THE AVENGERS

British Thriller

Possibly Britain's most successful television export, The Avengers (1961-69) was the last English-made television show to find a prime-time slot on American network television. Initially The Avengers was designed to showcase the breakout star of Police Surgeon (1960), Ian Hendry, in the role of a doctor who, after the murder of his fiancee, joined forces with mysterious secret agent John Steed (Patrick Macnee). Six episodes were initially scheduled: twenty six were made (three were videotaped) before Hendry left. Macnee continued to star in The Avengers for another eight years (136 episodes), finally resuming his role in 1976's The New Avengers (produced by Fennell and Clemens). During the subsequent five seasons, he was teamed with three female sidekicks--Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), a widowed, leather clad, martial arts expert with a Ph.D.; Mrs. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), an aristocratic young widow, successful industrialist, psychologist and skilled fighter; and finally, Tara King (Linda Thorson), a young professional secret agent with less charisma or self-reliance than her amateur predecessors.

Once Macnee was teamed with Blackman, the show started to develop its characteristic flavor. Steed became more upper-class, dressed in increasingly dandified Edwardian fashion, while Gale represented a new vision of the strong, intelligent, active, and equal woman. Shot on multiple camera video, these episodes did not display the same flair for the fantastic as the later filmed series (indeed, they look very much like the period's realistic "kitchen sink" dramas), although narratives started to flirt with the bizarre and unexpected.

During this same period (1962-64), there was increasing American interest in The Avengers, culminating in 1964 when ABC bought the series for the fall 1965 season. The network wanted a filmed series, so the show went on hiatus for nearly a year, reappearing on ITV in 1965 with new star Diana Rigg. ABC chose to wait until 1967 when color episodes would be available rather than risk showing an imported black and white series while the American networks were converting to all-color TV. After two seasons, Rigg left and was replaced by Linda Thorson (1968-69). ABC canceled the show in 1969 because audiences sharply declined after it was scheduled against the new hit Rowan and Martin's Laugh In. Although it continued to top ratings in Britain and throughout Europe, production stopped (it was never officially canceled) because the production company, Associated British, now relied on American money.

While The Avengers is often considered part of the James Bond/Cold War cycle of espionage thrillers, it actually dealt less with international issues and more with changes in modern Britain. Narratives explicitly engaged with questions of colonialism, national heritage, and questions of imperial British history, often parodying the nation's past, its institutions and its stock stereotypes like the English Gentleman and the Retired Army Major. This humorous reflection on national identity was combined with a fascination with space age technology and an emphasis on modern femininity, a juxtaposition that recalled Britain's own long emergence out of postwar deprivation into the new, trend-setting world represented by Carnaby Street and the Beatles.

-Moya Luckett


The Avengers

CAST

John Steed......................................... Patrick Macnee Dr David Keel............................................ Iain Hendry Carol Wilson........................................... Ingrid Hafner One Ten................................................ Douglas Muir Cathy Gale........................................ Honor Blackman Venus Smith.......................................... Julie Stevens Dr Martin King .........................................Jon Rollason Emma Peel ...............................................Diana Rigg Tara King.............................................. Linda Thorson "Mother"............................................... Patrick Newell Rhonda ...............................................Rhonda Parker

PRODUCERS

Leonard White, John Bryce, Julian Wintle, Albert Fennell, Brian Clemens

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 161 50-minute episodes

ITV

7 January 1961-30 December 1961
29 September 1962-23 March 1963
28 September 1963-21 March 1964
2 October 1965-26 March 1966
14 January 1967-6 May 1967
30 September 1967-18 November 1967
25 September 1968-21 May 1969

U.S. PROGRAMMING HISTORY

CAST

Jonathan Steed.................................... Patrick McNee Emma Peel (1966-1968)............................. Diana Rigg Tara King (1968-1969)............................ Linda Thorson "Mother" (1968-1969)............................. Patrick Newell

ABC

March 1966-July 1966................... Monday 10:00-11:00 July 1966-September 1966.......... Thursday 10:00-11:00 January 1967-September 1967......... Friday 10:00-11:00 January 1968-September 1968.... Wednesday 7:30-8:30 September 1968-September 1969..... Monday 7:30-8:30

FURTHER READING

Buxton, David. From The Avengers to Miami Vice: Form and Ideology in Television Series. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1990.

Miller, Toby. The Avengers. London: British Film Institute, 1996.

Rogers, Dave. The Complete Avengers. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.

 

See also Lumley, Joanna; Rigg, Diana; Spy Programs