According to The Avengers: A Celebration, John Steed had seven partners over the run of the original series. To me, there’s only one that matters and that’s Emma Peel. Oh yes, Tara King had her moments and Mrs. Gale helped set the tone, but Emma Peel and John Steed together are the heart and soul of this quirky, spy series from the 1960’s.
This year, author Marcus Hearn is celebrating 50 years of this TV classic with his a new book that features hundreds of rare photos and even a forward by Steed himself, aka Patrick Macnee. What the book does best is capture the style that became such a hallmark of the series. From the leather cat-suits, to Mrs. Peel’s short go-go boots, to Steed’s signature bowler and umbrella — these were not spies who tried to blend in. On the contrary, these spies went out of their way to draw attention to themselves and that was half the fun for the audience.
Hearn’s book also emphasizes the quirky nature of the series. People might have tuned in expecting James Bond, but what they got was a witty, off kilter version that was more Wild Wild West than I Spy. The agents fought cybernetic men in “The Cybernauts,” joined a matchmaking service that matched killers with clients and invisibility was the key to the “The See-Through Man.” But don’t think Avengers is all played for laughs. The dry humor often gave way to top notch suspense like in “The House That Jack Built.”
The Avengers: A Celebration is broken into six chapters which cover the show chronologically from its early Ian Hendry roots to the final days with Tara King. The text leans heavily on behind the scenes stories with a lot of attention given to the mechanics of its association with ABC Television in the US. Hearn also details casting decisions and changes in format and style through the seasons. Not a book for the uninitiated or casual viewer, The Avengers: A Celebration is written for the true fan.
Even if you think you know all there is to know about The Avengers, this book is worth buying for one reason. The photos. How about a photo of Patrick Macnee sitting on a sound stage chatting with Roger Moore who was on break from The Saint? Or a collection of shots featuring Twiggy from the Avengerwear ’67 fashion show? And one of my favorites, Macnee and Thorson stop to take a look at the script while a body lies at their feet. The only downside to this book is it made me want to start watching the show again and I don’t own it on DVD! Time to hit up Amazon. If you’re headed there as well, check out The Avengers: A Celebration: 50 Years of a Television Classic. It’s an over-sized, hardcover volume, 160 pages and published by Titan. It’s a real blast from the past that will leave you wondering why they don’t make TV shows like The Avengers anymore.
John Steed: Six bodies in an hour and twenty minutes. What do you call that?
Georgie Price-Jones: A good first act.