When the series began, Ian Hendry was the main star, with the idea being he would rotate between different partners (an early version of the Mission: Impossible (1966) format). The series title actually refers to Hendry's character, Dr. David Keel, and Steed, who worked together to find those responsible for Keel's fiancée's murder in the first episode. Early episodes focused more on Keel's character, and Steed doesn't even appear in a couple! When the first season was interrupted by a strike, Hendry quit the series during the hiatus in order to pursue a film career. The same format was used for Steed with a couple of leftover Dr. Keel scripts retooled for a new character named Dr. Martin King, but other scripts, originally written for a male character, were rejigged for another new addition: Catherine Gale.
Diana Rigg was the first person ever to do Kung Fu on the screen. In 1965, Ray Austin went to his producers and said, "Listen, I want to do this thing called Kung Fu". They said "Kung what?" and insisted that Emma, like her predecessor, stick to judo. Instead, Austin secretly taught Rigg Kung Fu.
During her first series, Diana Rigg was dismayed to find out that the cameraman was being paid more than she was. 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.
Series writer Brian Clemens noted in an interview the sexual chemistry that particularly existed between Steed and Emma Peel, and the common question of "Will they ever go to bed together?" Clemens's attitude toward the characters was that they already had done, and this was the next day. Stars Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg confirmed later, in interviews, that they had decided their characters had a casual sexual relationship, "but just didn't dwell on it."
Mrs. Peel's maiden name is Knight. We learn more about her childhood and her relationship with her mother and father in an exhibition on the "late Emma Peel" in the episode The Avengers: The House That Jack Built (1966).
To maintain the pure fantasy of it, there were strict rules about what could and could not be shown in an episode: 1. No "uniformed policemen". 2. No "colored people". 3. No blood. 4. No dead women. 5. No blatant sex.
Steed's signature cars were vintage 1926-1928 Bentley racing or town cars, including Blower Bentleys and Bentley Speed Sixes (although, uniquely, in The Avengers: The Thirteenth Hole (1966) he drives a Vauxhall 30-98), Catherine Gale rode a motorcycle, Emma Peel drove a blue Lotus Elan convertible, Tara King drove a red AC 428
Sydney Newman never received credit as creator of the series. In his memoir, The Avengers and Me, Patrick Macnee interviewed Newman about this. Newman explained that he never sought on-screen credit on the series because during his previous tenure at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, such credits were not given, and he never thought to get one for this series.
According to Script Editor Dennis Spooner, the series would frequently feature Steed visiting busy public places such as the main airport in London without anyone else present in the scene. "'Can't you afford extras?' they'd ask. Well, it wasn't like that. It's just that Steed had to be alone to be accepted. Put him in a crowd and he sticks out like a sore thumb! Let's face it, with normal people he's weird. The trick to making him acceptable is never to show him in a normal world, just fighting villains who are odder than he is!"
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. Alun Hughes, who had designed clothing for her personal wardrobe, was suggested by the actress to design Emma Peel's "softer" new wardrobe. Pierre Cardin was brought in to design a new wardrobe for Macnee.
When asked in June 1982 which female lead was his favourite, Patrick Macnee declined to give a specific answer. "Well, I'd rather not say. To do so would invite trouble," he told TV Week magazine. Macnee did provide his evaluation of the female leads. Of Honor Blackman he said, "She was wonderful, presenting the concept of a strong-willed, independent and liberated woman just as that sort of woman was beginning to emerge in society." Diana Rigg was "One of the world's great actresses. A superb comedienne. I'm convinced that one day she'll be Dame Diana." (His prediction came true in 1994.) Linda Thorson was "one of the sexiest women alive".
A sequence dropped from Pulp Fiction (1994) had Vincent Vega confess to Mia Wallace about fantasizing over Emma Peel beating him up. Uma Thurman, who plays Wallace, later went on to play Emma Peel in The Avengers (1998).
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 gain momentum Honor Blackman was cast in Goldfinger (1964), requiring her to leave the series.
