Avengers is a spy-fi British television series created in the 1960s.
The Avengers initially focused on Dr. David Keel (Ian Hendry) and his
assistant John Steed (Patrick Macnee). Hendry left after the first
series and Steed became the main character, partnered with a
succession of assistants. Steed's most famous assistants were
intelligent, stylish and assertive women: Cathy Gale (Honor
Blackman), Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), and later Tara King (Linda Thorson).
Later episodes increasingly
incorporated elements of science fiction and fantasy, parody and
British eccentricity. The Avengers ran from 1961 until 1969,
screening as one hour episodes its entire run.
Six series (seasons) of The
Avengers were made between 1961 and 1969. There was an enforced break
in filming and transmission towards the end of series five due to
financial problems. Television researcher Andrew Pixley and authors
Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping in their book The Avengers
Dossier: The Unauthorised and Unofficial Guide consider the last
eight episodes produced after the break as constituting a short
series six, and therefore count seven series in total. Within the
internal production of The Avengers the last eight episodes were
considered to be a continuation of series five. All original
videotapes from series one, two and three, which were shot on video,
were wiped. Only two complete episodes from the show's first series
are known to exist, as 16mm film telerecordings. These are "The
Frighteners", an extract of which is playing on a television in
the film Quadrophenia, and "Girl on the Trapeze", which was
found in the UCLA Film and Television Archive via an internet search
of their on-line database. Part of the show's first episode was found
in the United States. The footage is of the episode's first 21
minutes, up to the first commercial break. All series two and three
episodes survive as 16mm telerecordings. These have been released to
DVD, as have all of the Emma Peel and Tara King episodes, which were
shot on film. The two surviving complete Keel episodes, plus the
remnant of the first episode, have also been released in the UK and
US, but are not currently available in the US.
The Avengers was produced
by ABC Television, a contractor within the ITV network. After a
merger in July 1968 ABC Television became Thames Television, which
continued production of the series although it was still broadcast
under the ABC name. By 1969 The Avengers was shown in more than 90
countries. ITV produced a sequel series The New Avengers
(19761977) with Patrick Macnee returning as John Steed, and two
new partners. In 2007 The Avengers was ranked #20 on TV Guide's Top
Cult Shows Ever.
1961: With Dr David Keel
The Avengers began in the episode Hot
Snow, with medical doctor, Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry), investigating
the murder by a drug ring of his fiancée and office
receptionist Peggy. A stranger named John Steed, who was
investigating the ring, appeared and together they set out to avenge
her death in the first two episodes. Afterwards, Steed asked Keel to
partner him as needed to solve crimes.
The Avengers followed Hendry's Police
Surgeon, in which he played police surgeon Geoffrey Brent. While
Police Surgeon did not last long, viewers praised Hendry. Hendry was
considered the star of the new series, receiving top billing over
Macnee, and Steed did not appear in two episodes.
As the series progressed, Steed's
importance increased, and he carried the final episode solo. While
Steed and Keel used wit while discussing crimes and dangers, the
series also depicted the interplayand often tensionbetween
Keel's idealism and Steed's professionalism. As seen in one of the
two surviving episodes from the first series, "The
Frighteners", Steed also had helpers among the population who
provided information, similar to the "Baker Street
Irregulars" of Sherlock Holmes.
The other regular in the first series was
Carol Wilson (Ingrid Hafner), the nurse and receptionist who replaced
the slain Peggy. Carol assisted Keel and Steed in cases, without
being part of Steed's inner circle. Hafner had played opposite Hendry
as a nurse in Police Surgeon.
The series was shot on 405-line videotape
using a multicamera setup. There was little provision for editing and
virtually no location footage (although the very first shot of the
first episode consisted of location footage). As was standard
practice at the time, videotapes of early episodes of The Avengers
were reused. Of the first series, two complete episodes still exist,
as 16 mm film telerecordings. One of the episodes remaining does not
feature Steed. The first 15 minutes of the first episode also exists
as a telerecording; the extant footage ends at the conclusion of the
first act, prior to the introduction of John Steed.
196264: With Cathy
Gale (Honor Blackman),
Production of the first series was cut
short by a strike. By the time production could begin on the second
series, Hendry had quit to pursue a film career. Macnee was promoted
to star and Steed became the focus of the series, initially working
with a rotation of three different partners. Dr Martin King (Jon
Rollason), a thinly disguised rewriting of Keel, saw action in only
three episodes produced from scripts written for the first series.
