Spy Shows of the 60's
Double-Naughts to 007: Spies Are All Around Us
I was a child of the Cold War generation, and in the 1960s espionage was a serious concern for most Americans. One result of this concern was an abundance of spy shows on our tiny, three-channel TVs. From Jethro Bodine's longing to be a "Double-Naught Spy" to Agent 007 in the ultra cool James Bond movies, spy culture stories were pervasive. It seemed that when we lampooned or otherwise played down our espionage fears, they were easier to accept. And like the cartoon superheroes who came before them, spies became cool.
As I was in grade school when these shows were on the air, I was most impressed by the groovy trendsetting ones. Get Smart and The Avengers were my favorites.
I didn't know and wouldn't have cared in 1965 that Mel Brooks created Get Smart and Buck Henry co-wrote some episodes, including the pilot. I was in grade school and I watched Get Smart for the gadgets. The "Cone of Silence" and the "Closet of Silence" - used when the Cone of Silence has been rented out to the CIA (according to WouldYouBelieve.com)! The 56 types of phones, including the ever-so-discreet Shoe Phone. I even got a "99" lipstick homing device for my 11th birthday.
Only in retrospect am I able to see what great comedy this show really was - I was far too young at the time to understand and enjoy all the parodies of famous movies written into the episodes. With episode titles like "The Dead Spy Scrawls", "Island of the Darned" and "The Mild Ones" the series has piqued my interest again. Below are a few choice clips:
Cone of Silence
The Avengers had been on the air in England since 1962, but the version bought by ABC (1965-67) is the one most familiar to Americans. This is the version that features Mrs. Emma Peel as John Steed's partner. With the arrival of Mrs. Peel (Diana Rigg), Steed (Patrick Macnee) evolves into the highly sophisticated, ultra-British gentleman spy for which he is best known. And while some regard Steed as something of a James Bond knock-off, The Avengers in fact predated the 007 movies.
Steed, who was originally depicted as a typical trenchcoat-wearing agent, was now wearing Savile Row suits and bowler hat (and carried an umbrella everywhere he went). The bowler and umbrella were full of tricks, including a sword hidden in the umbrella handle and a steel plate concealed in the hat. As you can see in the closing credits in the video clip below, some of Mr. Macnee's clothes were by this season designed by Pierre Cardin.
Most interesting to me is that The Avengers featured a female lead who was strong, intelligent and way ahead of her time. The mysterious Mrs. Peel was youthful, forward-looking, and always dressed in the latest mod fashions. Add to this a male lead who treated his female partner as his equal, and we see a new social movement reflected in this show even as American attitudes about women were changing.
Finally, if you're an automobile lover, you should watch this show just for the cars. Steed's signature cars were vintage 1926–1928 Bentley racing or town cars, while Peel drove a sporty Lotus Elan convertible. During the first Peel series, each episode would end with a scene of the duo driving away in some unusual vehicle.
The Avengers, Season 5
These two shows are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg! I urge those of you too young to remember the Spy shows on TV to take a peek at a variety of them.
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