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ADVENTURES IN AVENGERLAND
By Paul Duncan

Having attended several Dead Man's Treasure Hunt events, Paul Duncan decided to put his experiences down on paper. The resulting article first appeared in the now defunct magazine Fantazia, number fifteen, dated August 1991.

For the past four years Timescreen the magazine of British telefantasy, has organised weekend treasure hunts based on episodes of The Avengers and other sixties TV programmes. These hunts have been held around Elstree and Borehamwood, where a lot of the location footage was shot for series like Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased), The Saint, The Prisoner, The Champions and others. This place has been dubbed Avengerland. Paul Duncan's mission, and he chose to accept it, was to investigate the hunt and if possible, win it.

On the afternoon of Friday June 28th, 1991, I found the top secret rendezvous, screeched to a stop to avoid a grey squirrel searching for some treasure of its own, looked up and saw the dazzling walls of a Tudor mansion. The Edgwarebury Hotel had served as a location for The Avengers and various other TV series. This was my HQ for the weekend.

After I had checked out my room for hidden bugs, I proceeded to the bar, the favourite haunt of the hunter and found Steven Turner. Steven and I had both been on the winning team in 1987, but now he was the enemy, the mind who had devised this years' treasure hunt. I began to be a little afraid. Steve Mckay, the third member of the winning 1987 team stormed through the hotel and ordered us outside. He was a man whose haircut was not to be messed about with. The three of us joined Steve's girlfriend, Janet, in the 1968 Mini Moke and went for a spin, literally. I discovered that Mini Mokes have a very small turning circle but its passengers do not, thankfully; the manufacturers kindly attached handles for me to hang on to.

Steve has an identical twin, Tony, who organises the hunt with his wife, Annette. In the previous years' event, extra points were awarded for obtaining the mileage of other teams vehicles, so Steve flagged down other competitors pretending to be Tony checking all was well, and surreptitiously noted their mileage. Steve won by bending the rules, but the rules change. What cunning plans would we have to devise this time? That evening, all thirty-two attendees gathered at the bar. This years' hunt was based around The Avengers episode Game, which involved a killer using jigsaw puzzles and games of skill to murder his victims. Julie Cartwright and Christopher Gabb, who were organising the games and food over the weekend, separated us into four teams to play games of chance, skill, memory and intelligence. Judging from our poor results, I had the sneaking suspicion that the cards were being stacked against me.

Saturday was spent visiting filming locations using a forty page reference booklet we had been given the previous night. Tony McKay and a host of others had put in over five years intensive research, watching episodes and driving around the Elstree/Borehamwood area in ever increasing circles. They had compiled a list of almost two hundred locations and more are being discovered all the time. The reason for the intensive clutch of locations is because Associated British Elstree and MGM Borehamwood studios filmed on their own doorsteps, often reusing the same houses and roads over and over again. A watcher of H.G. Wells' Invisible Man would recognise the character's house opposite the exit gates of Shenley Hall, which was used in The Avengers episode Dead Man's Treasure, which inspired the event. At the front gates of Shenley Hall is the Shenley Triangle, a junction of two triangular grass patches which are seen in various other instalments of The Avengers and various ITC film series.

We had obtained permission to enter Shenley Lodge, where someone pointed out the banister that the character Burton climbed over in the opening chase scene from The Avengers episode The House That Jack Built. Everyone had assumed that the banister was simply a prop because of the way it buckled and shuddered when Burton clambered over it, but here it was in all its crumbling reality. We also visited the expansive grounds of the Edge Grove School as seen in Two's A Crowd and What The Butler Saw.

Kendal's Hall (aka Radlett prep School) was where Steed posing as a RAF officer landed in an helicopter, again from What The Butler Saw. Only it was not the same, as rebuilding and extensions in different coloured bricks and styles had turned it into a patchwork. The fantasy was fading. Sonia, the woman in white from The Prisoner episode The Girl Who Was Death, turned her car around in the Mops and Brooms public house car park. She would have had a bit of a job to repeat the manoeuvre once our convoy had arrived for lunch.

The afternoon location tour passed the recently rebuilt Thatched Barn Hotel also known as the Elstree Moat House. The original Thatched Barn (base for the 1987 hunt), reputedly built as a brothel in 1933 for the film stars of the day, failed to survive the general decline of the film industry and was demolished in 1989. In its original form, the Thatched Barn appeared in episodes of The Prisoner, Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) and Department S.