King was intended to be a transitional character between Keel and
Steed's two new female partners, but while the Dr. King episodes were
shot first, they were shown out of production order in the middle of
the season. The character was thereafter quickly and quietly dropped.
singer Venus Smith (played by Julie Stevens pictured right) appeared
in six episodes. She was a complete "amateur", meaning that
she did not have any professional crime-fighting skills as did the
two doctors. She was excited to be participating in a "spy"
adventure alongside secret agent Steed (although at least one
episode"The Removal Men"indicates she is not
always enthusiastic). Nonetheless, she appears to be attracted to him
and their relationship appears similar to that later displayed
between Steed and Tara King. Her episodes featured musical interludes
showcasing her singing performances. The character of Venus underwent
some revision during her run, adopting more youthful demeanour and dress.
The first episode broadcast in the second
series had introduced the partner who would change the show into the
format for which it is most remembered. Honor Blackman played Dr
Cathy Gale, a self-assured, quick-witted anthropologist who was
skilled in judo and had a passion for wearing leather clothes.
Widowed during the Mau Mau years in Kenya, she was the "talented
amateur" who saw her aid to Steed's cases as a service to her
nation. Gale was said to have been born 5 October 1930 at midnight,
and was raised in Africa. Gale was early-to-mid 30s during her
tenure, in contrast to female characters in similar series who tended
to be younger.
was unlike any female character seen before on British TV and became
a household name. Reportedly, part of her charm came from the fact
that her earliest appearances were episodes in which dialogue written
for Keel was simply transferred to her. Said series script writer
Dennis Spooner "there's the famous story of how Honor Blackman
played Ian Hendry's part, which is why they stuck her in leather and
suchit was so much cheaper than changing the lines!"
Venus Smith did not return for the third
series and Cathy Gale became Steed's only regular partner. The series
established a level of sexual tension between Steed and Gale, but the
writers were not allowed to go beyond flirting and innuendo. Despite
this the relationship between Steed and Gale was progressive for
196263. In "The Golden Eggs" it is revealed that Gale
lived in Steed's flat; her rent according to Steed was to keep the
refrigerator well-stocked and to cook for him (she appears to do
neither). However, this was said to be a temporary arrangement while
Gale looked for a new home, and Steed was sleeping at a hotel.
During the first series there were hints
Steed worked for a branch of British Intelligence, and this was
expanded in the second series. Steed initially received orders from
different superiors, including someone referred to as
"Charles", and "One-Ten" (Douglas Muir). By the
third series the delivery of Steed's orders was not depicted on
screen or explained. In "The Nutshell" the secret
organisation to which Steed belongs is shown, and it is Gale's first
visit to their HQ.
Small references to Steed's background
were occasionally made. In series three's "Death of a
Batman" it was said that Steed was with I Corps in World War II,
and in Munich in 1945. In series four episode "The Hour That
Never Was" Steed goes to a reunion of his RAF regiment.
A film version of the series was in its
initial planning stages by late 1963 after series three was
completed. An early story proposal paired Steed and Gale with a male
and female duo of American agents, to make the movie appeal to the
American market. Before the project could gain momentum Blackman was
cast opposite Sean Connery in Goldfinger, requiring her to leave the series.
the Gale era, Steed was transformed from a rugged trenchcoat-wearing
agent into the stereotypical English gentleman, complete with Savile
Row suit, bowler hat and umbrella with clothes later designed by
Pierre Cardin. (The bowler and umbrella were full of tricks,
including a sword hidden within the umbrella handle and a steel plate
concealed in the hat.) These items were referred to in the French,
German and Polish titles of the series, Chapeau melon et bottes de
cuir ("Bowler hat and leather boots"), Mit Schirm, Charme
und Melone ("With Umbrella, Charm and Bowler Hat") and
Rewolwer i melonik ("A Revolver and a Bowler Hat"),
respectively. With his impeccable manners, old world sophistication,
and vintage automobiles, Steed came to represent the traditional
Englishman of an earlier era.
By contrast his partners were youthful,
forward-looking, and always dressed in the latest mod fashions.
Gale's innovative leather outfits suited her many athletic fight
scenes. Honor Blackman became a star in Britain with her black
leather outfits and boots (nicknamed "kinky boots") and her
judo-based fighting style. Macnee and Blackman even released a
novelty song called "Kinky Boots". Some of the clothes seen
in The Avengers were designed at the studio of John Sutcliffe who
published the AtomAge fetish magazine.
script writer Dennis Spooner said that the series would frequently
feature Steed visiting busy public places such as the main airport in
London, without anyone else present in the scene. "'Can't you
afford extras?' they'd ask. Well it wasn't like that; it's just that
Steed had to be alone to be accepted. Put him in a crowd and he
sticks out like a sore thumb! Let's face it, with normal people he's
weird. The trick to making him acceptable is never to show him in a
normal world, just fighting villains who are odder than he is!"
