Classic TV:The Avengers-Classy, Bizarre and Very British in TV serie's Emma Peel fashion

Avengers Poster

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Spy or Sci-Fi

The Avengers

Classy, bizarre and very British

For those who never saw this classic show , The Avengers was a British television series in the 1960s that is considered to be in the Spy genre. However,. as noted in Wikipedia, ”As the series progressed, the one hour story line combined elements of science fiction with British eccentricity.”

Like most Americans, I didn’t see the early episodes since they were not shown in the United States until later. The series had three major periods: the first was not shown in the United States at the time and starred Honor Blackman as partner to John Steed, played by Patrick Mcnee who was the common element in the series. The second starred Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel was hands down the most popular protagonist. Third was Linda Thorson. Additionally there was a series called the “New Avengers” seven years later with Joanna Lumley starring as partner to Steed.

At one time I thought The Avengers was just another of the popular spy series of the 1960s inspired by the James Bond movies. However, it seems that the show preceded the first Bond film by a year. So the show was innovative and original. Interestingly Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee later played in Bond films.

The show had some elements that kept it from the American audience at first. To some it was “too British.” Also, British sexual censorship was more relaxed at that time whereas British rules were fussier about combat scenes. For example striking with a closed fist was not allowed, American shows of the time had more realistic fight scenes.

In 1998 a movie was made of The Avengers starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes. It received poor reviews from critics.

Patrick Macnee was born February 6, 1922 and was the one consistent element in The Avengers
He started as a secondary character in an early live broadcast version of the show. After that he played opposite the various female stars of the show. His image was the Bowler hat and an umbrella. The persona was slightly mysterious, flirty and light. He wrote two original novels based on The Avengers. He hosted, in 1995, a documentary “The Avengers: The Journey Back,” directed by Clyde Lucas.

Mcnee became an American citizen in 1959.

1962-64 Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale

1962-64 Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale

Dr. Cathy Gale is a self-assured anthropologist, skilled in Judo.  She often wore leather catsuits.  A costume that has become associated with the show, although with Diana Rigg, since the Cathy Gale episodes were not as well known in the U.S.. Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist wrote that she would imagine herself “as Emma Peel in a black leather catsuit, giving a kung fu kick to any diabolical mastermind . . . ”    Gale and Peel set the example for many fighting heroines since.    


Relationships between characters varied with the stars. For example, there was an element of conflict between Gale and Steed. At the same time there was some sexual tension evident between them. However with Peel these elements were not present but and element of wit and repartee developed between Peel and Steed.

Blackman  became a star in Britain with her black leather and high kicking fighting style. She left the show to play in a James Bond film.

1965-68 Diana Rigg as Emma Peel




Most Americans first saw the episodes with Diana Rigg as their first exposure to “The Avengers.” These are the episodes best remembered and associated with the show. More than 60 actresses were auditioned and actress Elizabeth Shepherd was the top choice but after initial filming it was found that she was less appealing than Blackman. Another 20 actresses were auditioned before they tried Rigg, who proved to work well with Mcnee.

In the new episodes there was a lighter comic element in both the main characters and the lead character’s reactions other characters and situations. Although espionage was evident in the earlier series, The Rigg period had tended to lean in the direction of Science Fiction including mad scientists, giant alien plants, and other improbable challenges. They also made fun of contemporary shows of the time, such as: The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission Impossible and Batman.

Amusing acronyms and names of organizations were used, such as FOG for” friends of ghosts,” SMOG for “Scientific Measurement of Ghosts,” PURR for “Rescue, Relief and Recuperation of Cats.” Characters often had related names, such as those at PURR being named Cheshire, Manx and Angora.

Fashion, especially tight fitting outfits for Gale and Peel, was one notable feature of the show. In the episode “Death at Bargain Prices” Mrs. Peel is undercover at a department store. Her uniform for promoting space age toys is an elaborate leather catsuit plus silver boots, sash, and welder’s gloves. This suit without the silver accessories became her signature outfit which she wore primarily for fight scenes in early episodes. Rigg found the leather outfits uncomfortable and turned to tight-fitting jumpsuits in bright colors using crimplene, a stretch fabric.

Peel also wore avant-garde fashions which emphasized youth and represented modern England in the sixties. By contrast Steed was the personification of Edwardian England. In 1967 TV Guide did a four page photospread on Rigg’s outfits.

