- This is about the live-action 60's secret agent show. For the animated 90's show based on the comic, see The Avengers: United They Stand.
The Avengers was a British action-adventure television series, which ran from 1960 to 1969. It starred Patrick Macnee as British Agent John Steed with a succession of female partners including Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson. It was extremely successful, attracting high viewing figures among males and females of all ages.
The series straddled a hazardous span including both police-investigative procedurals (such as the later series The Professionals and The Sweeney) and those episodes of science fiction series such as Doctor Who where the Earth was threatened by a mad scientist or alien invaders. This allowed a great variety of the threats to Britain that Steed and his partner could investigate, which helped to keep the series fresh and attract both viewers who liked shootouts and viewers who liked science fiction. It perfect captured the spirit of the times; partly official and serious, partly camp and tongue-in-cheek, partly liberated and fantastic. It is arguable that the modern equivalent to The Avengers is The X-Files but it is also equally possible that the true inheritor is Mike Myers' Austin Powers films.
The series was remarkable and ground-breaking in a large number of ways. First, it was integrated into the "Swinging '60s" London fashion scene without becoming a slave to fashion. The female agents demonstrated that women's clothes could be both stylish and practical and put an end to the ridiculous practice of dressing female secret agents in long dresses which didn't allow them to fight and kick when the plot called for it. Steed demonstrated that even a city gent in a (then 150 pound Sterling, now 800 pound Sterling) suit could have an armor-plated hat and a concealed sword-stick handy.
Then there was the portrayal of women in the series. This was largely because the role of Steed's partner had originally been written for a man and Honor Blackman was brought in with only minor re-writes to the script; she was still playing what was then thought of as a man's part, and it called for her to show her own initiative and use her own Judo moves. With this as beginning, when the Mrs. Peel character was brought in to succeed Cathy Gale, it was possible to put her on a completely equal footing with Steed, and looking at how those two worked together it was possible that either one was the other's boss in the organization. It was in this way that The Avengers played a huge part in putting an end to the cliché of a screaming female included in the script just to supply appropriate screams to be rescued from danger. One rather annoying lapse in the area of female equality is that there was never a strong female villain in the series.
In the male corner John Steed, equipped with button-hole and rolled umbrella and dressed in business suit and bowler hat, allowed every city gent to fantasize about being a secret agent. This was in contrast to the dominating pattern of the time which demanded that (the almost exclusively male) British secret agents be portrayed as completely different to "normal" men, either weird such as Adam Adamant or unlikable such as the nastier sides of James Bond's character. One really could imagine that on days when Steed wasn't needed, he spent a few hours in the office, as "something in The City". Steed's purpose in the series was not only to maintain the "British way of life", but to demonstrate its most admirable and most pleasurable characteristics. A decade after the end of the series it would have been impossible to create such a character since the British class system had by then changed to the point where the lower classes despise the British upper-class. It's amusing that when the series started Steed's character was intended to be the "bit of rough" contrast to the more gentle Dr. David Keel (played by Ian Hendry).
The series also found a role for what was then called "a handicapped" person, as "Mother", boss of Steed and partner. Again this was ground-breaking, since the disadvantaged were universally ignored in popular TV shows of that era.
A last point about the series was that although it had a leading man and a leading woman, it was almost plain that there was no romance between them. Steed always acted courteously to the women partners, and they allowed him to open doors and pick things up for them, but that was part of Steed's generous upper-class character and not a romantic gesture. They respected each-other as professionals, and with some partners it was obvious that they liked each-other as individuals, but there was only the bare minimum of the romance required by the depressingly mundane viewing public of the time. It is arguable that it was only the introduction of Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel, a definitely married woman whose husband was missing, that allowed this to happen.
The Avengers was produced by ABC Television for ITV during the show's first five seasons, with Thames Television, the successor-in-interest to the recently merged ABC and Rediffusion London, taking over production for the final season (although ABC remained credited as the production company in the show's credits). Warner Bros. Television owns the distribution rights to the series due to sister company Warner Bros. Pictures' 1998 movie remake of the series.
|Patrick Macnee||John Steed||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|Ian Hendry||Dr. David Keel||1|
|Honor Blackman||Catherine Gale||2||3|
|Diana Rigg||Mrs. Emma Peel||4||5|
|Linda Thorson||Tara King||6|
|Ingrid Hafner||Carol Wilson||1|
|Julie Stevens||Venus Smith||2|
|Jon Rollason||Dr. Martin King||2|
|Season One||January 7, 1961||December 30, 1961||26|
|Season Two||September 29, 1962||March 23, 1963||26|
|Season Three||September 28, 1963||March 21, 1964||26|
|Season Four||October 2, 1965||March 26, 1966||26|
|Season Five||January 14, 1967||November 18, 1967||24|
|Season Six||September 25, 1968||May 21, 1969||33|
- At a Glance: Additional information about the series