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
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
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
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.