The Golden Age of TV Tie-ins
Updated: Apr 17
A defence of these old fashioned, much-maligned slices of pulp fiction, from Brindle Books Ltd.'s Director, Richard Hinchliffe.
I suppose many teenagers get out of the habit of reading for fun. I know I did, all those years ago. Reading had become a chore, a thing that you had to do at school, or to research your homework, but not something that you would actually do for fun. No: Fun was something different; climbing trees or plinking away with an air pistol at tin cans, when the weather permitted, or sitting indoors watching television when it was raining or cold.
In a way, it was television that helped me rediscover my love of books. Back in the late 1970’s, there were no DVD players or streaming sites with box sets of your favourite shows. Our household didn’t even have a video recorder at that time. If you were a fan of a particular television programme back in those days, you had no way of getting your fix of your favourite show until the actual time of the next broadcast. Once a week. That was it.
Things were even worse if your favourite show was between seasons or, worse still, cancelled. In my early teens I was still a huge fan of The Man From UNCLE, which had finished broadcasting years before. Other than the occasional Saturday morning showing of the movies and a couple of old, well thumbed, children’s annuals, I had little to feed my interest back then.
It was at about that time that I discovered one of the series TV Tie-in novels. I remember very well the thrill of getting my hands on The Man From UNCLE, Number 7: ‘The Radioactive Camel Affair’ by Peter Leslie. The excitement was palpable. Not only did I have access to a new story featuring my heroes, Solo and Kuryakin, I now knew that there were at least six more stories out there to devour!
Saturday afternoons soon became reserved for scouring second-hand bookshops and market stalls, looking for the rest of the series. As it turned out, an uncle of mine, (ironically), had also been a fan, and had collected the first twelve books in the series, so when he gifted them to me, all in mint condition, I was over the moon! I continued my search for any further titles in the series and eventually tracked down the full set of the UK releases.
Of course, there were some weeks when my searches produced no books in the series, but by now I was hooked on second hand bookshops, and reading about my television heroes. If there were no UNCLE books available, I would almost always find something else to take home and read. There were other television series’ that I watched and enjoyed, and I consumed the TV tie-in novels that I found for other shows like The Avengers, Danger Man, Mannix, Star Trek and Blake’s 7. Back in those days, TV Tie-ins were as close as you could get to binge watching your favourite show.
It was also through my searches that I discovered other works, not connected with a television show. When there were no TV Tie-ins to be had, I would look for something in a similar genre. It was through these searches that I discovered Peter O’Donnel’s magnificent Modesty Blaise, Gardner’s Boysie Oakes, and Sapir and Murphy’s Destroyer series. I might not have been reading literary classics at that time, but I was reading for fun!
It’s very easy to dismiss the TV Tie-ins as low-brow and simply a cash-in. Yes, some of the stories seemed to be by-the-numbers, some of them also bore little resemblance to the television shows that they were promoting. I must confess, I occasionally wondered if the author had ever even watched the show, with some of the situations and character’s actions. On the other hand, there were some authors who became so respected by fans that their entries into the series’ have become more or less accepted as canon. The perfect example of this being David McDaniel’s entries in The Man From UNCLE series. Ask any die hard UNCLE fan what THRUSH stands for and their answer* will come from a David McDaniel book, and not from the series creators.
The main point here is that something that gets young people reading, and more importantly, actually enjoying reading, should not be dismissed out of hand. If I had not gone to those bookshops in search of those Man From UNCLE titles, there is every possibility that I would not have developed the love of reading that led me, eventually, to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Orwell, Terence Hanbury White, Sir Thomas Mallory and many others. Perhaps it’s time that we all stopped looking down our noses at the pulp adventures, kiss-and-tell memoirs and risque pot boilers in the hands of the person sat across from us on the train.
So, what's your favourite 'low-brow' literature guilty pleasure?
(* Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity).