke in the 1960’s to thwart evil, overcomes temptation, and buy a Mini.

It’s very much “What Doctor Who did next”, as the timelord’s creator Sydney Newman and his first producer Verity Lambert joined forces again to come up with a BBC version of The Avengers. Adam is a Reithian version of Steed – all the suits and gentility, but with all rakishness removed. Adam is a very proper hero, who belongs to all the right clubs, and even has a butler.

The clash between Adam’s terribly strict morals and the permissive society of the Sixties was the main source of humour in the series. This meant severely limited opportunities for sexual chemistry between Harper and his co-star The Avengers.who played reluctant side-kick Miss Jones. A nicely brought-up modern woman, her role was mostly to mope around after Adam, flirting mournfully and getting into scrapes.

The show ran for two seasons of incredibly Avengers-esque adventures, as Adam thwarts sinister ladies’ charities, terribly well-brought-up Satanists, killer dresses, and cigar-chomping female crime lords.

Reasons for the cancellation of Adam Adamant Lives! vary according to the source. Television critic Paul Stump opines in “The Cult of … Adam Adamant!” that the programme ended because The Avengers was a “sexier, slicker, better-funded” version of the same concept.

The programme’s largest fan website counters by saying that Sydney Newman, as the BBC’s Head of Television Drama, cancelled the show “due to a difference of opinion between himself and his star”. An Avengers fansite agrees with both assessments. It says that the production values didn’t match The Avengers and that despite good ratings “Newman wasn’t happy with the show overall, and the star in particular.”

Adam Adamant was one of several shows disowned by the BBC despite their popularity: other examples include the highly popular Paul Temple with Francis Matthews and Ros Drinkwater, and Verity Lambert’s later series Virtual Murder with Nicholas Clay and Kim Thomson.

There were originally 29 black and white episodes composing two series, plus one unbroadcast pilot titled Adam Adamant Lives (without exclamation mark). The 1902 sequence is now all that is known to survive of this unseen debut episode of the series, and only exists because it was later reused in “A Vintage Year for Scoundrels”. No script of Adam Adamant Lives is known to exist, and the only documentation that remains is the description given in the Drama Early Warning Synopsis issued on Thursday 10 March 1966; this is included in the booklet Adam Adamant Lives!: Viewing Notes accompanying the DVD boxed set Adam Adamant Lives!: The Complete Collection released by 2entertain Ltd in July 2006.

The first series, with the exception of “Ticket to Terror”, was made as a mixture of 16mm film for the location sequences, and multi-camera in the studio using 625-line electronic cameras. Instead of being edited on video tape, as was the usual BBC procedure, the series was edited entirely on film, with the output of the studio cameras being telerecorded, for ease of editing. The pre-shot external location footage for each episode was inserted into the programme via telecine during the studio recording sessions.

“Ticket to Terror” from the first series, and all of the second series, were made with the usual BBC mix of tape and film, with the second series being edited on 405-line tape. Wiping by the BBC in the 1970s has resulted in no master videotapes having survived. Film recordings haven’t all survived either as, in one case, one episode on 35mm film is known to have been destroyed.

The result of all this is that only 16 episodes remained in the archives when the BBC realised the value of such material, including the first and last episodes in broadcast order. These were mainly in the form of the original broadcast 35mm film recordings, with a handful of episodes as 16mm film recordings or reduction prints.

In the case of some episodes the 35mm location footage also exists, and has been used to remaster the surviving episodes. The last episode of Series One, “D For Destruction”, thought to be among those lost forever, was however recovered in 2003 – it was found at the BBC Archives in a mislabelled film can. It has since been screened every year at the Missing Believed Wiped event.

A public appeal campaign, the BBC Archive Treasure Hunt, continues to search for missing episodes.

Did you know:

  • Gerald Harper, the British star of the show, has guested in many episodes of the Avengers, and also starred in the 1957 film The League of Gentlemen.
  • Brian Clemens, better known as the producer of The Avengers, as well as the less stellar Bugs, wrote the funeral themed episode The Terribly Happy Embalmers. In a strange future echo of another unlikely protector of the innocent, this episode concerned the sinister goings on at a certain Sunnydale Health farm.
  • Ridley Scott, acclaimed director of Hannibal, Gladiator and Alien, also directed several episodes, including The League of Uncharitable Ladies.
  • Kathy Kirby sang the Bond-style theme.  – The lyrics began “Bold as a knight in white armour/Cold as a shot from a gun…” Despite its sixties syncopation, modern viewers might find it most reminds them of the title theme to Murder Most Horrid.


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