In a 1965 episode of The Avengers, titled
"Too Many Christmas Trees", John Steed received his
Christmas cards, one of which was from Cathy. "A card from Mrs
Gale!", Steed exclaims in delight. Then, reading the
inscription, he says in a puzzled voice, "Whatever can she be
doing at Fort Knox...?". It was an inside joke, as Blackman was
filming Goldfinger at the time playing Pussy Galore.
Bond film producer Albert R. Broccoli
admitted that Blackman had been cast on the back of her success in
The Avengers, despite the fact that the American audience had never
even seen the programme. Broccoli said, "The Brits would love
her because they knew her as Mrs. Gale, the Yanks would like her
because she was so good, it was a perfect combination". Blackman
was the first of two "Bond girls" older than the actor
playing James Bond, and she was the oldest actress ever to play a
British Espionage/Fantasy/Spy-fi TV Series
6 Series, 161 Episodes
ITV/ABC/Thames 1961 1969
Sequel: The New Avengers
26 Episodes 1976 1977
196568: With Emma
Peel (Diana Rigg)
In 1965 the show was sold to United States
network, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). The Avengers became
one of the first British series to be aired on prime time U.S.
television. The ABC network paid the then-unheard of sum of $2
million for the first 26 episodes. The average budget for each
episode was reportedly £56,000, high for the British industry.
The fourth series aired in the U.S. from March to December 1966.
Previously The Avengers had been shot on
405-line videotape using a multicamera setup, with very little
provision for editing and virtually no location footage. The U.S.
deal meant that the producers could afford to start shooting the
series on 35mm film. The use of film rather than videotape was
essential, as British 405-line video was technically incompatible
with the U.S. NTSC videotape format. Filmed productions were standard
on U.S. prime time television at that time. The Avengers continued to
be produced in black and white.
The transfer to film meant that episodes
would be shot using the single camera setup, giving the production
greater flexibility. The videotaped episodes had looked cheap and
studio bound. The use of film production and the single camera
production style allowed more sophisticated visuals and camera angles
and more outdoor location shots, all of which greatly improved the
look of the series. As was standard on British television filmed
production through the 1960s, all location work on series four was
shot mute with the soundtrack created in post production. Dialogue
scenes were filmed in the studio, leading to some jumps between
location and studio footage.
female partner Mrs Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) debuted in this series, in
October 1965. The name of the character derived from a comment by
writers, during development, that they wanted a character with
"man appeal". In an early attempt to incorporate this
concept into the character's name, she was called "Samantha
Peel", shortened to the awkward "Mantha Peel".
Eventually the writers began referring to the idea by the verbal
shorthand, "M. Appeal" which gave rise to the character's
ultimate name. Emma Peel, whose husband went missing while flying
over the Amazon, retained the self-assuredness of Gale, combined with
superior fighting skills, intelligence, and a contemporary fashion sense.
After more than 60 actresses had been
auditioned, the first choice to play the role was Elizabeth Shepherd.
However, after filming one and a half episodes, Shepherd was
released. Her on-screen personality was deemed less interesting than
that of Blackman's Gale and it was decided she was not right for the
role. Another 20 actresses were auditioned before the show's casting
director suggested that producers Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell
check out a televised drama featuring the relatively unknown Rigg.
Her screen test with Macnee showed that the two immediately worked
well together, and a new era in Avengers history began.
A prologue was added to the beginning of
all the fourth series episodes for the American transmissions. This
was to clarify some initial confusion audiences had regarding the
characters and their mission. 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.
In contrast to the Gale episodes, there
was a lighter, comic touch in Steed and Peel's interactions with each
other and their reactions to other characters and situations. Earlier
series had a harder tone, with the Gale era including some quite
serious espionage dramas. This almost completely disappeared as Steed
and Peel visibly enjoyed topping each other's witticisms. The layer
of conflict with Gale who on occasion openly resented being
used by Steed, often without her permission was absent from
Steed's interaction with Peel. Also the sexual tension between Steed
and Gale was not present with Peel. In both cases, the exact
relationship between the partners was left ambiguous, although they
seemed to have carte blanche to visit each other's homes whenever
they pleased and it was not uncommon for scenes to suggest Steed had
spent the night at Gale's or Peel's home, or vice-versa. Although
nothing "improper" was displayed, the obviously
much closer chemistry between Steed and Peel constantly suggests
intimacy between the two. Science fiction fantasy elements (a style
later known as Spy-fi) emerged in stories. The duo encountered killer
robots ("The Cybernauts") and giant alien carnivorous
plants ("The Man-Eater of Surrey Green").
