One elegant spy. Three femme fatales. A dash of diabolical masterminds. Nineteen gallons of Champagne.
What was it about?
When Dr David Keel’s fiancée is murdered, Keel teams up with the mysterious John Steed in order to bring the killers to justice. It was only when Steed allied with judo fighting, leather wearing anthropologist Cathy Gale that the show took on the formula it is most recognised for- a gentleman spy and a talented lady amateur against an increasingly bizarre underworld.
Power-mad conspirators, deadly automata and danger in the countryside – with an eccentric edge – became staples for the series, whose imagery reaches down the years.
Who was in it?
John Steed (Patrick Macnee) headed the series’ eight year run, initially second fiddle to Dr Keel (Ian Hendry).
Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) was an immediate sex symbol, and her successor, kung-fu fighting business head Mrs Emma Peel (Dame Diana Rigg), catapulted the series into immortal popularity. Rounding out the series was spy-in-training Tara King (Linda Thorson), a ferocious brawler with a streak of innocence.
High profile guest stars flocked to The Avengers including Christopher Lee, Charlotte Rampling, Ronnie Barker, Julian Glover, Geoffrey Palmer and Peter Bowles.
There’s the nail biting stand-off in ‘Man With Two Shadows’, in which Cathy holds a gun on Steed and questions him to see if he’s been replaced with a doppelganger – and Steed gets all the answers wrong. Steed limping to Mrs Peel’s rescue in ‘The Joker’ is a punch-the-air moment for the series. Tara steals the show in ‘All Done With Mirrors’, being thrown off a cliff before taking out a lighthouse full of henchmen single-handed.
Probably the most memorable – and uncharacteristically moving – scene is the departure of Mrs Peel. I shan’t spell out the wherefores of it – suffice it to say that, once filming wrapped, Patrick Macnee simply returned to his dressing room and cried.
Steed and Tara were last seen rocketing into the stratosphere – quite literally – in 1969. Revivals for stage in 1971 and South African radio in 1974 saw new casts and moderate success.
Macnee finally returned to the role in The New Avengers. Now flanked by Purdey (the breakout role for Joanna Lumley) and Mike Gambit (the greatly missed Gareth Hunt), the three battled threats on native and foreign shores for 26 episodes in 1976-77.
Aborted reboots followed into the 1980s; Escapade, The Avengers International and The Avenging Angel (with Mel Gibson as Steed).
1998 finally saw the infamous Golden Raspberry award-winning feature film (Worst Remake), featuring Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and Sean Connery (far worse than his performance in Zardoz).
Despite a warm welcome for the newly restored DVDs, there’s no word on another resurgence for The Avengers.
Whilst it would be wonderful to have more unabashedly unusual adventures, many have argued that The Avengers without Macnee (now 90) wouldn’t work. Some go further and say The Avengers divorced from the 1960s would lose its whole identity.
What are you favourite memories of The Avengers? Let us know below…