The main character originally went through a number of possible names: "Cornelius Chance", "Rupert De'Ath", "Dick Daring", "Dexter Noble", "Aurelian Winton", "Magnus Hawke" and even "Darius Crud" before Sydney Newman settled on Adam Adamant, named after the generic mineral term adamantine, which, since medieval times, has commonly referred to diamond. In the opening episode, "A Vintage Year for Scoundrels", Adam Llewellyn De Vere Adamant – to give him his full name – is a swashbuckling Victorian gentleman adventurer who, in 1902, goes to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend Louise, but is lured into a trap whereupon he is captured and condemned to be frozen forever in a block of ice by his nemesis, the Face, whose identity is concealed behind a leather mask and who speaks in a sinister whispering voice. The Face grants his helpless prisoner one last request and Adam asks to see Louise. But in his last moments of life before being frozen, Adam learns to his horror that Louise had faked her kidnapping and had been working for the Face all along.
Adam is found in 1966, when a building is being knocked down, and he is revived. On emerging from a hospital and collapsing on the London streets, Adam is rescued by Georgina Jones and taken to her flat. Though in many ways a typical swinging sixties woman, Georgina had grown up idolising Adam through tales of his turn-of-the-century exploits. She tries to get in on all his cases, despite his efforts to stop her, and often manages to get a job at the scene in question at a moment's notice so she can interfere in the case. The part originally went to Ann Holloway in the untransmitted pilot episode, but was recast with Juliet Harmer as it was felt that Holloway's performance did not fit the series.
Adam is an expert swordsman; he carries a swordstick and will cold-bloodedly kill any enemy who deserves it. He is not the only British hero with such a weapon, John Steed of The Avengers had a sword umbrella; and Lord Peter Wimsey had a specially made sword cane with a compass and it was marked in inches so it was also a measuring tool. He was a Colonel and has been on the volunteer strength of the 51st Yeomanry since 1895 – though he is naturally listed on their official records as being "missing, presumed killed" since 1902. He is also a good boxer and occasionally demonstrates proficiency in jujitsu, which had been introduced to England several years before he was frozen. Adam immediately became embroiled in the criminal world of the 1960s when Georgina was threatened after almost being witness to the murder of her grandfather by protection racketeers at a disco. Though there is no indication of where his money comes from or how he supports himself, Adam rebuilt his old home, the long demolished 26A Albany Street, on the top of a multi-storey car park, which he had bought, at 17 Upper Thames Street in central London. It is accessed by a lift hidden on the other side of a sliding wall, activated from the outside by pressing a cleverly hidden call button. He also purchased a Mini Cooper S with the personalised numberplate AA 1000. The car is dark green and tan (or perhaps dark brown and gold, please see the DVD), it has a sun-roof, electric windows, and a very posh interior. It was a special conversion: a "Mini de Ville" by Harold Radford Coach Builder LTD. He occasionally does a job for the British Government, as in "More Deadly Than the Sword". When he is knocked unconscious, Adam usually dreams of how he was caught by the Face and of Louise telling him: "So clever, but oh so vulnerable." This is apt, as many women take advantage of his Victorian naïveté.
During the second episode, "Death Has a Thousand Faces", the events of which are set in Blackpool, he acquires a manservant in the form of former music hall artiste and present Punch and Judy man William E. Simms. The character was originally to have been played by John Dawson, who hurt his back lifting an actress during rehearsals for "The Sweet Smell of Disaster" and was unable to continue; the part was recast, going instead to Jack May. In terms of fashion, the series captured well the gradual shift in 1966/67 from the "mod" styles of "Swinging London" to the more Bohemian (eventually hippie) styles that characterised the late sixties. Adam has his 100th birthday in the final episode, "A Sinister Sort of Service", and gets a telegram from the Queen (a UK custom for people who have reached that age), as well as a birthday cake bearing one hundred candles.
The opening episode of Series 2, "A Slight Case of Reincarnation", apparently set in 1902, reminded viewers of the Face, who had not been seen since "A Vintage Year for Scoundrels"; his reappearance in the present day being explained in the next episode "Black Echo" by his having frozen himself back in 1902, with Louise (who, of course, aged naturally) watching over him during the years in between until the time came for him to be revived. The Face appeared in four more episodes during Series 2 – namely "Face in a Mirror", "Tunnel of Death", "The Resurrectionists" and "A Sinister Sort of Service" – in which he would urge on the main villain(s) of each story, but while Adam would defeat the villain(s) on each occasion, the Face himself would never be captured or vanquished, always escaping to fight another day and vowing vengeance on Adam when they met next time.