We were barred from the late Barbara Cartland's home, Camfield Place, a location featured in The Baron, The Champions and The Avengers. The locations blurred, as we were enacting some weird ritual, as though we would gain previously restricted knowledge by standing in the same places as all those actors and cameramen. We were trying to capture some of the past in the present, giving us a fleeting but warm shiver of dislocation, just like the TV programmes. I had seen too many episodes and I was beginning to identify with some of the bit players, the stuntmen in ridiculous make-up so you could not recognise them, but always could. I could see the same recycled sets with the same actors, only the stories and the guest stars had changed to save the budget and the same white Jaguar plunging off a cliff in many different episodes.

The appeal of these TV series is their absurdity, their whimsical stretching of reality in order to entertain. The Avengers poked fun at the English need to take most inane subjects and blow them up out of proportion. In The Avengers episode Game, a character prided himself on knowing every single jigsaw in existence and being able to assemble them faster than anyone else. Over the weekend, I found the living proof. These hunters with their wealth of trivia, their obsession with detail and their struggle for superiority, were the perfect candidates for any episode of The Avengers. They had become characters from their own obsessions. The reality of the Edgwarebury Hotel, including the smart dress code and flash cars showed me that the guests were living out their own fantasies. I realised that the whole world was one giant fantasy and the edges were starting to blur. The two dimensional world of TV was filling out, becoming three dimensional before my very eyes.

I turned around, jumped into the Mini Moke and together with Steve and Janet sped off in search of enemy agents and treasure, and the hunt was on. We deciphered all six possible locations for the enemies' HQ and blazed a trail to Borehamwood High Street. At each location we had to identify possible villains and match up photographs with the surrounding locale. We ran up and down Borehamwood but could not find the villain's hideout so off we raced to the village of Ridge. The questions mounted and the reference books saw plenty of use.

It was Sunday morning, but we had to collect treasure. In 1987, we went to a dog show and bought all our treasure from the bric-a-brac stalls. This year, to get a plastic bag tied with a coloured ribbon, we stopped on a road to pick up a length of red and white ribbon and tied it around a carrier bag. In the past, one team went home, a round trip of fifty miles to get all their treasure. However, they did not go to any of the locations, did not pick up any observation and knowledge points and lost all their marks because their mileage was too high.

At Ridge, the woman at the village hall gave me a funny look when I asked why she did not serve coffee. Did she not know world security was threatened? We spun to a stop at the Shenley Lodge stud farm and encountered another team. We had half a playing card and had to obtain the missing part by quoting a password. The other agents looked puzzled, laughed and left me eating dust. Were they holding out on me to make sure we did not get the points?

At the Shenley Triangle we spotted the concrete contractors sign on top of a barn and matched it to the photograph. At Letchmore Heath we saw another team and undertook to lead them astray. Having got all the answers, we moved to an area where there were no answers to the cryptic clues teams were required to solve and after making jubilant noises drove off. Totally mislead, the other team swarmed around the place we had just vacated looking for clues, but all they found was our distant laughter. We arrived at the Three Compasses public house at Patchett's Green more than three hours after we had set off. The adjudicators descended on us like vultures, prising the treasure from our fingers. I drew a map of Europe and showed them a photograph of the Earth from space, pointing out the continent under a cloud, but they would not buy it. They wanted scientific papers, but accepted articles on space travel in an old Countdown annual. They wanted a gin and tonic and so did we.

We had finished our mission so we ate and drank. After an hour, one team was still missing and they are still missing to this day. The winners were announced, prizes distributed, photographs taken and goodbyes uttered before the attendees went their separate ways. I got a prize, a signed photograph of Peter Wyngarde, who played Jason King in Department S and Jason King. At least, I think it was signed by him, I have not deciphered the writing yet. I thundered north to Coventry, swearing vengeance. They had defeated and humiliated me this time, I had shown my ignorance and stupidity by playing by the rules. I will not make that mistake again. No more mister nice guy, next time I will bend and break their puny rules and the treasure will be mine. I'll be back, you can depend on it!

Article by Paul Duncan reprinted with permission of the author.
© Paul Duncan, May 1991.