The Avengers (1961-1969)


John Steed and his varying cohorts run a nameless secret investigation agency, dealing with the more curious of crimes. "The Avengers" frequently face off against a series of criminals from fragile mad scientists to common thugs. Steed, the quintessential gentleman, is a master of the sly and subtle investigation and is accompanied by an array of equally adept female partners.

Vital Statistics
Number of Episodes: 161
First Broadcast: 7th January 1961
Last Broadcast: 21st May 1969
Broadcast Channel: ITV (UK)
Production Company: ABC
Running Time: 50 minutes

Directed by: Don Leaver, Peter Hammond, Kim Mills, Sidney Hayers et al
Produced by: Brian Clemens, Albert Fennell, Julian Wintle, Leonard White et al
Written by: Brian Clemens, Philip Levene, Roger Marshall, Malcolm Hulke et al
Music by: Laurie Johnson, Johnny Dankworth et al

Cast & Characters
John Steed
Patrick Macnee
Emma Peel
Diana Rigg
Catherine Gale
Honor Blackman
Tara King
Linda Thorson

Guest Stars Included:
Ian Hendry, Terence Plummer, Julie Stevens, Julian Glover, Peter Bowles, Geoffrey Palmer, Bernard Horsfall, Vernon Dobtcheff, Philip Locke, Penelope Keith, Nigel Davenport, Christopher Lee, Bernard Cribbins, Brian Blessed, Peter Jones, Anthony Valentine.

London, UK; Hertfordshire, England, UK; Box Hill, Surrey, UK; Castle Mill, Surrey UK; Well End, UK; Oaklands College, Hertfordshire, UK; Haberdashers' Aske's School, Elstree, UK; Caldecote Towers, Bushey, UK; Bovingdon Airfield, Bovingdon, UK; Tykes Water Lake, Elstree, UK; Hilfield Castle, UK; High Canons, Well End, UK; Kendal's Hall, Radlett Prep School, Radlett, UK; Stanmore Hall, Stanmore, UK; Watford, UK; Hadley Green, Barnet, UK; Springwell Chalk Pit, Harefield, UK.

The original macho female spy, Cathy Gale, was a composite character based on two real-life women: Life magazine's daring photographer Margaret Bourke-White, and anthropologist Margaret Mead.

John Steed and his oft-changing "partner in crime" become known together as "The Avengers". In real life the producers admit to not knowing exactly what the title means. Hardly surprising when one comes to grips with the often convoluted running order, characterisation and many other questions left unanswered about the TV show.

The Bond Connection
The Avengers launched in 1961, one year prior to the film release of "Dr. No". The television series thrived in the height of Spy-mania: the 1960s. Whilst Bond often comes across as a smoking, drinking womaniser, "The Avengers" lead John Steed, is certainly a gentleman. "The Avengers" successfully blended spy-fi with sci-fi, known for its quirky, often inexplicable villains and plot lines (long before 007 was fired into space or faced off against the likes of Gustav Graves' solar weapon).


Above: Patrick Macnee poses for publicity snaps with his co-star Honor Blackman and (below) Dianna Rigg...

Patrick Macnee appeared opposite Roger Moore in "A View To A Kill" as the ill-fated race-horse expert and two of Macnee's co-stars (Blackman, Rigg) have paired off with 007 as Bond Girls after leaving "The Avengers". A large number of guest star have also appeared in Bond movies over the years.

Production Notes
"The Avengers" was the brain child of Sydney Newman, a relatively new face in British Television. It was in 1960 that it was suggested to Newman that ABC's prime-time lineup was in need of a thriller to balance the raft of sitcoms and light hearted entertainment. On the back of the successful "Avengers", Newman would go on to a series of jobs that included writing a string of "Dr. Who" episodes and producing "Counter-Attack!" and "Pathfinders To Mars".


Soon after the concept of the Avengers came to fruition, Newman brought on Brian Clemens, who had already had plenty of TV experience, including "Danger Man" and "The Vise", "Dial 999".

Despite a variety of screenwriters, producers and crew coming and going throughout the course of the 8 year run, Clemens was somewhat of a guiding hand for the series.

It would take a while for the producers to lure Patrick Macnee - whom they reportedly all admired and were determined to cast - out of his work as a producer and back onto the screen. Macnee haggled his wage to a regular figure and returned to the screen once more. Ian Henry landed the role of Keel as he had impressed the producers with his work on "Police Surgeon" (produced by Leonard White who was also behind the birth of "The Avengers") and the character he plays in both shows is remarkably similar.

Whilst the most famous of Steed's Avenging partners have all been women (and Bond girls at that), the series began with Dr. David Keel as Steed's partner. Ian Hendry earned his TV break playing in 25 of the series' episodes, before going on to appear in "The Informer", "Get Carter", "The Lotus Eaters", "Assassin" and many others throughout the '60s and '70s. In truth, the presence of Steed in the first episodes was minimal. The production of Season one was effected by a Union strike and a fed up Hendry bowed out of the series.

1962 saw Steed take a more permanent starring role and pair up with the memorable Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman).

Before Cathy appeared in the series, the writers experimented with a number of possible co-stars including Julie Stevens as a nightclub singer. Her character was not of the same professional caliber as the assistants that would follow and Stevens left the series after just six episodes.

In his transformation from co-star to lead, Steed would get a costume makeover - the mysterious gentleman that was the staple of the series for much of the sixties originally began as a trench coat-wearing, rather rough and ready agent.

Emma Peel - who teamed up with Steed on the departure of Gale in '65 when Blackman left to shoot "Goldfinger" - originally began life as "Samantha Peel". The name "Mantha Peel" was also suggested before this was shortened to "M Peel" and then "Emma".


Elizabeth Shepherd was initially asked to play the role and she shot a debut episode before feeling out of place and unable to match the dynamic duo of Gale and Steed. Eventually, Diana Rigg was offered the role.


By the Peel era the writing had gotten lighter - the episodes were still as mysterious but the witticisms between Emma and John became more prominent and the formula of the show became more standardized. From time to time during the era, the writers would break the fourth wall to brief the audience on a plot development - but this only happened sporadically.

Whilst Steed was paired with Peel, the '65-'68 period was undoubtedly the most thriving time for the show. Peel became an icon both in the USA and in Britain and the spy-fi genre was booming. The fifth season was the first to be produced in colour.

Following Rigg's departure to film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", the sixth season saw Peel trading places with Tara King, played by Linda Thorson. The studio executives were skeptical that the writers and the new cast could keep the "Avengers" buzz alive without the successful duo. Thorson reportedly chose her own character's name.

John Bryce took over as producer from Clemens for the first few episodes of season six and devised a 90 minute special to introduce the new partner, King. Bryce did not find favour with the studio so the executives sought the return of Clemens to help get the new series off the ground. The key, most thought, was to go back to the more unpredictable and "grittier" feeling of the Gale era, negating the successfully light-hearted themes they had developed around the Peel-Steed partnership.

The season continued to prove successful in the UK market but the American broadcasters gave it some stiff competition, airing it in the same time slot as the top-rated American show of the time.

The last two years of the original series ended on a high note but for many, including Macnee (who had stuck with the production for all nine years) were aware it was time for a break. Macnee would reprise the role of Steed in the 1970s and the "New Avengers".

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