Though he didn't really need them, Gerald Harper wore false eyebrows based on the make-up lady's own eyebrows. He also wore a wig. Harper was a bit shortsighted and wore glasses, which he removed as soon as filming was ready to start. His shortsightedness did cause opponents to keep their distance in sword-fights since, as one actor put it, he could have inadvertently knocked their eye out. When the series ended, the make-up lady sewed the eyebrows onto a sampler, with "Here lie the Eyebrows of Adam Adamant, 1966–1967" underneath, which was framed and given to Harper as a memento. Harper also kept Adam's swordstick, and both remain on his wall at home to this day.
Adam Adamant Lives! has been called by modern observers "what Doctor Who did next", because at least three Doctor Who alumni had key positions on the pilot. Most obviously it reunited producer Verity Lambert with Head of Television Drama Sydney Newman. Together they had been at the core of decision-makers who launched Doctor Who. But the series also brought Donald Cotton, who had the same year written two serials for Doctor Who, back into Newman's orbit. Cotton and partner Richard Harris would write the first script, "A Vintage Year for Scoundrels", and would thus come to be credited as co-creators. Over the years Newman himself has been cited as creator of the show. Even the BBC has at times propagated this idea, calling him the creator on some of their own pages devoted to the programme, but not on others. In truth he is probably more correctly seen as the executive producer or as having "developed the series for television". Adam Adamant Lives! was a quick replacement for the show he had actually intended – an adaptation of the adventures of literary detective Sexton Blake. When the rights to the character suddenly dried up, it fell to writers Donald Cotton and Richard Harris, along with script editor Tony Williamson, to come up with a replacement idea. Near the end of his life Newman indicated that he had, indeed, been significantly involved in the rewrites, suggesting that his critic Mary Whitehouse had been partial inspiration for the character. Like Doctor Who which had preceded it, Adam Adamant Lives! was thus a show created somewhat by committee and circumstance. Many of the indoor scenes were filmed at Studios 3 and 5 at the BBC Television Centre in London.
With its pairing of an upper-class adventurer with a "trendy" woman of the 1960s, parallels have been drawn with competitor ITV's The Avengers. There was also a similarity with Granada's Mr. Rose (1967) in which William Mervyn as a retired police inspector was assisted by a youngish confidential secretary (Gillian Lewis) and a manservant (Donald Webster). However, because Adam Adamant was a last-minute replacement for another concept, the degree to which the BBC intended such similarities with The Avengers is unclear. One recent statement has directly addressed the issue:
In Adam Adamant Lives, we were trying to create something original. Even though it may have been aimed at a similar audience to The Avengers – any production decisions we made were not influenced by trying to imitate.
However, a reviewer of the 2006 BBC Four retrospective The Cult of ... Adam Adamant Lives! detected something more to the issue when Lambert and other principals were interviewed on camera:
The genial and personable Harmer, Clemens, Harper and producer Verity Lambert all owned up to the clunking obviousness of the series' hamfisted and, in retrospect, laughable attempt to trump ABC's masterpiece. Even an otherwise impartial and unironic script compared the two shows thus: "Edwardian gent teamed with beautiful girl ... and Edwardian gent teamed with beautiful girl". The unspoken tag, of course, was that The Avengers had queered this pitch three years previously.
This latter view has been echoed by fans of The Avengers. Indeed, an Avengers-biased biography of Adamant star Gerald Harper, who also frequently guest-starred on the ITV show, flatly calls Adamant "unashamedly modelled on The Avengers". It backs up this claim by demonstrating how individual episodes of Adamant parallel those of The Avengers. Finally, it points out that in the programme's second series Adamant was scheduled in direct competition for Avengers in some parts of Britain, making contemporary comparison between the shows impossible for viewers.
More neutral observers have generally reflected this dichotomy of perspective. Anthony Clark at the BFI notes that while the show "owes a stylistic debt to The Avengers", it was "the BBC's reply to the success of ITV's spy and action series like The Saint (1962–69) and Danger Man (1960–69)". He goes on to call the character of Adamant "more age-of-empire adventurer than spoof spy". A Television Haven review admits that while the programme has been "long cited as the BBC's answer to The Avengers", it in fact "owes more to the slick style, tone and format of Lew Grade's phenomenally successful ITC stable of action series rather than the sleek and sophisticated antics of Steed and Mrs Peel".
