No, not Marvel’s Avengers. I’m talking about the British television series that aired from 1961 to ’69.
I have recently re-discovered The Avengers and I love it. This very British, very 60s, TV show would appear on late night television when I was but a wee lad in Dayton, Ohio, back when Jimmy Carter was president (we miss you, Jimmy, we really do). At the time I thought it was okay, but it wasn’t really geared for kids.
Watching it as an adult, I find it to be a much sillier show than I remember, but oh so much fun! The program ran for almost the entire psychedelic decade but peaked when the show’s regular hero, Agent John Steed (Patrick Macnee), was paired with the deadly and talented Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) from 1965 to ’68.
As acting teams go, you just can’t get any better than Macnee and Rigg. They simply had an outstanding rapport, and easily half the fun of the show is watching them joust with each other. I say “joust” because the relationship between the two characters was always professional. Emma Peel’s husband was somehow lost in the Amazon, and Steed was far too gentlemanly to proposition another man’s wife. Thus, they performed as a dazzling sort of “buddy cop” team, not a romantic couple, and it was sensational!
To be sure, Dame Diana Rigg’s Mrs. Peel character is far better remembered. She was a tough, smart, sarcastic woman to be reckoned with, and the inspiration for the Marvel Avenger-Black Widdow. Seldom had such a woman been portrayed before on big screen or small, and the positive feminist message remains inspiring to women and to people who like women.
However, Agent John Steed was no slouch either. Whereas Emma Peel represented the modern age, in her jumpsuits and sports cars, Steed was the old-fashioned man. As chivalrous as any knight, he had a penchant for vintage automobiles, bowler hats, and dapper manners. He was witty, clever and extremely good-natured, the kind of chap you’d gladly invite over for tea once a week.
Both characters were supposedly deadly masters of hand-to-hand combat…but oh boy…the fight choreography was laughable. Emma’s sloppy karate and Steed’s flailing about with his umbrella always triumphed over the villains, but only because the script said so, and it showed.
But speaking of the villains, you will never find a more kooky bunch of weirdos trampling across a television screen than in The Avengers. No ordinary villains for these heroes to fight–heavens no! Mad scientists, bizarre conspiracies, secret organizations, and super spies are constantly bent on destroying all that is right and good in Britain, and only Emma and Steed can stop them.
The show is everything we fondly remember the 1960s for. It was trippy, cool, silly, and fun. If you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend you do.