In her fourth episode, "Death at
Bargain Prices", Mrs Peel takes an undercover job at a
department store. Her uniform for promoting space-age toys is an
elaborate leather catsuit plus silver boots, sash, and welder's
gloves. The suit minus the silver accessories became her signature
outfit, which she wore primarily for fight scenes, in early episodes,
and in the titles. There was a fetishistic undercurrent in some
episodes. In "A Touch of Brimstone" Mrs Peel dressed in a
dominatrix outfit of corset, laced boots and spiked collar to become
the "Queen of Sin".
Peel's avant-garde fashions, featuring
bold accents and high-contrast geometric patterns, emphasized her
youthful, contemporary personality. She represented the modern
England of the Sixties just as Steed, with his vintage style
and mannerisms, personified Edwardian era nostalgia. According to
Macnee in his book The Avengers and Me, Rigg disliked wearing leather
and insisted on a new line of fabric athletic wear for the fifth series.
Alun Hughes, who had designed clothing for
Diana Rigg's personal wardrobe, was suggested by the actress to
design Emma Peel's "softer" new wardrobe. Pierre Cardin was
brought in to design a new wardrobe for Macnee. In America, TV Guide
ran a four-page photospread on Rigg's new "Emmapeeler"
outfits (1016 June 1967). Eight tight-fitting jumpsuits in a
variety of bright colors were created using the stretch fabric crimplene.
memorable feature of the show from this point onwards was its
automobiles. Steed's signature cars were vintage 19261928
Bentley racing or town cars, including Blower Bentleys and Bentley
Speed Sixes (although, uniquely, in "The Thirteenth Hole"
he drives a Vauxhall 30/98), while Peel drove a sporty Lotus Elan
convertible which, like her clothes, emphasized her independence and
vitality. During the first Peel series, each episode ended with a
short, comedic scene of the duo leaving the scene of their most
recent adventure in some unusual vehicle.
After one filmed series (of 26 episodes)
in black and white, The Avengers began filming in colour for the
fifth series in 1966. It was three years before Britain's ITV network
began full colour broadcasting.
This series was broadcast in the U.S. from
January to May 1967. The American prologue of the previous series was
rejigged for the colour episodes. It opened with the caption The
Avengers In Color (required by ABC for colour series at that time).
This was followed by Steed unwrapping the foil from a champagne
bottle and Peel shooting the cork away. (Unlike the
"chessboard" opening of the previous series, this new
prologue was also included in UK broadcasts of the series.)
first 16 episodes of the fifth series begin with Peel receiving a
call-to-duty message from Steed: "Mrs Peel, we're needed."
Peel was conducting her normal activities when she unexpectedly
received a message on a calling card or within a delivered gift, at
which point Steed suddenly appeared (usually in her apartment). The
messages were delivered by Steed in increasingly bizarre ways as the
series progressed: in a newspaper Peel had just bought, or on traffic
lights while she was out driving. On one occasion Steed appeared on
her television set, interrupting an old science-fiction movie
(actually clips from their Year Four episode "The
Cybernauts") to call her to work. Another way Steed contacted
her was in the beginning of episode 13, "A Funny Thing Happened
On The Way To The Station" when she enters her flat and sees a
Meccano Percy the Small Engine going around a circular track with a
note on one of the train cars that says "Mrs. Peel" in bold
letters, she then walks over to Steed who says "you're
needed". At the start of "The Hidden Tiger" Peel is
redecorating her apartment (wearing a jumpsuit and drinking
champagne); she peels off a strip of wallpaper, revealing the words
"Mrs Peel" painted on the wall beneath. She turns to see
Steed in the apartment removing another strip of wallpaper, revealing
"We're needed" painted underneath on another wall. In
another instance Emma enters Steed's flat to find he has just fallen
down the stairs, and he painfully gasps, "Mrs Peel, you're
needed." Often the episode's tag scene returned to the situation
of the "Mrs Peel, we're needed" scene. "The Hidden
Tiger" returns to the partially redecorated apartment where
Steed begins painting a love heart and arrow and the initials of two
people on the wall, but paints over the initials when Peel sees his
graffiti. In "The Superlative Seven" the call to duty and
the tag both involve a duck shooting situation where unexpected items
fall from the sky after shots are fired.
The series also introduced a comic
tag line caption to the episode title, using the format of "Steed
[does this], Emma [does that]." For example "The
Joker" had the opening caption: "Steed trumps an ace, Emma
plays a lone hand".
"Mrs Peel, we're needed" scenes and the alternate tag
lines were dropped after the first 16 episodes, after a break in
production, for financial reasons. They were deemed by the U.K.
networks as disposable if The Avengers was to return to ITV screens.
(Dave Rogers' book The Avengers Anew lists a set for every Steed/Peel
episode except "The Forget-Me-Knot".)
