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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Web Page  No 2120

4th January 2015

Happy New Year

Top Picture: John Stead
 Middle Picture: Cathy Gale

 Lower Middle Picture: Emma Peel

Bottom Picture: Tara King

 The Avengers

The Avengers was probably the best know British television spy series and was avidly watched by many of us. It was created in the 1961 and initially focused on Dr. David Keel played by Ian Hendry with his assistant John Steed played by Patrick Macnee. Ian Hendry left after the first series so John Steed became the main character, it was felt that he needed a  partner and had a succession of female assistants the most famous were intelligent, stylish and assertive women: Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), and later Tara King (Linda Thorson). The Avengers ran from 1961 until 1969, screening as one-hour episodes for its entire run but in the later episodes it drifted into science fiction syories.

The pilot episode,  which was titled "Hot Snow," and was shown on 7th January 1961 and the last episode, "Bizarre," aired on 21st  May 1969 and by then it was being shown in more than 90 countries. ITV produced a sequel series The New Avengers (1976–1977) with Patrick Macnee returning as John Steed, and two new partners. In 2007 The Avengers was ranked No. 20 on TV Guide's Top Cult Shows Ever.

The Avengers was marked by different eras as co-stars came and went. The only constant was Patrick Macnee.

The Avengers began with medical doctor, Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry), investigating the murder of his fiancée and office receptionist Peggy by a drug ring. A stranger named John Steed, who was investigating the ring, appeared and together they set out to avenge her death in the first two episodes. Afterwards, John Steed asked David Keel to partner him as needed to solve crimes.

Actually Steed did not appear in two of the earlier episodes but as the series progressed, Steed's importance increased.

The series was shot on 405-line videotape with little provision for editing and virtually no location footage. As was standard practice at the time, videotapes of early episodes of The Avengers were reused. Of the first series, two complete episodes still exist, as 16 mm film telerecordings. One of the episodes remaining does not feature Steed.

Production of the first series was cut short by a strike. By the time production could begin on the second series, Ian Hendry had left and Patrick Macnee was promoted to star and Steed became the focus of the series,.

The first episode in the second series introduced the partner who would change the show into the format for which it is most remembered. Honor Blackman played Dr Cathy Gale, a self-assured, quick-witted anthropologist who was skilled in judo and had a passion for leather clothes. Widowed during the Mau Mau years in Kenya who saw her aid to Steed's cases as a service to her nation. She was said to have been born 5th  October 1930 at midnight and raised in Africa making her early-to-mid 30’s in contrast to female characters in similar series who tended to be younger.

Cathy Gale was unlike any female character seen before on TV and became a household name. The series established a level of sexual tension but the writers were not allowed to go beyond flirting and innuendo.

A film version of the series was in its initial planning stages by late 1963 after series three was completed. An early story proposal paired Steed and Gale with a male and female duo of American agents, to make the movie appeal to the American market. Before the project could get underway Honor Blackman was cast opposite Sean Connery in Goldfinger, requiring her to leave the series.

During the Gale era, Steed was transformed into the stereotypical English gentleman complete with Savile Row suit, bowler hat. With his impeccable manners, old world sophistication, and vintage automobiles, Steed came to represent the traditional Englishman of an earlier era.

By contrast his partners were youthful, forward-looking, and always dressed in the latest fashions. Cathy Gale's innovative leather outfits suited her athletic fight scenes and Honor Blackman became a star with her black leather outfits and "kinky boots"..

In 1965 the show was sold to the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and The Avengers became one of the first British series to be aired on prime time U.S. television. The ABC network paid $2 million for the first 26 episodes. This U.S. deal meant that the producers could afford to start shooting the series on 35mm film. The use of film was essential as British 405-line video was incompatible with the U.S. format.

A new female partner Mrs Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) arrived in October 1965.. Emma Peel, whose husband went missing while flying over the Amazon, retained the self-assuredness of Cathy Gale, combined with superior fighting skills, intelligence, and a contemporary fashion sense.

After more than 60 actresses had been auditioned, the first choice to play the role was Elizabeth Shepherd. However, her on-screen personality was deemed uninteresting. Another 20 actresses were auditioned before the relatively unknown Diana Rigg had a screen test with Patrick Macnee and the two immediately worked well together.