Vehicles were a feature of the series. Steed had vintage 1926-1928 Bentley racing or town cars, Peel drove a sporty Lotus Elan convertible.

Another comedy element in the show is the end scenes of Peel and Steed leaving the scene in different and unusual vehicles.

Dianna Rigg left the show in 1967 to pursue major stardom, including a James Bond film.

1968-69 Linda Thorson as Tara King

1968-69 Linda Thorson as Tara King

While these episodes did well in Britain, the same cannot be said for the United States. This is partly due to fact that the show was slotted against the popular Rowan and Martins Laugh-in. The show lost out in Britain after that because of the loss of commercial backing.

New Avengers

scan of DVD of TV series.
scan of DVD of TV series.

Joanna Lumley

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The New Avengers 1976-1978

The New Avengers 1976-1978

The show remained popular in France and in 1975 French television using Thorson and Mcnee. The success of the advertisements led to financing in France to create  new Avengers episodes. Mcnee still played Steed with two partners: Mike Gambit played by Gareth Hunt and Pudey played by Joanna Lumley.

© 2010 Don A. Hoglund

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Comments 40 comments

Vern Borth 6 years ago

Boy, does this bring back memories of a great show. Thanks, Don!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Vern

Glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting.


Steve 3.0 profile image

Steve 3.0 6 years ago from Cornwall UK

I watched some of these in the 90's when they were repeated in the UK. The ones I watched were with Diana Rigg, didn't know they were from the 60's. Those tight-fitting jumpsuits were fantastic:)


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

They were. Glad you stopped by and commented.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

You certainly bring back good memories of these older shows like the Avengers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission Impossible. Thanks!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I always thought there was something special about the Avengers.They were even good to see again, since I found the library has a pretty good collection including some I never saw before. Thanks for commentings


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC

Thanks for this hub, The Avengers is one of my all time favorites. I especially like the episodes with Diana Rigg, since I thought that she and Patrick McNee made an excellent team. She was a very attractive woman as well.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I appreciate your comments. I also like Riggs as did most fans.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I appreciate your comments. I also like Riggs as did most fans.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Growing up The Avengers was one of my favorite shows. I have to admit though that I hated The New Avengers. They lost the magic and they didn't get it back.

Yeah as a young bloke I was in lust when it came to Diana Rigg, too. She was also in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Service starring alongside an Australian actor who didn't quite make the grade as Bond and only played the part the once.

The Avengers was made around what I call the glam period of British television when you had shows like The Saint, The invisible Man, The Champions and The Baron. All these shows were full of fun and excitement. They also had their fill of beautiful women often in mini-skirts. Nowadays the British go in for more realism in their shows and less glamor. A pity if you ask me.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I got some episodes from the library of "The New Avengers"

I agree that it did not have what the original series had.Still I would rather watch it than some stuff on today in America. The episodes with Diana Rigg were the only ones I really liked.

The Saint is a show I didn't much care for at the time but I would like to take another look. British production is so different than ours and Roger Moore always struck me as lifeless but it might have been that I was not used to the style.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Playing up a role is very American. Playing down a role but still having fun with it is very British.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Rod

That might be it. When I was young in the 1950-60's I saw a lot of English movies, especially those of Alec Guinness.

There was much I like about English films. I've watched some reruns of the "Maverick" TV show with Roger Moore not too long ago and he seems alright in that. I probable owe him a second look.


wilbury4 profile image

wilbury4 6 years ago from England I think?

Very British... Having said that (being British), I have never, other than on TV, seen a man wearing a Bowler hat? Maybe it's a 'pomp' thing, or only worn around London, or maybe no-one wears them anymore???

The series was OK up the becoming the 'New' Avengers, way too 'far-fetched'?

I didn't know that PM became an American citizen, especially having done it way back in 1959?


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for reading and commenting. The series in general was far fetched which I think was part of the appeal.


Stacie L profile image

Stacie L 5 years ago

this was one of my favorites!

the 60's was ripe with spy shows and this was a class act!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I totally agree. Thanks for commenting.