Stories were increasingly characterised by
a futuristic, science fiction bent, with mad scientists and their
creations leaving havoc. The duo dealt with being shrunk to doll size
("Mission... Highly Improbable"), pet cats being
electrically altered into ferocious and lethal "miniature
tigers" ("The Hidden Tiger"), killer automata
("Return of The Cybernauts"), mind-transferring machines
("Who's Who???"), and invisible foes ("The See-Through Man").
The series parodied its American
contemporaries with episodes such as "The Girl From AUNTIE",
"Mission... Highly Improbable" and "The Winged
Avenger" (spoofing The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible
and Batman, respectively). The show still carried the basic format
Steed and his associate were charged with solving the problem
in the space of a 50-minute episode, thus preserving the safety of
Comedy was evident in the names and
acronyms of the organizations. For example, in "The Living
Dead", two rival groups examine reported ghost sightings: FOG
(Friends Of Ghosts) and SMOG (Scientific Measurement Of Ghosts).
"The Hidden Tiger" features the Philanthropic Union for
Rescue, Relief and Recuperation of CatsPURRRled by
characters named Cheshire, Manx, and Angora.
The series also occasionally adopted a
metafictional tone, coming close to breaking the fourth wall. In the
series 5 episode "Something Nasty in the Nursery" Peel
directly references the series' storytelling convention of having
potentially helpful sources of information killed off just before she
or Steed arrive. This then occurs a few minutes later. In the tag
scene for the same episode, Steed and Peel tell viewers
indirectly to tune in next week.
Rigg was initially unhappy with the way
she was treated by the show's producers. During her first series she
learned she was being paid less than the camera man. She demanded a
raise, to put her more on a par with her co-star, or she would leave
the show. The producers gave in, thanks to the show's great
popularity in the US.
At the end of the fifth series in 1967,
Rigg left to pursue other projects. This included following Honor
Blackman to play a leading role in a James Bond film, in this case On
Her Majesty's Secret Service.
When Diana Rigg left the series in October
1967, the British network executives decided that the current series
formula, despite resulting in popular success, could not be pursued
further. Thus they decided that a "return to realism" was
appropriate for the sixth series (196869). Brian Clemens and
Albert Fennel were replaced by John Bryce, producer of most of the
Cathy Gale-era episodes.
had a difficult situation in hand. He had to find a replacement for
Diana Rigg and shoot the first seven episodes of the new series,
which were supposed to be shipped to America together with the last
eight Emma Peel colour episodes.
Bryce signed his then-girlfriend,
20-year-old newcomer Linda Thorson, as the new female costar and
chose the name "Tara King" for her character. Thorson
played the role with more innocence in mind and at heart; and unlike
the previous partnerships with Cathy and Emma, the writers allowed
subtle hints of romance to blossom between Steed and King. King also
differed from Steed's previous partners in that she was a fully
fledged (albeit initially inexperienced) agent working for Steed's
organisation; his previous partners had all been (in the words of the
prologue used for American broadcasts of the first Rigg series)
talented amateurs. Bryce wanted Tara to be blonde, so Thorson's brown
hair was bleached. However the process badly damaged Thorson's hair,
so she had to wear wigs for the first third of her episodes, until
her own hair grew back. Her natural brown hair was not seen until the
episode "All Done with Mirrors".
Production of the first seven episodes of
the sixth series began. However financial problems and internal
difficulties undermined Bryce's effort. He only managed to complete
three episodes: "Invitation to a Killing" (a 90-minute
episode introducing Tara King), "The Great, Great Britain
Crime" (some of its original footage was reused in the 1969
episode "Homicide and Old Lace") and "Invasion of the
Earthmen" (which survived relatively intact except for the
scenes in which Tara wears a brown wig.)
a rough cut screening of these episodes to studio executives, Bryce
was fired and Clemens and Fennel were summoned back. At their return,
a fourth episode called "The Murderous Connection" was in
its second day of production. After revising the script, it was
renamed as "The Curious Case of the Countless Clues" and
production was resumed. Production of the episode "Split!",
a leftover script from the Emma Peel colour series, proceeded. Two
completely new episodes were also shot: "Get-A-Way", and
"Look (Stop Me If You've Heard This One) But There Were These
Dennis Spooner said of the event that
"Brian left The Avengers for about three episodes, someone took
over, and when Brian came back, it was in a terrible state. He was
faced with doing a rewrite on a film they'd already shot." The
episode had a story error where Steed leaves for a destination. The
villains then realise this and pursue him yet arrive there
before Steed does. It was fixed by having a character ask Steed 'What
took you so long?', to which he replies 'I came the pretty way'.
"You can only do that on The Avengers you see. It was just my
favourite show to work on."