In contrast to the Cathy Gale episodes, there was a lighter, comic touch in two main characters interactions with each other, also the sexual tension between John Steed and Cathy Gale was not present with Emma Peel. In both cases, the exact relationship between the partners was left ambiguous,.

In her fourth episode, "Death at Bargain Prices," Mrs Peel takes an undercover job at a department store. Her uniform for promoting space-age toys is an elaborate leather catsuit plus silver boots, sash and welder's gloves. The suit minus the silver accessories became her signature outfit which she wore primarily for fight scenes in early episodes and in the titles.

According to Patrick Macnee in his book The Avengers and Me, Diana Rigg disliked wearing leather and insisted on a new line of fabric athletic wear for the fifth series.  So eight tight-fitting jumpsuits in a variety of bright colours were created using the crimplene.

Another memorable feature of the show from this point onwards was its automobiles. John Steed's cars were vintage 1926–1928 Bentley while Emma Peel drove a sporty Lotus Elan convertible

The Avengers began filming in colour for the fifth series in 1966. It was three years before Britain's ITV network began full colour broadcasting.

Diana Rigg was initially unhappy with the way she was treated by the show's producers. During her first series she learned she was being paid less than the camera man. She demanded a raise, to put her more on a par with her co-star, or she would leave the show. The producers gave in, thanks to the show's great popularity in the US. At the end of the fifth series in 1967, she left to pursue other projects. This included following Honor Blackman to play a leading role in a James Bond film, in this case On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee have remained lifelong friends.

When Diana Rigg left October 1967, the executives decided that the series formula, despite resulting in popular success, could not be pursued further. But they had a difficult situation to find a replacement for Diana Rigg and shoot the first seven episodes of the new series, which were supposed to be shipped to America together with the last eight Emma Peel colour episodes.

The producer signed his then-girlfriend, 20-year-old newcomer Linda Thorson, as the new female co-star and chose the name "Tara King" for her character. She played the role with more innocence in mind and at heart; and unlike the previous partnerships the writers allowed subtle hints of romance to blossom.

No farewell scenes for Emma Peel had been shot when Diana Rigg left the series. It was explained that Emma's husband, Peter Peel, was found alive and rescued, and she left the British secret service to be with him. Emma visits Steed to say goodbye, and while leaving she passes Tara on the stairway giving the advice that "He likes his tea stirred anti-clockwise."

For this new series the government official who gave Steed his orders was depicted on screen as Mother, a man in a wheelchair. Mother's headquarters would shift from place to place, including one episode where his complete office was on the top level of a double-decker bus.

Vehicle wise, Steed continued to drive vintage green Bentleys in the first seven episodes in production. His regular transport for the remainder of the series were two yellow Rolls-Royce cars. Mother also occasionally appeared in silver Rolls-Royces. Tara King drove an AC 428 and a Lotus Europa.

The episodes with Linda Thorson proved to be highly rated in Europe and the UK, in the United States however, the ABC network chose to air it opposite the number one show at the time, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. It could not compete and the show was cancelled in the US. Without this vital commercial backing, production could not continue in Britain either, and the series ended in May 1969. The final scene of the final episode has John Steed and Tara King, champagne glasses in hand, accidentally launching themselves into orbit aboard a rocket.

Currently only 19 complete episodes survive, all from reel-to-reel off-air recordings made in 1972.

Here I must add that I used to work with Diana Riggs sister, Julie, and once had the privilege of entertaining the two sisters to afternoon tea in my office. Yes Diana, who was opening the hospital fete, was wearing THAT leather outfit and the boots!

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News and Views:

On this day 4th January 1960-1965

On 04/01/1960 the number one single was Starry Eyed - Michael Holliday and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was not listed and the box office smash was North by Northwest. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Burnley were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was that previous day was the last day for being called up for National Service.

On 04/01/1961 the number one single was I Love You - Cliff Richard & the Shadows and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was The Russ Conway Show (ATV) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 04/01/1962 the number one single was Moon River - Danny Williams and the number one album was Another Black & White Minstrel Show - George Mitchell Minstrels. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 04/01/1963 the number one single was Return to Sender - Elvis Presley and the number one album was Black & White Minstrel Show - George Mitchell Minstrels. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 04/01/1964 the number one single was I Want to Hold Your hand - The Beatles and the number one album was With the Beatles - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 04/01/1965 the number one single was I Feel Fine - The Beatles and the number one album was Beatles For Sale - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.


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