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The interesting thing about this show is the number of significant changes
made in it over the years. It seemed to absorb cultural influences
throughout its history to propel itself forward. It really started out as a
show about a coroner, (what the British call a `Police Surgeon'- which was
the title of the show). This has never been shown in America but it must
have in some ways anticipated `Quincy' and all the forensic shows that
dominate the airways today. This was a 1959 flop but it's star Ian Hendry
got enough fan mail that they rethought the show as `The Avengers' in 1961.
The name of Hendry's character was changed to Dr. Keel but he was still a
crime-solving doctor. His fiancé was killed in the first episode and he and
his new friend Steed avenged her death, (thus the increasingly irrelevant
Hendry left to become a movie star, (he didn't make it) but the show was popular enough to try to keep it going. They gave Steed a menagerie of new partners. `Dr King', played by Jon Rollason, was really Dr. Keel, with a few unproduced scripts from the previous year being used. Julie Stevens played a night club singer who, like Lola Albright in `Peter Gunn' would interrupt episodes with musical numbers. But what people liked was Honor Blackman as a lady scientist with knowledge of the martial arts. The other characters soon faded and MacNee as John Steed and Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale became the toast of British Television.
The shows so far had been done on tape, which because of the differences in lines, (the videotape equivalent of pixels), looks dark and grainy, very much like a 50's kinescope when shown on American TV. Tape also limited the show in two significant ways. It was only suitable for inside filming so the shows are very stage bound, with virtually every scene taking place indoors. Also, it's harder to edit videotape so that the scenes are longer with fewer cuts. It looks like a filmed stage play, even with bloopers being left in, (even though the show was not broadcast live, although it looks it). Because of the lack of editing, the show has a much slower pace than the later show. And the actors are not replaced with stunt persons during action scenes, so the `action' is necessarily more limited than the later show. Finally, music is heard only during the transition from one scene to another and over the opening and closing credits. The music consists of some down-beat jazz tracts, (and not very many of them), composed by the appropriately named Johnny Dankworth.
The one good thing about all this is that the show has a greater intimacy than the later episodes. There's no slick photography and music between you and the reality of the situation. And, because it's not played for laughs, it attains a certain reality that the later shows dispense with. The stories are not about master criminals using science fiction weapons to threaten the country or the world. They are about petty crooks, spies and smugglers. You can easily believe, that despite a few quirks, these stories are actually happening and are the stories behind the headlines we read. It's not as fun as the show became but this early version sticks with you.
After years of watching women scream to be rescued, Mrs. Peel never ever screamed. She rescued herself - and sometimes she rescued Steed. It was like breath of fresh air in a hot stuffy room. Of course, that is not all there was to The Avengers. It was stylish, witty and lots of fun. No matter how bad the situation, Steed, the professional, and Mrs. Peel, the talented amateur, never lost their cool. They were always calm and dryly self-confident. And best of all, Mrs. Peel never screamed.
I still don't even know what that phrase translates too, but for me it will forever be linked to this show. In the foggy old days of pre Cable, pre VCR TV, the absolute only diversion we had from network dreck were these British imports. I say we, even though I was but a child then. But these crazy shows left such a powerful impression on me, that as soon as they were released a few years ago, I set out to obtain them all. My young mind had carried into adulthood so many disjointed and bizarre scenes from this show that I just had to relive them. And I'm awfully glad I did. While it's a bit goofier than I remembered, a child misses much tongue in cheek, it's still got a macabre tinge to it that is so unique to Britain in the 60s. Conventional wisdom holds true here, and Emma Peel unquestionably rules the roost. Her first shows from 1966, in black and white, also happen to represent the best and most creative stories of the entire series. The more infamous but not quite as engaging episodes however, are from the following year, 1967, and they are in color. In fact, you can see in the 67 series, that by that time, they were being produced with an American or possibly worldwide audience in mind. Both the pre and post Emma shows are pretty lame. The former for their incredibly crappy production values, and the latter for the worn out unimaginative feeling of the stories and the blatant ineptness of Tara King. I wouldnt go overboard in aquiring these, even as a fan the stories and formula can get very repetitive. If you randomly select a couple episodes from 66 and 67, you will get a good flavor for the series and in the process a nice boost to your DVD collection.
Uma Thurman as Mrs Peel! What a disaster. They could have replaced her with a mannequin and nobody would have known. I have been a devoted fan of this series since I first saw it as an eight year old in 1965. According to my guide, one of the black and white episodes -"A Touch of Brimstone"- was originally banned in the United States because of Diana Rigg's costume. I was an innocent child at the time it was first broadcast in the UK and have only recently managed to get hold of that particular episode. All I can say is- Madonna, "eat your heart out". Get the episode and judge for yourself.
A Mad Magazine spoof of James Bond once observed 'He has a license to kill; and a learners permit to make out'; 'Yes; the Brits don't mind violence but are stuffy about sex'. Which can describe this show, stylish and clean with a bit of a body count. One pastime is to watch the show and pick out future stars (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, John Cleese, Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland, etc). Most episodes involve some great British Eccentric organization (Purr, devoted to cats; FOG, or Friends of Ghosts, and their rivals SMOG, Scientific Measurements of Ghosts), etc. Mr Macnee's Steed character is utterly, amiably, inperturbably British, and Ms. Riggs auburn-haired supercat should have a cool exotic name like Ursula Fieguo or Cinammon Brandy, and is know as...Mrs Peel. (Mrs Emma Peel). Unafraid to laugh at itself. Watch this show and enjoy; highly recommended.