Clemens and Fennel decided to film a new
episode to introduce Tara King. This, the third episode filmed for
the sixth series, was titled "The Forget-Me-Knot" and bade
farewell to Emma Peel and introduced her successor, a trained but
inexperienced agent named Tara King. It would be broadcast as the
first episode of the sixth series. Tara debuts in dynamic style: when
Steed is called to Headquarters, he is attacked and knocked down by
trainee agent King who mistakes him for her training partner.
No farewell scenes for Emma Peel had been
shot when Diana Rigg left the series. Rigg was recalled for "The
Forget-Me-Knot", through which Emma acts as Steed's partner as
usual. Rigg also filmed a farewell scene for Emma which appeared as
the tag scene of the episode. It was explained that Emma's husband,
Peter Peel, was found alive and rescued, and she left the British
secret service to be with him. Emma visits Steed to say goodbye, and
while leaving she passes Tara on the stairway giving the advice that
"He likes his tea stirred anti-clockwise." Steed looks out
the window as a departing Emma enters the Bentley driven by Peter
who from a distance seems to resemble Steed (and was played by
Patrick Macnee, wearing a bowler hat and umbrella).
Bryce's original episode introducing Tara,
"Invitation to a Killing", was revised as a regular
60-minute episode named "Have Guns Will Haggle". These
episodes, together with "Invasion of the Earthmen" and the
last eight Peel colour episodes, were shipped to America in February 1968.
this series the government official who gave Steed his orders was
depicted on screen. Mother, introduced in "The
Forget-Me-Knot", is a man in a wheelchair. The role was taken by
Patrick Newell (pictured left) who had played different roles in two
earlier episodes, most recently in series five. Mother's headquarters
would shift from place to place, including one episode where his
complete office was on the top level of a double-decker bus. (Several
James Bond films of the 1970s would make use of a similar gimmick for
Added later as a regular was Mother's mute
Amazonian assistant, Rhonda (Rhonda Parker). There was one appearance
by an agency official code-named "Father", a blind older
woman played by Iris Russell. (Russell had appeared in the series
several times previously in other roles.) In one episode,
"Killer", Steed is paired with Lady Diana Forbes Blakeney
(Jennifer Croxton) while King is on holiday.
Scriptwriter Dennis Spooner later
reflected on this series. "When I wrote "Look (Stop Me If
You've Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers", that
was definitely the last series. They were going to make no more, so
in that series we went right over the top; we went really weird,
because they knew there weren't going to be any more."
said the series "worked because it became a parody on itself,
almost. You can only do that so long." Overall he attributes the
success of the show to its light approach. "We spoofed
everything, we took Mission: Impossible, Bad Day at Black Rock, High
Noon, The Dirty Dozen, The Birds... we took them all. The film buffs
used to love it. There were always lines in it that people knew what
we were talking about."
Vehicle wise, Steed continued to drive
vintage green Bentleys in the first seven episodes in production. His
regular transport for the remainder of the series were two yellow
Rolls-Royce cars. Mother also occasionally appeared in silver Rolls-Royces.
Tara King drove an AC 428 and a Lotus Europa. Lady Diana Forbes
Blakeney drove an MGC Roadster.
The revised series continued to be
broadcast in America. The episodes with Linda Thorson as King proved
to be highly rated in Europe and the UK. In the United States
however, the ABC network that carried the series chose to air it
opposite the number one show in the country at the time, Rowan and
Martin's Laugh-In. Steed and King could not compete, and the show was
cancelled in the US. Without this vital commercial backing,
production could not continue in Britain either, and the series ended
in May 1969. The final scene of the final episode
("Bizarre") has Steed and King, champagne glasses in hand,
accidentally launching themselves into orbit aboard a rocket, as
Mother breaks the fourth wall and says to the audience, "They'll
be back!" before adding in shock, "They're unchaperoned up there!"
The New Avengers
The New Avengers is a British secret agent
fantasy adventure television series produced during 1976 and 1977. It
is a sequel to the 1960s series, The Avengers (created by Sydney
Newman) and was developed by original series producers Albert Fennell
and Brian Clemens.
The series was produced by The Avengers
(Film and TV) Enterprises Ltd for the ITV network, cost £125,000
per episode to produce at Pinewood Studios in England and was seen in
UK-France-Canada co-production, the series picks up the adventures
of John Steed (again played by Patrick Macnee) as he and his team of
"Avengers" fight evil plots and world domination. Whereas
in the original series Steed had almost always been partnered with a
woman, in the new series he had two partners: Mike Gambit (Gareth
Hunt), a top agent, crack marksman and trained martial artist, and
Purdey (Joanna Lumley), a former trainee with The Royal Ballet (to
which she ascribed the high-kicking skills she frequently used in the
series) who was an amalgam of many of the best talents from Steed's
female partners in The Avengers. As he did for most of the original
series, Steed is once again acting without a direct superior
in many ways his character takes on the duties of 'Mother' from the
Tara King era of the 1960s series. Steed is seen as the mentor to
Gambit and Purdey, taking on a paternal role towards them (especially
in the episode "Hostage"). Gambit is the athletic action
hero, while Purdey incorporates the wit and fighting skills of her
predecessors. The verbal interplay between Gambit and Purdey, with
her humorously keeping his romantic advances at bay, harks back to
the Steed/Gale era of the original Avengers.
