The Avengers: Spies of the mod moment
By the time âThe Avengersâ premiered in the States on ABC on March 28, 1966, the stylish, mod British spy series had been fixture on television in its native Britain for five years â and it had gone through almost as many permutations as that other British favorite, âDoctor Who.â - writes Susan King for the LA times
âAvengersâ fans are in for a real treat with a new coffee table book, âThe Avengers: A Celebration,â by Marcus Hearn, featuring a foreword by none other than Patrick Macnee, who was the only constant on the series in his role as John Steed, the super-suave, bowler-wearing secret agent.
About 10,000 images that are in the care of the showâs current-rights holders, CANAL+, were perused until 350 negatives and prints were selected, scanned and digitally restored. In the case of the first season, the photos are a rare surviving record â just two episodes from that premiere year are known to exist on video.
Oddly enough, âThe Avengersâ actually was a stepchild of a short-lived British series called âPolice Surgeon,â which promised âtrue-life drams from a life few knowâ and premiered in September 1960 with Ian Hendry holding the scalpel and Ingrid Hafner as his nurse. That show lasted only 13 weeks, but the head of drama at ABC Television, Sydney Newman, wanted to keep the Hendry-Hafner tandem intact, so a new series was launched called âThe Avengers.â Hendry was on hand as Dr. David Keel, and Hafner was his nurse, Carol Wilson. Added to their world was Macneeâs Steed, the intelligence agent whose investigations pulled the medical duo into encounters with the criminal underworld.
After the first series, Hendry left for a film career, leaving the producers scrambling. Joe Rollason came on board in Season 2 as Dr. Martin King, but he only made it through three low-spark episodes. Enter Honor Blackman, who is best known as Pussy Galore in 1964âs âGoldfinger.â She became the perfect foil for Steed as Mrs. Cathy Gale, a widowed, tough-minded anthropologist. With the addition of Blackman, the series became more outlandish. It was Blackmanâs idea that Gale should know judo to fight the bad guys rather than using a gun.
Blackman later said: âPatrick always used to worry like mad about the fight scenes. He used to say, âWhy donât you fight like me with an umbrella or a sword? But the whole point of âThe Avengersâ was that she was sort of a butch character and he was her cunning companion. Never might the fights, to get Steed to even run anywhere was quite something.â
It was Macneeâs idea that Gale should wear more practical clothes than a dress and heels. So Michael Whittaker designed high boots and leather jump suits for her. Blackman left the series at the conclusion of 1964, and Steed got a new partner who was cut from the same cloth as Gale â Emma Peel. Blonde Elizabeth Shepherd landed the role of Peel, but she only made one episode, âThe Town of No Return,â and half of another episode before she was handed her walking papers. âWe saw the rushes and she wasnât giving us anything,â was the terse appraisal of writer and associate producer Brian Clemens.
Enter Royal Shakespeare Company actress Diana Rigg, who auditioned with 10 or 12 other actresses. As Hearn describes in the book, Rigg was the âkeyâ to this incarnation of the showâs success. Rigg managed to be âboth kittenish and capable as the self-assured Emma Peel.â And she had the most mod wardrobe with her boots, tight black pants, turtlenecks and lots and lots of leather.
By the time the series hit America, it was outlandish fun. Less James Bond and more âMan from U.N.C.L.Eâ (there was even an episode called âOur Girl from Auntieâ) it synched up in spirit with the winking-spy cinema of âOur Man Flintâ with James Coburn and âThe Silencersâ with Dean Martin as agent Matt Helm. And the chemistry between the Macnee and Rigg was pitch-perfect; their characters werenât lovers â her husband had been missing for a long time â but their dialogue was filled with sexual innuendos. More than a few female baby boomers will confess that they coveted the confident cool of Mrs. Peel, while male members of the audience kept their eye on her for different reasons.
But all good things have to come to an end. Rigg desired to leave the show for a film-and-theater career. Their final episode together aired March 20, 1968. The series literally became less âa-Peel-ingâ after Riggâs departure. In fact, it never recovered. A young Canadian actress named Linda Thorson was brought on board as Tara King, a bouncy, more girlish companion for Steed, but it just wasnât the same.
âThe Avengersâ was revived in Britain in 1976 as âThe New Avengersâ with Macnee and a pre -âAbsolutely Fabulousâ Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt as two young agents. The series came America in 1978 as part of CBSâ late-night lineup. Then Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman starred in the horribly misguided feature film version in 1998, but the less said about that the better.
> Discuss this news here...