The Avengers is really a fun show for just about anyone. It's set in sixties
England, but especially if that's not your time or place, it's very
entertaining. I can only speak for the Diana Rigg episodes, not having seen
enough of the others, but almost all these episodes have top quality writing
and acting. For the most part, they're light-hearted and comedic, but they
do also incorporate some serious matters on a slightly deeper level. Even if
you're not interested in that, they're fun for the spy-movie parody
Being an X-Files fan, I can't help noticing that Steed and Mrs. Peel seem almost like sixties, British versions of Mulder and Scully. Don't know if anyone else agrees, but that certainly made it a little more fun for me! (I think a few of the best episodes are "Dead Man's Treasure", "Too Many Christmas Trees", "Castle De'ath", and "The Living Dead", among others.)
The Avengers series has a charm that few other series could aspire
It is, for those unacquainted, a tongue-in-cheek spy show, based
indefinitely in the South of England.
Patrick MacNee is the one constant, playing the role of John Steed, suave,
amiable British secret agent, with ever present umbrella and bowler hat, for
9 years (excluding the New Avengers), and 161 50-minute
Steed had a succession of beautiful, intelligent and dynamic female partners
(naturally, in a purely professional sense), the finest and most successful
of which was Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg. Emma Peel was witty,
independent and stylish, and a Martial arts expert to boot.
The chemistry between MacNee and Rigg was outstanding, and their partnership
produced superb results.
After Rigg left in 1967, the show was never the same again, although it was
occasionally outstanding- the Tara King episodes "Game," "Stay-Tuned," and
"Love-All," were great.
The Avengers formula, in a nutshell, involved bizarre threats, ingenious masterminds, misguided scientists, fight scenes aplenty, and much wit and humour.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Started loving the show as a kid in the 1990s, teenager when the show was on the A&E(Arts & Entertainment) Network. As it had people like Honor Blackman(Cathy Gale aka Pussy Galore in "Diamonds Are Forever"), Diana Rigg(Who would go onto bigger things, but remains ever beautiful and great as Emma Peel when the show would take off), and Linda Thorson(Tara King). But really who was the star was Patrick MacNee as handsome, witty, debonair John Steed, UK secret agent. He was the only constant that remained in a show that had cast changes it seems like every 2-4 years. But without Steed, there would be No Avengers. The show had wit, charm, action, some romance, and chemistry. Especially with Diana Rigg and Patrick MacNee. Great writing and great acting put together! Wished there were more shows like that. Sadly, that is what TV is lacking these days!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I can only comment on the episodes using Patrick MacNee and Diana Rigg
between 1965 and 1968.
What a diverting show it was. MacNee is John Steed, the proper gentleman in bowler hat, wielding his deadly brolly. His character and appearance are perfect for a vehicle like this. It isn't so much that he was never nonplussed, so much as that he was always plussed. Rigg is Emma Peel in her jump suits, zippered up front, with that tantalizing, over-sized ring dangling from the zipper just below her sternoclavicular notch. Diana Rigg has a curious beauty. She sports a pair of wide-set eyes, elevated cheekbones, a perfunctory nose and tiny lips, like a Hentai cartoon. She's a good actress too. Did a fine job as one of the bad daughters in Lawrence Olivier's TV production of "King Lear." She was so popular at the time she left this series that she was whisked off to Broadway for "Abelard and Heloise," which included a topless scene. I understand the theater was jammed, but then the story has always been immensely popular with the masses. There are Abelard and Heloise fan clubs in every dusty little town in the world.
The two of them work off each other very well, whether popping the cork of a champagne bottle or fending off evildoers. Their, um, relationship is never fully explained. They both work for some ultra-secret British government organization apparently. Each show opens with Mrs. Peel uncovering a message from Steed, coyly hidden in a box of chocolate or under some peeling wallpaper -- "Mrs. Peel. We're needed." The forces they battle are absurd. Some fantastic organization is breeding a horde of robotic soldiers in a vast, excavated place under a cemetery, and they plan to emerge and take over the British Isles. Or another cabal -- P.U.R.R. -- has invented a device that turns ordinary pussy cats into demonic, homicidal beasts that will be used to eliminate the world's leaders so that P.U.R.R. can take over. Somebody is always trying to take over the world. And Steed and Mrs. Peel are always there to thwart their plans.
It isn't broad comedy. A viewer is more likely to smile than laugh out loud. But the scripts are quietly witty and suggestive. The episode about felines -- "The Hidden Tiger" -- has an uncountable number of references and puns on the subject. P.U.R.R. is run by a Mr. Cheshire. (Cheshire cat, get it? "Alice in Wonderland"?) The manager's name is Mr. Manx. Too many puns on pussies and cats to enumerate, but the last word spoken in the episode is "cat-astrophe." The fashion is that of Britain in the period of the early Beatles, and Carnaby Street, and the general sense conveyed is that of a loose-limbed freedom from earlier conventions. Nothing is taken seriously. If a man drops dead in front of Steed and Mrs. Peel, they kneel down, check his pulse, and look at each other with a slight, quizzical frown.
The plots are convoluted, and it's easy to lose track of what's going on. At times, one's mind drifts. A series like this must walk a tightrope. "Whimsy" can too easily slip into "cute" or, worse, the abyssal "silly." But the plot is never very important anyway.
Everything is handled with style and panache. Bowler-hatted or coiffed auburn, these episodes are heads and shoulders above most of the junk that fill the TV screens today.
Despite the dreadful movie that came out a year or two ago, the Avengers will forever be identified with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. A fun series that didn't take itself seriously and full of British wit. I would love to someday see some of the older episodes with Honor Blackman (Goldfinger) and Steed's original partner Dr. David Keel.
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