One reason for the addition of Gambit was
the question of whether Macnee, at age 53 when the series began
production, could handle the potential stuntwork and action scenes.
Macnee was able to increase his role's visibility as the series
progressed, losing weight to improve his athleticism and 'keep up'
with his new partners.
The first series featured several episodes
using science fiction themes similar to those of the classic
"Emma Peel" Avengers era. The new trio had to deal with
suspended animation ("The Eagle's Nest"), biological
warfare ("The Midas Touch"), robotics ("The Last of
The Cybernauts?"), mind transfer ("Three-Handed Game")
and even a giant rat ("Gnaws", a title patterned after the
hit movie Jaws). Second series episodes featured science fiction
elements, such as the artificially-intelligent super-computer of
"Complex", the Russian soldiers revived from suspended
animation in "K is for Kill", the submersible Russian
community in "Forward Base" and the super humans of
"The Gladiators". Other episodes of that season dealt with
more realistic plots.
Avengers and The New Avengers scriptwriter Dennis Spooner said that
at the end of its run The Avengers had gone as far as it could in
terms of parody. For this reason Brian Clemens intentionally aimed
for real stories and straight, Len Deighton-type spy stories in The
New Avengers. Spooner said "It's no good saying 'I don't like
The New Avengers so much, because it wasn't like the old show',
because it never could have been. We did everything we did the
kitchen sink! and there was no way of going back on it."
When reminded of his The New Avengers script "Gnaws"
Spooner admitted that "Well, yes, towards the end we relaxed a
bit!" Some of the storylines used in the series were recycled
from earlier scripts penned by Clemens or Spooner from other series.
Medium Rare was based on the (British) Thriller episode Murder in
Mind and Gnaws was based on the Thunderbirds story "Attack of
An attempt to get Diana Rigg to appear as
Emma Peel in the new series was unsuccessful, although old footage of
her on the phone from two 1960s episodes of The Avengers ("The
Winged Avenger" and "The Hidden Tiger") were used to
allow the character to make a cameo appearance in the episode "K
Is For Kill Part One: The Tiger Awakes": actress Sue Lloyd
provided the voice of Mrs Peel for these sequences. Ian Hendry, who
played Steed's original partner, David Keel, also guest-starred in
one episode, "To Catch A Rat", playing a different role.
"Obsession" features two of the stars of the Brian
Clemens/Albert Fennell British crime-fighting action series The
Professionals: Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins.
Two series totalling 26 episodes were
produced, which were aired on CBS in the United States, CTV in
Canada, ITV in Britain, RTÉ in Ireland, TF1 in France and in
syndication elsewhere. Laurie Johnson, who had composed the theme for
the original Avengers series (starting with the Emma Peel era in
1965, at least), returned to compose a new, updated theme for the
revival, although it begins with the same fanfare as the original.
In order to complete the planned 26
episodes, finance was sought from other sources. Production company
Nielsen Ferns came on board but was understandably keen to promote
its home country, so the final four stories, titled The New Avengers
in Canada on the caption card preceding each episode, saw the action
move to Toronto, Ontario (with scenes for the episode "Forward
Base" shot at Ward's Island). By this time Brian Clemens was
heavily committed to another project, The Professionals for LWT and
control of the series passed to a largely local crew. The results
attracted heavy criticism, from fans and from Clemens himself.
The financial problems continued and plans
for a third series were abandoned. Subsequently, however, strong
sales to many countries notably CBS in the United States
saw two attempts to revive the show (in 1979 and 1980), though co-financing
arrangements proved impossible to agree upon.
Clemens was invited to write a pilot for Quinn Martin Productions.
Entitled Escapade, the pilot episode was broadcast on CBS in 1978 and
starred Granville Van Dusen and Morgan Fairchild as Joshua and Suzy
Gambit and Purdey equivalents. It was not picked up as a series.
In 1994 Joanna Lumley and
Gareth Hunt publicised the launch of the series on domestic
videocassette. Sales were stronger than expected, prompting Brian
Clemens to consider reuniting the two actors in a "spin-off"
series. Although both were keen to participate and a script was
written, plans stalled at an early stage for undisclosed reasons.