John Bryce was brought in as producer to replace Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell on the sixth and last series because the studio wished to bring the show "back to realism", as he had produced the Cathy Gale episodes. However financial problems and internal difficulties undermined Bryce's effort. He also had to hurriedly shoot seven episodes to ship off to America with the last of the Emma Peel episodes. He only completed three (Invitation to a Killing a 90-minute episode introducing Tara King, The Great, Great Britain Crime, which had some of its original footage reused in The Avengers: Homicide and Old Lace (1969) and Invasion of the Earthmen, which survived relatively intact except for the scenes in which Tara wears a brown wig) before he was replaced by Clemens and Fennell again.
Despite the reputation of "The Avengers", In Britain it only made the top ten of watched shows four times between 1960-69. February 1964, November 1965, March 1967 and February 1969. Ian Hendry's subsequent series The Informer (1966) was actually more popular at the time. So when the production company (ABC [Associated British Corp.], nothing to do with the American ABC, which stood for American Broadcasting Co.) was ordered to be wound up by July 1968 (due to breach of license on another matter), it was easy for the new company (Thames TV) to cancel the series.
In the United States, the ABC network that carried the final series chose to air it opposite the number one show in the country at the time, Laugh-In (1967). Steed and King 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.
With Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015), Ralph Fiennes became the 007th [= seventh] major actor or actress who has appeared in both the 'James Bond' and 'The Avengers' universes, the latter being the English spy one and not the comic super-heroes one. From the original television series The Avengers (1961), three actors appeared in Bond movies: Honor Blackman played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), Patrick Macnee portrayed Sir Godfrey Tibbett in A View to a Kill (1985), and Diana Rigg played Tracy Di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). The latter film also featured as The English Girl actress Joanna Lumley who would later appear in The New Avengers (1976) which also starred MacNee. Whilst Nadim Sawalha appeared in both The Avengers (1998) cinema film as well as two Bond movies: The Living Daylights (1987) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). Fiennes actually appeared in The Avengers (1998) cinema movie co-starring with former James Bond Sean Connery who played the villain Sir August de Wynter. Of these seven actors, both Fiennes and Macnee have portrayed The Avengers' character of John Steed, in the theatrical film and television series respectively, with the latter also voicing the Invisible Jones character in The Avengers (1998) cinema movie. In this 1998 cinema film, John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) and Emma Peel (Uma Thurman) get across the frozen river by 'walking' on the surface inside inflatable plastic bubbles which is similar to how James Bond gets aboard Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray)'s oil rig in Connery's final official series Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever (1971).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
John Steed (Patrock McNee) had six partners in the (original) show's 8-year run: Dr. David Keel (Ian Hendry), Dr. Martin King (Jon Rollason), Venus Smith (Julie Stevens), Mrs. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), Mrs. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), and Tara King (Linda Thorson).
A radio version began two years after the show ended: broadcast weeknightly on Springbok Radio, the South African Broadcasting Corporation's English-speaking wing, scripts from the filmed series (often earlier versions than had appeared on-screen) were reworked into fifteen-minute serials of varying lengths. Sponsored by Cold Water Omo and starring Donald Monat as Steed and Diane Appleby as Mrs Peel (Mother made occasional appearances, usually played by Colin Fish), the series ran from 6th December 1971 to 28th December 1973 (plus a mini reprise in "The Great Gong Robbery", a special drama celebrating Springbok's Silver Jubilee on 30th April 1975). Laurie Johnson's theme tune was used throughout, and to smooth over the more visual aspects Springbok news-broadcaster Hugh Rouse was engaged as the tongue-in-cheek narrator. This was South Africa's sole experience of the show (outside of rented film prints) at the time since their television service only began in the mid-'70s and the parent TV series wasn't purchased until many years later. It is unknown how many serials aired: from a potential 83 stories (some of which appear to have been remade), only 19 are currently known to exist in full, thanks to private South African enthusiasts as the SABC did not retain any copies.