Forty-eight years ago, the last episode of the British TV series “The Avengers” was broadcast.
The mid-sixties brought the spy-genre into prominence with James Bond-type shows. The Avengers entered the game in 1966. The show came to our shores from England (where it had already been broadcast a few years) dripping of coolness and just enough quirkiness to hook us in.
There was Jonathan Steed, a smiling and chic British secret agent with his bowler hat and his multi-useful umbrella. Each show’s storyline followed him as he kept the British shores protected with the help of an attractive female agent. By the time we saw it on ABC in 1966, Steed was on his third partner, named Emma Peel.
Mrs. Peel looked impressive in a jumpsuit, but her appeal was not based on looks alone. She was intelligent and resourceful, and a worthy partner for Steed. Steed treated her with respect and regarded her as an equal. The two characters were friendly (“Mrs. Peel, we’re needed!” was the buzz phrase), but never became romantically involved (contrasting almost every Bond film).
The show had a set formula: events happened, Steed and Peel investigated, there was action, and Steed and Peel drove off after saving the day (bad-guys and gadgets a-plenty). Familiar names started popping up on the series like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Donald Sutherland.
The show was an instant hit. Mrs. Peel was a draw thanks to her appeal, (Alun Hughes invented the “Emmapeeler,” the slinky crêpe catsuits first seen when the series went to color) but a more important key to the show’s success was the interplay between Steed and Peel. The two always traded a reliable stream of witty banter no matter how intense the action got. The show’s actors, Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, were given the liberty to improvise a large part of their dialogue on their own.
Rigg exited the show in 1968, so the writers weaved a story about her character reuniting with her long-thought-dead. Mrs. Peel was replaced with the character Tara King. The show continued for another year but canceled after running for over four seasons in the U.S. and even longer internationally.
The biggest problem was the producers relied heavily on ABC-TV in the US for money-stream. In America, the Tara King season ran opposite the very popular Laugh-In TV series. Laugh-In killed The Avengers in the TV ratings, so ABC declined to order another season which forced the studio to close.
It is still popular in reruns, and the show was revived briefly with a different cast in 1976 as The New Avengers. Twenty-two years after that a feature film would bring an updated version of the show to the big screen with Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes in the lead roles. Rigg (in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and Macnee (in A View To A Kill) appeared later in separate James Bond films.
Macnee died in 2015 but Game of Thrones watchers…yes, Lady Olenna Tyrell is played by Diana Rigg. Mrs. Peel, witty banter and all, is still at it!
“The Avengers: Old memories.” 1990. Web. 10 January 2017.
The Avengers Forever website. Web. 16 May 2017. Copyright © 1996-2017 David K. Smith. http://theavengers.tv/forever/.
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