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Friday, 22 February 2008 07:31

Avengers, The

Thoroughly British Adventuring in the Swinging Sixties ...

 

UK (ABC) - 1961-68
161 episodes (60 mins) - B&W/Colour

The first British series shown on American primetime television with its debut in 1965, The Avengers became the longest running secret agent adventure series of the 1960s. It had huge international success by playing up to all the typical British stereotypes. Original conceived as a format to showcase Ian Hendry, whose Doctor Keel character enlists intelligence agent John Steed to track down his wife’s murderers, The Avengers evolved far beyond its original concept following Hendry’s departure.

Moved centre stage and reinvented as a debonair gentleman, Steed worked with a succession of liberated female partners, from night-club singer Venus Smith and leather-clad, martial arts expert Cathy Gale, to catsuited Emma Peel and trainee agent Tara King. As time went by, the series, originally broadcast live or on videotape, developed a polished, visual style as it moved through to black and white film, and then to colour. Replacing the real world with an idealised fantasy Britain, The Avengers shifted from tough crime thriller to outrageous parody, with Steed and Mrs Peel investigating absurdist conspiracies hatched by a succession of diabolical masterminds in the most innocent of rural English settings.

Although the final year, which introduced Mother, the wheelchair-bound chief of the secret service, achieved some of the highest ratings for The Avengers on British television, it proved less successful in America. When the network declined to buy more episodes the series was cancelled.

Resurrection followed six years later, when The New Avengers emerged – but it lacked the optimism of the Swinging Sixties that was so much part of the original format. It fell between the anticipated familiar parodies and the style of grittier dramas that had come to be popular following the success of The Sweeney. A succession of co-funding ventures eventually dried up (including some which led to episodes being made on location in Canada), and the series was again no more.

A feature film followed some 20 years later, but a savage trimming, following poor mid-American test audience screenings, decimated what was a complex plot much in the style you could have expected from the original series. Needless to say, the result was an incoherent mess which may never be put right, unless a Director’s Cut sees the light of day on DVD in the future.

REGULAR CAST
Patrick MacNee
as John Steed
Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel
Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale
Julie Stevens as Venus Smith
Diana Rigg as Emma Peel
Linda Thorson as Tara King
Patrick Newell as Mother

 

Posted in Series Formats
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