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

dahoglund, I used to watch The Avengers faithfully. Diana Rigg was my favorite Mrs. Peel.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I think she was everyone's favorite. thanks for commenting.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

It was never revealed what level of judo Cathy Gale attained but the fight sequences were always realistic and usually garbed in leather Cathy Gale created a trend in Women's fashions. Steed was ever so debonaire and you could almost feel the tension in the non sexual relationships with every Avenger Lady. Not sure if there was intended to be a lesbian influence in the Cathy Gale character but i am sure the activist Germaine Greer would have approved.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

Whilst all of The Avengers leading Ladies made a valid contribution to the show's success it is ironic to say the least that when a full length motion picture was finally released the leading Lady had the role of Emma Peel which is criticle in ascertaining just who is Steed's ideal accompanyment. Pity that Elizabeth Shepherd did not get to appear too.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

limpet, thank you for your comments on my avenger's hub. I believe I first saw the show during the Emma Peel episodes and have always fvored her


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

Recently looking at the 10 new superheroines in comics/cartoons or rather; 9 are new but Wonder Woman has been RE Vamped (pun intended) and they simply don't A Peel to me (the pun also intended)!

Give me the original Wonder Woman of the 1950's era. Emma Peel 'stands out' not only because of the popular Avengers series but Ms Rigg being an accomplished actress in other roles. Check the Assasination Bureau which i consider to be 'steampunkish' before it's tyme.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I agree that it is hard to out do Diana Rigg. I don't tend to put the Avengers in the same cateoy as "Wonder Woan." To me, the interest in the old super hero shows was to see how well they recreated the atmosphere of the old comic books.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

I've recently taken an avid interest in Tara King as i didn't see much of Her initially. More to follow.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

In an episode of the New Avengers, Purdy and Gambit were on a mission to penetrate an enemy's stronghold but not having any weapons Purdy improvised a slingshot using her brassiere and amazingly scored a 'direct hit' on the sentry standing guard.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I may have to get some "Avenger" shows to take another look. It has been awhile since I saw them.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

How the Avenger team managed to supress any sexual tension between themselves is probably something we shouldn't discuss. 'Stiff upper lip, old boy!' or perhaps a lot of cold showers!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Did they suppress it? I seem to recall seeing an interview with Patrick Mcnee who said that Steed and Mrs Peel were sleeping together. Off screen, of course. Possibly some of this understated British humor.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

Well! Half their luck to that. I admire all the Avenger Ladies regardless of the actress concerned however Emma Peel has got that special magnetic personality that actually gave the whole series it's cult status.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I agree with you. At the time I watched the show on network TV I was unaware of the other Avenger heroines. For me, it was Diana Rigg.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

Sad to see Uma Thurman's portrayal of Emma Peel got 'rotten tomatoes' we know She was far from the Emma Peel that we've been used to. The promotional stills of Uma were fabuloulsy ravishing. I hope Her career picks up and if they ever do another Emma Peel character perhaps Helena Bonham-Carter currently on in a movies on the Suffragists would make a tantalisingly splendid Emma Peel.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I don't think the producers really knew what they had with Dianna Rigg or they would have treated her better. More than most, she had charisma or sex appeal or whatever that separates ome from the crowd.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

To the best of my film knowledge Diana Rigg the actress portraying Mrs Peel had former drama training in the Shakespearian method where as Miss Blackman who grew up in the 'tough' east end of London went through the J. Arthur Rank charm school. Diana Rigg was awarded a 'Dame hood' in our Queen's honours for services to entertainment. The other leading ladies were pretty much a generation behind the originals. In my opinion, Emma Peel was the inspiration for Carrie-Ann Moss as Trinity in the Matrix trilogy.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

Recently i learned the glamorous English actress Honor Blackman was offered an M.B.E. awarded for services to the entainment industry but politely declined to accept. This would have meant an investiture at Buckingham palace by The Queen. Many recipients do opt not to accept these honours and awards But i am pleased Miss Blackman was not forgotten.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I think there is something classy about turning down honors politely.


limpet profile image

limpet 9 months ago from London England

Honor Blackman now a grandmother and in her latest 'publicity still' has the looks of a woman half her age. Indeed, a glam mother! Diana Rigg whose daughter is following in her mothers footsteps has a striking appearance of an Emma Peel.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 9 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for commenting. Interesting new information.


limpet profile image

limpet 9 months ago from London England

The daughter namely Rachel Atlanta Stirling in fact


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 9 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

limpet, thanks for the additional information.

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