TV Thursday: The Avengers (1961- 1969)

In my youth, my Father would often tell me about some of his favorite TV shows, Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and the Prisoner. But his favorite television show was another British creation, the Avengers. The storyline for the series may have been Spy related set during the Cold War but during its long run (The Avengers was the longest running espionage TV series until 24) most of its episode dealt with what some fans of the show have called Spy-Fi.

The main focus on the Avengers was on one John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and his more than capable partners, all of them working as agents for the “Ministry”. Macnee at the beginning of the series wasn’t the star of the show, that honor went to Dr. David Keel (Ian Hendry) who teamed up with Steed when the good Doctor’s office receptionist and fiance, Peggy, was murdered by a drug ring. The first two episodes had Keel and Steed avenging her death, hence the name of the show.

A strike cut short the first series and when the second series was beginning production, Hendry went off to pursue a film career which thrust Macnee in the spotlight. He worked with a rotating series of assistants, Dr. Martin King (Jon Rollason, though he only appeared for three episodes), Venus Smith (Julie Stevens), and Dr. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman). Venus was a nightclub singer and appeared in six episodes, but the last four episodes featuring Dr. Cathy Gale would set the tone for the rest of the series. Gale was an anthropologist who knew the art of Judo and had a liking for leather clothes.

By the beginning of the third series, Venus and Dr. Martin King were dropped with Gale taking on the role of partner to Steed. The writers also established a certain amount of longing between Steed and Dr. Gale but obviously were not allowed to progress anything beyond some flirting and the odd innuendo. Though surprisingly enough it was revealed in an episode, “The Golden Eggs”, that Gale was living at Steed’s flat; her rent was to keep the refrigerator well-stocked and to cook for him. Though it would seem she did neither of those. Though to head off any outrage perhaps it was also stated that the arrangement was merely temporary while Gale looked for her own place and Steed was staying at a hotel.

It should also be noted that Steed during this time was transformed from a typical trench coat wearing agent to his ‘trick’ umbrella carrying, Saville Row suit, and bowler hat sporting gentleman that fans love.

With Season Four in 1965 the series was picked up by ABC television, paying a then-unheard of 2 Million dollars for the first 26 episodes. It was also one of the first British shows to be aired on U.S. prime time TV! The Fourth season also introduced the most popular partners of the series, Ms. Emma Peel, who was played by the absolutely stunning Diana Rigg.

For the American audiences the opening had an additional voice over to help stem some of the confusion concerning the characters and the missions they undertook. Thanks to the all knowing Wikipedia for the description:

“In the opener, a waiter holding a champagne bottle falls dead onto a human-sized chessboard; a dagger protruding from a target on his back. Steed and Mrs. Peel (dressed in her trademark leather catsuit) walk up to the body as the voice over explains: “Extraordinary crimes against the people, and the state, have to be avenged by agents extraordinary. Two such people are John Steed, top professional, and his partner Emma Peel, talented amateur. Otherwise known as The Avengers.” During this voice over, Steed pours two drinks from the wine bottle and Mrs. Peel replaces her gun in her boot. They clink glasses and depart together. Fade to black and then the opening titles proper begin.”

Greater Spy-Fi elements reared its head in the fourth season, like Steed and Peel meeting the Cybernauts.

With the Fifth season the show brought two thing, it began to be shot and broadcast in color, and it signaled the departure of Ms. Peel at the end of its season. The Sixth season would introduce Steed’s latest partner, Tara King (Linda Thorson), who would remain until the end of the run in the series in 1969.

There was one more go at the series in 1978 with the New Avengers, which had Steed working with two new partners, Mike Gambit (Gareth Hunt) and Purdey (Joanna Lumley). It only lasted one season though.

VicSage

Editor at Retroist
Searching through the alleys for useful knowledge in the city of Nostalgia. Huge cinema fanatic and sometimes carrier of the flame for the weirding ways of 80s gaming, toys, and television. When his wife lets him he is quite happy sitting in the corner eating buckets of beef jerky.

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2 thoughts on “TV Thursday: The Avengers (1961- 1969)

  1. mwentworth says:

    This, along with the Prisoner and the first run of Doctor Who are all things I look forward to catching up on. I have only seen a few episodes so far. I never put two and two together before with Macnee in this and as Count Iblis in Battlestar Galactica. He really has a great presence.

  2. Atari Adventure Square says:

    Loved this show and its surrealistic storylines (mostly saw the Emma Peel run).
    Didn’t know about its more down-to-earth origins, but thanks to the DVD outputs, it’s easy to catch up on it.

    Steed and Peel are one of the best duos of the screen, big or small.

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