The show's premise also bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1964 return of Captain America in Marvel Comics' (completely unrelated) The Avengers. Both characters are adventurers from an earlier era thawed out of blocks of ice in the present day.
Harper's portrayal of Adamant has been cited as formative to Jon Pertwee's interpretation of the Doctor. One writer opines that Pertwee's "suave, dashing portrayal was very much surfing the zeitgeist of the time, borrowing from contemporaries such as Adam Adamant Lives!, Doomwatch, Quatermass, and James Bond in the cinema." The BBC's episode guide to Doctor Who is more specific, claiming parallels between the Third Doctor's inaugural scenes in a hospital with those of Adamant in his pilot, "A Vintage Year for Scoundrels".
"Adamant" is frequently viewed as partial inspiration for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. In particular, allusions are seen between the way in which Austin Powers, like Adamant, is revived from cryogenic sleep and befriended by an attractive woman who had known of his exploits before being frozen. The formula is exactly reversed in Powers, however, in that his partner, Vanessa Kensington, is not impressed with his previous record of service, whereas Georgina Jones is a positive fan of Adamant.
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 single camera 16mm film for the location sequences, and multi-camera studio recording using 625-line electronic cameras. However, 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 (at that time, videotape editing was technologically difficult).
"Ticket to Terror" from the first series, and all of the second series, were made with the usual BBC mix of tape and film, but were edited on 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 35mm film telerecordings, 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 those surviving episodes. The last episode of Series One, "D For Destruction", thought to be among those lost forever, was recovered in 2003, in 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.
Adam Adamant Lives!Label:
Contains the first two episodes of Series One, "A Vintage Year for Scoundrels" and "Death Has a Thousand Faces", the latter replacing the previously considered "The Village of Evil". Although there were rumours of two further releases towards the end of 1991, these did not appear due to poor sales.
Adam Adamant Lives!: The Complete CollectionLabel:
26 July 2006
Five-disc Region 2 DVD box set containing all 17 surviving episodes in digitally re-mastered form. Includes 64-page collector's booklet Adam Adamant Lives!: Viewing Notes, written by Andrew Pixley.
Special Features:This Man is the One: 52-minute documentary featuring Gerald Harper, Juliet Harmer, Verity Lambert and Brian Clemens. Presented by Mark Gatiss.
Commentary Tracks: Available on "A Vintage Year for Scoundrels" and "A Sinister Sort of Service". Featuring Gerald Harper, Juliet Harmer and Verity Lambert.
Adam Adamant's Wheels: 7-minute mini-documentary on Adam Adamant's faithful Mini Cooper S.
Missing Sounds: Audio extract from missing Series Two episode "A Slight Case of Reincarnation".
Outtakes: Filming and studio outtakes from "A Vintage Year for Scoundrels" and "Sing a Song of Murder".
Photo Gallery: 13-minute photo gallery featuring colour and black and white pictures from the series, plus stills from the unbroadcast pilot episode, accompanied by music from the series – including the full version of "The Adam Adamant Theme" performed by Kathy Kirby.
PDFs: (DVD-Rom only. PC/Mac)
– Radio Times
– Full scripts for the 12 missing broadcast episodes
– The Adam Adamant Annual
– TV Comic
, TV Comic Holiday Special
and TV Comic Annual
comic strip stories
Note: On both the VHS and DVD releases, "A Vintage Year for Scoundrels" and "Death Has a Thousand Faces" have had music edits made due to the originally featured tracks by the Rolling Stones not being able to be cleared for commercial release. For the former, "Route 66" was replaced by "Piano Rocket" from the Parry Music Library CD Time Periods 1, while the latter featured "Bye Bye Blues" from the KOK Library CD Pop Era in place of "Now I've Got a Witness" .
The untransmitted pilot episode, "Adam Adamant Lives", now no longer exists in the BBC Archives, and is believed to be lost.
All of Series One is held by the BBC, with the exception of "Ticket to Terror". Series Two has not fared so well, with only "Black Echo" and "A Sinister Sort of Service" in existence.Ep = Episode number within the series
№ = Overall episode number
№ 0: "Adam Adamant Lives" (Not transmitted)
1902 sequence reused in "A Vintage Year for Scoundrels"
* Approximately four minutes from this episode exist on audio tape in a private collection, and is included as part of the Special Features on the DVD release.