Lumley would later star as Sapphire in the science-fiction fantasy
series Sapphire & Steel with former Man From U.N.C.L.E. David
McCallum as Steel. Conceived as ITV's answer to Doctor Who, Lumley
and McCallum played mysterious elemental beings dealing with breaches
in the fabric of time. Over a decade later Lumley would play her most
famous character, the louche, solipsistic and frequently drunken
fashion director Patsy Stone, companion to Jennifer Saunders' Edina
Monsoon in the classic BBC comedy television series Absolutely Fabulous.
A number of original novels based on the
series were published in the 1960s. The first by Douglas Enefer, was
the only 60s novel to feature Cathy Gale. Four novels written by John
Garforth featuring Emma Peel in 1967. Later one featuring Emma Peel
and four featuring Tara King were published for the US market only.
Re-prints of all nine novels with new covers featured photos of both
Rigg and Thorson, regardless of which Avengers girl appeared in the
novel. The two novels published in 1965/66 were co-written by Patrick
Macnee, (Deadline and Dead Duck) making him one of the first actors
to write licensed spin-off fiction of their own shows.
Avengers appeared in various UK comic strips starting in 1963 with
Steed and Cathy Gale. Other comic stories with Mrs Peel and Tara King
would appear in various publications up until 1972. An Avengers
prequel of sorts ran in the 'June and Schoolfriend' comic from issue
52, January 1966, titled, 'The Growing Up of Emma Peel' featuring the
adventures of 14 a year old Emma Knight. A few The Avengers-related
comic books have been published in the USA. They are not named The
Avengers because the rights to the names "Avengers" and
"New Avengers" are held by Marvel Comics for use with their
Avengers comics depicting a team of superheroes called The Avengers.
Gold Key Comics published one issue of John Steed Emma Peel in 1968
(subtitled The Avengers), which included two newly-coloured and
reformatted The Avengers strips from UK papers. A three-issue
miniseries entitled Steed and Mrs Peel appeared from 19901992
under the Eclipse Comics imprint. Boom! Studios reprinted this series
in six issues in early 2012, and later published a new series written
by Mark Waid.
In 1971 a stage version of The Avengers
was produced in Britain, written by TV series veterans Brian Clemens
and Terence Feely, and directed by Leslie Philips. It starred Simon
Oates as Steed, Sue Lloyd as new partner Hannah Wild, and Kate O'Mara
as villainess Madame Gerda. All three actors had played guest roles
in the original series. A character named Hana Wilde (played by
Charlotte Rampling) had essentially acted as Steed's partner in
series five's "The Superlative Seven", an episode in which
Emma Peel appears only briefly. According to John Peel in his
overview of "The Superlative Seven", "Charlotte
Rampling was rumoured to be grooming up to replace Diana Rigg in this
story, but nothing ever came of that."
Also in 1971, The Avengers Radio series
was transmitted on Springbok Radio, the English language service of
the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), it was recorded at
Sonovision Studios in Johannesberg, produced by Dave Gooden, the
original TV scripts were adapted and directed by Tony Jay, for the
1st six months and Dennis Folbigge for the remainder. South Africa
did not have national television until 1976. The episodes were
adapted from both Emma Peel and Tara King episodes, (with the Tara
King character changed to Emma Peel throughout.) The Avengers were
played by two British expatriate actors, Donald Monat as Steed and
Diane Appleby as Mrs Peel, with Hugh Rouse as the tongue-in-cheek
narrator. The stories were adapted into five-episode serials under
Tony Jay and six and seven episode serials
under Dennis Folbigge, of approximately 15 minutes each (including
adverts) and stripped across the week, Monday-Friday, on Springbok
Radio. The radio series ran until 1973 and only 19 complete serials
are known to survive. These episodes were also transmitted in New
York on station WBAI on 99.5 FM, from 1977 to the early 1990s.
Plans for a motion picture based upon the
series circulated during the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s, with Mel Gibson
at one point being considered a front-runner for the role of Steed.
In 1998 The Avengers made it to the big screen starring Uma Thurman
as Emma Peel and Ralph Fiennes as John Steed. It received poor
reviews from critics and fans alike. The Avengers movie was nominated
for that year's Razzie Award for Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst
Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actor (Sean Connery), Worst Actress (Uma
Thurman), Worst Actor (Ralph Fiennes), Worst Screen Couple (Fiennes
and Thurman), and Worst Original Song ("Storm"), winning
only one trophy for Worst Remake or Sequel. Several critics,
especially in the UK, noted that the American production team fatally
misunderstood the symbols of 'Britishness' central to The Avengers
series, such as the inclusion of an inexplicable gadget on the
dashboard of Steed's Bentley which appeared to dispense tea, with
milk already added. Fans of the original classic TV series still hope
for a do-over someday.