- Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Tuesday, 2nd January 2018
Popular enough in its day but almost forgotten over the past four decades, the mystery/adventure TV series Adam Adamant Lives! was intended as the BBC’s answer to The Avengers. Both series featured dapper Edwardianesque gents teaming up with groovy young women to combat the outlandish masterminds of fantastically devious schemes.
Adam Adamant, however, distinguished himself from The Avengers’ John Steed in three essential ways. Firstly, he was not simply an Old Etonian spy with a taste for snappy suits, formal courtesies and umbrella fighting, but rather a genuine Victorian-era gentleman-adventurer. In the year 1902, Adamant had been placed in suspended animation by his arch-nemesis, a masked evil-doer known only as “the Face”. Accidentally rediscovered and revived in 1966, the hero resumes his crusade in the name of Queen and Country, assisted by his quickly-acquired manservant, Mr. Simms, and swinging chick Georgina “Georgie” Jones.
The second point of difference is that Adam Adamant, as a gentleman of the belle epoque, could not quite bring himself to believe that the women of the 1960s might be anything other than the virtuous objects of his manly protection. This gallant naiveté frequently resulted in his being duped by villainesses and then knocked cold.
Thirdly, at least when facing male opponents, Adamant exhibited the ruthlessness of his penny dreadful forebears to an extent that might have made even the steely John Steed blanch. While Steed would not hesitate to kill an enemy if required by dire circumstance, he preferred non-lethal options when possible. Adam Adamant, on the other hand, demonstrates a cold-blooded relish for the kill, whether impaling his opponents (typically with the sword concealed in his ever-present cane, occasionally with spears or javelins), hurling them to their doom from great heights as Holmes did to Moriarty, or just slitting their throats:
The fight scenes in Adam Adamant Lives! are typical of their vintage; low budgets led to fast-paced production schedules that seldom allowed time to properly rehearse action sequences, resulting in sometimes imaginative, often energetic, but frequently sloppy and (actually) dangerous fights. However, credit must be given to the fight arrangers who devised Adamant’s signature combat style, which is a Bartitsuesque combination of Queensberry Rules boxing, jiujitsu and fencing, with occasional use of the walking cane itself as a weapon.
Adamant’s formal, extended-guard unarmed stance is a fairly good approximation of late 19th century fisticuffs and he makes frequent and effective use of the classic left lead-off, rather than resorting to the modern jab. His jiujitsu – which must surely have been learned at the Bartitsu Club, given that he lived in central London and was placed in suspended animation the very same year that the Club folded – generally defaults to those techniques that can be learned quickly by a game but over-worked actor and then “sold” by agile stuntmen.
Adam Adamant Lives! lasted for two action-packed seasons but ultimately could not compete with The Avengers. It did, however, inspire the Austin Powers movie series, which updated the concept to feature an action man of the 1960s being cryogenically frozen and then revived during the late 1990s. Those who enjoy ’60s action-adventure with an Edwardian flair should also note that a number of Adam Adamant Lives! episodes are available on YouTube.